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Keys, mental lapses and landlords

It’s never good when your landlords call you and yesterday was no exception. Paul was in Torino for the Slow Food Festival with Dan and Eric, enjoying forty-eight hours of serious eating. Back in Rome, Phoebe and I had a nice weekend ourselves; we walked, ate and played with friends, most of it pretty slow.

Then yesterday we were going shopping for long-sleeved onesies. Not that it’s cold in Rome now, not that you can find a 3-pack of onesies, but we’re headed to Prague next week and I’m sure the temps will eventually drop in Italy too. So we were off.

Coats on and into the elevator we went. We greeted a lady in the lobby and opened the mailbox to find two letters from the INS. Now, as visitors in a foreign land, these are the scariest initials to see in one’s mailbox. But upon closer inspection I realized they were both addressed to someone else entirely. Good. But since this was important to someone, not just an advertisement for cheap furniture, I spent a couple of minutes trying to arrange the mail on top of the boxes in a way that would be easy to find. Here comes someone else through the lobby, hellos from Phoebe and myself. And we’re off again.

It was when we got to Via Veneto that my purse starting vibrating and ringing. I picked up and heard my landlord’s voice booming through the line in his usual way, a little too loud. “Hello, did you leave your keys in Via Nizza?” Confused I thought to myself, did I? “Yes, I think you did. In the mailbox, maybe today or yesterday? The woman on the first floor has found them.” Oh. Yes. “Do you have an extra set to get back in the building?” No but I’ll try the neighbor, I explained. “Ok, let me tell you how it’s arranged. You will buzz Madame Pastore, like ‘Shepard’, and she is on the first floor. She will give you your keys.” A little embarrassed but grateful for the care, I assured him that we’d be back in an hour to collect our keys.

Onesies in hand and one bus ride later, Phoebe and I returned to the building. I assumed she didn’t speak English so I practiced my conversation a little in my head before pressing the Pastore button. I got as far as, “Buonjo…” before she buzzed me in. So I quickly stuffed Phoebe’s stroller into the elevator and pushed Piano 5 as I always do. This allowed me to make eye contact with M. Pastore, who was standing outside her flat holding my keys, just as we continued past on our way up to the fifth floor. You can’t change floors once you make a selection on our antiquated elevator–and it’s glass. Ugh. Back down to the first floor. I don’t know how to say, “my husband is out of town this weekend and I guess I’m a little tired” in Italian so I just shrugged as she raised her eyebrows and at last handed me my keys.

But the funniest part is the extreme intervention in the first place. If I saw someone’s keys dangling from the mailbox downstairs, I think I’d just leave them. But not the Italians. This was a mission; there was action to take, calls to make, plans to arrange. It’s sweet, I think.

Paul is home now.

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Home is where the heat is on

Or in our case, isn’t.

The apartment has lost its magic this holiday season because things only kind of work.

Take the heat. Our building has a boiler. Our apartment has radiators. Somewhere in time and space, the two are supposed to get together and provide warmth to apartment number 9. Unfortunately, this isn’t happening. The hottest we’ve been able to reach, and I use the word loosely, is 16 degrees. About 64 degrees in America, sweet, sweet land where I remember heat magically coming into my apartment year after year. Even with the radiators cranked up to 5 (even the number sounds puny), this is it. So it’s oldie-timie here. We’re wearing thick sweaters, puffy slippers, sometimes hats. Space heaters are in effect, but it’s a careful dance to not overload the finicky circuit breaker. Two heaters maximum–and no running the dishwasher at the same time. Ditto for clothes, which is fine because we’re wearing most of them anyway.

Then there is the elevator, which in Italy is called a lift. Actually it’s called an ascenscore but always translated in the British style. What’s important is this: ours works 80% of the time. This figure may seem like a lot but the 20% failure rate packs a punch. It’s usually out of commission just as I’ve gotten Phoebe bundled up in her stroller, Carter collared and everyone out the door. We press the button and…nothing. Or, even more frustrating, the elevator comes but the door doesn’t open. From the 5th floor, it’s not possible to bump down the steps out the door. And let’s face it, Carter isn’t much help. So, it’s back inside to unbundle, repack and break out the Bjorn. Sometimes this involves changing my outfit to accomodate the new demands of the errand, almost always my coat. Mid-process I think to myself, Without the stroller basket, do I need pockets? What about a big bag? If I can’t carry everything in one trip, what’s most important to get now? When is this kid going to start walking? When is this kid going to start walking the dog? And so on.

