My son, as I may have mentioned before, is I’m sure a lot like other boys his age (nearly 12) in that he likes to spend as much time as possible doing two things: playing soccer (insert sport of choice) and playing with his PS3 or computer games. Often trying to get him to do anything other than these things involves a form of very slow Chinese water torture (to be endured by me, not him). So it is with some degree of delight that this week I observed that Luc likes to get into the weightiest of topics at the strangest of times – always when we are biking in city streets, usually through challenging traffic, on the way to his soccer practice, which is at least 20 minutes each way.
On the way to practice the other day he posed the question: “Mom, what’s it like to be a woman?” which he has admittedly asked before. But after my initial glib response of “I don’t know because I’ve never been anything else,” he kept pressing for details. Now I know a window when I see one! I will certainly not ever miss the chance to help him grow into the progressive, aware, strong, and good man that I know he will become. So, this led to a discussion of what women’s place has historically been in the world and is today, in some places still.
I have to say it all came as quite a shock to him and in his lovely innocence he couldn’t begin to understand why a woman wouldn’t always have the same rights as a man, why they might get paid less for the same job, or why I have to be more careful going home at night by myself than he will ever have to as a grown man.
On the way back from practice the question was “Mom, what happens when we die?” which sparked a discussion on religion, what some people believe happens when you die, with each of us pitching our own pet theories on what awaits us all eventually, all the while dodging Italian drivers and navigating roundabouts.
I can’t quite figure out this predilection of his for heavy-duty conversations while in motion. It has happened before, sometimes in cars too, anything involving wheels apparently. But all I know is that his curiosity is alive and well and I’ll go with the probably still contrarian theory that gaming makes you smarter!
Check out these great TED talks on gaming:Gabe Zichermann – How Games Make Kids SmarterJane McGonigal: Gaming Can Make a Better World
We are back in Italy after a 3 month hiatus in the US to obtain my work visa. The Italian is rusty but words keep popping up that I'd forgotten I knew, so all is not lost. Nothing like try to learn a language to stretch brain muscles you never knew you had. Luc and I have spent the last several afternoons at Vicenza's Parco Aquatico
. It is baking hot and there is really nothing else to do but hole up inside until it's time to make a beeline for the pool. Thank God there is one! In this case, quite a deluxe public version that makes our beloved local village pool in Ohio look like a neglected and distant aquatic cousin.
The Parco Aquatico has two ginormous twirly slides, a sculplturesque pool with fountains with underwater 'tanning beds' -- places to recline that I can only suppose are meant to increase your tan, a main pool with a huge floaty 'mountain' that kids can climb with ropes or handholds and slide down the front. The pool is so big there are always two lanes roped off for lap swimming cross the width of it, which is the same as the length of most pools I've been in.
With less than a week of living in Italy to go, I will leave you with some parting thoughts. While living here has been both wonderful and difficult in many ways; it is not a cliche to say that it is a place of stunning beauty that time almost forgot and also a place where the business of day to day living and working can be made pretty damn hard. But it has, I can say, also been a very good place to get a lot of writing done. I have finished one screenplay, started another, and am working on a young adult novel. And I cannot close this chapter on Italy without acknowledging that our time here would never have been possible without the incredible generosity and hospitality of my friend, Marta, and her family.
Of course it is not just the inspiring environs, but keeping to a writing schedule that has been key. However, while sitting in my usual coffee bar this morning, I realized that one of the other main reasons is that I can so easily tune out all the Italian I hear around me. There are no English conversations to distract me, the Italian melts into melodious white noise that I cease to hear after a while. And there is also the fact, that because I am pretty obviously a foreigner, a tourist, it gives me a free pass to sit alone in any café, bar, or restaurant, while writing and observing away. I just don't seem to become self-conscious about it the way I would if I were back home.
I have my usual haunts around town by now that I frequent. The staff all know me and greet me like a regular. I am probably thought of as that lonely-woman-with-no-friends who comes in and scribbles in a notebook for hours. All right, I have to confess, when I have had friends come for a visit, I do take them back to these places, with no doubt some subtext of wanting the staff to see that I’m really not so strange after all, I truly am a well adjusted, somewhat normal human being!
