Friday, September 16, 2016

It's Time for the PROVA(s) Everyone!

September marks the beginning of a new academic year for those who teach, and those who study, not to mention the handlers  parents of the latter. To celebrate, I thought we could have a moment to contemplate the wonders of CHOOSING AN AFTER-SCHOOL ACTIVITY to keep the kids out of our hair a couple of hours a week help our little sweeties grow and become conscientious, strong, independent Team Players.

Here is what you need to know.

Age 3-5: You have Ultimate Control. You know exactly what you are doing, because You are the Mom/Dad and You. Know. Best. 

Activities at this age are both Athletic Opportunities moments for socialisation and certain Success in Later Life Positive Experiences. Choose Wisely. In fact, this is your Last Chance to give your babies that oh-so-important  competitive edge  Sfogo that only Learning through Play can provideIt will also ensure they will Not go to State School like you did prepare them for a rich and varied cultural life. There is Music class, English time, etc. I mean, come on! Everyone knows that soon the window will be closing on your child becoming properly imprinted for Physical and Mentally Superbness.

I and 98% of Triestine parents suggest swimming. Make sure you choose a pool the babysitter and/or Nonni can get to without complaining too much. The first two lessons are free. Your kid will enjoy the heck out of those and in some pools you can even watch your little seahorse and dream of Olympic grandeur at the same time! Lesson Three, when you have paid for an entire year in order to get a 5 euro discount, your kid will cry and carry on and you will hate yourself for the next three months until you become desensitised and hand over that screaming banshee without even batting an eye. Their problem now.

"See you in 45 minutes, Sweetie!!"

Age 6: You know what you want but all the other girls are doing Gymnastics (and the boys are doing Calcio)! You are powerless against the Triestine Forces of Conformity.

Social pressure becomes nearly unbearable when kids get to elementary school. This is when parents understand the Truth. We are not as all-powerful as we once thought. While we still control the pocket-book, we desperately want our children to love us, and this becomes increasingly difficult in the Triestine context unless you submit to the idea that:

"Children should be Happy" in their after-school activities,


"Children should not have too many activities so that they have time to play and be kids."

No more asserting your Will on the wee-ones without coming under direct scrutiny by your Triestine husband, the Triestine Nonnis, and the Triestine community at large. Find refuge with the other ex-pats who believe neither of those statements to be true as long as you have a Long-Term VISION for your child's future (which, of course, you DO).

However, this is a battle you cannot win.

You may have liked the Pool after two years of getting used to the routine, the ego-strokes of having your kid convocato to participate in competitions (which start at age 4 if your child is particularly *ahem*  aquatic or has that certain, shall we say, aquacità), but it is about to End. 

She is done with the Pool. Hates it. Can't stand it. Too many laps. Too Boooooring. 

To prove her point, she has spent the entire summer perfecting her cartwheels hundreds of times per day and doing handstands against her bedroom door just like her gymnastics-going friends showed her... and, while you HATE HATE HATE the idea of change when you KNOW all Great Athletes (not that this is important) started Very Young, you have to admit:

There may be some Potential here... 

But. Where? Welcome to the mid-September Triestine parent rat-race! It is the season of the PROVA. Like at the swimming pool, there are two free lessons for your kids to Love before you plunk down the cash and they begin to hate it but you no longer care.

So, you start asking around because Everyone has an opinion about where you should take your kids to gymnastics. Basically you have to ask yourself these questions.

1. Do you want to create a champion?
2. Do you want something close to home?
3. Prefer something in Slovene?
4. Want something that is Not Quite the Best?
5. Is it important for your gym to be financially secure?

For any question that has particular meaning to you, there is a gym that is right for you. If you want to save time, however, just find out where her friends are planning on doing the Prova and piggy-back along with them.

The kids will fall in love with the same place, anyway (so you could skip the prova in theory, but that is pretty courageous), so that's one headache less. Actual lessons will begin in October. It will be a twice-a-week commitment until school gets out. It will be at the worst time ever for your schedule, but at least you can carpool.

It is no longer about your hopes and dreams (which are crushed by now anyway) but rather what her friends are doing and logistics.

And, in the end, that is okay, too.

Tuesday, September 13, 2016

100% Chance of School this Week

This means: do not try to get anything done at any kind of office at all this week, because there will be no one there to help you. This is not the bank's fault, or any other institution suffering from lower than usual numbers this week.

These parents are not there because they are suffering from the dreaded INSERIMENTO period where they  leave their children crying and screaming and desperately reaching for them for one hour one day, then two hours the next day, and so on until they reach their final destination: the full half day (after lunch) or the full full day (after lunch and snack). Once this is achieved these parents can officially begin the rest of their lives.

Elementary School:
No one told them but parents are supposed to be PRESENT for the first hour or so of school to get information from the teachers they probably missed at the meeting scheduled for an equally inconvenient time this summer. Then there is the mandatory coffee break with the other parents to catch up on the gossip of the summer, discuss the difficulty of finding the right notebooks and melt-downs over proper backpack designs.

