Friday, August 26, 2011

Missing Home...

Living in Italy truly is a gift.  At times, like when we were swimming in the waters off Capri, I pinch myself to see if it's real.  And then there are weeks like this one.  Tom has been in Germany all week for work and I've been here alone, in a house with no AC, no phone line and 158 boxes from our move sitting on our balcony, waiting for the moving company to come take them away. 

While our neighborhood has been filling up, ever so slowly, the fact still remains that exploring everything by yourself can sometimes make you feel even more alone than you did locked up in your house.  I find myself wishing that I had the courage to go boldly out into the Italian neighborhood around me, ordering cornettos and whatever else I please without fear of sounding stupid.  Without practicing first what I'd say about 1,000 times in my head and then not completely destroying the Italian language when I actually say it.  This week feels like a roller coaster ride of emotions, the low on Monday when I left work early to meet the phone repair guy only to have them ask me "Why don't you have any Italian friends who can help you?"  Trying not to cry in front on a random Italian man and having him acknowledge how lonely I feel was yet another terribly humbling experience. 

Tuesday felt like a high as I effectively asked Gianni, the gas attendant, to change the oil in my car.  Gianni thinks I'm kind of tragically lost in his Italian world and is always SO nice to me!  I find myself smiling every time that I see him, even when he's checking out my butt as I walk away.  That's cool, Gianni, it helped my self-esteem that day! 

The cause of most of my frustration is the sheer oddity of my surroundings.  I was reading a book this week, because I blew the fuse box to my apartment so many times trying to turn on our TV that I figured it was a sign from above that I should pick up a book, in which an American woman goes to live in Ireland on a home exchange deal.  There was one line, near the end, when she too felt alone and lost in the other land, noting how strange it was hearing little kids cry out to one another with Irish accents.  It's very much the same here.  Living practically on top of one another, with courtyards that face courtyards of open windows, dinner conversations, yowling dogs and crying children in the evenings.  Listening to a 2 year old child speak better Italian than I do and hearing the soothing voice of mothers telling them it will be alright.  Cars that honk their horns or drive past far too fast at 1 AM or the fireworks that go off at the oddest times of day.  I feel like a bratty kid during these times, when I come home and hide away from the world in my cocoon of the hottest apartment alive with my cats and a bottle of wine.  I think about how much easier it would be with Tom home and also how annoyed I'd be at him for those times when he laughs at me when I do something dumb, though he always diguises it with the term "adorable." 

I suppose I am just feeling both lonely and sorry for myself, annoyed that my European dreams are not quite what I thought them to be all the time.  For the trash in the road to those first few months where you'd be friends with a shoebox, so long as it was a friend.  For those times that you just want to scream out "Speak ENGLISH!  PLEASE!" but then realize that YOU are the foreigner and in their home country, they have every right to speak their language.  For those times and for the comforts of home, of my mother and my sisters, my dad and the long days in their pool, of a good trip to Target, the ease of knowing how to drive on American streets and the long lost art of Sunday Brunch, I'm going to just be a little homesick for a while.  In time, I'll stop acting like a 5 year old and pull myself back together, hide my tear streamed face behind a coat of fresh make up and convince myself that I'm strong enough to make the most of this.  I'm just waiting for that day right now.

Sunday, August 21, 2011

Daytripper: I'm on a Boat!

Yesterday we went on a Mini-Cruise along the Amalfi Coast.  To start off the day, we met the tour bus near the airport at 7:30 AM and drove off to the port near Sorrento.  During the 40 minute bus ride, the tour guide discovered that there were more people on the bus than had paid.  She read off names but it was hard to hear and we were sitting in the back a bit confused.  Then she came down the aisle checking everybody's name.  When she got to our group of 5, she discovered who wasn't on the list.  All of us!  I showed her my receipt and she wrote all of the names down and came back about 5 minutes later to point out the problem.  The girl at the USO booked us on the trip the following weekend.  I turned bright red, embarassed that I had taken on this simple task of booking our group and began to fear that this bubbly Italian girl would turn deadly and leave us stranded at the super sketchy Port of Naples to find our own way home!  Instead, ever the sweetheart that she was, she giggled and referred to us as "the illegals" all day. 

The boat had three levels: one with a dining area and half covered/half open deck at the stern (did you like that?  Nautical speak!  "I'm on a boat!")  The top two decks were covered in beach chairs and immediately upon opening the ropes to let us in, Italians in tiny swim suits.  At this point, it was quarter of 9 and almost every Italian on the boat was in a string bikini or Speedo.  We saw a very common fashion trend of Italian swim suits: men LOVE red speedos and women changed their suits hourly right where they sat.  We saw quite our fair share of lady bits onboard yesterday!

