Eau du Thief

Don’t quote me on this because I have no idea what the hell I’m talking about, but there was this study somewhere, at some time, done by some psychologists. Basically, these psychologists set up two rooms – Candy Shop A, and Candy Shop B. Both Candy Shop A and Candy Shop B were virtually identical; both were loaded with lots of tasty-looking sweets, and neither had a clerk at the till. There was one difference between the two candy shops, however; Candy Shop B had a large mirror behind the empty till, and on the mirror there were two large, angry eyes.

The subjects were let loose, allowed to roam freely between Candy Shop A and Candy Shop B. Kids in a candy store! And the psychologists were able to confirm their hypothesis: subjects happily pocketed candy in Candy Shop A, but kept their hands to themselves in Candy Shop B. While they were technically free to steal candy in both shops, the mere suggestion of a disapproving conscience was enough to reign in any impulses to commit the crime of theft. But in the absence of that disapproving conscience, in the absence of those disapproving eyes….

This is a little bit what living in Italy is like.

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Eat Me

After six years of teaching English to Italians – themselves, byproducts of their culture; themselves, an intriguing blend of impatience and laziness – I have come to the succinct understanding that only 2% of their grammar questions are serious.

  • What’s the different to the past simple and the present perfect?
  • It is the same I use will and going to?
  • Why I must to use get?
  • I no understand the different to could, would, and should.

Apart from the fact that it’s all there, clear as crystal, in their books (really, the rule is there in front of you. What’s so hard to understand?). So, diagrams upon diagrams and metaphors upon metaphors to break it all down, dancing on my head, pulling rabbits out of my ass: PRAISE JESUS I HAVE SHOWN YOU THE LIGHT. Thinking, at the end, covered in sweat: My god, I am brilliant. My god, I wish I’d had a teacher like me.

And yet, the next day, no matter what I do, no matter how many rabbits I pull out of my ass, it’s the same exact mistakes, the same exact questions, from the same exact students. I no understand

Thus, after many years and many feverish impulses to fling myself off a balcony, it finally dawns on me that they’re just jerking my chain; they couldn’t give two craps about understanding English grammar or using it properly. Could, would, should, get, and the G-D present perfect are only red herrings for the real question, which is:

Why is English different than Italian? Why can’t I just use English exactly the same way I use Italian? Why can’t I just throw any verbs in any order I feel like, without any effort, and have it be perfect so I can write on my CV: “English skills, Excellent”?

Yeah. Pull the other one. I’m on to you, you lazy motherfuckers.

The Day the Earth Stood Still

In the days since the election, reading my Facebook feed has become a lurid exercise, like picking the edges of a scab. Admittedly, reading Facebook posts and op-ed pieces might not be the best way to come to terms with what happened, but I simply can’t help myself; I’m an American expat who lives in Europe — for better or for worse, Facebook is the closest thing I get to standing in a square and soaking up the vibes of the townspeople.

So I peek through the windows to see what my family and countrymen are doing back home. I scroll through memes and comment wars and sign a petition or two. A theme has emerged: through the heartbroken high-road messages of love, the hypocritical gloating, the pleas to just “give him a chance!”, and the devastation, what I’m seeing is a lot of thinly veiled talk of a series of wars, fought on our own soil. Republican versus Democrat. Red versus blue. Urban versus elite. Christian versus everyone else; everyone else versus Islam. #allwomen against #allmen. Establishment versus newcomer; liberals versus white bigots; the unprivileged versus the privileged. Corrupt liar versus corrupt liar. Us versus Them.

As true as this might have been, I think it would be remiss not to suggest that as much as this election has been about Us against Them, this election has also been about Failure. The utter failure, specifically, of Political Correctness, which will, in the wake of this election, meet its death.

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Why I Did Not Celebrate Halloween (and Will Not Celebrate Thanksgiving)

 

The zucche are back in season – round squash with bright melon-like flesh and ivory-colored bulletproof rinds. I see heaps of them in a plastic milk crate at the market and think about it for a heartbeat, but then remember the toughness of that rind, my desperate awkwardness with knives and, above all, the fact that whether I carve a squash or not, no one will give a crap except for myself.

