Tuesday, August 31, 2010

Why I am an octogenarian, on the inside

My cousin’s friends came to visit her while we were all at Terracina, a little beach town about an hour south of Rome. They are all early twenty-somethings, single and totally unencumbered.

We were having coffee the morning after they came, and the girls wandered into the kitchen, bleary-eyed, and smelling of smoke.

“What’d you guys do last night?” I asked, ever the interested cousin.

“We went for a swim,” said the dark-haired one.

“Oh, cool,” I replied. I took a sip of coffee and continued to show my interest in their lives: “Did you go in your clothes?”

“No,” the blonde said.

“Oh, so you wore your bathing suits?” I persisted, for some reason very interested in the logistics of this late-night dip.

“No,” said my cousin.

“Oh,” I replied, my head dense as a block of Parmesean cheese, “But if you didn’t go in your clothes or in your swimsuits then what . . . . “

The girls looked at each other and smiled, exactly as if they were talking to their very obtuse grandmother and debating whether or not they should really explain the concept of the skinny dip to her.

“Oooohhhh,” I said, mortified, “I get it now. Right”

What am I, a Mormon? Am I a hundred years old? Has it been THAT long since I ran into the ocean buck naked?

Man, oh man, two kids in two years does age a girl. No doubt.

Monday, August 30, 2010


In the day or two since I’ve been back from Rome, a bunch of people have asked, thoughtfully, “How was your vacation?”

Not an absurd question by any means. But I do feel compelled to disabuse them of the notion that ours was a vacation in the conventional sense. If you’ve traveled internationally with a 3 and 5 year-old, you will already understand what I mean. But ours was not just a “family” vacation because we took our kids with us: we had additional family members with us, since we were crashing at my aunt’s apartment in Rome.

My aunt has a gorgeous apartment, with little balconies that overlook narrow cobblestone streets, located in the centro storico, where you can walk to the Pantheon and St. Peter’s and the Roman Forum, all in under ten minutes. If we hadn’t been able to stay at her place, we’d never have been able to make the trip, there’s no way we could afford it. None of this, however, changes the fact that her apartment is a one-bedroom. And there were six of us staying there.

This means that every night, there were three or four of us to a bed or fold-out couch, often with someone lying horizontally at the foot of the bed, getting kicked all night long. I’m not saying it was tenement conditions, and it certainly wasn’t the most crowded vacation I’ve been on with my family (once my father lined up three suitcases and slept on those for the entire stay) but it was tight. Particularly since sleeping with my children is about as restful as sleeping with two aggressive gorillas. It’s not so much that they kick me – my nerves are already deadened to this – but that every time they make a sleep sound I am ripped from my sleep into a totally alert panic mode. This is just PTSD from the infant years but I can’t get over it. To get into deep sleep, I need a wall between me and the children, the thicker the better,

I’d braced myself for the crowded-bed situation and considering that my aunt and cousin were incredibly cool about letting the kids sleep with them, we managed quite nicely. But I hadn’t braced myself for the other problem with sleeping at my aunt’s place. This problem I discovered at 7:45am on our first morning there.

We’d had a horrific time going to sleep the night before. After a sleepless red-eye flight, I was destroyed by 10pm and, if their behavior was any indication, so were the kids. I put them in my aunt’s bed and they conned her into laying with them and telling them stories til they fell asleep, which I assumed would be imminently, since they’d been up for two days and a night. David and I collapsed into the fold-out bed and surrendered to a sweet delicious sleep, for precisely one hour. Then I was woken by the children yelling like maniacs. Not only had they not fallen asleep since I’d left them with my aunt, Primo was raring to go, still on New York time, and inspired by the sleeplessness of the night before to generally forgo sleep. After a half hour it was clear that this would take more or less all night so I sent my aunt and cousin to freedom on the fold-out couch and commenced begging, threatening, bribing and pulling my hair out. At 1am, Seconda surrendered and by 2am, Primo did as well. I, however, was then wide friggin’ awake, thanks to agida and jet lag. I don’t know what time it was when I finally fell asleep, but I can tell you I was so desperate I took out the only Ipod we had – Primo’s -- and listened to the soundtrack from James and the Giant Peach, to facilitate my relaxation.

