Friday, November 27, 2009

Thanksgiving and a New Home

Thanksgiving was pretty great around here. We slept in-ish, and then I started baking and cooking: pecan pie, sour cream apple pie, cranberry sauce, and dressing (stuffing).

A couple of ladies from housekeeping came by to clean while I was cooking, saying just "Cleaning!" at the door, and then one of them asked me "Turkey? Tacchino?" I answered in Italian, and thus launched my longest Italian conversation here to date. It was so fun! They basically wanted to know: What is the deal with the turkey??

I explained that I wasn't cooking turkey, that our oven was probably too small. How is it prepared? How is it cooked? Roasted, and I pulled out my November Everyday Food to show a photo -- Oh, like we cook chicken. Yes, it's the same. And I explained the stuffing.

A bit later, they wanted to know what I was cooking in particular, so I showed and explained that, too; and we talked a bit about practicalities around the apartment. So fun, so satisfying.

Eric came up later in the day, bringing the Italian half of the meal: salami, cheese, and bread. We feasted and watched the earliest of the football games before turning in for the night. It was a bit small and quiet, and there was no turkey, but it was such a nice day nonetheless.

We all slept in this morning, and there was much coffee and good conversation before we set out on our respective errands. Eric headed to an office here, and we went over to housing . . . in the pouring rain. Luckily, having gone through the three-day nor'easter right before leaving Virginia made me much less inclined to whine about getting wet despite having an umbrella.

We picked up the key to the available apartment and walked over (still in the rain) to check it out. It's gorgeous! The rooms aren't big compared to our last two places; but it's super, super, super nice. Fantastic condition, great appliances (six-burner stove! brand-new washer!), awesome cupboard and storage space, two balconies. We look out onto grass instead of the parking, and it's just lovely in every way. We move in Wednesday. I can't wait!

Wednesday, November 25, 2009

Housing mystery

So we are officially told we have to live here -- everyone has to live here. Then we are officially told that here is almost full up, and most of the places here are places we don't qualify for, so we'll probably live wherever we want in town. Two other families in our same zone go in to the office, are told there isn't anything for them to live in here, so they must start looking for something in town. We plan to go into the office tomorrow or Friday so that they can tell us the same thing. Then at the end of today's tour, we get a call from this office we have not yet been to (but which has told two other families that they don't have anything for our level) saying they have a place for us here and we need to be there today and look at it.


The bus didn't make it back in time today, so I guess we'll see what's up tomorrow. I've gone from fine and dandy with living here to thrilled and excited to get to live in town (esp. after being in town on Sunday) to disappointed to have to live here to remembering that this is what I thought was going to happen in the first place.

Tuesday, November 24, 2009

Sunday, Sunday, Sunday

I am a bit disappointed. I just got an automated call on my cell phone, asking (in Italian) if I wanted to participate in an interview about my recent visit to the Vodafone store. I pressed 1 for yes, but then it disconnected. I'm bummed, because I was all set to complain about the salesgirl who said that the prepaid rate would be 15 Euro cents/minute. After the phone was activated, though, up pops a text message saying that the rate of 15 Euro cents/minute, good for 30 days, had begun.

When we went back the next day, the girl said, Oh yeah, that rate is only good for 30 days after you put credit on the phones; then the rate goes up to 20 cents. And when we said that we wouldn't have put 50 Euro on each phone if we'd known that, since we wouldn't be using it up, she shrugged and said that it didn't matter what the rate was if we weren't going to be using the minutes. Things went downhill from there, and although it didn't get too ugly, I definitely wanted to give a little feedback. Plus, phone interview in Italian? Yes, please! I could have seen if I still have chops.


So, Sunday. Sunday rocked.

Ben and Kiko offered to give us a ride downtown to the church we were planning on attending, which was much easier than figuring out public transit with a deadline (i.e., the beginning of the service). We left an hour and a half before we needed to be there and arrived with 40 minutes to spare.

Being right in the city for the first time was fantastic. First, Ben is the best introduction to local driving I can imagine. He's completely calm, absolutely laid back. As a result, I'm calm, too. I see all the chaos around us, but since he seems to be utterly unaffected by it, I don't get stressed out either. His chill approach and my own observations, plus all the information I've received and videos I've seen about the infamous local drivers, have combined with my own brain waves and appetites. The result? I cannot wait to start driving here!

Yes, I realize I am insane. I figure that it's not unprecedented, though. My first car was a '69 Saab with four on the tree. I was confident no one would ever steal it, as long as I parked nose-in, because no one would be able to figure out how to put it in reverse. Several years later, I learned to drive Southern California rush hour in a '63 Chevy three-quarter ton pickup with manual brakes. That was also when I learned to drive by mirrors alone, because the rear windshield was small enough that turning check my blind spot gave me only a view of the interior wall of the cab. This environment is just another jump up the driving ladder, right?