We eventually got to Capri and were given 30 minutes to swim around the boat.  An "Italian line" formed at the stairs on either side of the boat and we all were pushed and shoved by sweaty, nearly nude Italians in line.  I don't mind a normal Italian line, which is to say a mass of people in no particular order or even linear form, under normal circumstances all THAT much but when everyone is clad only in tiny bits of spandex, it makes me a bit uncomfortable!  Alas, we all, minus Tom, who hates the sun and avoids it at all costs, hopped into the water and swam around, making continued note of our good fortune for living in Italy.  The water was super salty but so clear that you could see to the bottom, some 40-50 meters, according to Nathan's guestimations.

Back on board, our hair started to dry in the salty, crusty manner that is highly attractive.  We cruised another 40 minutes until we reached Positano where we piled off of our larger boat onto a very small boat.  The fare was 3 Euro roundtrip and I think to save money on gas, the boat driver and his very pushy wife, decided to cram as many of us onto the boat as possible.  We assumed that  two trips would be made and when I was numbered "trentuno" (31) I began to worry that all five of us wouldn't fit on the tiny boat!  How wrong I was!   At least 50 of us got on the tiny boat!  It rolled so strongly in the wake of other boats that we were obliged to go very very slowly into port. 

Once on dry land in Positano, our group stopped into La Pergola for lunch.  The food was pretty good, though expensive.  As always, I voted Tom's provalone stuffed gnocchi with zucchini the best dish.  From our lazy lunch, we wandered the streets of Positano for a few minutes and looked at artwork, shoes and a cute, 580 EURO top.  Wow, Fendi really is that expensive.  "No, no, just looking!"

We all got some gelato, though I've decided that Kinder is my favorite flavor, and sat in the shade/sun (level of burnt depending) before getting back on our boat to the bigger boat.  Kim and I tried our hand at underwater photography with my Stylus Tough camera (which can be dropped from 6.6 ft and can go 33 feet under water!).  The salt water made this task incredibly difficult and we ended up getting a lot of pictures of my armpit or bubbles.

All in all, we had a lovely day on our cruise!  We finished up with burgers at Blackwood, the Irish style pub by Kim and Nathan's house, and a huge beer each.  Upon arriving home, I remembered the previously agreed upon rule that "no one can touch their sheets before showering first." 

Friday, August 19, 2011

Home Life

So now we’ve been in the ol’ apartment for three whole weeks today!  It’s our three week-aversary! 
We’ve opened every box by now.  They have been broken down or stuffed with excess paper and are all sitting on our balcony until such time as I stop being forgetful and call the moving company to come back and take them all away.  (I’ll write that note to myself yet again in my daytimer…)  The first two weeks involved several calls between Perla, the poor woman at housing whose name we actually remember and thus call regularly to help us, and our landlord.  We’d call Perla in a frantic state because the key to the laundry room was missing, the DSL password is still isn’t correct or because the AC in our bedroom still doesn’t work.  There are flowers in store for Perla very soon...  Most recently, I wrote poor ol’ Perla an email because the alarm company came out and something needs to be fixed before our alarm will work.  The guy spoke some English and when he left, we both muddled through “You practice English, I’ll practice Italian before we meet again.”  To that end, I’ve done the first 4 lessons in my Italian grammar book and made Tom about 500 flashcards of common phrases.  We’ll have to start hitting the books harder when our neighbors start coming back into town.
This week was Ferragosto, the celebration of the Assumption of Mary, our neighborhood has been a ghost town.  Most everyone in our neighborhood is somewhere else vacationing right now.  I mean it, everyone!  The Agip where we park has been locked up since Sunday, when I filled out my ration card to get gas.  The night/Sunday watchman must take some other week off because he’s been there every day!  He and poor Ella, the skinny dog that lives at the gas station, who loves our CRV because it’s the only car tall enough for her to sleep under. 

In Italy, hand guestures are very popular.  I took a class on them and it’s been remarkably helpful.  The most important one, I’ve discovered, is to put your hand out like a finger gun.  Are you doing it?  I’m doing it as I type this to make sure that I’m explaining it correctly.  So, finger gun out, then turn your whole hand on the 90 degree axis from right to left repeatedly.  This means the following:
1.       It doesn’t work (common when your tv, alarm system or AC are broken and the technician can’t tell you why)
2.       I’m not working (this is most common in taxis, buses or gas stations are on strike or closed)
3.       I don’t have any money (this one seems odd, but it’s very helpful when gypsies approach you in the Ikea parking lot.  They are normally unphased and follow you around shouting Italian curse words.)
This is the hand gesture that the parking attendant uses to tell me that he won’t take my ration card, the sign our landlord gives me when I try to tell him that the DSL doesn’t work and the sign that the alarm technician gave me when the alarm wouldn’t turn on.

