Monday, February 28, 2011

My Dad, the smuggler

Today would’ve been my Dad’s birthday, or was my Dad’s birthday, or something to that effect. My Dad passed away in 2006, so though it technically still is his birthday to me, it really isn’t for him any longer, is it…
But anyway, a few words about my Dad today seem fitting.
My Dad was born in 1925, and you have no idea how much I would like to be a teenager again, just so I could roll my eyes at him and scoff “Dad, you are so last century!”.
My dad taught me loads, and the older I get the more I realize how important many of the lessons he imparted actually are. He taught me the importance of family. I remember the torture that was dinner time at my house when I was a teen and young adult. I wanted to go out with my friends or eat dinner in front of the tv or while talking on the phone, but no, he insisted that the whole family eat dinner together every night. Every night. I can count on one hand the nights when I went out to dinner with friends (ok, maybe two hands…), I could go out after dinner, but not for dinner. Dinner was mandatory family time. Only now do I realize how important that family time was. We would talk (well, he would talk… my dad was a talker!), and we learned so much. Table manners for one, no phones, the use of all the appropriate utensils (you eat your salad with a salad fork dammit!), elbows in, chin up, shoulders down and fork to mouth for crying out loud! We learned patience, waiting for everyone to finish their plate before moving on to the next course, we learned to make conversation and to listen without letting our eyes glaze over. We got to know our parents and they got to know us, and we learned to be with adults and not just our peers. We learned respect.
My Dad was an optimist. He always found the good, even when things looked bad. He was a happy guy. He liked good food and good wine, he liked beautiful women and beautiful things. He was a geologist and though he worked in the oil business he still loved stones. He could sit in jewelry stores for hours talking about quality and clarity and color density, and amazingly, the jewelers would sit with him for hours even if he didn’t end up buying anything. He taught me that passion is infectious, so it’s important to be passionate about something.
My Dad talked me out of going to med school. Thank God! Cause I would’ve hated it, and been horrible at it, and if heaven forbid, I had managed to graduate from med school I would’ve been a truly bad doctor. Sometimes our parents really do know us better than we know ourselves.
He was a really smart guy. A scientist but, I think, a humanist at heart. He loved to read, he watched documentaries, he still remembered parts of Dante’s Divine Comedy memorized when in school (in the 1940’s). He was also a pain in the ass. He hated the music we listened to, and kept trying to steer us towards Puccini or Brahms, he thought most of the movies we watched were garbage and let us know, vocally and repeatedly, how idiotic he thought we were being and let’s not even talk about the sitcoms. He was, of course, always right.
I had the worst fights of my life with him, and he said some truly hurtful things, but he taught me to argue my point, organize my thoughts and present them properly, even in the heat of the moment. In fact, my husband rarely argues with me, because he says I always win in the end, even when I’m dead wrong. Thanks Dad!
He was a resourceful guy, during WWII my Dad, my Uncle and a friend of theirs smuggled salt and cigarettes from Switzerland to Italy to help support their families. My Dad, the smuggler. This story always made me laugh.
He was generous, always happy to lend a hand, always putting our material needs before his. He also ruled the house with an iron fist and what he said went, no arguments. He was a bit of a  sexist and raised my brother and I with a double standard, but only as far as what we were allowed to do socially, we both got the same education and opportunities. He was born in the 1920’s, but he was a forward thinking, modern man. I’m sorry if you didn’t get to know him.
He had a strong personality a charisma that is hard to find, he also had a knack for ticking people off, let’s just say he wasn’t the kind of man that went unnoticed. He was far from perfect, and he wasn’t easy to live with and yet I miss him every day. Because, you see,  despite his flaws, he was perfect to me.