I see the ads on Facebook. This nightspot or that nightspot promotes a “Halloween” party that will – as I know by now – be, at most, half-full with people dressed as zombies or black cats, who haven’t the slightest idea what the holiday is about, and if the rains are too heavy, if Paolo suggests seeing a movie instead, if mamma makes a really heavy dinner, those people will bail on that ‘Allo-win party because in the end, the day means nothing, it’s just something stolen from American TV, just another excuse to drink, and no one will give a crap about it except for myself.

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The Sound of Silence

Eva, they say, you’re quiet tonight.

They get nervous when I’m quiet – these friends of mine – and they’re not wrong to be. I like to talk, and I can do it in twoalmostfour languages. It’s rare that I stop – What’s that? What’s that word mean? Conjugate this verb in dialect for me. Can I eat this? Can I eat yours, too? – and when I do, 60% of the time it’s because I’m upset. 30% of the time, because I’m writing in my head. 3% of the time because I’m feeling shy/awkward/don’t know what to say. 2% of the time because I’m ignorant of the topic and would rather not talk out of my ass.

But the last 5% of the time? Because I’m spellbound. Because there’s something coming out of someone’s mouth that leaves me speechless, and hungry to know more.

Like when my friends – in their 30s like me – talk about the good old days. The good old days of being children in an ancient city.

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Things I Will Never Get Used to About Living in Italy. A Love Rant.

School is out, the rains have gone, and once again, the beach umbrellas are up along the curving beach. It’s officially my third summer on the Italian seashore. Lather up the sunscreen. Rinse off the sand. Repeat. Repeat. Repeat.

I’m a pro at this Terracina beach life by now. The tourists are back, just as I knew they’d be. They are clogging up my parking spots and making noise at night once again. I’m not white like mozzarella anymore, but toasty beige like scamorza, yet the villagers continue to ask me: Aren’t you going to the beach? I no longer get annoyed; by now, I know it’s just Terracina small talk.

We have, once again, the weekend dithering:  Which city? Which outdoor concert? Which English-themed pub? Which summery dress?  and the boys are back to their Uh oh, here she comes – the foreigner with her foreigner hat! Seriously, you can just tell she’s a foreigner when she wears that hat. Could you BE any more American right now? Followed swiftly by – wait for it – Come on, let me try your hat on.

There’s a rhythm in this town and you’d think that after nearly almost 2 years here, I’d be integrated. You wouldn’t be wrong. There are lots of things I’ve gotten used to living away from the United States; living in Southern Italy. Celsius is slowly beginning to make sense – heck, I even voluntarily switched my Google weather reading from Fahrenheit the other day. I’m used to the bacetto. I’m used to the hand gestures (love it). Used to people crossing the street any time they damn well please, and I’m used to the fact that the police are useless and I’m not to count on them for anything. Ever.

I now have a guy for everything – my frizzed out hair, my worn down heels, my persico fillets, my spicy local sausage, my rattly alternator, my leaky washing machine, my spotty polyester dresses.

I now can direct tourists on where to go (the Temple of Jove), what to see (the ancient quarter), and what to eat (bombe, boar sausage, muscatel grapes).

I now plan my meals based on what foodstuffs I am gifted on any particular week: eggs from Piero’s neighbor, a foil-wrapped wedge of Parmigiano Reggiano from Old Man Angelo, lemons or avocados from Flora’s garden, a surprise kilo of mussels from Maria.

I no longer have a problem with the “pausa di pranzo” – those 3 or 4 hours that Italians take for lunch. Plan around it, that’s all. Enjoy.

I now often think and dream in Italian.

I’m accustomed to the fact that if I turn on the radio, there is a 90% chance that I will encounter a Police song.

I’ve made peace with the existence of Fabri Fibra.

I agree that Terracina should be named a UNESCO heritage site and will be indeed signing that petition!

But even with all this assimilation goin’ on, there are some things I still cannot, simply cannot, get used to about life in Southern Italy. Namely: Continue reading “Things I Will Never Get Used to About Living in Italy. A Love Rant.”

Food Slut

It’s April 5th and we’re in Hungary: in Budapest, at an Easter Market, staring down wooden kiosks laden with painted Easter Eggs, bottles of elderflower syrup and strawberry wine; giant cast iron skillets heaped with fat red sausages, rainbow-colored root vegetables, and spicy potatoes.

