Saturday, May 5, 2018

Behold, The Naked Lightbulb

Italians pay such attention to detail, their houses are perfect, except for one thing...

Naked Lightbulbs. Just hanging there. Like, everywhere.

I know why, and now I will explain. It is because they care so much, too much. Light fixtures are important.  You have to consider every characteristic: type of room, type of lightbulb, the look you are going for, hot or cold light, diffused or direct, etc.

So many things you can get WRONG. The best way to handle this monumental decision?

A naked lightbulb. This will work in the meantime until we find the PERFECT LIGHTING SOLUTION.

Babies in Lipica

I can't get enough of this picture. I even put it on as the background photo on my phone, much to my daughter's dismay as she usually chooses which pictures of HER I should put there. 

This was the area at the Lipica Stud farm where mares and their new foals hung out before being introduced back into the larger group. As you can see, the babies are black and become white when they are adults. For now that little one just has the white socks. 

There was one little baby who lost his mother during childbirth, which broke everyone's heart, of course. They were feeding that one every half hour with a bottle and working on getting him "adopted" by another mare who had lost a baby. In the meantime, that horse got some serious love from the human visitors. 

So sweet. So worth the visit.

Creating a Garden on my Porch

If you have been keeping up, you probably know that my family and I moved into a real live house last November after 14 years of living in an apartment half the size with a view of a cement wall located on the first floor (which we Americans know is really the second floor) with absolutely no natural light to speak of. We used to call it our little cave, and when we were really down we would say we lived in a wine cellar. There were some good things about it, otherwise we would not have stayed so long. First, it was cheap and we could afford it even when we didn't have much money. As the years went on and we earned more, the expenses magically stayed the same, allowing us to save more money and eventually buy the house we happily reside in today. Let's just say ours has been a slow, upward trajectory with low expectations and modest returns. It's the get-rich-slowly approach that appeals to few but has worked for us. Our daughter misses that apartment because she had access to the (dark) front porch through a door out from her room (there are perks to living in a bedroom that was converted from a kitchen), there were loads of busses near the apartment, so we could come home for lunch and check on the dog (R.I.P. Luna), and we had fantastic neighbors. 

The only thing that place did not have was light. This meant we did not have plants. Well, we did have a couple of flourishing ferns for a while, but then we somehow killed those too. Something about watering them the day of a big freeze or something. Ooops. 

Fast forward, now we have SPACE and LIGHT and SPACE and MORE LIGHT. As you probably know, it is every Triestino's dream to live in a house with a "Toco de giardin". We do not have that. Instead, we have something like a courtyard where we can park two cars, and a porch off of our kitchen upstairs. This is what I intend to convert to my very own Toco de Giardin.

I started with plants my mother-in-law and sister-in-law gave us around easter: Basil, oregano, ciltrano (per my request), and mint. I have since added geraniums (un toco de color!) to a flower box that will hang over the railing. 

My newest addition is tomato plants, and, get this: LETTUCE! Dudes, I am growing salad. Apparently it will be ready for eating in one month, then I can replace it with autumn salad (really! Things can actually grow in autumn here?! Hello, we are not in Wisconsin anymore!) and then endives or some other winter greens (a whole new world!). Wooo hooo! 

It's so exciting. I will keep you updated on our progress.

Welcome to your new home, little Buddies!!

Friday, May 4, 2018

May Day May Day

Tuesday of this week was Labor Day. The day of the workers. It is a special day for the left-leaning Slovene minority of Trieste. In the villages of San Dorligo in the Breg, which is what the area is called (do not accidentally call it the Carso just because people speak Slovene here), there is a tradition where the best cherry tree of the village is chosen by a select group of people, usually the single males, in the village and chopped down during the night. Then, the next day, it is up to them (with some help) to secure it to a giant pole, decorate it with red flags and oranges and that sort of thing, then raise it up high in the sky and secure it while the rest of the village drinks wine and laughs at you. The reason it is so funny is because, even though this tradition has been around for years and years and years, putting it up each year is like doing it for the first time. Frustration, things going wrong, problems... But, in the end, the job is finished usually in the wee hours of the night, and the party continues. My daughter tells me that it is called L'albero della Cucagna. Sure, it exists on Wikipedia, but read it in Italian. In the English version it gets translated to "Greasy Pole" and that is an entirely different tradition. 

Today, in Ricmanje (San Giuseppe della Chiusa) there is a ceremony to take that bad boy down and a BBQ to accompany it. Apparently they go from one village to the next to take down the May Day Tree. I tried to find a good picture of this tradition online but couldn't find much. I will share my crappy phone picture of what I saw yesterday on my way home from the bike path. It was a little rainy, but I hope you get the idea.

