Saturday, October 10, 2009

Lover's Field

I'm sure you've heard of "Lover's Lane," a street where young couples without better accomodations go to make out. Well, I live next to an entire "Lover's Field."

My house is sort of out in the countryside, or what passes for countryside around here. We are (as the title of my blogs says) truly located amid the olive trees, amid groves of olive trees.

Our house was unoccupied for 10 years before we came to live here and it apparently became a popular destination for the making-out-in-cars set. When we first moved in we would find people doing their thing while parked right across our front gate! Needless to say, that made it kind of difficult to get in and out of the driveway...

Slowly, people seem to have figured out that the house is now occupied and so they have moved their activities over to the field next-door. This field has become such a hit that a dirt road has been cut into the ground from cars entering and exiting it with such frequency!

So who cares, right? I'm all for the philosophy of live and let live. I mean, these "visitors" are quiet. They drive in, do their business and drive out. So what's the problem?

Well, actually, there are some drawbacks to the situation. For one, I have young children and these folks do not necessarily limit their rendevous (what's the plural form of rendevous? rendevouses?!) to after-dark hours. What am I supposed to say to my boys? "No, those naked people in that car? They're just chatting sweetie, it's nothing!"

Another problem is that these folks are litterbugs. They treat the area in front of my house (yes, there are still some who have not yet transferred over to the field) and the olive grove like dumps. Almost every morning we find pizza boxes, beer cans, empty cigarette packs, used tissues, you name it. One day my mother-in-law came to visit and as she stepped out of the car, she stepped onto a used condom! Aaaaah! Luckily, she didn't notice...

And then there are the singles. Yes, that's right, the singles. Men who seem to be inspired by fresh air and nature to undertake certain types of do-it-yourself activities. Please, let's not even dwell on this one...

My husband jokes and says he's going to set up a kiosk out in the field, selling tissues, condoms, cold drinks, snacks...

Friday, October 9, 2009

Expat Interview

Cherrye Moore of My Bella Vita recently pufffed up my ego by asking to interview me (who? little old me?!) for an expat-oriented site she writes for called Affordable Calling Cards. I agreed to do it because I can remember the days when I was living in the States and dreaming of running off around the world having adventures...but didn't know how to go about it in a way that would work for me.

I'm not one of those people who can just pick up and go "travelling" for a year. I'm not quite that adventurous! And I have always liked the idea of living and working for a longer period of time in a new place, so as to get to really know the people, the customs, etc. Sightseeing has never been my thing, I want to know what real life is like when I go somewhere new. Teaching English as a Foreign Language turned out to be my path to life abroad, and my passion.

So, if hearing about my experience can help someone else make the leap...great!

To read the interview, click here.

Thursday, October 1, 2009

Guest Writer

I have the pleasure today of sharing with you an article written by Ainsley Okoro, who has been examining the effects of English on the Italian language. If you enjoy this article, you can stop by Becoming Italian Word by Word to read another fascinating article on the same subject.


Given that in language class at school I was saddled with the deadly combination of window seat and dull teacher, when I started learning Italian I realised I would need all the assistance I could get.

What’s helped? The growing number of English words widely used in Italian –everything from il budget and il business to lo shopping and il weekend.

Less useful? So-called “false friends” – Italian words that don’t mean what you think they should. So, una fattoria isn’t a factory, il magazzino isn’t the same as magazine and il polluzione doesn’t mean pollution.

But far more annoyingly misleading are English words that have crossed into Italian – and then been given a completely different meaning, as if at random.

Take my Italian father-in-law, who wondered why I looked puzzled when he told me how, a couple of weeks previously, his car è andata in tilt. High-speed trains tilt…but cars? It means on the blink, apparently, as in not working.

Or how about the friend who explained how his son had travelled across Cuba the year previously, facendo l’autostop. That’s hitchhiking to you. Which makes some sense – but only after it’s been explained to you.

There’s more. For instance, an Italian executive might start the day putting on un tight, opening il suo box, getting into un spider and then heading to his job at un holding. (Translations: Tight is morning suit; box means garage; spider refers to a convertible car; while holding means a parent company).

At lunchtime he might fare il footing – or what in non-Italian English is known as jogging. On the other side of town, meanwhile, Mrs Executive, a TV actress, is about to shoot un nuovo spot (advertisement), in which she’s starring alongside il Mister (the manager) of soccer club Inter Milan. To prepare herself, she’s spent the morning at un wellness centre – ideal to fare il relax and have un peeling.