Thursday, February 24, 2011

The I-Phone is my new babysitter

There’s an ongoing battle at our house, actually it’s two battles (does that make it an ongoing war?). The point of contention of this war is the iphone, we have three, there’s four of us. Two of us are under three and have to share an iphone, though they really have no business messing with an iphone at all at their age. The iphone exerts some weird kind of magnetic pull on my children that I honestly don’t understand. It’s not like they need a phone, in fact, they’re both still iffy on what the phone is, and why we talk to it when it doesn’t answer back and why sometimes it talks like grandma. So what do they do with it? Well, of course, they imitate us, so they babble at the phone holding it to their ears, generally upside down, as they pace the living room. And then there’s you tube. They bring me the iphone, with the you tube app already open (they’re 1 and 3) and then want me to search for whatever they feel like watching at any given time, like “cars, mama” (3 year old) “vroom, vroom” (1 year old) or “tellytubbies, mama” (3 year old) “lalla, lalla” (1 year old), and so on and so forth. I pretty sure they’re going to learn to spell just so they can bypass me and just search for the stuff themselves.
Anyway, I try to limit their use of the iphone, for obvious reasons, but then when in the midst of a tantrum, or hissy fit, or whine-fest, I find myself surreptitiously reaching for it and waving it in front of them, much like a dealer waving crack in front of a junkie because nothing, nothing shuts them up faster. But unlike the dealer I later feel terrible, the guilt rises and engulfs me, I’m a terrible mother, I should distract them, entertain them, tell them captivating stories…. And then… I realize that as I’m sitting there, wrought with guilt… I’m also checking twitter or facebook or my blog stats… on my iphone. Hmmm. Methinks this is a clear case of teaching by example. I guess the iphone’s not so bad after all… it may even teach them to spell sooner.
p.s. I apologize for my overly enthusiastic use of the ellipsis in this post.

Monday, February 21, 2011

O melhor bolo de chocolate do mundo and other things I learned in Sao Paulo

We’re back from our trip but, as promised, I have a few more interesting, yet totally inane, facts I learned in Sao Paulo, that I wanted to share with you before going ahead and forgetting all about them (I am not renown for my stellar memory).
As an aside to the wait-staff bit in the previous Sao Paulo post, we went to a restaurant (Rufino’s – awesome fish) where, going along with the marine motif, the waiters’ uniforms were similar to ship captains’ uniforms and had stripes on the jacket sleeves.  So halfway through the meal I noticed that some jackets had two stripes, some had four, some six and some none at all and after a few minutes of thought I realized that the stripes reflected each waiter’s position in the Brazilian wait-staff hierarchy… no stripes clears the table, two stripes takes care of drinks etc. Handy.
Despite the fact that we managed to leave with no less than three suitcases, I didn’t really have a lot of room for toys and had decided to buy a few things there to entertain the kids during our stay. So on our first day we decide to fight the jetlag by taking a brisk walk in the heavy humidity in search for a toy store and found out something astonishing. Legos are insanely expensive. Insanely. Expensive. Like three to four times as much as in Europe, possibly even more compared to the US. Considering my kids love legos, which provide hours and hours of entertainment (hence, I love legos too) I was sorely disappointed and kind of at a loss as to how to remedy this problem. But then I realized, hey, I’m in Brazil, the land of cheap, good quality imitations of name brand stuff so I found imitation legos at a great price. They don’t click together with real legos perfectly, but that provided many extra minutes of entertainment in itself. Who would’ve thunk it! The lesson here? In Brazil, anything that they can slap an import tax on will become too costly to make it worth the expense. On the other hand, if it’s produced in Brazil it will be much, much cheaper – like the new stroller I bought (a Brazilian brand that belongs to Peg Perego) and surprisingly, the Cars cars.
Another thing I noticed this time, and in truth I seem to notice it every time I go to Brazil, but then I forget about it, so it’s a novel experience the next time I go to Brazil and notice it once again, is how slow everyone is here. I’m not being derogatory, it’s just a fact. People move more slowly than they do around here, I kept getting startled glances as I overtook people on the sidewalk, like “Whoa Nellie! where’s the fire?” and then they’d look amused to see that that was just the way I walked. They generally move more slowly, you ask for a coffee and the barista looks like he’s moving in slow motion. Initially, it’s very frustrating, I spend the first few days wanting to constantly scream “come on, Come On, COME ON!” while clapping my hands together angrily at people as they do things at their leisurely pace and I’m tapping my foot away in agitation. But then thankfully I start to relax, and get into the mind set of “eh, what’s the rush?” otherwise I’d literally go insane, or get arrested for assaulting someone out of sheer frustration. Neurotic? Maybe.
One of the things I loved, loved, about Brazil is a place called the “Poupatempo” – the time saver – I loved this because I live in a third world country (no, not developing country, but honest to goodness third world like we haven’t seen since colonial times) where the whole concept of a government office doing anything to save you time is so contradictory that we can’t even image such utopia. Whereas in Brazil, there’s one place where you can get all your documents (except for your passport), you can pay your taxes, you can get your voting status updated, you can get all of your records (criminal or whatever). All in the same place. You can even get your picture taken there and pay all the necessary fees. All in the same place. This may seem obvious to many of you, but I’m betting you don’t live in Italy, I wrote about this very subject here if you’re interested on a little background. Anyway, I was amazed. I didn’t manage to get what I needed, cause I have to go to the consulate first, but still. Oh, and there’s a large, fully manned information desk as soon as you walk in, along with an extremely clear, color-coded map of where you need to go to get what you need and little colored lines on the ground, that you follow to actually physically get there. Amazing.
I took the kids to a great, big, gorgeous park with a lake and swans and all in the center of Sao Paolo one morning when in the throes of a pretty severe bought of cabin fever, and saw this amazing sight:

