Wednesday, March 28, 2012

It's a Family Affair

My cousin and his girlfriend were touring through Italy this past week and decided to pop by Bella Napoli for a visit!  How truly European we are now!  While they were here, we took the opportunity to stop by Paestum, a once Greek, once Roman town that was later infested with misquitoes which killed off all of the inhabitants.  Lucky for us, the place was virutally unknown until the mid-1800's and is apparently one of Western Europe's best maintained Greek ruins.  Who knew?  Well, apparently Rick Steves and a whole bunch of other people.  Va bene!

Instead of paying for an audioguide, we strolled around this 2,500 year old town with me reading Rick Steves' step by step guide.  It ended up being such a popular destination that we actually ran into 3 other families that we know!  Now that is ESP! 

Afterwards, we meandered over to a ristorante that our buddy Rick had recommended.  He described it as "affordable," though we begged to differ.  However, we arrived at 3:15 and the wait staff was less than pleased with our notably poor timing but agreed to let us stay if they could pick what we ate.  Mi dispiace but va bene!!  A few cheese-filled crepes and some gelato later, we were happily on our way back to Napoli for even more food -- pizza and beer at our favorite watering hole, Solopizza.  Jesse and Liza got to try Neapolitan pizza, which is an absolute must in the city where pizza was invented!  Success!!

Sunday, we took the funiculare downtown and wandered about before making our way to the Naples Underground.  Tom and I had been before with a relatively irritating group from the USO but decided to go again with Jesse and Liza (but sans giant tour group) to explore something a bit different from piazzas and cathedrals, of which they had seen quite a bit during their trip.  Upon completing our tour, we grabbed some delicious street food (panino napolitano is my favorite breakfast food by far.  I'll take this moment to explain what is Italy's greatest street food:  start with some pizza dough, rolled in a rectangle.  Top is with a bit of cheese, some hard boiled (or scrambled) eggs, a bit of speck/thick cut proscuitto and whatever else is handy.  Roll it up, toss it in the oven.  Serve and do the little finger poke in your cheek to express your delight).  All of us ate up our delightful street food and, with sticky fingers, made our way to the train station. 

This part of town, near the train station, is REALLY dicey.  It's pretty rough, pretty stinky and pretty unsafe.  I got us lost.  So there we were, in an alley, surrounded by foul smelling garbage with street cats and the Sharks AND Jets having a turf war/dance-off around us.  There was a lot of snapping involved... it got weird.  Fear not!  They made it to the train station and onto their train!  Va bene! 

Yesterday my sister called me on Skype from her classroom in North Carolina.  Her room full of first graders popped up on my screen.  "Hello, Mrs. Keenan!" they shouted in unison!  Oh man, I should have found somewhere to sit other than "criss cross" on my living room floor.  They will surely think that Italians don't have chairs.  An entire class in NC now thinks that Italy doesn't have chairs.  I'm sorry to all of you.  For the record: Italy has chairs.

I taught a class of North Carolinian first graders how to say hello and the hand gesture for half, what gelato is and that Italy is shaped like a boot.  Their questions cracked me up.  "Is Italy in Ireland?"  "Is it close to North Carolina?"  "Are you moving to North Carolina soon?"  "Is that a cat in the background?"  Haha!  No, no, maybe, yes.  My sister kept prompting me to speak Italian, thinking my skill level is more advanced than it actually is.  I mean, the kids don't speak Italian, I guess I could have just said "gelato pizza Capri" and told them I was saying "My favorite place is Capri."  New tactic....

This weekend: it's hiking Mt. Vesuvius and going to the Italian Opera.  I'll keep y'all posted!

Ciao, tutti!

Saturday, March 24, 2012

Saints and Sinners

Italy has "Name Days."  It's the day that you get to celebrate the saint that you were either named after or who is your protector.  St. Lynne doesn't exisit (yet) but I assume she'd be the Patron Saint of Awkward Souls.  For those Italians who have Name Day, you get to have a party (in addition to your birthday), to celebrate your Saint's Day.  If you don't have a saint, you get lumped together with the masses on All Saint's Day in November (after Halloween for those heathens in the audience.  You don't have to raise your hand, we all know who you are).

That said, St. Patrick's Day is pretty well known in America.  Celebrated by Irishmen everywhere and those of us who wish that we understood what it is to be Irish.  I'm like 0% Irish by genetics but luckily married an Irish fellow and stole his last name.  With a name like Keenan, I feel like I can get a little more legit on this holiday.  But in Italy, they don't really care about St. Patrick because he's an Irish saint.  He's not really big here.  We went out anyway, the only fools in green.  One of our friends even rocking a green wig.  To say we stood out is probably an understatement. 

