Saturday, August 12, 2017

Le lingue, cont.

I now wonder if I front-loaded too much language in my life, prior to 32, and now, like old data on floppy disks that are now kept in one's top right desk drawer, their access becomes an increasingly remote possibility. "But all that email from 1995 and 1996," one thinks. "It's practically a book, and now I'll never be able to read it again. I know it's in there. If I saw the files, and read them, I would recognize them."

I know that working full-time remote in a position like mine keeps me tethered to English, and unable to snap and enter a truly Italian orbit. I love English. I am writing a lot. I'm a verbal person. English is a transparent user interface to this superuser. Spanish has come very close to that for me, in my life (a bow and a sincere thank you to all my Spanish teachers ever), especially when living in Spain or traveling in Latin America. French has been close. Everything lower than those three on the list have been mere flirtations of my frontal lobes, in Broca's area. La Discoteca Broca, late at night, dancing to EDM with foam and an extra roll of duct tape in the hours just before dawn - okay, that never happened. Well, maybe it did here.

The four-week hiatus from Italy was interesting, from a linguistic point of view. Jason headed straight to Spokane for work, and so Flavia was traveling with me and the kids. The kids know her so well and always stick to Italian with her. The first and second weeks Flavia and I were all Italian, all the time, and I would break into English with the kids when I was in a hurry, revising into Italian if I needed them to really listen to me. When we met back up with Jason in Portland, the family lingua shifted to English, with occasional dips into Italian a cinque. If the five of us were in the same place, the kids were more often yammering on with Flavia in Italian, while Jason and I sorted out logistics in English to the side.

That's normal - he and I both grew up monolingual. We have no childhood memories associated with chatter in other languages, save the exception of my estival migrations to Upper Michigan with my mom and brothers, where conversation, especially in the evenings as guests arrived, and all day Sunday, moved into Finnish. Especially if they were over fifty in the seventies. In any case, no one was giving me any orders in Finnish. It flowed as a small stream of language on a distant border of our childhood field, where I was free to dip my toes in or not. I often did, for the sheer pleasure and shock of those syllables, watching people's faces as they chatted. When I explain my affinity for foreign language to people who don't know me, I frequently cite those seminal experiences as sparks to my tinder. I had to learn a code. I simply had to have new sounds and new words. I wanted to speak to someone who understood my alternative sounds and words. What new heights might we explore together! what different person might I be with new words and new thoughts running through my brain! what might become clear to me that was now wholly unknown! It would be like sailing a ship to a new land, with a rough paper map drawn from dreams alone.

church in the U.P. where I heard a ton of Finnish as a small child -
my grandfather interpreted at the services
(I digress on this point because I am so often surprised when people ask me if Jason and I have given up English at home. How? I want to ask them. How? We speak a lot of Italian at home, but English is the reversion language of clarification and confirmation.We both grew up with two English-speaking parents in the US; we cannot rewrite our early years, or where we went to school, with teachers who probably all spoke English only, save the foreign language teachers.)

On the flight from Seattle I flipped through the movie options in my in-flight entertainment module. There was a ton of content in other languages, many Asian - Chinese, Japanese, Korean original cinema. O were I to have binge watched everything in a mini-SIFF festival, high over the Atlantic.

I oped instead for two junk-food documentaries: one on Brangelina, the other on Oasis, plus two episodes of Silicon Valley, season four. But I paused on one title in particular, which must have been Argentine, I thought: "I Married a Dumbass." For "dumbass" they gave "boludo." I looked at the word again, and again, and thought, holy crap, Spanish slang I have not heard or used for at least nine years, and maybe sixteen. The back of my brain started heating up. (It's my eyebrows that feel hot when I am learning language - I am not kidding. And I don't think it's because I am scowling.) I was whisked away to Argentina.


Like a key to memories, 2001 was suddenly unlocked. I suddenly smelled the heated flagstones of Plaza Dorrego, saw the street dancers' shirts stained with sweat as they tangoed for tourists in front of tables piled high with dusty, rust-covered chandeliers and candlesticks. I felt the heat of January sun at noon as I scurried for shade. I remembered half a dozen new friends, and our shared hilarity.

Plaza Dorrego, San Telmo, Buenos Aires
I saw the face of the young man talking to me in a bus station in Mendoza, who said, incredulously, "but you speak Spanish with no accent."  It must have seemed so to him, as Spanish was transparent to me then, and I wielded it with calm joy, as though a lifelong friend were always accompanying me on my adventures, keys at the ready. I think I responded something along the lines of, "my accent is a complete mix, but thank you." I had gotten to the point by then with Spanish that I cared less and less what I sounded like, and so rambled on, and in my insouciance (and acquisition) became more fluent. My palms didn't sweat. I didn't taste adrenaline as I skirted among verb tenses. I wasn't even thinking about the grammar. I just thought it was fun.

I was surprised at how much Italian I understood yesterday on the bus as the chatty driver caught up with an old friend, or perhaps a sibling, or an amico coetano, on his hands-free from the driver's seat. Italian did seem more like an old friend to me too, in that moment. I am regarding that Italian orbit with a new energy and perspective.

Is this the feeling of my brain breaking, or being rebuilt? or both?

Friday, August 11, 2017

Firenze: Cityhoppin'

Victor and I had been staring out the window of the small jet from his window seat in row 7, wondering what we were looking at. I wasn't sure where we we were. It wasn't Firenze. A small brushfire burned white smoke pluming toward the sky. The pilot's voice came over the intercom:

"Ladies and gentlemen, the wind is too strong to land in Florence, so we are diverting to Pisa."

He provided some additional meteorological information. I quietly groaned - heaven help me should I ever be able to return from Amsterdam to Firenze on the KLM Cityhopper connection and actually land in Firenze. This happened last November too, when I was unceremoniously deposited in Venice due to thick fog, brought to a hotel for an hour and a half, and found my own way home on the first fast train out of Venice to Florence.

The plane was full of mostly American and Dutch tourists, and one Italian man who immediately began hissing, "cazzo, cazzo." Later, when we were on the ground, he called his mom right away to discuss the diversion.

The plan circled out over the Mediterranean, glittering blue and flecked with whitecaps. The cold front rolled in on Thursday, breaking the heatwave they dubbed "Lucifer," and the wind still whipped at the coast. We approached a first time. No luck. Back out to sea. It was no smooth ride either. This repeated at least four more times, with no further comment from the pilot, fighting that buffeting wind. Pisa lay spread out below us with its clay roofs, the mouth of the Arno slugglishly pouring out to sea. Finally, he went for it, and took us around the south and east sides of the city as the plane creaked and rocked to and fro. The wind was stiff. Get down, get down, get us down, I muttered. My palms were wet. Victor whooped a few times, buckled into his seat; six year old boys have no fear whatsoever in these situations. We finally landed with one bump, then another, and some hard braking. Right after we landed another plane came in, and immediately took off again without ever touching down.