But I believe I was trying to talk about Sunday.

We brought our GPS, but the battery was dying, and the directions seemed to lag a few seconds behind our actual location, which bought us some scenic byways and loops. We made it eventually, though, and I loved getting to see all the streets and shops and buildings.

After thanking Ben and Kiko profusely (there are many, many baked goods in their future; I'm working on some right now, but without an oven thermometer -- fingers crossed!), we walked around a farmers market and went down to the water.

The service was nice, although not the norm because the bishop visiting and there being a confirmation. Also, we were told that a good part of the congregation was doing a run on Vesuvius. Everyone was extremely welcoming and friendly. We met several people I'm sure we'll run into again around and about (one of whom I did see yesterday).

After staying for a potluck lunch of spare ribs, shepherds pie, and a Nigerian rice dish, among other things, we got in touch with Eric and headed out to his neighborhood, west of downtown. By "headed out," I mean got information from a parishioner about where and how to catch the metro, then headed up the street . . . until we got to a big flight of stairs. This prompted discussion: They said "up the hill." Did they mean all the way up the steps? This little map (from the church ad) makes it look like the place is parallel to this street, not perpendicular. Surely they would have told us if we were going to go up the stairs? Maybe?

We turned instead, saw fewer and fewer signs that we were going the right way, until I spotted a big "M" and an arrow. Yes!

Following the metro signs took us through a shopping alley, all shuttered for Sunday, of course, and into the right piazza, which probably was at the top of the stairs. (We'll get to figure that out this week.)

Okay, piazza. Metro. Metro ticket machine.

A woman turned and asked for change. I didn't understand quite what the problem was, but she was happy to give us 50 cents in exchange for 20. Uh, okay. As she and the man with her struggled to get tickets, I asked if the other machine was broken, and she shrugged, then moved over and had . . . success!

It turns out that one of the two machines wouldn't take bills. The other was very persnickety about what coins it would take and if you were holding your mouth right when you tried to insert the coins. Plus, it would only accept exact change. Even though we were willing to lose the 30 cents, it wouldn't give tickets to anyone who overpaid -- hence the odd change exchange.

Getting our metro tickets involved watching a group of three men working to get their tickets for about five minutes, including banging, peering into the machine, trying various combinations of coins, and getting five cents from a girl who'd walked up.

. . . and that is something that was amazing to me: people were willing to ask others around them for help with coins or making change, and everyone there was perfectly happy to go through their pockets to see if they could lend a hand. Very different, very cool. There was such a friendly feeling about it -- or rather, just a relaxed vibe among all the people, even in the midst of the frustration with the machines.

We ended up going and getting a piece of candy from a bar (Italian bar = American coffee shop) so that we had coins, but then we didn't have exact change, so I went and begged change from the little old man behind the register. Another difference from the U.S.: no hassle about getting change. I love it, because we were finally able to put 2.20€ in the machine and get our blessed tickets!

The ride out to Pozzuoli made me even happier than I had been in the city. I saw lots and lots of citrus trees, full of fruit, and morning glories. I felt even more at home since I associate those plants with San Diego.

We walked around the neighborhood with Eric for a couple of hours, starting off in a spectacular way with this ruined amphitheater that's just a minute or two from the metro station.

 The area is right by the water, with a big promenade that was just built this year. Seeing another friend was good for the heart and soul, and I was so glad to catch up on a lot of the news of the last eight months.

Finishing up our visit, I had my first espresso when we stopped at Eric's favorite bar, which was luckily open on Sunday. I didn't use the sugar packet provided me, since I don't like sugar in my American coffee, so it was an intense experience. Good, though, and good fuel for the rest of the night.

On the metro trip back into the city and the central train station, I saw a group of seven scouts, probably about 14 years old. At first I thought I saw something like a school tie around one boy's neck, and then around a girl's. But as they started getting off the metro a few at a time, I realized I was seeing rolled up kerchiefs, and they each had backpacks and other gear. It was so cool!

By the time we reached Piazza Garibaldi, got off the metro, got into the train station, and found the departures board, we had almost an hour to wait for the next train to our stop. We went ahead and bought a couple more tickets, because the ones we had were good for 140 minutes, but we realized that by the time we got off the train and boarded the bus (the final leg home), we would have exceeded that time limit.