These annoying failures, coupled with the neighborhood yelling and the general mediocre feeling I’ve always had for the pad have caused quite a stir this weekend. Our landlords have been notified, repairmen are on their way…and we’ve started looking at other places. As always, I’d like to live in an oasis of quiet and green; Paul would like something more lively, with interesting things just outside our door.

We’ll see what happens but either way, I will say one thing. It will be warm. If I have to start wearing a Santa costume around the house just to keep cozy, you’ll see me at the Big Belts store first thing in the morning. They’re probably on sale now anyway.


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A triple threat but not the good kind

People say bad things come in threes. This, I might believe based on our week: a. I am sick b. Phoebe is sick and c. our car is sick.

She and I picked up a cold and while we’re both nearly over it, there is still “liquid” to contend with. Mine is a runny nose, Phoebe’s is a nasty cough. The toughest part is actually the cough that wakes her up at night, every one to two hours, which means I am up at night, every one to two hours. But we’re on the mend.

The Mercedes is a different story. And to make it short, we’ve got water in the electrical system. Three days of visits to the garage have resulted in this diagnosis. I think. But our issue, as always, is the language. Paul and I are getting better at Italian but we don’t really speak car Italian. It’s charming when the mechanic’s face lights up as Phoebe enters the garage but frustrating (for both of us) when he tries to explain the details of what’s gone wrong and what to do next. Armed with my cell phone and half a dozen friends willing to act as interpreter-on-call, we’re getting closer to a solution. Hopefully tomorrow we’ll take the car to the dealership and have it fixed…while we’re away in Belgium.

So, phew.

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Yelling: the universal language

It’s so unpleasant, even in beautiful Italian.

There’s a greasy little storefront down below our apartment, in between an antique store and a cafe. It’s some kind of little gambling shop, pull-tabs I think. Despite the fact that we live in a lovely area of town, here it is. But the real problem is the two old men who sit outside the store. One or both spend the day sitting in a chair on the sidewalk. Smoking.

Then there’s our apartment. Happy, clean and five stories up. I used to begin each day by feeding Phoebe then putting her in her bouncy chair as I watered the flowers on the balcony. But I made a mistake and over-watered a couple of times early in the summer, and apparently the water dripped down to the sidewalk below. That’s when the buzzing started, furious and unrelenting buzzing on our intercom. Plus screaming that I could hear all the way up on my balcony. “Senora! Senora! Aqua!” I politely answered the intercom, “Pronto?” Too much Italian was coming at me, too fast. But I got the gist and apologized. “Dispiace. E finito.” (I’m sorry, it’s done.) For the next month whenever a single drop hit the pavement, buzz, buzz, buzzzzzzz!

I understand that it’s frustrating sit in a chair and have water drip on your shoulder. But I truly don’t understand this response. Rather than screaming at a stranger, I’d move my chair. Anyway, it doesn’t matter because I changed the watering schedule to early mornings or late evenings–which isn’t easy with a newborn baby, and would be nicer to water my plants on my terrace when it’s convenient for me–just to make an effort.

I mention this today, out of the blue, because that’s exactly what happened this week. Temperatures have dropped in Rome and I haven’t watered all week. But suddenly on Wednesday afternoon, the dreaded buzzing began. It’s difficult to articulate the rage transmitted by buzzing but you’ll have to take my word for it. I was already shaking when I picked up the receiver, then “Senora! Aqua…” tumbled out.  But this time, there WAS no water. Totally confused about why I was getting yelled at again, I could only say, “Oggi? Ma non aqua oggi” (Today? But no water today.) His point was that water dripped on two of his shirts/water dripped every day. I said I was sorry and that I only watered in the morning and night now but it didn’t matter. The fiery response was barked at me too fast for my basic Italian skills to comprehend, “Dispiace, ma non capisco.” (I’m sorry but I don’t understand.) But I did get enough of his response to know he was saying the equivalent of don’t live in Italy if you don’t speak Italian. Bleck.