The scene outside was chaotic. We were not the only flight that had been diverted due to wind. KLM said a bus would be waiting for us, and one was, but it was far too small for all passengers. Jason snorted and bought us tickets on the private Autostradale bus, which pulled out of the parking lot on time at 5:30 even as many of our fellow passengers from the flight waited in the sun for the second coach to arrive. The bus driver characteristically responded to a few of our basic questions before we left with the Italian frown and upturned palms. I was greatly entertained by a personal phone call he took from his hands-free, chatting loudly to a friend all the way to Florence. "Yeah, I put money on that horse too, it was no good! Didn't pay out! Hey, the hairdresser is right next to the caffe. Did you go grocery shopping yet? What are you doing later? Ok, what about in 60 minutes? 90 minutes?"

The bus deposited us outside of the Fortezza, behind the train station. Jason quickly collared a taxi to drive us home. In the newly cooler air, everyone expressed their relief at the change in weather. We drove across Florence with our two smaller travelers, who cooed at Piazza San Marco. Even the light seemed softer, and San Marco seemed to be a gently glowing peach. It was good to be home.

One day, two small children, three airports, four cities. Two tired parents. And now, the 3 am eastbound jetlag, which Eleanor recommends you best address with yogurt, breakfast cookies, and an orange popsicle.

Sunday, August 6, 2017

L'estate spokanese/Spokane Summer


We have a handful of days left in Spokane before we return to Florence on Friday. We've found our pace here - Flavia has made some friends in her generationally-appropriate cohort, the kids love the splash pad and the cat next door, and a small family of five Indian Runner ducks waddle quickly up and down the sidewalk multiple times each day, chattering amongst themselves. We've made good use of the grill in the garden, where I have also appreciated the rare solitary moment in its quiet, sun-warmed patches.

Garden


South Hill gentility

A child of the American Midwest, whether I like it or not, I find that accessible green space is so critical to my sense of balance. All the Florentines ooh and aah when we tell them our address; Piazza d'Azeglio is widely acknowledged to be the most sought-after green space in town. But you know what happens when your town wasn't really planned for development between 400 CE and the present? There are almost no public green spaces, and so the ones that are available to all disproportionately bear the burden of public demand.

And the dogs. Oddio, the dogs. I mean, I love dogs. But I do not want all my outside time to be so shared with their, er, waste. The park on Azeglio has been pretty much given over to the dog population; they are well-kept, these Tuscan canines; they are collared and leashed, but their owners do not always curb them, and the earth is soaked with dog pee. It is not conducive to relaxing or playing to be in the park that feels like a Seattle off-leash, inside the fence.

In Washington I have reveled in the parks, from Volunteer in Seattle to Manito in Spokane, Hurricane Ridge in Port Angeles; even the small but majestic park across from our rental in Port Angeles, which was used by a few dogs and owners each day, was the same size as Azeglio but much fresher. The Olmstead brothers never went to Florence to sketch out their public plans. There are, indeed, private gardens that are magnificent; our friend Tommy told me once in the Stibbert gardens at Easter that if you flew over Florence, it was a carpet of orchards and gardens and groves. I was surprised, but then considered how, on foot from street level, all these tranquil spaces are shuttered behind high stone walls, inaccessible to all but their owners and guests.

We've gotten our Mexican cuisine on once at Fiesta Mexicana ("Mexican Party!" the kids yell); I've had sushi now three times, accompanied by Jason's colleagues, always to the same place a short walk from the office.

We have eaten a lot of ice cream here. The kids are quite partial to Brain Freeze. It's a very American set of flavors, with some local color thrown in, as with the Palouse Red Lentil. It's expensive though; we can't get out of there for less than $12, which is about double the prices even in Florence, where universal access to gelato is regarded as a basic human right.

We nicked over to The Scoop on South Hill a few nights ago and agreed it was a better option for us - better portions, fresh waffles, friendlier outdoor seating not next to roaring arterial traffic. Critically, they also have a homemade bubblegum flavor, which the kids are crazy about. Eleanor got a baby cone which she loved, and which looked so kawai as to be almost Sanrio. Victor was accosted by a much larger boy who in no time brought up Minecraft, and the two were holding a Minecraft congress such as this mother had never before witnessed. Even as we were buckling Victor into his booster seat in the car, the red-haired boy had his head in the window, saying, "Do you want me to tell you how to get to the stronghold?" and blurted some rapid instructions. As we pulled away, Victor bemoaned, "But he did not tell me whether to go left or right!"

The requisite trips to our storage unit and Target have been completed. I found almost everything on my short list, with the exception of Brown Bear, who was unceremoniously left behind last year in our haste. And Target, whoa do I miss it, and I am even a little embarrassed to admit it. Everything at hand! Kid Neosporin! Paw Patrol bandaids! Post-It notes! Sharpies! Sonicare toothbrush heads. Wow. I just could not believe how many things were there that I feel like I am so often looking for and failing to find in Italy. Replacement washi tape for the two rolls that were stolen when we arrived in Spokane, along with my entire work backpack.

A key from our old house in Norman; I scooped it up from a box of loose things, and pocketed it for the poetry.

Our insurance claim paid out for the theft loss; we always appreciate USAA efficiency. I really could not care less about anything that was stolen, with the exception of my two slim, handwritten journals; one was full and the other was just begun. Irreplaceable, but also the complete one served as a staging page for so much of what I have written here since March.

Some of you may know that I am in the process of turning this blog into a book, and perhaps more. My draft was also saved as a Word doc on the work laptop, and I had foolishly failed to back it up anywhere. Stolen. It's probably in a garage now, or at the bottom of the Spokane River or worse. I still have my original material for it, now in gdrive, but it had been lovingly edited with stolen time of about 10-20 hours, which I am not able to find again with our work and travel and kid schedules. I'd told the agent whom I'd queried (and who responded so positively) that I would have a draft to her by August 15, four days after we return to Firenze. Next Tuesday. I don't know how or when that is going to happen, years of pulling all-nighters in college notwithstanding. I've got a lot of balls in the air, and feel like my heart will crack open.

A dear high school friend told me to not obsess about a book, that the writing is good, but this whole tale could convert into a franchise. I laughed when she told me, then started shopping for a better camera, and have settled on a GoPro to take all of you along with me through Italy and the greater world, as I meander in my half-disorientation and observations.

I just don't know what to do now about this artificial deadline I have created for myself. Is it an opportunity squandered? Little inner voice saying, This is crazy, etc. I welcome your input; if you have an idea, or encouragement, or advice, comment away.