At 7:45 am the next morning however, I woke to the sound of a demolition crew knocking the house down. Yes, the only people who were not closed for ferie in Rome were the members of the construction crew renovating the apartment upstairs. And they were making up for all the other Romans on holiday. They were banging with a vigor that was literally mind-boggling. Over and over again they smashed on the ceiling directly overhead until I picked the kids up and moved them into fold-out couch with my aunt and cousin. I lay on the cushions nearby. The living room, though, had its own set of noise problems. On the street below the window, people were already awake, and, I have learned, when Italians are awake, they are loud.



Then the garbage truck rolled in, making such an infernal racket I thought my ears would bleed.

What, in the name of all that is holy, is wrong with these maniacs? You can’t get anyone to do anything between the hours of 1 and 5pm but by 7:30am, everything’s totally up and running, full steam ahead?

To have a vacation, in my humble opinion, one must sleep. So I wouldn’t call it a vacation. But yeah, the trip, the trip was great.

Thursday, August 26, 2010

The Fountains of Rome

The kids' favorite part of Rome was, no question, the fountains that you find around every corner and which stream icy cold ancient aqueduct water non stop. Every time they saw one, they'd run over like we were traversing the Sahara and we'd stumbled upon an oasis. They got pretty good at drinking from them:

Wednesday, August 25, 2010

Closed for Ferie

So, Rome. Here’s what you need to know about Rome in August. There are no Italians there.

You know how in America, everything’s closed on Christmas and New Years? This is what Rome is like for the entire month of August. Italian take off the whole month and blow out of town for ferie. I don’t know how this started. Maybe some bar owner was like, “Hey, it’s really freaking hot in this city. I’m going to the beach ‘til it’s not so hot.” And then the bar owner down the via was like, “Well, if he’s blowing off work, I am too.” At a certain point, so many people had left town that the businesses still in operation followed suit simply because with everyone gone, who the hell would patronize them?

I’ll tell you who, Tourists. There may not be any Romans in town but the city is teeming with tourists. Seriously, after a few days, Primo actually told me he was disappointed because he hadn’t heard anybody talking Italian.
The few Romans that remain to hold down the fort, to serve the cafe and make the pizza for the tourists, are not happy campers. I don’t blame them – all their paesanos are out greasing up on the beach or breathing in the fresh mountain air, and they’re stuck reminding dumb Americans for the hundredth time that they have to pay at the register BEFORE they get their cappuccino. Only trouble is, I’m not a dumb American. I’m a savvy American with pretty good Italian, manners and a sunny demeanor, And I didn’t love being lumped in a group with the tour groups wearing matching T shirts and fanny packs. My far-from-impeccable but still respectable Italian was not greeted with smiles but with annoyed phrases in English: “Do you wont SHUGAR in you COOFFEE?” David and I got to feeling apologetic when handing over our Euro, like we were sorry we had tainted the currency with our greasy American hands. Aggravating.

Besides making the Romans sick of tourists, the other unappealing thing about everyone being gone for ferie was that we had about as much choice about establishments to patronize as the pioneers did when they rolled into the prairie in their covered wagons. I had the misfortune of getting my period as soon as the plane landed in Rome -- not just my period by my first-day-of-your-period agonizing cramps -- and I’d neglected to bring Motrin along, assuming incorrectly that if I needed something like Motrin, surely I could find it in one of the biggest cities in the world. Not true, at least not in August. I tried three Farmacias before giving up.

“I hope I don’t break a bone or come down with cholera or need actual medical care,” I told David, “Because I’d just be screwed.”

As my aunt continually reminded us, all the good restaurants, all the good bars and salumerie and pasticcerie were closed. Basically we were dining at the Rome equivalent of Bubba Gump.

Thankfully the best pizzeria in the known world, Forno, was still fighting the good fight and I don’t think I’m exaggerating when I say we bought so much pizza there that we probably paid their bills for the month of August. Seriously, it was an embarassing amount of pizza. We’d wake at about 10 or 11am, after having gone to bed at 2, and then since it was already lunchtime but we wanted to get on the road and see shit rather than sit down for an overpriced lunch, we opted for the perfect breakfast/ lunch option – pizza. There is a thing in Italy called breakfast pizza, and this, I think, is reason enough to love the city. Breakfast pizza is just pizza rossa, with red sauce, hold the mozzarella. Pizza rossa is good hot and good cold, it is good after being left in the sun on the top of the stroller for five hours, and good the next morning. There are no circumstances under which breakfast pizza is not good. I discovered this when I stashed some in the stroller basket on day, then folded up the stroller with the pizza still in there, and took it out hours later, when I was starving and remembered about it. It did gross me out to pull out the gnarled lump of dough and sauce but I overcame the disgust and took a bite and it was absolutely divine.