I just had to take a picture because I swear to you, I had no clue that someone somewhere had come up with the absolutely most ridiculous way to make money off of people who have no control over their spending habits. The dog stroller. Never, for the life of me, would I have been able to fathom such a thing if it hadn’t been paraded right in front of me. My mother later proceeded to tell me that not only had she already seen them around, but they made sense for dog owners, particularly of the small dog variety. I was flabbergasted and could come up with no sane response on two feet, but now that I’ve had time to think about it… really? Really? You need to buy your dog a stroller? I mean I have children, human children, and I can’t wait to get rid of my damn stroller cause it’s such a pain in the ass to lug around, though, admittedly, less of a pain in the ass than lugging around the children, but as soon as they can walk for any extent of time without whining the entire way the stroller goes to charity. And yet there are people out there who buy strollers for their dogs. It’s a damn dog, for crying out loud, it’s got four paws, two more than humans, so as far as I’m concerned it should walk. In fact, the saying is “walking the dog” not “strolling the dog”.
And lastly, near my Vovo’s house (101 year old Grandma) there’s a small shop called “O melhor bolo de chocolate do mundo”. You would hardly notice it, in fact, I hadn’t ever noticed it on my previous trips. But once you read the name “The best chocolate cake in the world” it piques your interest, and you really want to find out if it’s true. So our last day there, under a heavy drizzle, we went to try it. I’m not a chocolate cake fan, so I don’t know if it actually is the best chocolate cake in the world, but it was pretty darn good. If you don’t believe me, just ask the Girl.

Sunday, February 20, 2011

Happy Birthday, Darling Boy

You turned three years old today, but you don’t seem to like three, you keep insisting that you’re two years old. I don’t really mind, it’s only a number. You are a little big to be two, you’re actually a little big to be three too, most people think you’re four at least, but honestly, they’re only numbers. There are many reasons that make me realize you’re growing up, possibly too fast for me. You sit and play for quite some time, all by yourself, with your cars, making up stories with plots and subplots, conversations and descriptions; you don’t need me to entertain you anymore and you don’t need a full-time audience either now, this makes me a little sad.
You brush your own teeth, you don’t want me to help, you even pull up your sleeves on your own. This year, at your party, you seemed to understand what was going on, that we hadn’t just randomly gotten you a whole bunch of presents for no reason, but you still hid your face in your arms when we sang happy birthday. You thanked me for your birthday cake and said it was beautiful. That almost made me cry.
You’re starting to act like a big brother, no prompting from us. You went and got your sister some pizza when you realized you were eating it and she wasn’t, you were afraid of the sea lion at the aquarium so you wouldn’t let her get close to the glass to see it, when you thought we had left you two alone at the park you took her hand and started heading home.
There’s a million little things that make me feel that you’re growing up too fast. I know you’re not, you’re doing exactly what you’re supposed to be doing, but still, I miss the little dark haired baby I held in my arms for the first time three years ago. And yet, I look at you and I’m so proud of you. I looked at you today on your big new bike, your feet couldn’t touch the floor, but you were whizzing along, so happy, so delighted, so big. Happy Birthday darling boy, you changed my life, your smile lights up my life, you make my heart sing.

Family effort, plus two friends!