Speaking of Ikea: That place is amazing.  Difficult, but amazing.  If normal Ikea wasn’t hard enough when trying to figure out if the Fromburhan is something that you actually want to buy, it’s even harder when the description of said item is in Italian.  Luckily, we got all of the right things, with the exception of a kitchen cart for our very wide kitchen hallway.  I have this sneaking suspicion that we may never own an actual cart there, as Ikea doesn’t ever have them in stock and no one in the States will ship them to our PO box.  Drat!  But anywho, we came back from Ikea with a coat rack, two rugs (oh the feeling of rugs on your feet is amazing after standing on marble tile all day!), a collection of placemats and my personal favorite, a little cart to put my groceries in.  It’s black and white polka dots and I’m sure Tom will feel remarkably masculine filling it up with groceries out of the trunk of the car!  And today, we bought the other most important thing: a fan for our bedroom.  The AC hasn’t worked in a week and with all of the windows open, we tend to hear that alarm that goes off EVERY night.  What is it to?  Why does it always go off?  What in the name of Pete triggers it at 2:30 every morning!?!?  Alas, these are things that we will hopefully get used to, or we can drown out a little more with the fake air movement of a fan.  It’s the simple things in life that really do it for me. 
I’ve included some pictures of the before and not-entirely-after shots.  We’ve still got some artwork that needs to be hung up and various piles of things that need a home.  For some reason, when it’s 85% complete, I’m more inclined to just not look at the piles of things that still have to be put away.  Plus, with both of us working, it’s been a bit tough to find the time and energy at night to continue working on the house.  But, we’ll get there eventually! 

Will try to keep everyone posted as we start our own personal tourist season.  The travel plans for now include:
Amalfi Coast Day Cruise on Saturday, August 20
Naples Underground Tour Sunday, August 28
The Cinque Terre over Labor Day Weekend
Ireland Oct 1 for the Valentia Island Half Marathon
Stuttgart to visit my friend, Anna, from UVA over Oktoberfest!
Somewhere for our anniversary that Tom’s in charge of

Thursday, August 11, 2011

Almost a Week...

We have now been in our apartment for 6 days.  The first three involved no power, no gas and no appliances.  With boxes in every corner of the place and paper covering everything else, we slowly sorted through the mess and have tried to piece back together what once was an orderly home. 

The first challenge involved trying to figure out what would go where.  Tom seems to think that I have an "eye" for design when really I have an eye for what I don't like.  He'd shove couches, the coffee table and our tv into different parts of our living room and I'd turn my nose up and say "No.... that's not it."  Talk about helpful!  The fact that I know these couches have an expiration date certainly doesn't help.  But, alas. 

Finally, on Tuesday morning, our appliances arrived.  The Navy provides European spec appliances free of charge and delivers them for free too!  Our fridgerator arrived and is 23" wide!  It's so skinny!  The washer fit snuggly into our little laundry room and then the Italian movers started yelling at one another on the porch.  It turned out that the dryer was too wide to fit in the laundry room but the guys were running late for their next appointment and claimed that they didn't have anything smaller.  At that moment, Nathan arrived and saved the day!  I cannot say enough wonderful things about Nathan and all of the help that he has been.  Working my own husband to death is normally something that I do without significant remorse, as I feel that my affections should be enough to entice him to do the massive "honey-do" lists that I leave for him.  Have I mentioned that he's a wonderful man as well???  But poor Nathan did all of this out of the goodness of his heart!  And perhaps a desire to use his power tools.  Tom and Nathan began by taking apart the dryer and the door frame to our laundry room and concluded by taking apart and then putting back together a double wide wardrobe that was in the guest bedroom and is now in our master bedroom. 

