26 April 2012

Come si dice….humiliated?

Sometimes, when I’m struggling for a word in Italian and I’m too lazy to take out my dictionary or the situation doesn’t warrant such an interruption, I just “Italian”-ize an English word. Sometimes, it works beautifully.  Like, for example, I once added an "o" to the word “jealous” and got “geloso”. It was exactly what I meant, so another time I added an "o" to "nervous" and was just as lucky. Er, successful. 

Sometimes, the word you want is Italian. Like pizza or diva.  

Sometimes, it's not that easy. Sometimes, it's like guido or bimbo. The former meaning, "I drive" and the latter meaning "child".  It can make translating episodes of the Jersey Shore impossible and conversations interesting. Also, sometimes? Well, listen:

We were in L.’s new house in the hills outside of Ascoli with its very American open kitchen/living/dining area, and a rather international crowd having a lovely time together, drinking wine, cooking dinner. There was A. from France and her Italian boyfriend, a few Ascolani locals and L., V., and I from NY. Everyone there has been to the town we live in and know how quiet it usually is, so when they asked what was new here, V. and I were thrilled to actually have a bit of excitement to share.

On Friday afternoon, V. was standing outside chatting with someone when a car passed another and stopped dead in the middle of the street. Another car slammed on the brakes behind the first two. What had been the first car was now boxed in.


Then, the drivers of the two cars got out and pulled the people out of the middle car.

“Who these men are? What they wanted? Fight?”

We did our best. 

We used bastardized phrases in two languages.

“Macchine normali.”

“Non c’e luce sopra.”  

“Maybe drugs.”

"Cars normal, no lights on top, clothes, um...."

I made the Italian sign for “arrested”, crossing my wrists in front of me.  “You know…. they were…OK.  The men doing the jumping and the pulling were, you know, um, how do you say? Polizia! Senza, uh, costumi. Um. Sotto coperto.”

Yes, they were police, without bathing suits. Under the blanket.

Turns out, the word I was looking for was incognito.

17 April 2012

15 (or so) Things

1- Cheez-itz
2- cheap running clothes
3- boot leg jeans (esp. 100% cotton ones)
4- cheap, plentiful advil
5- 100% cotton t-shirts cut for people w/hips & upper arms
6- effective bras
7- running bras
8- herb variety, fresh and dried (e.g., fresh cilantro, dill, cumin)
9- cheap facial cleanser (cetaphil is like €12 euro-if you can find it! That’s around $17)
10- bacitracin
11- flannel pajamas
12- 100% cotton sheets
13- Ziplocks
14- Bonne Bell dr. pepper lip balm in drug stores
15- drug stores in general
16- flour tortillas
17- washing machines that take less than 3 hours to do a load of laundry
18- electric clothes dryers
19- Italian made shoes and clothing that are actually affordable
20- sales throughout the year
21- a pay check
22- english magazines & books. Inexpensive mags and books. Why is it that these are cheaper in France than in Italy???
23- men’s speed stick deodorant (not the white kind; the green, blue or clear kind)
24- maple syrup
25- brown sugar for baking
25- Burt’s Bees honey lip balm
26- LA Colors nail art polishes
27- Atomic Fireballs
28- bbq (like, real deal, pulled pork, wet and dry, with collards & baked beans and corn on the cob)
29- butterscotch hard candies
30- Reese’s peanut butter cup minis
31- Nexcare waterproof bandaids
32- Sun Chips
33- ace bandages
34- tootsie rolls
35- twizzlers
36- charms lollipops & blow pops

I know, it’s way more than 15 Things.  It’s currently at 36 Things and every day I think of one or two more, but when my sister asked me to send her a list of 15 things I miss here in the land of “if it’s not pasta, made in Italy (or China) and/or costs a thousand euros, you can’t have it” while she’s in the land of 24 hour mega stores containing everything anyone in the entire world has ever produced, my mind first turned to food-type things that I can’t get here: cheez-its, soft brown sugar, cilantro. It then went out into the atmosphere, to the esoteric, to the impossible, to the candy store and right back to food.

The more I thought about it, the more I thought that a) though I miss these things, if I were to get any of them, I’ll likely hoard them for fear of getting too used to them and then have to face not having them again so if I got them, they’d likely  just take up space* and b) I don’t miss the “things” themselves so much as I miss their availability, their ubiquitous-ness in the US.

I thought of the recipes I find on the internet or see things my friends at home are making with their easily found ingredients and get jealous.  Rice wine vinegar? Fresh ginger? Various fresh chili peppers? Cardamom?! Y’all are just rubbing it in.

spoils of a trip to Civitanova
I can get soy sauce from the supermarket here in my little town, but I’m still not sure who here’s buying it and why. I can find all sorts of asian ingredients. If I drive an hour and a half in each direction. “Mexican” is limited to overpriced Uncle Ben’s “mexican beans” and corn tortillas and only at the hypermarkets in the larger “cities”. I might find an avocado in one store, a lime in another and possibly a sad looking jalapeno in a third, but if I do, it’s because I’ve driven to three different stores along the 40km route to the beach that takes an hour each way plus shopping time and stopping a few times to “catch a coffee”. Or, I didn’t buy the avocados because I wasn’t sure I’d find the red onion and the lime and when I saw the lime, I didn’t want to go back to the first store for the avocadoes and, anyway, I was too disgusted at not finding everything for guacamole in one store to want to make anything. I just wanted to eat a box of Cheez-itz. Which don’t exist here. It’s frustrating.