Friday, February 11, 2011

The sidewalks of Sao Paulo

We made it to Brazil. And despite being technologically challenged I`ve managed to connect my ipad to the hotel wifi, connect it to the bluetooth keyboard, and figure out how to use open office (sort of), all in merely a week, without calling the husband for support. Of course this isn`t all I`ve been doing, I`ve spent this time learning a few things about Sao Paulo, that I`m going to kindly share with you, should you decide to pop over for a visit sometime.
First and foremost, Sao Paulo is a beautiful city with a lot to offer, there`s some truly gorgeous areas (and sadly, some horrifying ones), there are fantastic restaurants and beautiful shops. But I`m not a travel guide, so I`ll leave that information to lonely planet and co. Today we`re going to talk about some of the more evident, shall we call them "curiosities" of the city.

Each building is responsible for its own sidewalk. Why would one care, you may be wondering, well because you get stuff like this:

That is one of the nicer streets of Sao Paulo and every building has a different sidewalk in front of it, the only unifying factor is the state of disrepair. If you`re walking around with a stroller you`ll want to kill yourself after half a block.In fact today the wheel of my absolute favorite travel stroller in the world broke clean off (the Sit`n`stroll five in one stroller car seat by Lilly Gold), and I`m not just a little upset about it.

If you meet a nice pregnant girl, and she tells you there`s a great park near your hotel that she always takes her daughter to and then her driver proceeds to give you directions, assume the nice pregnant girl has never once actually walked there. The park, was in fact no more than four blocks away, but up a hill so steep that it made the himalaya look like a molehill. The kids loved the playground, it took me 45 minutes to get my heartbeat back down to normal.

Restaurants are always surprisingly over-staffed, but you still need to lay down on the floor and flail around with your tongue hanging out to get a glass of water. It`s amazing how many waiters work in any given restaurant, and navigating the hierarchy of the waitstaff is more complicated than nuclear fission. There`s the guy that seats you, the guy that takes your drink order, the guy that takes your food order, the guy that brings you your alcoholic drinks and the guy that brings your soft drinks, then there`s the guy that brings your food plus the guy that helps him out by holding the tray or handing him dishes but he isn`t up the ladder enough to actually set the food on the table, there`s the guy that takes away the dirty plates, and of course the guy for the dirty glasses, there`s also the guy that supervises all the other guys, but don`t ask him for anything cause that`s simply not his job. So let me offer a word of advice, memorize the drinks order guy`s face, cause you`re going to need a lot of capirinhas as you wait for the waitstaff to stop wandering aimlessly around and actually bring you stuff.

Driving is the poor man`s therapy. Well, actually it`s everybody`s therapy. Neapolitans and New Yorkers think they`re badass in the car. They`re not. In Sao Paulo, people are generally really nice and polite on "terra firma" shall we say, but once they become motorized everyone turns into Mr Hyde, even the meekest little lambs. All I can say to you is if you`re on the pedestrian crossing and your light is green... well look around a few times and then say a quick prayer before hauling ass to the other side of the street as fast as the wind beneath your nike`s will take you.

This is what I`ve learned this week, and now I`m off to buy a stroller. Sigh.