Tuesday, August 1, 2017

Proseguimento a Spokane

We've been back in the US since July 11, with our little roadshow, and with the exception of two minor hiccups, the schedule has been manageable. I actually dreaded it before we came here; just looking at the calendar, I thought - we are never going to be able to make this Napoleonic march happen. 

But it has, with a ton of help, from Jason's parents and from mine, as we kept to our calendar of Seattle to Port Angeles to Seattle to Portland to Spokane.

Evening light at lower Manito Park, Spokane.

Our family friend Flavia is along for the ride, on her first trip to the US. She's plenty traveled, and comes from a traveling family, but had never made it this way yet. We are delighted to be showing her our favorite corner of the US, sharing tall trees, big sky, golden grass, Pacific breezes, ripe berries, espresso kiosks, American coffee (strange), and air conditioning (strong) with her.

I am particularly enjoying her reactions to the last two, because they affront her Italian sensibilities on a daily basis. She guffaws every time we drive through an espresso kiosk, and we order a double shot (me) and a double shot with a splash of soy (her).
That's all? the baristas say, shaking their heads as though they fear they might have missed something, a confused, slightly crooked smile creeping across their faces.
That's all? No ice, no milk, no flavor, no whipped cream, BUT WHAT ABOUT THE MILK?!
No, that's all, we affirm, just the espresso, please, ma'am.
It's like they are serving coffee to aliens. They do not like it one bit.

This afternoon when we came home from work there was a melted coffee in a plastic cup with a lid and a straw.
Madonna! Flavia cried. All I wanted was a double shot of espresso with soy, and they kept saying, ice, ice, and I said, no, hot, hot, and they gave me THIS! Her expression floated between amusement and disgust. The siena-colored liquid sloshed to and fro in the cup as I shook it and held it to the light to examine its contents.
How much ice did they put in this coffee? she asked. I could not get the to top. How does 'hot' sound like 'ice'?
Fa schifo, I said. Disgusting.
Molto! she agreed.

Flavia is also struggling to understand the American concept of a thermostat set below 70F. In an ice cream shop, or in a home. I can't eat this in here, she said in Brain Freeze this evening. Monica! You are not bothered by this cold?
I kind of shrugged. Um, not really, I don't know, I grew up with this idea of walking in from 95F into 65F and thinking it was normal.
Do you feel sick? I am probably getting sick! she said.

I laughed. But then I started sneezing vigorously. I think it is from the dry air here, as the inside of my nose is about to crack.  Look, look, I said, I am getting the cervicale! I laughed, invoking the name of the Worst Illness in Italy that comes from having an unprotected neck or breathing inappropriate air. It is a positively Galenic concept, one that most Americans do not believe in. The cervicale may also be contracted following a shower, if one refuses to use a hairdryer (which is me, always), or if, on the beach or by the pool, one insists on continuing to wear a wet swimsuit as though said swimsuit had a right to dry itself right there on your body. No, one must travel with multiple dry swimsuits and change out of the wet one immediately, lest one tempt fate and contract the cervicale. I love Italians, but I am also glad that I do not have Sicilian in-laws who sit in a stuffy salotto all summer long, refusing to open the windows in the house for the same reason, because, you know, the cervicale lurks on a draft. And, like Liam Neeson, it will kill you.

Coffee without milk? Washington recoils.
Air conditioning this strong? Italy might stop talking to you.

It is strange how life in Florence from afar, and with the benefit of a few weeks already seems remote and dreamlike. It is hard to believe, from here, that we are doing all that, there. And yet moving through the days here almost feeling simple verging on boring, although I am enjoying the lack of language barrier, and driving, and Trader Joe's, and vintage shopping, and Huckleberry's. And I purchased cupcakes with buttercream frosting, three mini ones, in fancy flavors, and ate them all over the course of two days. (They were mini.) There are a few small things I miss about America, apart from our families, of course, and that's a small list there. I would add to it a bagel with a plain whipped schmear and a plate of Mexican cuisine.

Can you see the sunbrellas to the right? Si, it is the Mexican party.

We did hit the Mexican restaurant on Sunday afternoon; across from Brain Freeze (expensive but delicious ice cream), Asian Ginger (eclectic fusion), and 27th Heaven (my cupcake source), it is called Fiesta Mexicana, and I bought lunch for five there to go for $23, which was incredible, and they put in a huge sack of fresh chips and two containers of salsa! What is this heaven! We have been calling it Mexican Party as we have often gazed at it over our ice cream from Brain Freeze. Eleanor cries, Mexican party, Mexican party every time.

I chatted with the waiter who took our order on Sunday and Victor asked me, Mommy, was he speaking Spanish? It sounds a bit like Italian. You said pollo with a Y, but I know it is pollo with an L. And I thought I would explode with pride.

I mention here that Victor is not yet reading by any stretch, but has cultivated the Palace of the Mind like Sherlock Holmes, so neatly does he tuck away his observations for later use.

We have another week, about, in the US; we return to Florence via Amsterdam next Thursday. I am thrilled to report that we will also be staying the night before at the Summit Inn at Snoqualmie Pass, a personal first, although I have driven by there at least two or three dozen times.

I am glad that the America we return to is our home in this corner of the continent.

Snoqualmie Falls in needlepoint, I am so tempted to take this home and leave $25 for it.


Monday, July 17, 2017

Soggiorno a Seattle


We are in Seattle for a week, staying in a magnificent house-sit, perched high atop the eastern side of Magnolia, facing Queen Anne and the Cascades, with a sweeping view of the horizon, from Mt. Baker and North to Mt. Rainier and the Port of Seattle. This situation was thoughtfully sourced for us by my old friend Ginger, who loves close by in Magnolia, and with whom, when our family was smaller, we would stay in her generous basement apartment. 

Cascade sunrise
I was never really into Magnolia in the six years I lived in Seattle (reasons: older population, too quiet, far away from everything, you can't get there from here) but it has really grown on me in the last five years since it has been our de facto home base for our jaunts in and out of King County. But, much like Firenze, the reasons I did not take a shine to Magnolia in my twenties are the same reasons that it seems just right in my forties. (Different reasons per each city, but the flip in common.) I appreciate the slow traffic, older people, gentle younger people, parks and quiet side streets. And everyone loves a sweeping view.

My feelings about Seattle were complicated from the start. I moved here nineteen years ago tomorrow, when I was 24, for pretty sketchy reasons - let's call it an April-August relationship, fortified by a ton of art (him) and a fair amount of writing and publishing (me). But I was stubborn and I loved the place, and I made it work. I left Mr. August in 2000, but stayed in Seattle. 