I am hoping the weather holds out for the party tonight. Asking around today, I realized that not everyone in Trieste even knows about some of these traditions that are alive and well and living in the Slovene communities on the outskirts of Trieste and in the Carso. The Slovene minority loves to party so it is worth looking them up on May day, around Saint Martin in November (San Martin' Bevi Vin!!) and even for Carnevale. For historical reasons, Slovenes living in Trieste sometimes keep their traditions to themselves, but if you show a genuine interest in getting to know them, the doors will fly open and you will be welcomed in to experience some of the best of what Trieste has to offer as far as culture and folklore. 

Sometimes Slovene speakers are hiding in plain sight. If you are not sure, just ask! Sometimes first names can help. If you happen to know anyone who is named Boris or Igor or Stoyen or Istok (names I associate with extreme fun), start with them!

I Still Get Surprised Sometimes

I had a great long weekend! We spent Monday, Tuesday and Wednesday hopping on and off a big bus full of people from various Lutheran churches in Racine, Wisconsin. My mother was one of them. The tour guide, Sue, was kind enough to let our family join in the fun (there was space on the bus) for the last leg of their trip, which started in Dubrovnik and ended today in Venice. We rented a small studio apartment in Ljubljana that was a ten-minute walk from where the group was staying and hung out with them as much as we could. It was so fun being an American tourist!! We got to wear little orange receivers around our neck with a little earphone and everything!

We have been to Ljubljana several times, but this time we did the guided tour and went up to the castle. Very nice. The next day, we went on the bus to Lake Bled, where we have also been more than once, but this time we went to the island on the little boat and visited the church.

The next day, we went to Lipica Stud Farm, which is where the famous Lipizzaner horses are from. This is about a ten minute drive from our house but we had never toured the stables before. It was an interesting visit and everyone really enjoyed seeing the horses. I learned so much. Had no idea, for example, that baby Lipizzaners are born black but become white as adults. Also had no idea that they used to be many colors but everyone wanted the rare white Lipizzaner horse because Napoleon made it popular. Now they are 99% white.

The next day, we went to the caves of Skocjanske  . Now, if you have not visited this place, please promise you will do it soon. It's one of the most beautiful places I have ever been, and I am not a big fan of caves. It is incredible. Yesterday we did not go down in the caves (the others did) because it is a big hike and the elevator that pulls you back up was out of order, so we decided Grandma Mag could do it next time she visits Trieste. Instead, we sat outside and had a nice lunch and did some gabbing.

One of the interesting things about the Skocjanaske caves is it is where the Timavo river disappears underground and doesn't resurface until Duino 43.6 kilometers later. Talk about coincidence. After we left the Americans and went home, we got ready for work the next day. My school was going on an all-school field trip. I didn't really pay attention to where we were going (I wasn't driving, after all) so imagine my surprise when the FIRST STOP was Duino, where the Timavo comes out. Now, again, I had seen this area before, but what I had NEVER NOTICED was the very cute church that is right there!  The most surprising part is that INSIDE the church, there is a garden.

Have you ever heard of a church with an indoor garden? Some people say they get sick of visiting Europe because it's all the same. Churches churches, villages, villages, churches, blah blah blah. I never feel this way, however. I find it so incredible that even after fifteen years of living here, there are still things I haven't seen and it is still a joy to discover them.

Friday, April 27, 2018

How Advertising Has Changed in Fifteen Years: Less Boobs on Display

Ignore the Boobs on that Billboard!!

One day I was on the bus and I counted how many times I saw a semi-nude woman advertising something from my house to central station. There were 17 different women in all, and that is not counting when the same woman was repeated (street advertising here is often posters glued next to each other like pixels on a much bigger billboard-sized advertising space). This was a fifteen-minute ride including all stops and just two major streets. A little mind-blowing perhaps? Not so much if you lived here fifteen years ago, which was when I carried out this experiment.

Actually, there was something therapeutic about this exercise. It was the first time since I had arrived that I was able to look at these women without getting pissed off or taking it personally. I was able to see the women on the posters as objects. And isn’t that the point of this kind of advertising? I had officially become the Male Viewer.

At about the same time, my husband and I took a ride to Udine and I was surprised to see a billboard with two naked boobies on it (and that’s all) with some writing underneath. As I got closer, I noticed it was a mattress company.

“What the hell do boobs have to do with mattresses?” I ask him, curious to understand the machinations of the Italian male thinking process.

He wrinkles up his brow in a way that made it clear he was not used to making connections between female body parts and what they are advertising (which was exactly my point). Then he comes up with a doozy.

“Boobs. Soft pillows! Pillows and mattresses!”

Problem solved. He felt smug and unflustered by the whole thing. I still felt pissed off.

So, two lessons from that first summer living in Italy.

1) Sexism is pervasive, and nobody seems to care.
2) We Americans take a lot of shit personally.