Unfortunately, Phoebe and I had an appointment for an oil change at Mercedes so we had to walk downstairs. As I did, I saw the guy and he went back at it. Same thing, two shirts, water every day. Complete with threats to call the police. Twice. I did my best to convey an apology, for an injustice committed two months ago, but he wasn’t letting up. Liquor on his breath, it seemed that he just wanted a nice rant. Fifteen minutes later Phoebe started crying and I said the conversation was over.

I hope Carter bites him.


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Aren’t you supposed to lose weight after the baby is born?

So, we’ve got a new fitness plan in our house. There are sit-ups, push-ups and squats. Long walks, brisk walks and hilly walks too. Paul does the exercises, Carter does the walks. And as when this all started, Phoebe’s just along for the ride. With the extra LBs not exactly melting off, I’ve wondered a few times if I should just cut back on the gelato…but let’s not get crazy. There will be a time for desperate measures. It’s called jeans season. Until then, we’ll just keep it moving.


Move it


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If you like pina coladas, getting caught in the rain…

Then you’ll LOVE Rome in July!

wetFeeling cooped up this week, I made a concerted effort to get out and about today. At around 5:30, all things looked good. Paul was on his way home from the office. Even better, Phoebe’s feeding, burping, diapering and napping schedules cooperated so I packed up her in the Bjorn, threw on Carter’s collar and headed out to meet him at the metro. Why not turn a work commute into a family stroll? Plus, I needed an extra pair of hands to pick up some groceries.

As we headed to the store together storm clouds gathered above, but seemed tentative. Benign even. We had at least 20 minutes. There was even talk of stopping for take-out sushi on our way back. Once at the store, I volunteered to wait outside with Carter and the babe while Paul ran in for 3 quick things. That’s when the heavens opened up. Giant plop, plop, plops turned into a bona fide rainstorm in seconds. Paul came out just as it happened so Phoebe and I dashed in; Paul and Carter sought cover under the storefront facade. Wait it out, we thought. But this was not just a downpour. Not just roaring thunder (the kind that actually causes physical pain in your ears). No, this storm involved so much wind that one has to lean forward to stay upright. Naturally, neither of us had so much as an umbrella.

still wetA few minutes passed. Seeing the water let up, we decided to make a run/walk for it. Then it really started pouring.

There was nothing for this family of 3 1/2 to do but seek shelter again under the nearest awning. It was a restaurant getting set up for the dinner shift. A waiter and woman who I assume was the owner stood in the doorway, looking in awe at the storm’s force when we arrived. They graciously invited us to come in then insisted on giving us their giant red umbrella for the rest of our trip home.

Once again, Paul, Phoebe, Carter and myself were out in the elements. Wind blowing, water dumping, umbrella wobbling and diving, Carter shaking, Paul’s shirt soaked through, Phoebe covered up in a blanket…the whole thing felt very biblical. As we jumped over puddles, dodged through parked cars and navigated the slick cobblestones, Paul and I looked at each other and laughed. So much for getting out!

In the end, we made it home. All 5 blocks.



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The problem with getting a passport for a baby is…

The photo.

We have an appointment with the *US embassy tomorrow where she’ll register for a US birth certificate, social security number and US passport. Since a passport falls under the category of “photo ID”, a picture is necessary. That’s where the trouble fun starts.

In order of difficulty, I present the requirements for the photo of our 3-week old daughter:

  • It needs to be a photo of her head.
  • Facing forward.
  • Eyes open.
  • No visibly flailing limbs.
  • White or off-white background.
  • Clear, not blurry.
  • Body parts of other people are strictly forbidden.
  • (Optional) Somewhat pleasant facial expression.

We took her to a photo shop where the Italian photographer haphazardly snapped two shots and decided one would have to do. Eight euros later, we discovered that her left hand is obscuring half of her face.  Super.