Later on that evening she and hubby are off to a dinner party – for which he’s changed into il suo smoking (tuxedo) while she’s in il suo montgomery. On the way they’re picking up one of her friends, who’s wearing un nuovo trench. Getting there by Lamborghini certainly beats taking il pullman. (Translation: Smoking is a tuxedo, montgomery and trench are both coats; while pullman means the bus.)

Ah, the joys of learning Italian. I mean it’s one thing being stumped by Italian words…but English ones too?


Ainsley Okoro works for the property for sale in Italy website Homes and Villas and specialises in Calabria property and Tuscany property

Monday, September 7, 2009

Girl's Night Out & A Contest

I didn't realise what a challenge this contest would turn out to be, and I'd like to thank all those who good-naturedly participated! In the end, determining the six nationalities was more of a team effort than anything else! So, for the sake of fairness, I pulled a name out of the hat at random.

And the winner is...Welshcakes Limoncello!

Answer: Ukranian, Bulgarian, Moldovan, American, Italian, Russian

One evening, not too long ago, one of my best friends decided to organise an evening in which she brought together all of her international girlfriends. We went out to the Creperia, a lovely restaurant in the historic center of a little seafront town down the coast a ways. We shared good food and lively conversation and I got to thinking about how fascinating it was that none of us came from the same country. Six different women, from six different nations, chatting away in Italian, and having a wonderful time together.

So, I thought I would create a contest in which, you, my gentle reader, have to guess which countries we are each from. And I even have a prize for the winner! The first person to accurately guess where each woman in this photo hails from will win a copy of Apulia - A Film Tourism Guide, a fantastic guidebook to this region, made even more fantastic because it was translated into English by little old me!

Good luck!

p.s. anyone who is actually in the photo is not allowed to participate, for obvious reasons!

Sunday, September 6, 2009

My Secret Admirer

So, I wake up the other morning, get ready to go about my day, and grab my cellphone as I go out the door. Oh, look! I have a message! That's always nice, let's see who it's from...

Message: Ciao

Just Ciao? From a phone number I don't recognize? Sent at 12:10 a.m.? Okay, must be someone who got the wrong number, but for curiosity's sake, I respond...

Me: Ciao, but who are you?

Immediately, I get the following message...

Person X: I am your secret admirer!!! So, I can't tell you who I am!!!

What? What's going on here? I don't really want to have a secret admirer, thank you very much. This must be a friend playing a joke on me. So I respond...

Me: Tell me who you are or don't write anymore.

My Secret Admirer: Well, I can tell you that my name is domenico, but you don't know me, and I'm a good friend of mauro p.

Me: Who is mauro p?

My S.A.: Mauro papagna (names have been changed to protect the not-so-innocent!), don't you know him??

Me: The 12-year-old boy?

My S.A.: Yes, him!!

Me: And are you 12, too?

My S.A.: No, how old are you?

Me: Who do you think you are writing to?

My S.A.: To Sara, but anyway, how old are you?

Me: 47 and I'm Danny's mother.

Let us pause here for a moment to imagine the shock and subsequent panic that this poor little boy must have felt upon realising that he is trying to flirt with an old lady, and the mother of a friend of a friend, worse yet!

My horrified S.A.: And I thought that you were a pretty girl, from what mauro told me. That bum played a joke on me, just wait till I get ahold of him!! Please forgive me, I didn't mean to bother you, forget everything, pretend it never happened. See you later!!!

Me: Don't harm done. But tell Mauro not to give my phone number out to anyone else!

Just plain Domenico: Of course, I will right away. ciao

And so we ended up where we began, with a "ciao." And no secret admirer for me! LOL!

Saturday, September 5, 2009

On Being 12

Sometimes, when you are 12, those long, hot summer days seem to stretch on interminably. You and your friend have played basketball, soccer and swum in the neighbor's pool for countless hours. You watched a little TV, but there was nothing good on, so the two of you decide to just sit around out in the yard.

As with little kids, it's those overly quiet moments that a mother needs to worry about...

Out of sheer boredom, my son decided it would be a good idea to stick his foot down into the little hole we had drilled in the yard to search for drinking water in the underlying ground water. As you can see, it's really a little hole. Compare the size of the kid's shoe with the size of the hole and maybe you know what's coming next in this story...