Every day we ambled over to Forno, got pizza rossa, pizza Bianca, pizza con la mozzarella and a wild card pizza (with potatoes and rosemary or mushrooms or zucchini flowers). We’d eat our fill and then carry the rest with us as we traversed the city, seeing the sights. When we got hungry, we’d eat the pizza some more. The next morning, we started it all over again.

After three days of this, Primo said to me, “Mommy, I am getting SICK of pizza!”

To which I replied, “Well get UN-sick of it, because it’s cheap and its perfect and its all we’ve got in this empty city.”

Yeah, Forno saved the day, every day, ferie be damned.

Tuesday, August 24, 2010

And we’re back!

Yes, after two weeks of Roman Holiday, we have returned to New York -- sun-tanned, stuffed full of gelato and totally, utterly wiped the hell out. What a time was had. We came. We saw. We conquered jet lag. Or, I should say, we conquered the going to Italy jet lag: I am now in the process of having my ass handed to me by the coming back jet lag, which has the kids waking at 3 am. But still, we did it and we live to tell the tale. And tell the tale I will, dear readers, have no fear. Gird your loins. But what I am thinking about right now is how freaking good it is to be back home.

Perhaps the very best part of going away -- using up all the miles you’ve accrued for the past seven years and cleaning out your bank account -- is the sweet realization that home is precisely where you want to be. I wish I could bottle the flood or gratitude and relief and sheer, total peace of mind I felt when I stepped foot into our tiny little apartment yesterday. I walked through the place, discovering how much I loved each of our possessions:

“The bunk beds! I LOVE these beds! Aren’t they comfortable?

Look at how GORGEOUS our windows are!

I forgot how convenient it is to have this sink so low to the ground!

Our ice cubes are always the perfect size!

OH MY GOD WE HAVE A DISHWASHER!!!!!Remember the dishwasher?”

When I went to the bagel place this morning and ordered an Everything bagel, I literally teared up. For joy. I’m not even exaggerating. I never realized how lovely the Brooklyn accent of the man who works at the bagel shop is, or how beautiful the color green is used to make American dollars or how convenient it is to understand every single word that everyone says to you immediately. When the bagel man said, "Have a nice day," I was arrested by the kindness of the sentiment and had to stop myself from saying: "Thanks so much for saying that. The very same to you, sir -- have a nice day and a SPECTACULAR tomorrow!!!!"

I wasn’t even annoyed that it was pouring rain all day today -- I was too busy appreciating how wide the sidewalks are and how thoughtful it was of the city to build little sloped ramps into the curbs so that pushing my stroller around is a little bit easier.

I was talking to Primo about this phenomenon of having newfound gratitude for your home and

I asked him, “Is there anything about New York that you took for granted before but are now really grateful for?”

He said, “Yes, I am so happy that here in New York you can get many different ice creams from all over the world, like Hawaiian shave ice, and kulfi and gelato and regular ice cream.”

“So true,” I replied, “I’d forgotten how great that is.”

Not that we didn’t love Italy. But Brooklyn rocks my friggin’ face off.

Friday, August 20, 2010

A conversation at the Galleria Borghese

La Galleria Borghese is a classy place. Fancy. Complicated. You have to book your tickets in advance and get there a half hour earlier and then you STILL have to wait on a really long line. It houses the Caravaggio masterpieces as well as the show stopping Greek mythology sculptures of Bernini, so you sort of just have to cope with the fancy complicated-ness of it because it is most definitely worth it to see The Rape of Persephone and the way Bernini's made Hades' fingers actually press into Persephone's leg, as if it were made of real flesh and not of stone.

Seconda wasn't terribly bowled over by Bernini but she was fascinated by a painting of Jesus being taken down off the cross, the kind of painting you get so used to seeing in Rome, that you almost don't look twice anymore.