Wednesday, February 2, 2011

One girl's packing saga

This week I officially started packing for Brazil. I bought our tickets, started writing endless lists of things to do before I leave, of what to pack for each kid and myself, what I need to buy for them before leaving… we’ve been trying on clothes from last summer to see what still fits, and buying a few things on sale to hold us over the first few days… but of course we still don’t know if we’re actually leaving. Tomorrow I’m going to start spending a couple of hours a day crying in front of the passport office in the hopes of expediting the process, either by appealing to their better nature or annoying them to the point of insanity. I really don’t care which, as long as I get the girl’s passport.
Packing. I hate packing. I wish I could travel with just my carry-on and a change of clothes and just buy what I need when I get wherever I’m going. And now I have to pack for three people. And the husband was all like, what? you mean you’re not packing for me anymore? I have to pack for myself now? And I was like AAAAAAAHHHHHH. That’s it, got it out of my system.
I used to be one of those people who packed a couple of hours before having to leave, I always packed twice as much what I needed and was happy with that cause I am not the backpacking type. But now, with two kids, the sheer amount of stuff that they simply cannot live without combined with my innate inability to streamline anything in my life means I have to start packing a week to ten days before taking a trip longer than a few days. I learned my lesson this summer
So, just in case you’re interested, or it could be helpful to someone, here is my packing process and travelling system.
Day 1. I take out everything I could possibly want to bring and pile it on the bed. Then I stare in horror at the bed, which now contains three-fourths of my earthly possessions and at the two suitcases I’m bringing. I contemplate briefly the global success that “the miniaturizer” would have, a futuristic beam that reduces items to one, one hundredth of their size for optimal packing, that I’ve been meaning to invent as soon as I grow out of my lifelong aversion to everything scientific. And then I go back to wide eyed staring.
At the end of day one, since I know that I’m going to have to go to sleep on my bed soon, and I can’t see my bed under the mountain of crap piled on it, I start putting back the things I don’t think I’ll be needing after all. Everything else gets dumped on the floor.
Day 2. I take all the crap from the floor, fold it and put it back on the bed. Then I count how many days I’ll be gone, and decide on one outfit for day and one for night, for every day I’m there. And possibly a couple of alternatives. For three people (me and the kids, the husband, whenever he next travels with us, will have to just fend for himself!). At this point I waste another forty-five minutes staring in horror at the bed, cause I would need ten suitcases and three porters to manage all this stuff.
Day 3. I go out and buy all the stuff I’m missing and pile that on the bed too, with all the other stuff. I sit down and quietly cry. Then I wonder briefly how expensive it would really be to just buy what I need when I get there.
Day 4. That’s it, I’m sick of packing. I’m going to finish today and be done with it. I attack the kids’ clothes and get rid of everything I won’t need or use. I pack the kids’ clothes in their suitcase. I separate all the other random stuff I need to bring for them (i.e. toiletries, diapers, changing pad, formula – I don’t want to have to go hunting for this stuff on my vacation – toys, more toys). And I pat myself on the back for a job well done. I then start going through my stuff and weed out most of the superfluous. By then it’s midnight and I want to post on my blog so I stop packing and turn on the computer. This is where I’m at right now.
And this is what I predict will happen in the next few days:
Day 5, tomorrow, Wednesday. I pack all my stuff. And then I realize I forgot shoes, socks and pjs (for three people!) and I have a mild hissy fit in the bathroom so the kids don’t hear me. I recompose myself and add the missing items. At this point the packing process has started to take shape and I start getting really paranoid that I’ll lose one of my bags, but which one can I live without?!?! I repack everything so I have a little bit of everything in each bag. This takes three hours. I now have to stop packing to rush to my mani/pedi (on a side note, that is the worst expression ever, it makes me cringe just to think it, much less type it, I feel like a bubble gum smacking, hair twirling valley girl), and more importantly my wax appointment, which, as y’all know, is pretty much a necessity for me before going to warmer climes, as my de-hairing track record is not exemplary.
Day 6, Thursday. OH MY GOD (I think, as I channel Janice), I’m leaving tomorrow. And this is when I pack my carry-on. I could probably get a job at some big fancy nanotechnology company, based on my carry-on packing skills alone. Because, you see, I’m just a teeny bit into apocalyptic scenarios, so I tend to pack for any and all situations. My carry-on has a change of clothes for me, and both kiddos, essential toiletries, in case ALL our luggage gets lost, toys, food for three people for thirteen hours and some (in case the flight is delayed), this includes bottles, nipples, binkies, and formula, essential drugs in case someone has an allergy attack, a cold, teething pain, stubs a toe or whatever in flight, diapers and all manner of changing paraphernalia for two kids for thirteen hours plus extra in case of, you know, insert apocalyptic scenario here. Plus the kids’ blankies, their luvvies and my pillow, without which I shalt not fly. All this in one carry-on.
Day 7. Friday, D-day. Can it be? Am I really done? OMG, I’m done! (little victory dance here). I am all done packing y’all! So all I have to do is get up run to the questura (passport office!) and wail, scream, tear my hair out, sob on my knees, hanging on to the counter with the last of my strength and hopefully go home with the girl’s passport.
If all this happens, if all goes well, I’m betting we’ll be in the car within a half hour, at most, of our ETD (god, really?! Estimated time of departure, duh!) We’ll be half way to the highway and I’ll realize I forgot to pack something essential, like underwear, and the husband will yell in sheer frustration something along the line of “dammit, woman, you’ll buy it when you get there!”, and we’ll proceed, only to realize, half an hour later that I forgot something vital, like my cell phone, or our passports.

Side note: I realize I promised a post on my packing process and travelling system, but seriously, this is turning into a novella, so the travelling system will be part two of this two part mini-drama.