I remember at first how cold the summers seemed, how wet and dark the winters waned. I had just come from another fairly haphazard career and life situation in Manhattan, and fled for the literal greener grass of the Pacific Northwest. Oklahoma's hot summers quickly faded into memory, and 80 degrees felt sweaty to me; the garbage stench of New York became a faintly remembered detail rather than the nasally-stinging assault that I struggled with each day as I walked to the Spring Street station for my subway commute to Midtown.

But Seattle slowly began to reveal her secrets, and I came to know her like a sister. She is the only place that has ever welcomed me with open arms, and who loved me back in the way I wanted to be loved. Thoughtfully, quietly, deeply. Darkly. With rain, and bookstores, and espresso in the winter, and sun, endless water, and ferries in the summer. With art at every corner, and literate conversations to be struck up in public in spades. The Seattle Opera. Seattle Arts and Lectures. Museums everywhere. Freelancing travel writing for magazines. Working at the corporate offices of first Microsoft, and then T-Mobile. The trees that stretched high above ten-story buildings. Ferries lowing in the early morning - I could hear them from where I lived. Weekends on Lummi Island with family. Where I made dear friends, many of whom I am seeing this week.  Where I found professional independence and success based on my merits, without the grimy feeling of an inside network. It was my community, made from scratch.

I left Seattle for a still greater love when I met Jason in 2004. When we first met in 2003, our mutual attraction was exponentially fortified, in a geographically O. Henry way, by an initial conversation that can be summarized something like this:

Me: You're from Portland and you have direct and personal knowledge of living in Norman, Oklahoma? and OU? and Pickard Street?
Him: You're from Oklahoma and you chose Seattle and live there now?

I sobbed on my bed in my apartment as he packed up my boxes for me. I knew I would have mixed feelings about leaving Seattle for the rest of my life. Jason grew up in Portland, and his family is there, and has been there, for generations. I'm not quite so lucky, and had no similar guarantee that I would be able to repeatedly return and be welcomed. He has an enviable confidence that he will always be able to return to Portland. We honestly thought we'd be in Oklahoma a year, turn it around quickly, and come back. He wanted to return to the Pacific Northwest. I had my affinities, my expansive network, my ability to find decent employment, as he puts it, "while wearing pajamas."  

But that was not what life had in store for us. One thing led to another, four years of Faculty in Residence on campus, a year in Arezzo with OUA. Two decent career options on the tracks of our choice. Four pregnancies, two babies, some serious heavy lifting in the newborn months. Sure, we tried every year to come back up north, but it's not always so easy. And as it turned out, it was easier for us in the end to move to Florence last year than it would have been in almost any case to move back to Seattle. Or Portland. San Francisco, in someone's dream. Twelve years had sped by.

I marked countless milestones in Seattle. And it pains me that many of my milestones since then took place not in Seattle, but in Oklahoma. Because, you see, Seattle still loved me back. I wish we had gotten married here, honeymooned here. I especially wish I had been pregnant and had my babies here. I don't know about wanting to be a working mother here, on the commute with daycare, but thousands of families do it. I am sure we could have made it work.

St Mark's Cathedral
I returned to St. Mark's Cathedral, high atop Capitol Hill, for mass yesterday. I was an active member when I lived here, and was confirmed here at Easter vigil in 2001. I had not been back for mass since I moved away; we are typically in town for just a day or two, not a whole week. My Google navigator routed me across Mercer Street, which I would have never taken when I lived here as it is eternally the Mercer Mess. I arrived late, nervous, after mass had begun. I sat in a pew in the middle section, on an aisle, and looked around for a familiar face. None. No one. Not a single one. In my active years I was part of a cohort that was under 40, who have doubtless all moved on, as have I. I am sure some of the older people were there during my years, but I did not know them then.

The priests now are almost all women, which is a definite positive in general. The building is under heavy renovations and wrapped in plastic sheeting, concrete rolled over with new sealant. Donations are clearly up. It is a thriving community of faith. As the hymns began, the woman to my left really owned that music. The woman to my right, one pew up, also. A man came late, and stood right in front of me. 

Garrrgh, I thought. I cannot see anything now

He was straight out of Seattle: Central Casting. Middle aged, very late, graying hair still wet from the shower, small earring, silver ring, slim in Patagonia pants. My resentment at his blocking my view evaporated as soon as he started singing. The voice of an angel, on key, singing in perfect harmony. He heard me behind him and angled to face me obliquely, the better to blend the parts. It was electric, even though I hit a few false notes because I don't know the hymnal by heart, yet, although almost every song is familiar to me. We sang three hymns like that. 

The woman next to him apologized after mass for being flat as she sang. 
"Feels like I am sitting in the crypto-choir section," I quipped, leaning forward.
"He's in the real choir," she said. 
"I believe it," I responded.   
"He has the most beautiful smile," she added, glowing.

Seattle makes me feel there are no strangers to me here. And, like a true great love, even though I miss her, I know I am enriched immeasurably, and am the person I am today, thanks to the years I lived in Seattle. She is always with me.

Just me and the Needle at Volunteer Park last night.










Monday, June 26, 2017

Firenze: Il Centesimo Post/My Hundredth Post

Not much time to blog here, what with Victor home sick today, and likely tomorrow too (diagnosis: pale child in Italian climate), our regular babysitter headed out of country on Wednesday so this week is catch-as-catch-can with two full-time jobs and our lovely backup babysitters, an impromptu apero out with Maria, our friend from the palazzo family...

I just really felt like I should mark this day. Today, a year since we flew back to Washington state after our month in Firenze, ironing out as many wrinkles as possible. How far we've come! How we are here now, in an apartment, with two small children and two parents and two careers, and a huge babysitting line-item to make this all work. How we have made our network so that we can actually bump into a mutual Italian friend after work in our foyer and invite her out to a apero with us - and she comes!

Mercato dei pulci + skyline da serata
June 26, 2016: flying back to Spokane and thinking, wow, okay, so it is done. We are flying back to our new home, and Sharp, you'd better call it home. Because that's what it is , and you will make it so, and yes it's lovely, but most people who think of Firenze think of a five-day soggiorno at the most. You are going to have to work to make it home.

We gave up a lot, but we got so much also in the equation, and that doesn't happen every day. Even more rarely at this stage in life. This, some days, feels like a risk resurrected from the graveyard of 22-year-old ideas, And it has worked, against many odds. A lot of luck. A lot of hard work. A fair amount of frustration. And liberal daily doses of straight-on beauty.

I don't have pearls of wisdom here, just a short list of things I find amusing in Firenze:

Carrefour: try to not shop here if you can. Because, if you think about it, isn't IperCoop so much better? Better quality. Higher value for money. And you know why? Italian business. Doing things the Italian way. Just look. Better. So much better.

Mosquitos: Don't even mention them. Everyone deals with them. Best not mentioned in polite company, like all facts of life.