Undeterred, a pack of probably 40 Americans met up at Blackwood Pub in Vomero and threw back some burgers and beers, sitting in Piazza Vanvitelli.  One guy even brought his own food coloring so he could enjoy green beer.  I mean, that's dedication!  Our group crawled through pubs in Vomero, with limited success of entry at some (and comments including: "Just like Mary and Joseph.  No room at the inn."  See?  Our collective Vacation Bible School knowledge proved somewhat helpful for biblical allusions).  We ended up getting pints at a German biergarten.  What can I say, we're in Italy.  Our selection of Irish pubs wasn't that great to begin with!

Monday, March 19th was St. Joseph's Day or San Giuseppe in Italy.  St. Joseph/Giuseppe is legit pretty much everywhere.  In Italy, he even has his own namesake cake: zeppola di san giuseppe.  It's pretty much sweet dough that is either baked or fried (never one to let dessert go untested, I bought one of each), topped with custard and cherries.  It's only sold around San Giuseppe's name day.  They were pretty hard when I bought them at 6:30pm on Monday night so we popped them in the oven for a few minutes, sure that somewhere an Italian momma was shrieking at what we were doing to destroy this pastry.  Despite what may or may not be appropriate, with some minimal heating, they softened up and were fairly good.  The consensus of the group was thus: which one was fried?  Our pallets appear to not be sophisticated enough to dicern the difference.  Va bene!

Tuesday, March 13, 2012

This Everyday Life

Somehow I woke up and realized that we are fast approaching month 10 in Italy.  How the time has flown by.  I remember reading through blog after blog before coming out here to determine what daily life would be like.  One woman in particular, and I can't remember the name of her blog or anything particular about it aside from the fact that she said, basically, living abroad can seem a lot like living in the US most days.  And so it does very often.  We wake up, make our French pressed Dunkin' Donuts coffee with Coffee Mate creamer and drive to work in our little Honda Civic, which at long last has a new driver's side window!  Hooray!  I spend my day doing much of the same type of work that I once did in the States.  My husband wears the same uniform.  We speak English with our American co-workers.  Eat lunch at Subway.  Work out on familiar cardio equipment.  And after getting a subscription to an IP masking company, we can now watch American TV on Hulu and Netflix.  It all feels very familiar, very often.

To help promote the familiar, this weekend we had a brunch party at our house because I have had an intense desire to eat brunch food and there is none available in this entire country.  I bought the food at the commissary (because good luck trying to find Jimmy Dean Sausage in the Italian grocery store.  The one I frequent was also closed down because of a slight health problem associated with the feral cats living in their deli and seafood warehouse.  Even after it reopens, I am skeptical about going back.) and drove it back to the apartment, bags filling the trunk and back seat.  Italians do not buy food on the American scale.  They think we're freaks.  Giant, hungry, obese freaks.  The 4 gas attendants just smiled, leaned against our car and judged as Tom and I drug bag after bag from the car up to our apartment entryway and back.

That's step 1 - drag bags from car, up the little hill to our apartment's atrium.  We lined the atrium wall with bags and wine bottles, cat litter and dry cleaning.  Step 2 involved loading the tiny elevator and taking that to our floor.  Step 2 was repeated 3 times on this instance.  Step 3 requires going from the 5th floor up one more by foot to our apartment.  Step 4 involves moving the bags from the entryway of our apartment to the kitchen.  Step 5 involves putting everything away.  The process generally takes an hour.  It took longer this time because our Italian neighbors wanted to use the elevator and would shove Tom, our cat litter and themselves in as I yelled "Mio marito non parle Italiano.  Lui non capisce italiano."  (My husband doesn't speak Italian.  He does not understand Italian.)  Unphased, they would rattle off questions in Italian like "Do you live here?  What floor do you live on?" as I stood on the ground floor snickering to the sound of Tom saying "uhhhh...."  To help erradicate this problem, we both signed up for Gateway to Italian, Level 1 (essentially an Italian 101 class being offered here on base through the University of Texas).  Fingers crossed, we'll pass through that Gateway and come out on the other side oozing Italian elegance and grace.  Perhaps I'm putting too much pressure on this class, some things may be asking too much....

Our brunch was a smashing success!  Complete with a Mimosa-Bellini combo that was to die for, biscuits and gravy, egg strata, blueberry muffins and more!  10 months into our adventure, I couldn't be happier with the group of friends that we've made and that we are just starting to meet.  It definitely has helped having more friends with whom we can explore and experience this amazing, crazy country.