The other reason it has been good for my writing is that free, or even paid, wireless service in public places in Italy is still relatively uncommon, at least in this town. All the months I’ve been here I have not seen one – not one – person sitting in a café with a laptop. We are not in Starbucks territory. So this means I must leave the greatest distraction – the Internet at home. A beautiful thing.
On the subject of writing, whenever I hit the wall and find myself stuck, which is often enough, I always go back to the most amazing book I’ve ever read that deals with any act of creativity: The War of Art
by Steven Pressfield. If you aim to compose a song, build a house, or start a business, and get stuck or have any self-doubts, read this book. It always manages to give me hope that maybe, just maybe, if I keep showing up every morning, like punching in at the factory, something good will eventually come of my efforts.
I really didn’t know, when we left home last August, how long this venture would last. I’m amazed and pleased that we have nearly reached 8-months of European living. Unfortunately, we won’t make it to Spain this trip, but I have promised L that will be our next destination. And with his new background in Italian, picking up Spanish shouldn’t be too hard. L came home from school the other day and said “I love my school and my friends there!” I couldn’t believe my ears. An all-Italian, Catholic school. Who could have guessed this would be a good experience for him? I so wish I didn’t have to take him out before the end of the year, but unfortunately the laws of tourist visas are bigger than us. But he has made some very good friends and we will be back.
Now, it is on to London for a brief stop, and then we are Midwest Bound. It will be good to be on home ground for awhile and recharge our batteries with friends, family, and a bit of small town American living. And so it is that now I will put this blog to rest for a while. I imagine it will be reborn eventually, in perhaps a different form. I will spare you any caterpillar to butterfly analogies right about now. The reality is much more prosaic. The months ahead will hold many changes for my superboy traveler and I, and now is the time for me to focus on the tasks ahead: Writing. Living. Work.
Thank you for reading!(L to R: my morning perch; taming the beast, otherwise known as Ralph; late afternoon in downtown Vicenza; a lizard).
The river we cross on the way to school every morning.
I have been a bad blogger lately and I was wondering to myself the other day why this is. It is true that I entered my flat-out- really-busy season with work, but I also realized that it is because life in Italy has settled into such a normal routine, that I don’t really feel like I’m travelling any more. I think this is mostly an excuse, but I’m going with it.
Our routine, since I’m on the subject, has been to attempt to get L into school by 8:30am, by bus or bike, where he stays until 2pm and I go back down and pick him up. He is settling in well and seems to actually be enjoying himself. He has individual Italian lessons twice a week with Nelly, the English/Italian teacher, and has an assortment of the usual classes while he is there such as math, history, English, music, computer, art, and a real bonus, swimming. He says the food served for lunch is mostly amazing and he enjoys playing soccer after lunch every day. The best part of all is he has made a really good friend – a boy who speaks enough English that they can communicate well enough between them. He went to his house the other day for a birthday party. This is monumental! READ MORE....
Happy New Year everyone and seeing as this is the 10th of the month already and only my first post, it looks like I’m off to a slow start. But really, I have been busy! After a packed two weeks in London, and a harrowing flight through high winds and dense fog (I really thought I was going to pass out), we are happily back in Italy for what I guess you could call Phase II.
As much as I love London, the days there were grey and dark with some of them never seeming to get past twilight before the sun disappeared altogether about 3:30pm. With some degree of relief that I would be forever suffering from sunlight deprivation, we returned to sun-filled Italy on Befana
, or the 12th night festival, which is a big holiday here. In popular folklore, Befana is the witch who visits all children in Italy on the Eve of the Feast of Epiphany and fills their stockings, presumably with very nice things. Needless to say, Everything was closed and people filled the streets, bars (read: cafes), and restaurants.
L started at the very imposing sounding Catholic school this week, Patronato Leone XIII Scuola. I am surprised and thrilled to report that he seems to really like it so far. Who knew? It seems more welcoming than imposing so far.