Politics: Always appropriate to invoke. Italians very emapthetic on this point. Especially lately.

The Florentine accent: It's strong. Who knows what they're on about. It actually sounds a bit gallego, what it all the dry gargling lost deep in the gola.

Apero: Best consumed in a repurposed 17th-c. prigione.

Le Murate, just add americani and spritz.
Groceries: Back to groceries. If you have very generous friends, you will come home from a day in the country with canned tomatoes of varying sorts, fresh produce (cucumbers), homemade wine, with explicit verbal instructions and commentary on each. I still cannot believe this. This would never happen in the US. Right? I mean, this is terreno kilometro zero.

Come with me, down vigneto way: Paterno.

Later topics: i 'fochi' di San Giovanni, a day in Paterno, Tourists versus Heat.

Side note: If I ever own a sports franchise, it will be named The Tourists. Because, how funny. The Tourists Versus Away.

Saturday, June 24, 2017

Firenze: I Fuochi di San Giovanni

Midsummer all over Europe retains its pagan flair for fire (bon-, -works) and drink, but in almost every country it was Christianized and renamed St. John's Feast, an homage to our locust-eating, sackcloth-wearing holy hermit.

A quick review of St. John's festivals I know:

In Finland, they'll be wrapping midsummer poles with bright ribbons, matched in the flaxen braids of little girls. Finlandia vodka, and Lapin Kulta.

France - what do they do? They're godless, or maybe I was when I lived there. Ok, quick research shows I was the godless one, and also that it is maybe more of a thing in Paris.

In the UK it is a quarter day. I want to say I have been in the UK for St. Johns, but can't really remember.

In Spain, there will be bonfires on the northern beaches, as nets of pescaditos are brought in to be promptly fritos on huge metal grills and devoured. The wind will blow cold as the night wears on and finally goes truly dark a bit before midnight. Estrella de Galicia and vinho verde.

In Firenze, it is an even bigger celebration, as San Giovanni is their patron saint. Fireworks galore. I fuochi di San Giovanni are set off at 10 pm from Piazzale Michelangelo, and stream over the Arno.


Of course Firenze is languishing in a puddle of humidity and heat under a severe weather advisory, so we have been scrambling to find a place to watch the fireworks from.


Traffic will be limited, parking impossible, security high. The bridges over the river will all be packed with tourists and locals (and mosquitoes).

It's still going to be hot even at that hour. I know this because our apartment is no longer cooling down after dark. There is no relief from open windows. Only biting bugs borne on stuffy still air.

Enter the Dutch reinforcements, late of Rome, originally from Amsterdam. Our friends from the kids' school, parents of two beautiful and pale little girls who are the same ages as Victor and Eleanor. They live in a house up the Via Bolognese, the old road from Firenze to Bologna with a view high above the city, looking straight down into the valley at a city that suddenly seems cast in miniature.

The view from the Dutch estate.
The mom messaged us yesterday to invite us up. JA JA JA we are coming! There will be grilling. Sprinkler running and a trampoline for the kids. Jason's at the store right now buying white wine and beer to chill.

Monday, June 19, 2017

Firenze: Midsummer

I spent the better part of the past 24 hours in a fevered fog, which was also alarmingly interrupted by a colossal toddler nosebleed. Most of the my morning was passed laid out on the floor in the living room. Lunch and a garden visit with Miss Busy followed.

Our sitter arrived after lunch and took Eleanor out to play, along with her own 8 year old daughter, who is adorable. I crawled up to Victor's top bunk and immediately rolled over into a dreamless sleep.

After dinner we all agreed that it was the perfect time to head out to the park. Eleanor got her sandals on before Victor, so I wanted behind with him while Jason and Miss Busy headed out first. I begged Victor to join me for some medicinal gelato. He was an easy convert to my plan, and we walked up Carducci to the ATM for cash. Victor is very good at cash withdrawals. he probably has all our pins memorized now. In fact, I am sure of it.

We walked to Procopio on Pietrapiana.
"Get me some gelato," Jason texted me.Victor selected fragola/panna, with sprinkles on top. I went for caffe bianco/baba rhum. Jason would be enjoying fragola/limone e basilico.
"Come on,Victor!" I urged him as we trotted along the street in a race against time with the extra coppa of gelato for Jason. I stopped to manage minor drips and to proactively like the sides.
"Come on! Come on!"

We arrived at the park in Piazza d'Azeglio and Eleanor was now on the slide. We quickly transferred the third coppa to Jason, and I went to the big kid swings to oversee our two sweaty, sticky charges. I looked around and quickly noted that were were well into Expat Hour: 8:30 pm, a decidedly unsalubrious hour for any Italian child to continue playing in the park. (Plus, ORA DI CENA.) I noted southeast Asians, many pale children, a handful of Africans in the calcetto mini arena.

I ran to throw my refuse away in a trashcan nearby, and saw out of the corner of my eye that a much bigger boy was trying to take the swing from her. I could tell in her initial whimper that she was gearing up. I walked faster back to the swing.

The boy's mother, however, beat me to it. and immediately knelt down and started speaking to Eleanor, who was still miffed and fussing. I walked up and greeted her. She was in full hijab.
Are these your boys? I asked her.
No, no Italian, she said.
You... Italian?
No, I said. Americana.
Wow! she said, her eyes widened.
Umm, grazie? I said. Not so great at the moment, but ok.
My sister USA.
Dove? I asked.
No English... no English.
We were unable to determine the location of the sister.
We worked out that the woman was from Egypt.
Cairo? I asked.
Yes, yes, she nodded.
She was really nice.
Her boys, aged about 3, 7, and 10, eyed us.
You.. Arabic?
No, not really, I said. Shokran, afwan, merhaba, mumtaza, la.
She laughed with obvious pleasure.
Mumtaza!
Umm, not really but thanks. You ... tourist?
Furrowed brow.
Poco tempo? Tourist?
No English, no English.

Her little boy had to pee so she took him around to the back hedge where everyone does this. Victor and Eleanor begged to play squirt guns, which I had brought in a large cloth bag from the apartment. We all went to fill them up with water from the fountain.

The two older boys looked with longing from the edge of the playground. They were handsome; the middle one had a small scab on his nose where it looked like it may have taken a direct hit from some sort of flying toy. Jason, Victor, and Eleanor started hosing each other down. The Egyptian boys smiled. You could see their hands itching to play. The oldest boy wandered off, but the middle boy stayed. Jason finally turned to him and offered him our SuperSoaker.

Here, take it, he said. Go get him, motioning to Victor.
That little Cairene boy's evening suddenly got 100% better, He and Victor whooped and hollered, chasing each other around the pavement, freely squirting each other. Victor was totally cool with dad handing off the SuperSoaker to another boy - in fact, he seemed overjoyed that another boy was squirting him back.