Seconda: Oh does that man have a booboo?

Me: Yes, do you know who that is? Its Jesus.

Seconda: Oh my GOD!! Look at his BOOBOO!

Me: Do you know what happened to Jesus?

Sec: Yes. Once upon a time there was a little baby named Jesus and Mary was his mother. And one day he was running and running and running TOO Fast and then splat! he fell on the floor and got BLOODY.

Primo: That is not the story of Jesus at all. Don't you know Christmas?

Tuesday, August 17, 2010

Do you know how I imagine Napoli?

Day Five, Rome Trip:

Tomorrow we head out over to Terracina, the charming beachside town about an hour south of Rome, near where my mother was born. Kids are wildly excited, not just for the beach, but for the bombas, which I can only approximate in words as a donut stuffed with Italian creme or Nutella, and served piping hot and dusted with sugar. Imagine eating that while high and that is the experience of eating the bomba, even when sober. The drugs are in the bomba.

Point is, we're headed to Terracina, which is halfway between Roma and Napoli. Today we've been talking about Napoli and tonight Primo told me, when he was going sleep,

"Do you know how I imagine Napoli?"

"No, tell me."

"Like MON-opoly."

He is right. Only with more pickpockets and better pizza.

Friday, August 13, 2010

Rome in pictures

A picture speaks a thousand words. Which is convenient when you don't have the time to write but ten yourself since you're too busy stuffing your face with gelato and trying to cure your children of jet lag.

Behold . . . ROME!

Tuesday, August 10, 2010

Red-Eye Flight

We have made it through the Red-Eye Flight. We are in Rome.

What can I say about the red-eye flight? I think they should give it a name more befitting of its horrendousness. Red-Eye-Popping-Out-Of-Your-Skull-from-Exhuastion Flight. That's be more accurate.

Not for the singles out there. Those people had it DOWN. There were a few rows of empty seats in the back of the airplane which I scouted out early, and was planning to take over when the flight took off. Except that somehow the singles beat me. By the time the seatbelt sign turned off, the singles were already lying down over all three seats, covered by blankets and wearing actual SLEEP MASKS. Shit, the people don't screw around. And around halfway through the flight, I started to regret that I'd dropped the ball. The sleeping did not go well.

First off, I had this totally erroneous thought that because we took off at 5pm and arrived at 8am, that we'd have a whole long night to sleep, so it wouldn't be a big deal if the kids waited til midnight to fall asleep. Once on the plane, however, I realized that we took off in NY time and arrived in Italy time, and we were actually totally being robbed of a night's sleep. This is when I started getting serious about shut eye. We divided and conquered - David took charge of Seconda in the two seats in front and I was in charge on Primo in the two seats behind.

We tried everything. Putting Primo's feet on top of the trays and his head on my lap. Putting his head on the trays and his feet on my lap. Giving him both our seats while I hovered in the aisle. Finally, with 3 hours left til touchdown, I hissed, "If you don't go to sleep right now you're going to be up all night and then want to sleep when its morning time and I won't let you! I'll pinch you awake!" Which made him cry and shriek, "DON'T PINCH ME MOMMY!" waking all the other people who had been asleep for hours. Penitent, I decided to try one last thing -- laying the blankets down on the floor of the aircraft between our seats and David and Seconda's seats in front of us, and Primo lay down there, diagnoally with his head at my feet and his feet at David's feet. That did the trick and I managed to get a whole two and a half hours of sleep. TOTALLY enough for me to manage a crazy 3 and 5 year old who've been up all night, in a foreign country.

But now we're here and thanks to the jet lag, my kids are both going to bed at 2am local time every night. You know what they say - when in Rome . . .

Friday, August 6, 2010

Summer vacation, here we come

I’m outta here, folks. Taking a real, bona-fide vacation, the first one in many moons. Where to?

To the mother country!!

Roma, bella Roma!

Lots of memories in Rome, the most recent being the conception of my darling daughter. Yeah, I’m bringing some pretty powerful prophylactics this time around because we don’t need a Terzo in the picture at present. All that red wine, and rolling rs, and gelato con panna, it can make a couple do crazy things.

So Primo’s been to Rome when he was about a year and a half old, but this will be Seconda’s first time AND Rome’s first time meeting Sec. There is no way that the eternal city is ready for this little firecracker.