I could elaborate on point one all day, of course, because that’s what I do, but I want to take a moment to talk about point two because it is something I feel we can work on as a people.

Jumping back into the mind of the Italian male (or at least the mind of the one I know best, my husband’s) I can tell you exactly why he was unflustered by the booby campaign. The first, most obvious, reason is point number one above. That is the easy answer that even an international audience can agree on. “Those Italians, so sexist!!” And they wouldn’t be wrong. 

The second reason is a little more subtle and it is this: Boobs are not a big deal here and I mean that for women and men. In Trieste for example, the important thing is the tan line (or not having one) not the boobs. Boobs are considered part of a woman’s body, thrilling to look at, no doubt, but not something to gawk at as there is no pressure here to hide what is perfectly naturally a part of YOU.

To understand this one, let’s do a little role reversal and talk about the warnings that Italians give their friends when they hear they are going to America in the summer.

“Be careful in America when you go to the beach: even little babies must wear a bikini top!! No boobies yet and the Americans are worried about indecent exposure!!”

This is usually followed by the story about the friend of a friend who got a good “speaking to” by “the police” and a warning to “cover up” their little one-- the confusion and shame that ensued.

See, little girls’ swimming suits come in two types here: a classic full one-piece affair that you would use for, say, swimming class, and the other type of one-piece, which is a bikini bottom. There is no top because it is considered strange to put a bra-like contraption on anyone who is pre-pubescent. Looks like you’re trying to dress a child like a woman, and that, if you think about it, is a little strange.

Kids in Italy wear practically the same style of swimming suit until they are teenagers. While the girls have the bikini bottom, boys and men wear what Americans call “Speedos” for going in the water. They are considered “more hygienic,” and faster to dry once you get out. I would add that it is the closest thing to running around in your underwear that you can get, and don’t all dudes love hanging out in their underwear? They may throw on a pair of longer swimming trunks or shorts for hanging out and playing with friends and kicking a ball around in between swims.

Nobody is scandalized or titillated by the presence of a scantily clad person of the opposite sex. The training starts at an early age. Take locker rooms. They are mixed until middle school (the rule is kids go in the changing room of the gender of the parent who is helping out. While with daddy, go in the boys' locker room, while with grandma or mom, go with the women). Kids see each other naked (locker room at pool, for instance, or at the beach in the summer) or in their skivvies all the time. No body shaming. No embarrassment. Even as adults, there are plenty of times when a good swim (which takes precedence over nearly anything else in the world, including Pride) requires changing in the presence of other adults. The Triestini are experts in the art of towel manipulation and have Houdini-like precision when it comes to escaping one type of clothes and throwing on another.

Thus, when in Italy, don’t take it personally. After that bus ride with the naked ladies, I realized that it wasn’t just me. There is a system in place here that I cannot change on my own overnight. Taking systemic misogyny personally was not going to take me very far. Instead, I decided to see those posters in a more neutral way and work on something I can have some influence over. First, my relationship with my own body (a work in progress, I can tell you, even after fifteen years of trying) and… my husband.

It starts here with this little question.

“Don’t you men get tired of being marketed to as if you were cavemen?!”

Now, I can’t take credit for  progress that has been made in the meantime (and there has been some), but I can tell you that fifteen years later advertising has changed. Apparently I am not the only one to desensitize from the in-your-face booby caveman advertising because you just don’t see it so much anymore (in the streets, that is. TV is a completely different beast, so I just don't watch it).
Of course, sexism is alive and well in Italy and will not be going away anytime soon (in case you are a male chauvinist and worried about this), but other things have changed. For one thing, I feel like women (especially women with some work experience, but also young women who are just starting out) are no longer waiting for the contratto a tempo determato to fall in their lap (because it won't). Instead they are opening their own one-person-show businesses, negotiating their salaries and timetables based on their personal needs. 

If women can work on their own terms, they can also shop in places that see them as whole people. Perhaps the advertisers have woken up to this reality.

Tuesday, April 24, 2018

Liberation Day April 25

Tomorrow is April 25, Festa Della Liberazione, as they call it around here. A day for celebrating the fall of Mussolini and the end of Nazi occupation in Italy. Here is a little link that gives you more info. 

On a sadder note, did you know that Trieste was home to the only Nazi Concentration Camp in Italy? It is called the Risiera di San Sabba.  Definitely worth a visit if you have never been there. Surprisingly, a lot of Triestini, especially young people, have never been there.

This week is a good time to learn more about Jewish history in Trieste. Start here.  Then go here and scroll down.

Also make time to visit these museums.

Civico Museo Morpurgo (Via Imbriani, 5)
It's only open on Tuesdays, so plan ahead. 

Jewish Museum Carlo and Vera Wagner (Via del Monte, 5/7)
Explanation here.