The mother came back from the pee excursion and began to take video on her phone of the squirt gun festival. The games continued. Eleanor appeared to be writing her name on a wall with her little squirt pistol. She eventually squirted a few dirty pigeons but wasn't really feeling it. Soon, it got darker, and the mosquitoes came out, so we asked the Egyptian boy for the squirtgun back, and poured the remaining water into the drain.

Shokran, shokran, the mother said.
Buona notte, we said. Buona notte.
Eleanor waved from my shoulder, Ciao.

Thursday, June 15, 2017

Returning from La La Land to la Bella Italia

After a 24 hour trip to LA on Sunday followed by five straight days of nonstop work, it was time to head home: Italy. I continue to train myself to consider this internally as "back to the US" and "home to Italy."

Travis and I took a cab from the hotel to LAX, which on a Friday in summer was a complete zoo. (Fare: $75.) He disembarked at domestic departures, while I stayed on until the international terminal. Once in the cool, air conditioned hangar-like ticketing counters, my check-in was another breeze, taking all of two minutes.

Security also ran very efficiently (no wonder the grumbling Yanks at the start of the week in Rome), interrupted only by an amusing K-9 sniffing up everyone's pant leg while an American mother shrieked that the dog should not be let near her children.
"Don't worry about it, lady! If he wasn't fully trained he wouldn't be doing this job!" the TSA guard snapped.

I had three hours before my flight was to leave, so I indulged in some Very American Food (fish tacos, spicy guac, Modelo draft), and got a blowout and a foot massage at the Xpress spa. Feet were seriously throbbing after a 90-hour workweek. How do medical interns do it? I ask my parallel life. My flight boarded and again I was seated next to a petite Italian woman (this one from Mantova; outbound was from Pescara) who was delighted to debrief about NAFSA and American culture with me as we waited to take off. The flight was not full (shock), so I settled into my window bunk for a long nap.

BONUS: The movies worked! Ok, so still no wifi or charger but MOVIES. Wow a LOT of movies! Yay Alitalia! Including a backlist for nostalgic old people like me - let's re-live "Notting Hill" before Hugh Grant got creepy, or "Bridget Jones Diary".....  when was the last time I saw a feature-length film?! I don't even know. Something with Tina Fey and Amy Poehler wrecking a house. Lost in the fog of pregnancy and post-partum sleep deprivation of the last 6 years.

I opted for "La La Land." At first, meh, but then I was pulled in, and by the audition scene I was crying in my seat, then reduced to complete puddle of tears by the flashback. The perfect film to cap off my week - I am still humming all the tunes. Then I watched "Manchester by the Sea," considerably more scarring but just as good. Wow when was the last time I just got to LOOK at something that I liked for FIVE STRAIGHT HOURS. This is the perfect flight.



We landed late, and had to do the "here in Italy we do not have jet ways" rigamarole. My connection was about 45 minutes. Bus bus bus. Bus. Sweat. Sun. Crap, I picked the second bus, as I watched the first bus pull away to inch toward the terminal.

Rome, again, packed. I ran at top speed to immigration, and got bumped to the front of the line when I showed my boarding pass with its 2:15 departure. I ran ran ran to the gate. At gate, no information at all on my connecting flight. Only the fact that it existed. Boarding? Gate number? who knows? I was pouring sweat and so stood in line to buy a somewhat less warm bottle of San Pellegrino. I stood around and continued to monitor the screen for the flight update. Then I realized there was a set of stairs to the flight, behind the cafe! MERDA. I hustled down the stairs only to be informed the flight had closed.
It's not even 2:15! I protested.
Flight closes fifteen minutes before departure, she responded. Mi dispiace. Go get rebooked. Desk is like 2 miles back.
Good thing I bought that water.
Or assumed that those German tourists were also gawking at the monitor for the Firenze flight to post a gate number or boarding status.
Sigh.
So tired.
Stanchissima.

I trudged back up the stairs and towards Senza Assistenza. The next flight was at 10 pm.
I am not waiting here for eight hours, I said. I have small children at home. I have been gone a week.
The two stylish Italians looked at me from behind the counter. Their eyes widened.
How old? one asked.
Two and six, I said.
People always miss the connection from LAX. That's all we do here, pretty much. Rebooked missed European connections for the LAX flight. Oh yeah. All the time.
What should I do? is there no earlier flight?
Take the train.
Is Alitalia seriously telling me to take Trenitalia?
Si!
I left, and walked about 50 feet..
My bag! I have a checked bag...Where is my bag? I asked.
Go to this other Assistenza desk where they will help you.
I reported to that desk, where I was told to go to Assistenza Bagaglio. They should have your bag out in about 10 minutes, she said. Go.
I went to the third Assistenza and held up the line for a good 45 minutes with a customer service rep all to myself. I felt pretty Italian by then. I didn't lapse into English. I am not yet at Jason levels of official sangfroid, but I am getting much, much better.
I cancelled my re-booked boarding pass, and was told to go wait for my bag.
Nastro 16. I'll never forget it.
I sat there for two hours, in between getting to know everyone working at Assistenza Bagaglio, plus a few tour guides, and a woman from the airport who said she was conducting a customer service survey.
Please, don't talk to me, I said. I am very dissatisfied right now. I am so upset that I cannot speak Italian, I said in Italian.
She was undeterred.
She eventually wandered off to pester other international arrivals.



I finally got my bag and purchased train tickets at the baggage claim kiosk, then ran to the airport platform. I hopped on to the airport shuttle rain seconds before it pulled out.

It was packed. Hot. Standing room only.



I got to Tiburtina and found an ATM for the Firenze taxi, then dragged my huge bag over to Binario 6. The fast train I'd reserved pulled in minutes later.

Hmm, early, I thought, checking my watch. The door popped open and an Italian conductor grabbed my bag and hauled it on to the train. I followed.
The train immediately lurched forward.
Merda, he said, wrong train.
Che!!?? I said.
This is Italotreno. Privato. You are booked on the Freccia.
Merda!
Let's go talk to the capotreno.
Capotreno looked me over with a sad, sad face.
Got confused, huh?
Your colleague here pulled me onto the train, I said.
I waited to see what sort of official recrimination I might be subject to. A fine? New ticket? 200 euro cash? Crap, how much money did I get out. I tried to think. Not that much. By now I had been in transit for 24 hours.
Nothing. They were going to do nothing, Signore Capotreno waved me on to Carozzo 11. Just go there, he said. Please go. There will be a seat there. He gave his coworker a look.
So I rode Italotreno for free, in very fast, in air-conditioned, leather-upholstered comfort to Firenze.
No one ever came to ask me for my ticket, or who I was.
They have a nice magazine.