We’ve been brushing up on our Italian in preparation for the trip and today she informed me:

“‘Grazie’ is how you say grits in Italian, so if you’re hungry for grits, you have to say GRAZIE!”

Here’s what the kids are looking forward to about Italy:

Eating gelatos every day topped with free panna (whipped cream).

Eating bombas with massive amounts of crema packed inside.

Staying up later than remotely reasonable.

Scratchy alley cats.

Here’s what I’m looking forward to:

Eating gelatos every day topped with free panna (whipped cream).

Eating bombas with massive amounts of crema packed inside.

Eating pizza with paper-thin crust and crusted carciofini on top.

Drinking the only perfect cappuccino in the world.

Villa Borghese with the kids, standing in the center of the Pantheon, lighting a candle and saying a prayer at Santa Maria Sopra Minerva, going for a midnight dip at the beach on Ferragosto, and basically everything else except the jet lag and having to chase Sec around while Vespas and Smart Cars dart past.

Here’s what David’s looking forward to:

The gelatos, the bombas, the pizza and the cappuccino.

Having adventures as a family.

Drinking Nastra Azzurro.

(“And the BJs” he just said, sitting next to me on the couch).

So for the next two weeks or so, you’ll be hearing a lot of radio silence over here, interrupted maybe by the occasional dispatch from Rome.

Wish us luck!

Wednesday, August 4, 2010

Bethenny Getting Married

I have a confession to make. I am totally, one hundred percent obsessed with Bethenny Getting Married. Moreover, I defy you to tell me you’ve watched ten minutes of it and don’t feel the same. I’m not sure if they managed to slip crack cocaine into the soundwaves or what (see how much I know about how TV works) but that is some highly addictive shit. It should come with a warning.

If you haven’t had the guilty pleasure of tuning in, I’ll break it down for you. In a spin-off of the Real Housewives of New York City, Bethenny Frankel (neither real nor a housewife but definitely from New York City) is affianced to handsome and kind of corny Mid-Westerner who is endowed with as much good-natured appeal as she is with its opposite. She is in her second trimester when he pops the question and then she has to (no choice, just HAS to) plan a huge, over-the-top wedding at the Four Seasons in a month’s time. Highlight of the wedding episode: after getting into the Amsale wedding gown, but before its time to walk down the aisle, Bethenny finds she has to pee. Walking through the crowd before her big bride reveal moment seems like a really shitty option. A better option? Having two assistants help her hoist up her couture gown, and pull down her preggo panties so she can pee in a bucket on national television. A month later, she has to have a baby, and when packing her hospital bag, she thinks it wise to put in THONGS, for postpartum use. She has a deranged, homicidal dog named Cookie and is constantly referring enigmatically to her dark, troubled childhood.

“Stop right there,” I know you’re saying, “you had me at, pee in the bucket.”

It is, I would venture, a near-perfect piece of reality programming: Bridezilla meets A Baby Story meets Real Housewives. I watched two episodes in a row last week and I felt afterwards like I needed to read the whole Wall Street Journal, cover to cover, as an antidote. I didn’t of course, letting the dumbing down influence of shitty TV work on me, unabated.

I got David to watch it with me once and the whole time he was like, “Why is her face in the shape of a figure 8? I’ve never seen a face shape like that before!”

And right there, is both why I love my husband and why I love the show.

Monday, August 2, 2010

Fish Out of Water

What follows is the best Seconda story ever, the one that most exemplifies her – the good, and the bad. However, if you work for PETA, I’d advise you to skip this post.

Last Saturday afternoon, David went out to do some grocery shopping and our good friend Lou dropped by. I was talking to Lou and trying to keep Primo from hitting him over the head with pillows so I didn’t notice for a few minutes that Seconda was nowhere to be seen, or heard, There was a Sec silence which I know from experience means trouble. So I peeked into her bedroom and saw her little feet sticking out from under the tent which cover her bed.

This should have sounded the alarm in my head.

Sec is quiet + Sec is hiding in her bed = something is being destroyed.