There are several other boys in the class that speak enough English for them to communicate, plus they all play football at recess (seriously key point for L) and, he reports, that the food they are served for lunch is great. As he is technically ‘auditing’, they will not expect him to keep up with everyone else in his studies in Italian. He is there mainly to learn Italian, learn about Italian culture, and socialize with the other kids, and they seem happy to have him. While the school seems almost antiseptic in appearance, the grounds are nice, they have great sporting facilities, and most important of all, they seem like kind people. One of his classmates told him the first day as he was introduced to everyone, “You help us learn English and we will help you learn Italian.” So far, so good.
My Italian is coming along too. While I am still far from fluent, so far this week I have been able to navigate sorting out mobile phone problems and school registration, all in Italian. Something must be starting to work right! But more likely, it’s just that Google Translate is my very good friend. But I do find I acquire vocabulary as I need to use it. I know enough basic verbs and conjugations that, with the appropriate vocab words, I can manage to navigate and be understood. And as I’ve said before, so much of understanding a foreign language is context.
Finally, the reason for the random photos this time is that it seems I left my camera downloading cord in London. Ack! So while I would have liked to post some pics from a weekend bike trip up to Monte Berico, you will just have to imagine the stunning, panoramic, picturesque views of Vicenza in the dwindling afternoon light. There…you saw it, didn’t you?
Venice at dusk, on the way to station.
There is a well worn truism that every parent knows, and possibly those who have chosen not to become parents: if you want to come face to face with the deepest, darkest, and ugliest part of your soul – have children. For through parenting you are forced to view yourself anew, and often those parts of yourself you would rather not contend with are reflected back to you through the eyes, and behavior, of your children.
Of course, it’s not all sturm and drang, there are occasional pinnacles of great joy, with a more common peppering of cozy, contented moments. I believe this same truism can be applied to the light that is shed upon yourself from the experience of travel. My friend Scott, a journalist among other things, conducted an interview with the well known travel writer, Pico Iyer
, who said that “[Travel] confronts you with emotional and moral challenges that you would never have to confront at home.” I couldn’t agree more.
Me on a beach in Senegal with two of my brothers
I have been pondering this question more than usual lately as I was challenged on this question at a dinner party not long ago. My reactions in such situations where I feel put on the defensive to explain my choices are akin to running in quicksand. They suck. And I spend the rest of the night and next several days kicking myself for not being as quick and adept verbally as I should have been.
This person’s take clearly suggested that I was not considering L’s emotional life and desires enough in my choice to travel with him and disrupt his stable life. I tried to draw on my own experiences growing up as the daughter of a travelling family, and that in fact I had much more upheaval than L has had, and yet I am still happy and grateful to have had those experiences, even though it wasn’t always easy. I also suggested that it is the natural order of things that kids follow their parents and these experiences shape who we end up becoming. In response to this, the person said that “was bordering on child abuse.”
a Prosecco Aperol outside at La Piccola Osteria
This is one of my favorite places in Vicenza. The perfect little Enoteca, or wine bar, where I can sit and write, and be familiar yet anonymous. Italian tumbles around me. The servers and owners know me by now. I am an island with my notebook and neon-looking Prosecco Aperol, yet I greet enough people as to not feel marooned. I watch the regulars and wonder whether my observations of their characters are as spot on as I think they are. I enjoy the sweetness of the apertivo against the saltiness of the complimentary bowl of chips they give me, against my far better judgment.
The 1980’s disco tracks provide just the right slightly ironic ambiance. The ceiling is framed by wooden beams, wine bottles line the walls, along with cobbled stones. The glass case by the bar displays all the mouthwatering tapas-style bites – or spunciotteria – available to pad your alcoholic intake. The door stays open no matter the weather so people can sit or stand outside or in.
This particular evening there is the dandy man in his silk suit and nearly wing-tipped black loafers sitting next to me who, after studying his iPhone and waiting for 45 minutes for his date to arrive, moved to the bar to make his eventual exit a bit less noticeable, or so I imagine. Then there is the couple – work colleagues perhaps – safely flirtatious, sharing a drink and smoke just outside. A house painter stops by on his way home from work to have a glass of wine and small plate of fresh anchovies.