When I arrived home Jason was shocked.
Henry did that last fall, he said, and had to pay a fine plus the ticket. He eyed me curiously. What did you do?
Nothing really. Said I was sorry, and that the man had pulled my bag onto the train before verifying my ticket.

I sent about 4 customer complaints to Alitalia for all the broken movies, no wifi, delays, bad food, Rome connection, bag wait. They're only responded to the movies so far. Maybe the other ones are getting escalated up to the capo.

I was very, very happy to be home. I had missed my tribe - this was the longest I'd ever been away from Eleanor.


Wednesday, June 14, 2017

A Week in La La Land


I say this only out of affection. I love LA.



What do I love about it? Everything, as a visitor.

But I also remember this glowing feeling when I had only ever been a tourist in Manhattan, and when I actually moved there it was far, far different. It Did Not End So Well. But NYC and I made up over and over again in 2002 and 2003.

I do not think we have any imminent plans to move to LA. But, much like a crush at far remove, I am just going to enjoy this feeling of Crushing on LA.

Dreamy SoCal sera

When I was growing up, LA held the following sort of place in the imagination: Den of Sin. State of Crazy People. Loonies and Hippies. So Expensive! Those People Are Crazy.

Look at the performer. No soul! She left it at the door, clearly.
Note: these are my people.

The PR in my childhood about LA was horrendous. It extended to California in general, a cesspool of lost morality so deep and so murky that one might never hear again from loved one should they there venture. Who moves there? Just give them all your money at the door, and maybe your soul too, while you're at it. Just cut to the chase. It will happen eventually.

And yet. Since 2009 I have taken three trips to LA, twice for the same weeklong conference downtown, and once for our friend Jack's wedding. Maybe the common thread of Jack is what makes LA sparkle so? I would not be in the least surprised.

The NAFSA conference each year draws about 10,000 attendees. It is a madhouse of international education. My workweek was no walk in the park. Up at 7, at expo hall by 8, presenting and client-ing until 5, evenings full of receptions with more prospective clients and clients.

Slipping into my professional Yank persona
And yet. The fresh air, those trees, her gentle buildings, the feeling that there are things happening here, this is a growing place. The ocean, public beaches, the fresh-squeezed juice and carnitas, the people everywhere, all kinds of people just doing their thing! Little Tokyo and mochi and amusing retail; the garment district and its swarms of buyers picking over bolts of bright fabric on the sidewalk in the sun. Rooftop events looking over the skyline into hills. Mission churches and people eating food that I was ready to swipe from them just for the spice. I was just downtown that whole week, plus a few excursions as mentioned to the beach and Little Tokyo thanks to local friends, but I slurped it up and soaked it in.

Little Tokyo
 I love the type of personality who works in my greater field. International educators are expansive thinkers, people wth experience, the type of person who will challenge your assumptions and later check in on you to see if they've changed, congratulating you if they have or listening if they have not.

Satu the Texas Finn

Regina, friends since 2006

The inimitable Bill, who heard my cry for MORE JAPANESE CULTURE
and within hours rolled up in his green Tonka truck!
My colleagues: bar none, a witty and ebullient lot, definitely the sort you want to keep company with if the workdays are 17 hours long. Or more.

Jack, who just makes LA more more

My colleague Travis
Ritually slaughtering Tim - good fun 
Interesting note: my journey with Terra Dotta, this long and fruitful association, began eight years ago at this conference, when, in 2009 with my then-colleague Alice, I met the founders, Garrett and Brandon. I was a ride-along on a client hello (OU Study Abroad had recently purchased and implemented the software, led by Alice), but I remember thinking then, cool people, bookmark for later.

Back in America: wow, this is so easy in English! Wow, I am hearing like 100 languages. I love accents in English and everything else. I spoke Italian every day; they were all over the place.

Italians. They see my frames, they talk to me.
The sheer diversity of people, all kinds of people, everywhere. A LOT of people. A few moments in our corporate suite: who ordered the abomination called BBQ chicken pizza? what is this salad? A moment of cultural patience (thank you Italy) at the hotel as clerks shrugged their shoulders, unable to locate my package: oh well.

with former colleagues and new friends

Each year I half dread this conference for a couple months beforehand, but when I am at it, it is easily one of the highlights of my year, each time.

Alighting in Rome, Late May

The first hay harvest
rolled up into blocks and balls
Dotting those eternally-tilled fields

Portly Americans gulp Coca-Cola
instead of coffee in the pre-dawn

Albanians sport interesting shoes
New Yorkers wearing summer's cheap straw fedoras
Indian grannies in fleece and bare feet
The New Yorker fedoras dispute with an Albanian family
Albanian mother: large protruding moles
Albanian daughter: nascent moles, same neck location
A towering outdoorsy American father
Entertaining his three small copies

Everyone on edge
The line is too long! the tourists cry
The uniformed Italians sigh and give up
While all of America mutters in line
They need organization
This should be better
This is all wrong

May 28, Rome - Fiumicino

Italy to La La Land: My First Trip Back

I traveled back to the US for the annual enormous NAFSA conference the first week in June. I'm segmenting this story for ease of conveyance. (And apologies for the hiatus, but life has been slammin'.)

I was nonchalantly not at all checking my flights the Friday before my Sunday departure. Suddenly, my phone pushed an Alert Traveler notification about an Alitalia strike. On Sunday, May 28. The date of my departure. My flight, leaving from Rome at 10:10 am ... the strike, starting at 10 am. Super. All ground crew and air traffic control. I did some quick internet research and saw that yes, this was actually A Thing. 

I called Alitalia, who confirmed my flight was operated by KLM, thus not affected by the strike. Alitalia never messaged me or email me about the anticipated delays and cancellations, not to my phone, not on email, not when I checked in at the counter in Firenze. Nothing. 

My early hop to Rome got out on time. Arriving in Rome, the place was mayhem. Huge lines, cranky tourists. I wrote a quick poem about it I will post in a follow-up. It was the same weekend as the British Airways system meltdown, so there were a lot of people who had been milling about the airport for most of the weekend. Tempers were short. Lines snaked on for ages. Airport staff appeared to have given up.

In the terminal, I saw that the strike was impacting many flights, as about half of them looked cancelled, which did not at all corroborate with my interweb research from home. But I felt forearmed with patience as I had known this was a likelihood for a few days before I started my trip.

So many cancellations.


I headed to my gate and settled in with my best effort at a zenlike demeanor. The direct nonstop was delayed again, and again. People insisted on remaining in line even though no boarding was happening. I momentarily became the news bureau for my section of the line as I shared the information from my Alert Traveler app, and nosily pressed the front desk for details. A woman from LA who had been bumped from a cancelled BA flight the other day was near hysterics. I advised them all to take a seat, I was going to go get my second breakfast. They laughed, but I wasn't kidding. I'd been up since 4 am.