Then I thought about clothing. If I want stretchy, skinny leg, bedazzled jeans or, let’s face it, hooker heels, I’m in business. If I want a padded bra with no real support and straps that dig into my shoulders or a sweater that’s narrower and longer than I am, not a problem.  Except, I don’t want them.

The Italians I see all seem to have the same style and while part of it may be a cultural reluctance to be different, really I think they just have no other choice. They can’t look different because they can’t find anything different. From the mall stores to the weekly markets, it’s all the same stuff. And I don’t want it. I want other stuff.

I want 100% cotton, bootleg jeans. I want t-shirts that stop at my hips. I want shoes and boots that are free of sparkles and studs. I want choices. I want cheap choices. I want sales all year long. I want Barneys and Bergdorf’s. I want Saks off 5th and Neiman Marcus Last Call. I even want that bastion of Italian bargains, Daffy’s, where all the sad little Patrizia Pepe and Mötivi pieces are sent and sold for a quarter of their Italian prices. 

Why don’t they keep it here? Why are there no off-price stores in Le Marche? Why can’t I find more than one type of sports bra in the four different stores that actually carry athletic-ware? Why are all the unsold items sent to the UK and the US? (TJ Maxx, I’m talking to you. There’s an untapped market here in Italy, filled with expats like me.) Why are Italian made shoes, in the shoe-making capital of Italy, more expensive here than in New York or Paris?

Here, it’s all castrato, cicoria, and amatriciana all the time. It’s stretchy and spangly and just like your neighbor’s. And your neighbors’ neighbors. Sometimes, you just want something else.

I guess I just want some choices. I miss the choices. The nearby choices.  The CVSs, Duane Reades, mega malls, department stores. The Trader Joes and 24 hour Stop and Shops.The nail polish, the perfume, the moisturizer.

OK. I admit it. Sometimes, I miss the stripmall. And the 7-11.  Even, on occasion, the Starbucks, if only so I can walk around with a large cup of coffee that takes more than thirty seconds to drink.  Yes, the very things that make America kind of icky, totally not charming and completely bland while driving through? I miss them. Because in those generic, cookie cutter strip malls of Duane Reades and Marshall’s are all the things I can find to make my day-to-day a little bit less so.

*this is not to say that I wouldn’t be delighted to have any of these things show up on my doorstep. I would not hoard them. I swear. Who needs my address?

09 April 2012

New Word: Terremoto

In Italy, there are a lot of earthquakes. Like, everyday, somewhere, there’s an earthquake. I know this because I check the Instituto Nazionale di Geofisica e Volanologia (INGV) website every morning. And sometimes in the afternoon. And sometimes, before I go to bed.

In Italian, these events are called “terremoti”. A rather literal and descriptive word meaning, as I translate it, “land motion/s”.  I, however, call such an occurrence a “terror-moto” because I am terrified of them.

I’ve seen the destruction they cause. We were in l’Aquila, a provincial capital, whose center was, for all intents and purposes, destroyed by an earthquake in 2009. This quake happened at 3:30am, had a magnitude of around 6 and lasted, I’m told, for thirty seconds. Buildings collapsed. People died. The rubble is still around, behind fences.  Military squads are posted around the center to keep people away from the more precarious structures and buildings outside the center are riddled with cracks and holes. It's a terrible reminder of the rapid devastation a quake can inflict.

I lie awake at night, planning possible escapes. Around here, there are bridges built by the Romans that are still standing, yet the cement bleachers by the community pool built in 2009 are a crumbling mess. Our house was built in the ‘80s and everyone assures me that earthquake proof standards were met.  I feel  the house shake when a particularly heavy speeding truck lumbers past and I see the cracks. I’m not sure I believe them.

Our bedroom sits atop a pillar that goes 3 stories down to the side of the hill that leads to the river. The one window opens onto nothing but the drop down to the back driveway. The door leads to the hallway, to the bathroom with a window on a terrace on the street. If I can make it to the hallway, maybe I can make it to the terrace. If it’s still there. I’m pretty confident that if I make it to the street and head in the direction of Rome, the large building on the embankment across the road won’t fall on me. If I haven’t broken both ankles from the leap off the terrace.

This is what I was thinking about the night I felt my first quake. As I lay in bed, I heard a rumble, kind of like when the big trucks hurtle past, ignoring the “Slow down! Inhabited Center” sign. This rumble, though, worked its way up through the building and shook the bed, headboard to footboard, up against the wall for a couple of seconds. A magnitude 2.0 about 10km away. Not too bad. But worse than the one I felt in my fifty story office building in Manhattan. Not as bad as the last one I felt two months ago.

I was asleep. Like, truly asleep. As I turned over, the bed started shaking. A lot. I grabbed V. He snored.

I debated whether or not to wake him, whether or not to go to the bathroom, whether or not to keep breathing. This one lasted maybe 5 seconds which is an eternity when you can’t decide if another one’s coming that will cause your house to fall down with you in it and if so, would your husband rather be awake when it happens or not. Turns out that was it for the quakes that night. Also, it turns out, if I ever feel another terremoto, the husband would prefer to be awakened.