Middle School:
Ditto on the school meeting. No one knew. But besides that, there is the problem of the HALF DAY of school rather than the FULL DAY of elementary. These parents have to figure out what the hell to do with their kids after lunch. Some of the challenging questions include: Is my kid Small or Big? If I let her go home alone will the cops bust me for child abandonment? Am I supposed to support her while she does her homework or can I just go back to work?

High School:
These parents are the ones holding down the fort for their colleagues at work during the first week of school. Meetings are not an issue until after report cards come out and teachers meet with them to discuss their so grown up but will always be your little angel's fine performance.

That is what is happening this week. So don't get frustrated. This is just part of life if you live in Trieste. No biggy.

Monday, September 12, 2016

Zero Percent Chance of Rain Today

Don't let the rain outside fool you. It will NOT rain today. It will be perfectly sunny until Thursday. Put your umbrella away, people! does not lie!

Friday, August 19, 2016

Talking Taboo: Squatters Rule

I am back in the office again after an exciting two-week visit to Thailand. One thing I notice when I go on trips to new places is the communication that goes on in the bathroom. You can learn a lot about a culture through their powder room stalls.

Trieste bathroom banter is particularly entertaining, I must say, and, much to my delight, I found that potties in Thailand did not disappoint. In fact, they were similar to what we find in Trieste.

Could it be they speak the same potty language?! It could explain the number of Italian expats smattering the place!

Here is what they have in common.

Both places have carefully placed Notes to "goers" on how exactly to use the toilet. I am yet to encounter a public restroom in Trieste that does not remind people through clever limericks that you should:

1. Aim for the center of the toilet bowl
2. Clean up if you miss.
3. Flush.

This is true even in the toilets of reputable Triestine companies whose only users are colleagues or, possibly, a few outsiders doing (ahem) jobs on the inside (like me). Some of the notes are written in clear frustration in INSISTENT CAPS and signed by "Your COURTEOUS colleagues in IT," for example.

I don't know if the boys' rooms have notes in them, though I can tell you that there is usually a message directed specifically at the SIGNORI in the women's loos on the wall just above the toilet itself saying "Can you read this? If so, you are in the WRONG bathroom. Yours is next door!"

The Thais are much more efficient in their communications, but the result is the same.

My favorite is the IMAGE reminding people not to stand up on the toilet and squat to do your business. Google that. You won't believe how many images come up.

You can have two reactions to this.

1. WTF?? As in, it Never Once in my Life occurred to me to put my feet on a toilet seat and I have seen a lot of toilet seats in my day.

This is what we normally have a tendency to do, and we have such a smug and superior tone as Westerners (Aren't we just the CRAPPIEST?!).  Now articles like these look at this as a strict THEM problem especially when it happens on Our Turf.

2. There must be something more to this. Remember that etiquette rules are a little window into that culture (think of George Washington's Rules of Civility. I like number 100.)

What you learn from the picture is that the traditional toilet used there is a squat toilet, or what we Americans lovingly call a Turkish Toilet and consider "primitive." It is this idea that gets us into big trouble the moment we pull into the Stazione Centrale on that creaky train inbound from Venice desperately holding it until we can find a clean and civilized toilet.

But there are no toilets at the Station, I am sorry to report! No siree!

Instead, what we are faced with is a kind of toilet (it is porcelain, it has a hole, it has a flush) with two feet prints next to the oversized bowl as the only indicator of how to use it. In fact, were it not for those two feet, we would probably ask ourselves where the hell we are supposed to sit and require our own little picture taped to the wall, so Thank God.

What it does NOT say is what way to face to do your business. Worse, who are you supposed to ask? Listen, since we are friends, I will tell you that I have the best success (and I have tried all combinations) with facing the wall for number one and facing the door for number two. It is a question of gravity and aim. For boys, I would have to give the same advice. With the squat, men and women are truly equal.

Why the squatter, you ask? Well, in Trieste as in Thailand, it is all about hygiene. It's the whole touching something with your bare bottom that has been touched by other bare bottoms thing. Thais and Triestini just think that is a little gross.

Plus, the added benefit is that squatting is great for your thigh muscles.

Silver lining, you know?

Thursday, July 28, 2016

Embrace August

I don't know if anyone else felt it, but I can say that this summer I have worked waaaaay more than I usually do in the Summer, and probably more than even most winter months.

What gives?

Is it just the craziest summer in the History of Trieste? I ask, because I used to cry in the summer because it was like Trieste became a really long, depressing, boring movie in slow motion from about June 15th on. NOTHING was happening.

Here is my theory.

I just happened to arrive in Trieste around the time of a Big Experiment. You see, in the olden days, Triestini used to go on vacation in August. That was it. Everyone. Which had its pros and its cons.

Pro. Everyone on vacation at same time.
Pro. It sucks working in August because it's too dang hot.
Pro. In the olden days people had really long vacations and that must have been nice.

Con. Traffic.
Con. Travel expensive.
Con. No chance to influence your vacation destiny.
Con. Other countries working with Italians have to deal with fact that Italians don't work in August.

Then that last point started to pick up momentum. Those countries getting frustrated with the Italians for being so stagnant in summer and blah blah blah became a big deal. And, with that, the Great Vacation Experiment was born.

All of a sudden companies, even a couple of big fatties, said people could CHOOSE when they wanted to go on vacation. