Saturday, December 28, 2013

Christmas festivities

We have had many Christmas events this season.

Our first Christmas event was at the little theater here in Umbertide the Teatro di Riuniti.
There were 3 plays presented in English (!) by the three fifth grade classes. The performances were very sweet, with music, dancing and singing.  I understood most of the English which was quite a feat for 9 and 10 year olds.  The plot of all 3 skits was that money can't buy happiness, so it is a good thing to appreciate friends, family and good food!  I loved it!!!

Next we had a Christmas party at our school Lingua in Corso.  Our teachers are so much fun.  We were supposed to invite family, so we invited Joseph and Paul to join us. This is me and my sweet teacher Eleanora.

We played Trombolone.  A game that is the brother of Bingo according to our teacher. In this game, everyone wins.

This is Illaria holding up the prize.  I think she looks like an elf!

We had Christmas dinner at Joseph and Paul's new home.  It is so very beautiful.  

Here is the dining room set up for all of us.  The room was as beautiful as the food was delicious.  All in all it was a memorable first Italian Christmas.

Sunday, December 22, 2013

Christmas in Italy

I asked the women in my English class what they thought was the difference between an American and an Umbrian Christmas. (In respect to my friend, Simone, from Milan, I will now try to strike Italian and use Umbrian when I am describing my experiences here.) The class was stumped, probably because they had never experienced an American Christmas.  I said, from what you see you your TV programs, what do you think is the difference? They decided that the main thing was probably that Christmas is more religious in Umbria. That pretty much sums it up. I asked if they had Santa Claus deliver presents at Christmas.  They said now they do, but when they were kids they didn't have Santa Claus, it is not an Italian tradition.  Did they have presents on Christmas day? Yes.  Who delivered them?  The baby Jesus.  For some reason the image of this cracked me up.  No more silly than flying reindeers but the thought of the baby Jesus whizzing around...

Here are some things that I have noticed about Christmas in Umbria:
1.  People don't have live Christmas trees…unless they are  wrapped in a big linen ball and ready to be planted. The tradition of tromping off to a Christmas tree farm, taking the tree out of the lot into the car, finding that it is too high for the ceiling, having to whack away at it so it will fit in the Christmas stand, doesn't seem to be an Umbrian tradition.  We have one huge live Christmas in our main piazza.It is beautiful with bright blue lights.   Watching them bring that tree in through the arch, stand it up with one of the cranes, and putting its base in place is one of my December joys.

2.  Not too many Christmas wreaths on the doors.  I brought my wreath hanger from Oakland, anxious to put up my Christmas wreath.  Several problems.  First the outside door, is everyone's door and is about 5,000 years old.  Second, my own personal door is heavy enough to withstand a medieval battering ram.  The wreath hanger is way too small.  I could put a nail in my door and hang it, but I just couldn't bring myself to do it. No Christmas wreath. Maybe next year I will figure a way to hang in in the window.

 I joined the crowd and got an artificial Christmas tree. The Stoic One calls it a Christmas twig.

3. There are not a lot of Christmas cards for sale, and the ones I found are all really tacky and in English.  Hmmm. I started making my own cards, using iPhoto and pictures we had taken.

4.  Christmas does not feel like a frenzy here.  There are Christmas concerts, the stores are open longer but it feels pretty calm and easy. The big thing about Christmas in Umbria is FOOD!

What a surprise.  So when I was a kid, we used to get boxes of Panettone sent to us in Michigan.  By the time it arrived, it redefined dry.  Even with ice cream and whipped cream, we pretty much couldn't eat it.  So I viewed the Panettone here with a bit of suspicion. The woman at the rosticerie gave me a taste, and it was delicious.  Can't wait for Adelle to get here tomorrow so we can open it!

I did get another little tree for the family room. It looks like it is growning out of the urn.

The big festivity here is making a presepio (nativity scene).  There are major competitions for who has the best ones.  They even have living nativity scenes with the baby Jesus put in on Christmas Day. Manuele said they have animals and everything.  I asked if they had camels, and he looked at me as if I were daft.  No, he said, they have Umbrian animals.  Right.
Here is my presepio that I got in Santa Fe New Mexico.

Saturday, December 21, 2013

Language mistakes

If you try to speak a foreign language, you will make mistakes. Something happens in the distance between the cognitive part of the brain, and the mouth.  I know my basic verb conjugations, at least in the present tense, but as I begin to have a conversation, I find myself automatically speaking in either first or third person singular.  Yikes. Forget about "we" or "they" as subjects.

So my first major mistake in Italian happened at a small furniture store in the next town.  I had practiced asking to see a sofa by the brand name of Berlonni.  (Vorrei vedere un divano di Berlonni.) I practiced and practiced this sentence.  When I got to the store, I said, "Vorrei vedere il divino Berlusconi." Which translates to I would like to see the divine Berlusconi.  The poor shop keeper had no idea what to say.  I was the first American he had met, and he didn't want to disappoint me, but….Producing Berluscsoni would be more than difficult. I saw the stricken look on his face, retraced my words, trying to figure out my mistake.  I realized I had mixed up the words divino and divano, and so I next asked for a Berlusconi sofa.  I must say this didn't help much. Eventually we came to terms and he understood me.  (His daughter who speaks some English had her back to me and I could see her little shoulders heaving up and down, I presume in laughter not disgust.)  Anyway I got the sofa ordered and we call it the divino divano Berlusconi.

Manuele is an expert at interpreting my mistakes, changing my verb tenses and filling in vocabulary that I don't know. This is both a help and a hinderance to me.  One time I screeched at him telling him to wait until I found the right pronoun.  ugh.

Anyway our friends have finally gotten an approval on their mortgage.  This is a major deal in Italy, and took the intervention of Manuele and prayers from the priest across the street.  Our friends went to the notaio to have all of their documents certified before they went to the bank to sign final papers.

The next morning, my friend called me and said he had to pay 300E to the mafia in order to get the loan.  What?  Who said that?  All of them said it, he responded.  We had no choice.  Were they speaking English or Italian?  They were speaking Italian but they used the word protection and mafia, and being from New Jersey,  I know what that means.

Good grief.  I went immediately to Manuele and asked if I had paid the same payment that my friends had made.  He said yes. I said I paid 300 E to the mafia and you didn't tell me?  He stared at me blankly with that Manuele look and said, what are you talking about?  I went through the entire thing again about the 300e and the mafia.  He shook his head and said it was a "TAX" for the ANTI Mafia laws.  They wanted to make sure my friends were not themselves in the mafia.  Oh, I said.  Can I put this in my blog? Yes, this you can put in the blog.

So, be careful to hear the entire phrase.  It is so easy just to pick out the words we understand.   
  • In Italy, a campaign for Schweppes Tonic Water translated the name into Schweppes Toilet Water.1
  • Instructions on a packet of convenience food from Italy: "Besmear a backing pan, previously buttered with a good tomato sauce, and, after, dispose the cannelloni, lightly distanced between them in a only couch.".3
  • In a Rome laundry: Ladies, leave your clothes here and spend the afternoon having a good time.

Sunday, December 8, 2013

Italian: friends and language

Living in a small town in Umbria has its delights as well as challenges. One of the delights is the making of Italian friends.  I know many Americans have struggled with this, but I think it is a language problem more than Italians being closed off to Americans.  In my small town, the people here are very curious about the United States.  I will talk about something, like Thanksgiving, and they will get a far away look in their eyes and say, oh, yes, I saw that on t.v.  It is strange to have one's life reduced to a TV show, kind of like that movie with Peter Sellers, "Being There." The America that the Italians know is in the same idealized world that exists for Americans who come to Italy as tourists. As we say constantly these days, "strano" srtange.

What is not strange is the make up of the character of people I have met in Umbertide.  They are generous with everything but money and I think they would be generous with that if they had more of it. One of the store owners in town asked us to a party last night.  She said that there would be snacks and things to drink.  As in many things here, we had no idea what was going on.  The apartment was in our old building on the first floor.  I had never been inside.  It was amazing once I stepped through the doors.  Much bigger than I had expected.  At one time it had been a club for gambling I think.  Anyway, the new owner (who had been in litigation over the ownership of the apartment for 35 years(!) was celebrating the fact that he now owned the place.  The food, such a wide assortment, was wonderful.  People were friendly, happy, dancing. The music was so loud, we couldn't stay.  It was impossible to hear anything.

Before the party I had the English class that Joseph and I teach for anyone who shows up.  He took the beginning group and I took the more advanced group. One of the exercises was to put in order a paragraph about going through a fast food drive through.  They struggled a bit, which I thought was strange since they had easily done more complicated work.  It suddenly occurred to me to ask, "Have any of you ever gone through a drive through for food?"  No, they shyly answered.  There is a McDonals's in Perugia but that is the only one in our region of Umbria.  Never having gone through a drive through for food, they really didn't know the sequence of ordering.  Oh, my.  Cultural differences.

On the way out of the lesson, my good friend Manuele stopped me to tell me he had a surprise for me.  While I was in class, he had his workers paint the top floor of the building of our old apartment.  I was so happy!  It had been bothering me for 3 years, but I didn't know how to get it done.  It seemed so complicated.  I don't own the space.  There is a skylight that is way up at the top and filthy.  Everytime I came into the apartment I would get mad just looking at it. I asked Manuele about it in the morning, and by the evening it was done!  Painted and cleaned up. He didn't ask any one about it, he just did it. Having Italian friends is vital to the existence here.  Making them may be difficult but it is more than worth the effort.

So now about the language.  There are some very funny things about the Italian language.  One is there no special verb for "owe". They use "I ought" to pay you which really is quite different than the English understanding of the word to owe.  Next results is a verb as well as a noun in Italian.  The significance of this goes without saying.  For me I am very happy with the "results" of the corridor being painted. Hurray.  A Christmas Miracle. I said this to Manuele, and he said, yes, like the movie Miracle on 34th street….right…..

Tuesday, December 3, 2013

Thanksgiving in Italy 2013

We delayed celebrating Thanksgiving until Sunday so that we could all gather together without stress and enjoy one another's company.  We had 8 people at dinner.  Two Italians who had never experienced Thanksgiving before and 6 Californians who have transferred to Italy.

I was awakened to this sky in the morning. The skies in Umbria are like the "girl with the kaleidoscope eyes." Always changing. The sky seems so much wider than California. Because of the lack of pollution the colors are vivid and constantly changing.  The sky made me stop and admire it  and give thanks for being alive.  It was an auspicious beginning!

We had a wonderful time.  Anna and John came over from Lucca.  I met them because of this blog. We have been living parallel lives for years but did not know it.  They also sold their home in Oakland this year and have transferred here. We met them once in California and once in Italy.  They came for the week end and It was as if we had known them forever.

Anna made Martha Stewart's Mile High Pie. It was as delicious as it looks.

Although there are no fresh cranberries in Italy that we could find, Anna found red currants and cooked them and they were excellent.

Joseph and Paul ordered the turkey at the market and brought it over.  Paul is a vet and his stitches were very neat!

This Italian turkey was very tasty.  It's legs were thin but most people eat only white meat so that was not a problem. The two Italians at the table had two comments.  We had the dinner at 3:00 as we do in the US.  This totally flummoxed the Italians, who said 1'clock would have been better.  We smiled and agreed. The second comment was they loved the food.  I think they were as surprised as we were that they thought the food was good.  This is saying a lot because they are really picky about what they eat!

I set the table using all the fancy stuff.  I have used the china, crystal and silver more in Italy in the last month than I did in the US for the last 10 years!  Really.

I fixed a pumpkin pie and took over pieces to the Babucci's.  It caused quite a stir as the Italians have never eaten pumpkin as a dessert.  I think it passed the test although it would have been better with whipped cream. We have green beans, roasted cauliflower, apple chutney and dressing.  It felt like a normal Thanksgiving and yet different, like all of Italy for me now.

So some notes on gratefulness.  We went around the table and everyone expressed a gratitude for friends, old and new.  In addition I acknowledged that I am grateful that my health has been good and I feel strong and able.  I am also very grateful for the ability to have this Italian adventure.  I am grateful for the vision of it, the planning of it and the ability to pull it all off.  I am grateful for all of my good fortune and most of all my good friends, including the Stoic One who even at this moment is working on his Italian!

Living in Umbria makes me aware of the importance of relationships.  People here don't have much money and so they must rely on one another to help in times of need.  It is again as if I have dropped into another era when life was slower, money was less and the world revolved around building and keeping friendly alliances.  At this point, I couldn't feel more at home.