The other night I attempted to go to an English-speaking networking drinks-do at a bar in downtown Vicenza while L was at soccer practice. Apparently, my interpretation of ‘Happy Hour’ – when it was supposed to take place – needs an Italianesque revision. I showed up at what I thought was a respectable 7:15pm to find the place utterly empty. I found out today that it didn’t get started until nearly 9 and went until after midnight. Since I decided not to hang around waiting, looking like an adrift tourist, desperate to speak English, I left. My motive for the whole outing was to hopefully meet some other expats in Vicenza who either might have a lead on private Italian lessons, or even better, might have kids L’s age. But it was not meant to be last night, and I rode my bike back to the neighborhood where I stopped in at Piccola Osteria before heading home. It was of course, warm, bright, full of people and welcoming. The bartender poured me a glass of a new Montepulciano, which I savored, along with my own plate of fresh anchovies, before biking the rest of the way home.
Piccola Osteria, Via Alfonso Lamarmora, 147, 36100, Vicenza, Italy.
Some weeks I just don’t know what to write. It’s not that nothing is happening, but that what’s happening just doesn’t seem blog worthy. In the scheme of things, I’m still pretty new at this. And I have some old fashioned hesitation about ‘over-sharing’ my personal life and thinking that anyone would find that worth reading about amidst the information overload that is already every day life.
Our adventures have plateaued for the moment, as we are staying put in Vicenza for a while. I am trying to navigate the Italian bureaucratic requirements in order to enroll L in school while we are here. I’m also trying to sort out more insurance requirements so he can practice with the local football club and we’re both studying Italian.
I have found a wonderful indoor pool just down the road where I can swim laps while L is at football practice or with his new friends. I have continued to swim my laps (my personal sanctuary) in whatever country we have been in. So it is with this cross-country perspective that I do just have to note how much I have been struck by the fact that the majority of both men and women I see at the pool – of all ages – seem to be incredibly fit. The difference between what I have observed in Germany, the UK and of course, the US, is stark enough to make one pause and ask, “Where the hell if all that pasta going? Because it does not seem to be sticking to most Italian’s thighs, ass, hips, etc.!
It really is quite astonishing. I am tempted to attribute it to all the cigarettes that most of them still smoke. At a dinner the other night of 10-12 people, at one point I noticed I was the only one in the room not smoking – I am not exaggerating.
More likely it comes down to portion size. Italians will have a small serving of pasta of some various form, followed by a meat and vegetable. Bread is available but never served with butter or even olive oil, like some trendy American restaurants like to provide, for dipping. Or maybe it is still the relative scarcity of fast food available. It’s there – even in Vicenza there is a McDonalds (but no Starbucks) – but good, home-cooked food is still deeply embedded in culture and tradition here.
However, the highlight of the week for me was a lazy Sunday lunch at a trattoria on a hillside outside of town. Gnocchi with shrimp and porcini mushrooms, followed by an assortment of grilled meats, and of course, plenty of prosecco. For L, the highlight was a guided tour of my friend’s pharmaceutical factory (see above and below) where they make, package and ship everything from suppositories to high end skin and beauty products. It was a treat for L to get to see up close how everything works. Meanwhile, for me it’s back to the pool to work off the gnocchi as I am not so confident I am going to absorb the Italian’s Teflon girth-fighting ability!
A convention of Daleks?
My pace of progress
I realize that I subtitled this blog ‘Adventures in Parenting, Traveling & Creativity’ but I have not really even begun to touch on the creativity part. It would probably come as little surprise that between traveling, parenting, working, and homeschooling I have had little time for my own creativity. This is a problem, but one I’m used to. In my laptop I have two screenplays that need major overhauling, one chapter of a young adult novel completed, and several plays that I should be sending out to try to find production. I am lucky to get two blog posts in a week though right now.
While the limits on my time are plenty, I don’t think that is ever not the case as a writer, or just a person alive today, plain and simple. Believe me, there is always something easier to do than to sit down and write! If I were on home turf my time would be equally filled with things to do. In my ongoing battle with time and procrastination, I have become somewhat of an expert on the Creative Process and reading everything I can about it in order to inspire, understand, conquer, and of course…procrastinate.