F., my son's friend came running into the house, "Sara, Sara, Danny's foot is stuck in the waterhole!" Yes, he got his foot into the hole, up to his knee, but then could not get it back out.

We spent the next half hour and more trying every possible technique I could think of to get his foot out. We tried to pull him straight up and out, but he said it hurt. I lay face down in the dirt and stuck my whole arm into the hole to try to pull his shoe off, but it was on too tight. I tried to untie his shoe so he could slip his foot out, but, besides the fact that he had made double knots in his laces, there was just not enough room for me to move my hand around.

The next stage involved tools...
I thought maybe I could cut the shoelaces, but there was just not enough room to manouver down in that hole and I was afraid I might cut my son. I spent a lot of time and energy trying to widen the sides of the hole, but as anyone who knows Apulia can tell you, we have a very rocky terrain here. I was able to move a tiny bit of dirt and a few little pebbles, but not much more.

In the end, the combination of my digging and the help of Danny's friend, F., who is a very big and strong 12-year-old, did the trick. We tried our original "pulling him straight up and out while he pushed with his other leg" technique....and succeeded!

Never a dull moment around here, I'm telling you...

Tuesday, September 1, 2009

The Care and Feeding of Boys and Other Animals

Our trip home to Italy went very well, travel-wise, and over the past few days we have been settling in to our old routines. Jetlag is a drag, as anyone who has traveled from the US to Europe can tell you. You're exhausted all day, but you can't sleep all night! Confusion! But each day things get a little easier.

The first to greet us upon our return were our 3 dogs, 1 rabbit and 1 hamster. We had 7 cats, too, but the feline population has thinned out around here. We gave away 3 kittens the day before we left, which still left us with 4 cats, but 2 seem to have moved over to the neighbors' house leaving us with just 2.

The first thing my sons wanted to do after greeting their four-legged friends, was to invite human friends over to play. They hadn't seen them for 3 whole weeks! And since I always say yes to having friends over, the house is full of 4, 5, 6 or more boys every day.

The thing about all these creatures, both human and non, is that they are all always hungry! Gone are the days of those little boys who picked at their food, or settled for an ice-cream cone for dinner. Seems like all I do is non-stop food and beverage service all day!

And that leads to a lot of dirty plates and glasses. However, the good news is that my sister-in-law is redoing her kitchen and has passed her nearly-new dishwasher our way. I have been the dishwasher in this house since our last mechanical one broke down and died three years ago. I haven't wanted to buy a new machine because of the expense, and the handwashing didn't really bother me. But now that I have this baby, I'm thrilled. What was I thinking of, handwashing for all those years? Never thought an appliance could make me so happy!

Saturday, August 29, 2009

Memories of West Virginia

Our three wonderful weeks in Wild and Wonderful West Virginia have come to an end. We will always remember the new friends we made and the new experiences we had. My parents have chosen a beautiful corner of the world to make their home in. And lucky us! We get to share it with them every once in a while.

Thursday, August 27, 2009

A Hike in the Woods

A peaceful walk through the local park here in West Virginia can be full of adventure and discovery.
I've captured some of the fascinating flora we found along our way.

I've never seen such a variety of mushrooms before. I suppose they are all poisonous...we didn't taste-test!

I'm liken' that lichen! Ok, forgive me, that was pretty bad...

As for fauna, we scared a large deer out of a grove of trees, met up with a large black bull (luckily on the other side of a fence), saw various spiders and birds, and found this fantastic paper wasp hive.