Fortunately the coffee and pastries in Fiumcino are excellent.
When confronted by disorder and grouchy travellers, see to it you obtain treats for yourself to manage.


Pretty Fiumicino. Lovely recent reno.
More beautiful FCO.




I returned from my seconda colazione just as the desk announced the flight would be boarding soon, to loud applause (oh, Italy ....) My new friends looked at me in amazement as asked me how I timed my coffee so well. I replied there was no way I would pass up my last macchiato for a week, and that the cornetto integrale alla frutta di bosco was fresh out!

I was in a row at the window (of course, this way I can always sleep in-flight) next to an Italian woman who was also headed to NAFSA. On her other side was a chicano man from Santa Barbara, coming back from a European trip with his older mother. The Italian and I immediately hit it off. I thanked her for also being small so that I did not have to share my seat with some huge person's spillover, which happens to me a lot. 

The plane was in a right state. Filthy, pitted out before we left. But we are going direct nonstop to LA from Rome, so this is awesome, right? Right?

No wifi on plane.

No charging outlets in seat.

The final straw - a thirteen-hour flight with my entertainment module broken. Yes, just in Row 36. All of our screens busted. No music, no news, NO MOVIES. No movies. Good thing I brought an analog book. I read the whole novel. Then I outlined it in my notebook and analyzed it for plot and character. I got bored and went into the aisle where I chatted with a lovely couple over the airplane swill that passed for wine. I gave one of them a ton of free opinion about midcareer and working remotely. And not going to law school. He was being laid off from a large biotech firm so had many concerns and ideas to review. What are you going to do when there's no movie at your seat? Go find some people.

The food was awful. Poor Alitalia, to have sunk so low. 

But on a plus note, the flight crew looked cracking in all their Diego dalla Palma couture.

I did get a bit of sleep too. Travelling west - far far west - is so much easier than travelling east. The body can deal with a long day far better than a missing overnight.

Seriously - no wifi on a 13 hour flight? why? why?

I arrived in LAX and was quickly processed through US immigration, where I was given a receipt for entry in spite of my passport. This is weird. Why do we do this? Did the US seriously just introduce MORE paper into an already cumbersome and lengthy process?

The CBP official who stamped me back in was a congenial African-American muslim man. I felt instantly reassured by that. So it hasn't all changed overnight, I thought. Wow, people are friendly here. Wow, we are diverse.

Receipt not valid for cash return. 
What 20 hours of travel from Firenze will bring you to.
My friend Janice, superstar traveler and UCLA PhD student, picked me up at baggage, where she immediately drove me to a beach, per my request, to get a nice eyeful of the Pacific, my favorite ocean and lungsful of fresh salty breeze.

We were instantly rocketed into LA car culture, Parking was impossible. Fortunately, we had just picked up a nice, vitaminy fresh squeeze on the way. Janice paid $13 on a credit card so we could park for about 40 minutes. We got pedis after the beach, and hit a CVS so I could buy everything on the family import list. I knew I would have no time to do this during the insanity of NAFSA week, so wanted to knock these tasks out first. Fortunately I had fantastic ground support to aid me in the completion of these items! I count myself very lucky that this is almost always the case for me. And conversely, I have been happy to be that support when it was my turn.

Next segments: NAFSA week, and returning home. More pictures included, and a lot to cover.

Meanwhile, amusing life has recommenced in Firenze.

Poem coming right up.

Sunday, May 21, 2017

Further Linguistic Considerations: or, My Mind Has a Mind of Its Own

Today I finally got to be the parent to accompany Victor to Mondobimbo, which reasonably sounds like some sort of bordello, but in Italy it is Baby World, which is not at all insulting for boys and girls under the age of ten who want to go to a repurposed-ice-rink-meets-Denver- International-Airport with no air conditioning and lots of stored gardening supplies behind the trampolines, and various other OSHA violations liberally strewn about the place.

It was the birthday of a little girl named Giorgia who is in Victor's class, and a fair number of his classmates showed up to toast her in the ball pit, playing air hockey, and jumping on assorted inflated furnishings.

The Spanish family from his class is leaving Florence early next month for reasons related to Fiorentina's season finish (this is a European football [soccer] thing). The dad, coincidentally also named Victor (I LOVE THIS NAME FOR OUR KID), must now look for coaching work elsewhere as the entire coaching staff has been let go in a fit of fan-fuelled community pique.

The parents are lovely people, outgoing and lively, and I am sad to see them go. But every time I try to talk to them my brain shorts out. It happened again at Mondobimbo with each of the four of them in turn. I think I would like to see a neurologist because there is so much language in my brain at this point that my mind can't keep it straight.

I was explaining to Victor-dad a variety of things about our schedule here, when we moved here, what we think of the school etc., and words were spilling forth from  my mouth, but in alternating sentences between Spanish and Italian, without conscious effort. Like, it is just happening on a software level.

I recognize that Here Is a Spaniard, Engage Spanish, but also the awareness level for You Are In Italy is permanently switched. My brain is not reaching for Spanish in a fumbling way. I know how to explain any of this calmly in either Spanish or Italian: basic conversational discourse.

So I am laying all this out to the catalán football coach, and our conversation is smooth and he is understanding me just fine, until a third message flashes on the marquee of my conscience which says You Idiot What Are You Doing Pick a Lane and Stay In It.

After this linguistic buffet of a conversation that bizarrely also inserted some English here and there, I am running after Victor yelling at him in Mondobimbo in Spanish, ¡Victor! Ya hemos terminado, ¡ven pa'ca porque nos vamos pronto! ¿Me oiste?

The Italian parents are looking at me curiously trying to figure out what just happened, isn't that the American mom, why is she yelling, ¡Victor, mi amor esc├║chame! like a Spanish lunatic?

The short answer is: I just don't know. I have no idea. I miss my Spanish, receding on the horizon, lost on the Italian sea.

This never happens with French here in Italy. Yet I remember when I was in France as a student in 1995 and 1996, I routinely (and inconveniently) experienced something similar with French and Spanish, happening most often and embarrassingly with prepositions as I subbed out "avec" ("with") for "con" ("with" in Spanish, but "bastard" in French, as in "t'es gros con.") In that year also my Spanish came as quickly in the service of expressing my thoughts, as my native English always does.

But alas, Spanish is much more erratically attending me here, when I am able to rouse it from its dreamy lazing and felt impressions tied to gut memories.

My mind has a mind of its own.

In other observations, however, this is great news for my writing. I am 43 and getting real sick of my own thoughts. How wonderful that I can have small chapters where I just can't even control intellectually what goes on upstairs, or in the attic, or the storage unit.

Victor on trampoline, while the part of my brain that controls language is doing something similar.