We boarded the train early, and about five minutes after it was supposed to leave, I noticed a group of the teenage soccer fans who'd been on the platform were walking by outside making the "cut off" gesture -- moving their hands horizontally across their throats.

I'd been a little nervous when I saw these groups of kids -- probably a couple or three dozen in our car and the next, in groups of four to ten friends apiece. They were all wearing the light blue scarves for the local team, 99% of them boys between 14 and 20 years old, a lot of them with impressive diamond studs in their ears. I've never seen so many beautiful teenage boys at one time outside of a Calvin Klein ad. They were having a good time, but having read so many police-blotter stories from Italian papers over the last year, plus hearing lots about the soccer hooligan culture in some places, I was a bit anxious. They were really impressive, too:

So within a minute of that one group of kids walking by, making the "no go" gesture, everybody on the packed train car was up out of their seats and rushing for the door -- but no one knew what was going on. Cosa succede? Cosa succede? the other ladies were asking me, grabbing their purses and shopping bags. Non lo so, non lo so, I was answering. I didn't know, but if everyone on the train was suddenly rushing to get off? I was sure as heck getting off, too.

Outside, everyone was hurrying, rushing down the concrete platform, breaking into a run, jumping down onto the gravel and crossing the tracks between the trains. Just as I was debating whether we should follow them (my grandfather worked for the railroad, and train safety has been drilled into me since I was tiny), I heard the end of an announcement: . . . il diciotto sei . . . Caserta . . . invece di binario cinque. Okay, different train -- not on track 5 anymore --

We realized it at the same time, jumped down between the trains, and started running after everybody else, trying to move as fast as possible while being quiet and focused enough to get the new track number . . . undici! Yes! Okay, 5 to 11 isn't too far . . . and soon enough we were part of the crowd, pushing to get on the new train, all the tifosi, the soccer fans, laughing and shoving in this one last excitement on game day.

The new train pulled out about half an hour late. On the ride, there was some excitement from a man who might have been crazy, might have been drunk. At first I thought the group of six or so boys in his part of the car were taunting him (I was stereotyping -- they were white teen boys, he was a middle-aged black man, I'd seen several fascist graffiti slogans throughout the day), but then I realized that they were cautiously bemused, willing to confront and interact with him to some extent, but simply reacting to his loud declarations and pronouncements. The couple in the seats facing us, and the others I could see in our part of the car, were reacting just as we were, just as anyone does when there is a possibly crazy/drunk person on the public transit: keeping an ear out to monitor the situation and exchanging glances and raised eyebrows or weary smiles with the other non-crazy, non-drunk people.

We arrived in our station without incident, though, and went outside to wait for the bus.

This turned out to be the hitch.

We had directions from Eric and from the travel office, but of course it was after dark (sunset is before five o'clock), and we knew we'd be catching the very last bus of the night . . . which never came. Or else we were in the wrong place after all.

We were undaunted, though, because we are fortunate enough to be blessed with Ben, who arrived 20 minutes after we placed the rescue call, even though he'd never been to that station before. So we were scooped up, got to save our additional transit tickets, didn't have to walk miles in the dark on the unlit highway with no shoulder or pay upward of 20€ for a cab, had a nice chat with Ben, and were deposited on our doorstep . . . right at the same time that our neighbors, who were on our flight over, were coming in from their day of sightseeing. They invited us over for prosciutto and cheese and bread and wine, but we were so tired that we declined, only to have them bring over a plate of goodies about ten minutes later.

We gobbled them up while watching the Pentagon channel, and I schemed about all the gratitude baking I planned to do. I just took my go-to banana sweet out of the oven as I was writing this evening. (I figured out the oven!) I'll be returning our neighbors' plate all filled up with the yumminess tomorrow since it's too late tonight. I also got supplies for pumpkin cupcakes (mailorder #4 recipe card), sour cream apple pie, and pecan pie -- all for Thanksgiving. (I confess that I'm using premade crusts. Even with Janelle's hands-on tutorial in October, I'm just not up for pie crust right now, with a wine bottle as makeshift rolling pin and so on. Maybe for Christmas.)

I'm going to check with Ben re: allergies and preferences, but I'm thinking pumpkin cupcakes and that banana chocolate cinnamon sugar goodness for him and Kiko. Don't you agree?

Monday, November 23, 2009

Loving it

So I am fully entrenched in loving my life right now. Eating delicious candy, which I picked out from the mini-mart using my ability to read Italian (yes!), is just part of it. (The candy is a variety of this, but mine is chocolate nougat with pistachios and almonds, coated in 70% dark chocolate.)