Wednesday, August 26, 2009

Weekend in Baltimore

My mother's family is from Baltimore, so every visit to the States has a mandatory Balto stopover. My boys love this part of our trips and expect to do certain ritual things every time we are here.
First and foremost is playing with Aunt Kitty (our extremely generous and loving hostess) and her darling doggy, Kimmie. The boys insist on being woken up in the early morning to accompany them on the first walk of the day, and participate in as many other walks as possible. Kimmie goes out and about several times each day.
Another tradition is the tent bed that my aunt sets up for them. They can create their own world in there...and she always fills it with gifts for them.
We paid several visits to my grandmother, who the boys call Gigi. That's short for "great-grandmother" in our family. She is 91 years old and doing quite well, in my opinion!
We had a great time at the National Acquarium. And a good laugh remembering the last time we went there, when Danny was 3. He threw a major tantrum at the entrance, after we had paid for our tickets, of course, and repeatedly screamed, "I don't like fish!!!" Things went a bit better this time...
I was amazed at the incredible variety of marine life they have on exhibit. There is a special exhibit on jellyfish on now, called Jellies Invasion: Oceans Out of Balance. Apparently, there are too many jellyfish floating around, and judging from their map, a lot of them are in the Mediterranean Sea around Italy. We'll have to keep our eyes open when we get back home. Wouldn't want to run into the guy below...
A new discovery for us was the American Visionary Art Museum near Federal Hill (where the national anthem was written, just in case you didn't know!). This museum showcases works of art by self-taught, "outsider" artists.
The works of each artist are accompanied by a short biography, which I often found as interesting as the work itself. I'm a biography buff, admittedly, but each of these people seems to have an amazing life story and an amazing path to the discovery of their artistic talents.
I only have photos of the outdoor exhibits because no photos were allowed inside the museum's two main buildings.
This egg was one of my very favorites.

Wednesday, August 19, 2009

The Vacation Workout

When my stepdad suggested a canoe trip down a branch of the Potomac River, I thought, sure, why not? And imagined a leisurely paddle down a gentle stream. I mean, my parents are in their late sixties and no athletes, my sons are just 9 and 12 and had never canoed how tough could it be? Besides, in August there's very little water in the river, so there wouldn't even be much in the way of rapids.

We set off in 3 canoes, my husband and I each with a son and my folks in a canoe together...and our adventure began. The first problem for me was steering. I had no idea how to handle the canoe. It went left when I tried to steer it right and vice-versa. Gabri and I were the first to crash onto the rocks and he tumbled out of the canoe halfway.

The second ones to go down for the count were my parents who had bravely attacked a set of tiny rapids...only to not see the big rock in the middle and get dumped out unceremoniously into the river. That required a lifesaving effort by me to get my mom, who doesn't swim, out of the middle of the rapids. And stuff-saving efforts by my husband who had to help my stepdad salvage the canoe which was stuck on that sneaky rock, and Danny who swam around picking up bits and pieces of personal belongings that had fallen out helter-skelter.

Unexpectedly, one of the main problems of the ride was the lack of water in the river. For one thing, the river didn't exactly flow along very quickly. We had to row constantly all 6 and half miles if we had any hopes of moving forward at all. Then, we were constantly having to get out and push and/or pull the canoes over vast stretches of rocks that stuck out of the extremely low level water.

Did I mention the thunder and lightening storm? The one with extremely high, cold winds? Yeah, well that was another element of adventure in our day... Luckily, we docked and found shelter under a metal (hmmm, in an electrical storm?) garage sort of space in somebody's backyard. We set off again in the rain, once the thunder and lightening had passed by. I mean, we were all already soaked from the crash, what difference did it make?

And then there was the map provided by the canoe guy. Let's just say that colorful was his forte, accuracy was not! We followed all the curves in the river that were drawn in the map and then...well, as far as I was concerned, we were off the map. After a worried cellphone call (how did my stepdad keep that thing dry even when he capsized?) to John, the canoe guy, we discovered we had two more miles of paddling still to go!

So, here we are, tired but happy. Missing: one tennis shoe, one flip-flop, one pair of women's sunglasses, and one men's extra-large dress shirt. Gained: two tomatoes given to us by John the canoe guy's wife (compensation?), my husband's admiration (he wants to sign me up for one of those survival reality TV shows!) and the most complete complete-body workout of my lifetime. I'll be lucky if I can walk or lift my arms above shoulder-level tomorrow! And there I was missing the gym...

Saturday, August 15, 2009

Tomatoes Galore

Coming back to the States always triggers a sort of "reverse culture shock" for me. I've lived in Italy for so long that it is home and "normal" for me now. The US has become exotic for me!

One of the main shocks here is the amazing quantity of CHOICE in product offer as compared to the provincial southern Italian town I live in. I mean, we just got our first mall a couple of years ago and it is full of boutique-sized stores. Walking into a Walmart here is such a sensory overload, it makes my head spin!
But, I never expected to have the same experience in a simple little Virginia roadside farmer's market...

All I wanted was a pound of tomatoes...