And, in fact, the alarm did sound. But she was giggling and moving around so I could tell she was all right. I figured it was my furniture or belongings that were probably suffering and while this level of suspicion usually prompts me to intervene, on this particular Saturday I was friggin’ tired. I’d spent a morning at the beach saving her from being swept to sea. The kid doesn’t give me any downtime in between intervention-worthy incidents and I needed some. Plus, I had a guest over and I felt like being a decent host.

So I said to myself, “She’s getting older. Just because she is quiet does not mean that she’s making mischief. Aren’t I EVER going to be able to trust her?”

And the answer, of course, is “No.” Or at least, not for a very long time.

I went back in the bedroom a few minutes later, when I couldn’t quiet the nagging feeling within me. As soon as I walked in, I knew something had happened with the fish. The fishtank where Mr. Black and Mr. White -- hey, the kids named them -- have been living and thriving for the past 8 months or so, is located on top of a dresser and next to the dresser is a toy chest which usually has a big pile of books on it. When I went into her room I saw the pile of books on the floor and Sec standing on the chest.

“Honey?” I started, anxiously, “What are you doing?”

She turned to me with a shit-eating grin on her face. And I mean, from ear-to-ear. The grin was so blatantly guilty it was as if the words “I DID SOMETHING BAD” had been written on her gleaming teeth in permanent marker.

“I saved the fish!” she exclaimed, clapping her hands. Then she turned her attention to the tank, and I did too, dreading what I’d find.

There was Mr. Black, our dear pet, belly up at the top of the water. Dead as a doornail.

My first thought was. “Maybe he’s not dead, but almost dead, Maybe I can save him!” What do you do in these situations? I mean, you can’t do CPR on a goldfish. You can’t call the vet. The fish was belly-up. The fish was a goner.

“What HAPPENED?” I cried, trying to remain calm

This sent Sec running away, to hide in her bed tent. I followed after her, taking deep breaths.

“Did you touch Mr. Black?” I asked.

She smiled and shook her head “No.”

“Honey,” I ventured, sweetly, “Mommy’s not going to be mad, OK? Just tell me the truth. Did you take the fish

out of the tank?”

She grinned and nodded “Yes.”

“And then what did you do with him?”

“I put him in my bed!” she exclaimed with delight, “I wanted to snuggle him!”

“In your BED?”

She nodded, unable to repress her glee: “Mommy, when I put him down, he went flop, flop, flop!!”

And she began to demonstrate with her body how the fish had thrashed about wildly, this way and that. She didn’t know the poor thing was meeting his Maker, she thought he was finally PLAYING with her. She probably felt like she hit the jackpot, like FINALLY, after all these months of being a total snooze-fest, this fish is the life of the party. “This is more like it,” she probably thought, “All he needed was to get out of the water.”

I’m not going to lie: I was dismayed. Downtrodden. My daughter just takes such a joy in destroying things – knocking over block towers, scribbling on her brother’s painstakingly-penned drawings, smashing lipstick on the floor, throwing jewelry in the air conditioner -- I just felt sad that now we had fishicide to add to the list.

Of course, she didn’t really MEAN to kill him. Seconda adores animals, beyond anything I can possible relate to. David, Primo and I are highly apathetic to pets, but it is really her abiding passion. She stops every single dog on the street and chases butterflies and cuddles friends’ cats. She even cozied up to these two big gray rats that Primo’s friend kept as pets (“Oh my cute little ratty!”). She wants a pet she can play with, I understand that.

But the fact remains that she scooped our goldfish out of the water with her bare hands placed him on her pillow for a while and then, when she heard me coming, grabbed him and tossed him back in the water, where he was currently floating.

I gave her a talk about how fish can’t live outside the water, how she had hurt Mr. Black and how she had to prepare herself for the fact that this was probably a booboo he couldn’t recover from.

“I think we’d better check on him.” I said,

We walked over and there, in the tank, was Mr. Black REVIVED from death. He was swimming around! Not with a lot of vigor, admittedly. He looked dazed and horrified, like he’d seen something no fish should ever have to see – two blue eyes getting bigger and bigger, closer and closer and then one chubby hand with green nail polish looming over the water. But he was swimming.

It was a fish miracle.

We went back to the living room, where Lou was now having a pillow fight with Primo and tried to forget the incident. But we are definitely buying a top for the fish tank. And if I could locate on, I’d get Mr. Black a fish therapist.