One kiosk attendant stirs a black cauldron full of porky, savory gulyás. Another rolls out floury potato dough to shape into dödölle.

There are glass tanks of fresh lemonade, teeming with thin slices of lemon, limes, and oranges. Side dish stations overflowing with tangy sauerkraut, plump beans, and sour cream. Grills sizzling with juicy sides of pork. Artisan Hungarian beers. Pots of pork-and-rice-stuffed cabbage. Chicken on the bone!

It is in this wonderland of traditional Hungarian deliciousness that I opt to try the rooster testicle stew.

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Ten Italian Songs You Would Love if You Knew They Existed

You silly Italians with your love of English-language songs even though you have no idea what they mean! You crack me up. I love you. You make me warm inside, even as I chuckle sardonically each time I hear a DJ attempt to translate a song title – half the time, you dorks are wrong. I also laugh when you claim that everything in Italy is better and that nothing America makes is any good – which is why your favorite movies come from Hollywood, your sneakers are Nike, and Nirvana is your favorite band. But I digress.

I’m fascinated by the pervasiveness of English-language music around the world. How did we get the monopoly on far-reaching tunes? Why aren’t English speakers more open to embracing music from other cultures? It’s not as though other countries don’t produce amazing music – yet, at music stores back home, “World Music” is usually banished to a single lonely shelf.

I can’t enjoy a song if I don’t understand the words is a common argument. Certainly, there’s something to be said for being able to “get” all facets of a song: every once in a while, my Italian friends will ask me to translate a song for them and in the 60s and 70s, many chart-topping American songs were covered by Italian singers to make them more accessible to Italian audiences. But – and feel free to argue with me if I’m wrong – in the end, it’s the beat that makes the music, so usually, it goes like this:

My friends: I’m honey, honey, honey, honey.

Me: What the hell are you singing?

My friends: I’m honey?

Me: It’s “I’m horny”, not “I’m honey.”

My friends: Oh. I’m horny, horny, horny, horny.

Me: Do you even know what that means?

My friends: No.

Me: Do you want to know?

My friends: I guess. Sure. Whatever.

You can protest all you want, but I don’t believe for a second that if you heard a fantastic song in another language that you wouldn’t love it. To test my theory, I present you with Ten Italian Songs You Would Love if You Knew They Existed. The older songs are songs my parents raised me on and the more recent ones are songs I’ve come into contact with since I’ve been living in this crazy boot.

The reason you will love these songs is because I love them and you and I – we always agree.

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Friday Fix – Old Man Antonio on Going Out

I’m in Vienna and hungover but it’s Friday and I promised you (or mainly myself) to pop out an Old Man Antonio fix on this holiest of days so:

OLD MAN ANTONIO: E, I’m going now.

ME: Great.

OLD MAN ANTONIO: I’m tired. I’m going straight to bed.

ME: No partying tonight?

OLD MAN ANTONIO: Hah! Where? This town is dead.

MAFALDA: I’m going to the Penelope Club.

OLD MAN ANTONIO: To do what?!

MAFALDA: Drink, dance.

OLD MAN ANTONIO: But you’re old like me. Why the fuck do you want to do that?

MAFALDA: It’s fun. I may be old but I’m not dead. I can still go out and enjoy myself. The Penelope Club is nice.

OLD MAN ANTONIO: You mean The Prostate Club.

Friday Fix – Old Man Antonio on Successful Marriages

OLD MAN ANTONIO: All men cheat on their wives.

ME: Is that so.

OLD MAN ANTONIO: Yes. In fact, there is only one woman a man will never cheat on.

ME: Really.

OLD MAN ANTONIO: Yes. A pumitrozzola.

ME: A what now?

OLD MAN ANTONIO: A pumitrozzola. It’s a portmanteau. PU – puttana*- MI – mignotta*  – TRO – troia* – ZZO – zzoccola* – LA – latrina*. A woman who is a pumitrozzola will never get cheated on.

*whore, whore, whore, whore, whore

ME: So men should marry whores?

OLD MAN ANTONIO: That’s not what I’m saying.

ME: That’s exactly what you’re saying.