Working backward, I loved walking back from the gym tonight after dark, completely relaxed and safe. The gym itself is very nice, and I plan to make an appointment with one of the trainers as soon as all the in-processing stuff is finished. It felt great to run today; I've missed working out as often as I was before moving. I've been achy and a bit headachy, and I know I haven't been drinking enough water -- all things that exercise fixes.

More good information today. I met a couple of people from the organization with which I volunteered in Virginia and got flyers from a bunch of other groups. Highlights included presentations on mail (really!) and receiving our stuff.

Sunday was fantastic, but it is 12 minutes till my bedtime, so I'm pushing that story and its accompanying photos to tomorrow. I am still getting the hang of all this -- feeling much more fatigue than I think I should be, even though I seem to be sleeping through the night, and just not on my game with time management.

Continuing to work backward, the cool window coverings are just considered shutters, or persiane. I'd seen the word before but couldn't remember it. My friend Marilyn provided it for me at dinner Saturday night. The antipasto at that dinner included at least three different preparations of octopus, among other things. My favorites were the long tendril-y guys served warm with a bit of red sauce and oil and greens.

I'm continuing to pass internal mile markers. Just as I was beginning to wake up Saturday morning, I had that experience of realizing, Oh . . . I'm . . . still here. What with this being my third move in 16 months, I know the feeling is pretty standard. I just passed the point that my subconscious considered reasonable for vacation. Yep, still here . . .

Saturday No. 1

I wrote this Saturday night:

I had a great time at the mall, and how often do you get to say that? It was wonderful to get out, and I loved getting to spend some more time with our sponsor and his wife. While we were there, I picked up an inexpensive set of measuring cups and spoons to tide me over baking-wise until our first shipment gets here in a few weeks. I also got a broom, handles and heads sold separately. I liked getting to mix and match, plus maybe it will be good for replacement purposes? Maybe the head will wear out first, or I'll . . . I don't know, accidentally run over the handle and be spared buying an entire new broom?

A stop into a travel office sorted out the bus/train/metro situation for getting into town. The bad news is that being in the boonies, the last bus out this far is at 7:20 p.m. The good news is that the daytime is still fully workable, and once a car enters the mix, I can cut out the bus, and the train and metro run late.

We saw California friends this evening, too, down from Rome to do some shopping. Friends make the world go 'round sometimes, don't you think? It was fantastic to see them, and to get input on this entire experience from people who already know us. They understand our personalities and our inclinations in our native habitat, so to speak; and we know them, so we all know how to weigh each other's advice and opinions much better.

Saturday, November 21, 2009

Day Three

I wondered this morning when I will stop counting the days. Not yet, it seems.

Yesterday we learned about housing. It's possible we won't live here, and if we don't, it turns out that we also won't be living anywhere that's been identified as having toxic water, which is nice. I'm pretty sanguine about housing at the moment -- nothing to be done about it till next week, at any rate.

It is so, so wonderful to be back in a climate like this -- cool and damp in the evenings, sunny and warm during the day.

I'm very eager to get out into town. Very. That project is commencing today, with full execution tomorrow for sure. I can't wait!

Thursday, November 19, 2009

Day One


I slept for 12 hours after arriving yesterday evening, then had coffee and went for a run this morning. The weather is gorgeous, reminding me very much of Southern California, my favorite place.

The windows in the temporary apartment all have awesome covers that roll up and down, completely blocking light and shutting out most sound when they're closed. They have joined San Diego's security screen doors on my list of regional innovations that should be everywhere.

I am also a big fan of the awnings that can be lowered to give more shade/privacy as desired.

Everyone has said that living on this site is just like being in the United States. I disagree. I'm sure it's much more like the U.S. than not, and I may feel differently after a few months, but this is not exactly the same. Tile floors, the awesome window coverings, bidets, extremely excellent flat-leaf parsley, fresh gnocchi for only $1 a package, and Italian radio in the grocery store are all different. Not enormously, maybe, but enough so that I can tell I'm somewhere else.

Victories today include figuring out how to light the stove burners (hold in that button with the star on it while turning the knob) and cooking dinner with no cutting board or cooking utensils (just table cutlery). It's good.

Monday, November 2, 2009


A record to look at the next time I declare that I haven't accomplished anything:

- bought two full-size suitcases (so big!)
- picked up perfume and mascara (entailed trip to farther-away mall)
- got cat litter (another trip)
- made appointment to have car serviced
- got quotes to have exhaust resonator replaced
- bought groceries

- got exhaust resonator replaced (for 1/3 of estimated dealer cost)
- made note on calendar to empty out car before movers get here
- took four items to be altered (fingers crossed -- new place)
- got information for obtaining appraisal for china
- decreased mess on desk by 15 minutes