On Wednesday, post Tom/Nathan demo/reconstruction-athon, Tom came home a bit early from work when I called his office to ask him to help me unload the car.  I am not ashamed to say that I can spend money like a real champ.  And that moving into a new house requires a lot of touches to make it feel like home.  That, and the movers threw away all of my candles before we left San Diego and I have a very close attachment to candle light.  So!  With baskets to hide things, a mountain of candles and new pillows, along with the entire trunk-full of groceries, I called me beloved hubby to help me move it the half block from the Agip gas station (our parking lot) to our 6th floor apartment.  Tom later reported that the guys in his office openly mocked both him and I for this, but I don't really care.  The bags were heavy and I needed help!  10 trips later, we got everything inside and Tom openly mocked me for the things that I had deemed "important."  What?  I told him that we needed a rosemary plant!  And I told him that I wanted adorable candles that looked like the ones in the PotteryBarn catalog!  He's been warned!!

Last night, I made the first homecooked meal in our place: stuffed peppers.  Sure, it was a weird choice and oddly 50's housewife of me, but I didn't really plan my grocery trip to include a meal for that evening and I had most of the things to make them.  We ate our 50's meal on our balcony, my favorite room in the house and after the sun went down, we drank a bottle of Soave wine and watched the city light up.  The moon was so bright that it lit up the water in the Bay and made Sorrento and Capri visible on the horizon.  Sitting out there, with my wonderful husband and best friend, I couldn't help but sigh and think, "This is the life.  I am so blessed."

Love and hugs to all of our friends and family!
Lynne and Tom

Saturday, August 6, 2011

Move it or Lose it

At long last, our household goods have arrived in our little apartment!  The relief of knowing that our possessions, both prized and otherwise, would be within our grasp in a matter of hours left me sleepless the night before.  Like Christmas, except you're just getting your own stuff back and it's about 85 degrees outside.

The movers were sitting on the side of the road having a smoke when we pulled up.  They had gotten there early but were in no rush to start unpacking before the hydraulic lift arrived, which was not scheduled to arrive until 4 pm and meant hard labor for them to start before the life.  They started anyway, verifying our 5 crates were numbered and sealed correctly and then piling as much as they could into our tiny, old elevator that fits no more than 2.5 people.  The problem, as has been noted earlier in the blog, is that the elevator doesn't go all the way up to our apartment.  It goes to the fifth floor (which is really the 6th) and we're up a floor after that. 

Hours later, around 5:30, the lift finally arrived.  It had been described to me as a ladder with a platform and sort of grapling hook that folds over the balcony.  What came was more like a bucket truck or window washing platform.  It extended up to our balcony, but not over the top.  So, seven stories above granite, marble and volcanic ash brick sidewalks, three Italian men were standing on a soft overhang of our downstairs neighbors.  No harnesses, no safety gear, not even on the right side of the balcony.  I started to get hives on my neck.  They were grunting and shouting, trying to lift our buffet over the three foot bucket handrail and then bring it down 6 feet to our porch floor.  I remembered the piece being heavy, but knew that I had slid it around the floors of our house in San Diego in an effort to clean behind it.  Upon it safely reaching the deck and all 3 Italian men still being alive, it turned out that our packers had wrapped inside our sound system, tennis rackets, the linens and duvet of our masterbedroom set and, just for grins, the cushions for my oversized study chair.  Add a partridge and a pear tree and it might really have been Christmas!

The day went on with relatively few broken items.  But none of this would have gone as smoothly without my wonderful husband, Tom, reminding me to stop hovering and breathe deeply.  Also, our wonderful friends, Kim and Nathan, who arrived with the most amazing Italian wine juice boxes and snacks.  We had packed water, Wheat Thins and a case of beer, but these two rolled in like real champs.  Nathan put together my crazy, asymetrical bookshelf while Kim checked and double checked all of the boxes coming into the house. 

To end the night, after prosecco and watching the wedding reception that we could spy on from our balcony (complete with a juggler!  Italy takes wedding reception entertainment very seriously), we found a great pizzeria!  Solopizza, our soon to be locals hangout, has an enormous menu of, wait for it, only pizza.  We each ordered our own and mini bottles of wine.  Kim prepared us with the warning that 9 times out of 10, when ordered off an entirely Italian menu, you normally get something completely different from what you were expecting.  For my part, I just don't know how many times it's going to take me ordering something with "fritto" in the title before I remember that it will be fried.  Nathan's pizza came, as he guessed, with 12 toppings, one of them being a soft fried egg.  Tom, yet again, took home the title of best menu choice and we all left, exhausted, full and relieved that the day was over.

More pictures to come as our place becomes our new home.  With me fiddling over the proper organization of bookshelfs, barware (or "wine cups" as our movers wrote on the boxes), and potted plants, we'll be sure to have enough crazy to keep the house interesting!

Love and hugs to you and yours,
Lynne and Tom