Then we brought her home for a couple more photo sessions. Beyond the physical limitations–she can only hold her head up for a few seconds and has little-to-no control over her arms, which insist on flying toward her face–there is a window for timing. Phoebe is more or less on a three-hour loop. This includes: sleeping, eating and a brief activity, and by “activity” I mean something like a diaper change, a bath, a book or tummy time on her play mat. Also, the active portion lasts about 10 minutes before she’s beat…and cranky. With that said, I think we have a couple of shots that might do. These are not them:

IMG_0500 IMG_0471 IMG_0499 IMG_0468 IMG_0507 IMG_0472 IMG_0495 IMG_0490 IMG_0497

*Dual citizenship is out too. Phoebe was born in Rome but neither of us are citizens of Italy. So unless she marries an Italian, which seems a little rash at this point, her citizenship will be solely American. Initially I thought it was because of our visa status but I have been corrected. Turns out, it’s just Italy. Oh well.


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Last weekend Paul and I took our first day trip in the new car. Up to Lake Bracciano, about an hour outside of Rome. It’s a lovely old village with a castle, actually the one where Tom Cruise and Katie Holmes were married. Naturally, I wanted to take a tour (because I like castles, not TomKat). So in my best Italian, I walked up to inquire about rates, time and language. After being told that the next tour would start a mezzo giorno, noon, tickets were sette Euros, seven, and that it would be en inglese, in English, we were sold. Money was exchanged. A few minutes were passed on a bench. But as we walked through the iron gates of the castle, we realized that only two of the above statements were correct…

For the next hour and a half, Paul and I wandered through the enormous castle listening to–but not understanding more than a word of–the tour in Italian. Here, it’s important to note that Italians are not known for keeping things brief. Each and every room, nook and cranny was fully described in more detail that I can possibly imagine it’s original residents might have been aware of.

So, by next summer, we need to be able to understand the language. At least enough to know when someone’s telling us the tour is in English…or not.





View from the top

Up top

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The best morning ever

In the continuing struggle that is my pre-natal care, I had an appointment with the midwife this morning. Today’s goal, blood tests. Testing what? Who knows. But this much is clear: our appointment was for 9am. The Birth Center is across town, approximately a 45-minute trip. So Paul and I got up early and hustled down there. Factoring in Italian Time we figured on a 15-minute delay before we’d see the pros in action. Oh how we underestimated. Thirty-five minutes later, the junior midwife arrived. After a brief apology, my blood was drawn and the bill payed. The entire process took approximately seven minutes.

Unfortunately, the second goal of the meeting was to discuss their payment process with the senior midwife who arrived at 9:40, after the receptionist called to remind her. Fantastic. Poor Paul headed into her office to talk turkey, for ten minutes. Next we were off to meet a man about a car so the chart making, insurance reimbursement and penny counting was brought to an abrupt end.

mercedesI’d arranged for us to see (and hopefully drive) a Mercedes A180 for sale through the Yahoo! online group for ex-pats; the owner does not speak English but a lovely friend of his (who also offered her services to us as a future babysitter) had agreed to be there as interpreter.

Ten minutes of waddling got us to FAO, unfortunately we were ten minutes late. First we searched the parking lot. No sign of them. As the minutes ticked by, we became later and later. Beginning to worry, we wondered if our tardiness caused the problem or was this the second meeting that would run more than half an hour late today? Changing location, we were finally approached out front by a man in a helmet and a petite brunette. Apparently they were just about to leave (the only two Italians not on Italian Time?) when they “saw the belly” and came over…to tell us the bad news. Due to something about a co-worker’s issue with opening up the bank where he works, the man was unable to drive the car into the city today. Instead he rode his scooter, which is not a gold Mercedes, nor for sale. They’d come in person to apologize–and to mention that they know a friend of a friend.

Our second brief apology inside of an hour and social connection made, here’s how we left it: Paul will meet them again tonight while I’m at bible study.

Hoping the day improves with time.

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Park place

With four days of leisure at our disposal, Paul, Carter and I strolled through Villa Borghese over Easter weekend.


Highlight: It’s already a beautiful place with fountains, museums and vast stretches of grass but now everything is starting to bloom.


Low point: A herd of unruly dogs, ever so lightly managed by their Italian owners, appeared as we stretched out on the grass. A spaniel took my shoe. Another trotted over and raised his leg, actually aiming for my right shin! I managed to shoo him away before any damage was done, at least not physically.

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