Tuesday, March 6, 2012

Pip Pip, Jolly Good

I seem to be a big fan of those really quick trips to other cities.  My most recent excursion was to join my dad in London for 2.7 days in London.  I flew out of Naples on Friday afternoon and arrived back on Monday morning.  It was fast. 

During our stay, I first and foremost, crossed off another item on my 101 in 1001 list.  #1: Go to London = Check.  Yess!!!  Also, in my goals for #76: Read 12 books in 2012, I started and completed The Testimony during my flight and am half way through The Descendents.  But I digress!

On the top of my list from London was the Gershwin muscial, "Crazy for You," which we saw at the Novello Theatre near Covent Gardens (where they filmed the opening scenes from My Fair Lady.  Bringing it full circle on musicals!).  It was full of upbeat songs, bright, colorful costumes, dance numbers that left me grinning ear to ear and two glasses of a delightful Rioja.  We saw the show and then strolled around the markets afterwards, noting how America lacks a strolling culture. 

I haven't been on a trip with just my dad since 2001 when we were looking at colleges.  This trip was decidedly more fun, involved less decisions about my future on a grand(e) scale and not quite so many hours in the car.  Additionally, I am now 11 years older than I was on that fateful journey and it gave my dad and I some really great time to just hang out together without my mom, my sisters, the dog, the cat, the bird, etc.  Sometimes you forget how it is to be with just one of your parents when you normal associate them with the family unit.  We had such a good time together and got to explore the city, chat over a pint (or 2) and realize that we both turned out to be pretty cool people. 

Just to make sure everyone knows that I'm still a freak in Europe, I had yet ANOTHER embarassing encounter with a shower.  My dad even remarked, "What's with you and bathrooms in Europe?"  Listen here, dad (and everyone else), bathrooms in Europe are confusing!!  As is the scanner in my office, but that's an entirely different story.  I find that I stare at the bathrooms in each hotel room in Europe for several minutes before committing to using them.  My shower in England (both in Yateley and in Gatwick) mocked me openly with their seemingly easy operations.  Oh no!  They were not.  At 7:15 AM on Saturday morning, with conditioner still in my hair but the scalding water boiling off about 10 layers of skin, I grabbed a towel and moved every knob (there were 3) in every direction.  The water came out the spout, the water came out the shower head, the water was hot, the water was cold, the water boiled, never during this experiment, did the water turn off.  Panic!  I called my dad.  Who laughed at me but wandered to my room and conducted the same experiment with the same results.  Two Americans, one holding a Ph.D (I won't name names, but he was a nuclear engineer too.  I mean, I can't be a complete idiot if he couldn't turn it off too!), were bested by a shower head dating back to 1988. 

I thought I'd try to front desk.  So I gave them a ring.  And a ring and a ring and a ring.  "My gosh!  Does anyone sit at the front desk?"  "Hallo??"  It was an elderly British man.  The "Reception" button on my phone dialed another room.  And I woke this poor bloke up at 7:15 on a Saturday morning.  "Mi dispiace."  Quick!  Fake being Italian.  Everyone thinks Italians are crazy.  That will surely fix things....  Attempting to problem solve, I threw on some clothes, my hair visibly dripping down my shirt, unbrushed, unmake-up'ed.  The front desk clerk, with his tight suit and perfectly gelled faux-hawk looked aghast and I'm sure his internal monologue said something like "Bloody Americans.  They never look respectable."  I hereby formally apologize to Americans in general for presenting us as a flustered nation of spazzes.  It's my fault.  I admit it.  Eventually he relented to come look at my shower.  Which promptly sprayed him with water and drenched his little faux-hawk.  5 minutes later, he muscled the shower and all water off.  "Yeah, it just requires a bit more effort to turn it off."  A bit more effort?  Seriously?  You are soaking wet.  European showers: 3.  Lynne: 0.

Despite my lack of grace under pressure or in bathing situations, London was an amazing town.  Beautiful and clean, under massive construction for the Olympics.  The Queen had 200 decorated eggs hidden throughout the city to help celebrate her Diamond Jubilee.  It was so fun finding them every so often and watching my dad judge my lack of maturity.  What?  The plaques said "eggstravaganza."  Come on!  There was a pun involved!  I love puns!

Enjoy the pics above.  The man that doesn't seem to resemble me is my dad's work colleague who toured around with us on Sunday.  Didn't want Mike to feel like he didn't get mentioned in the blog!!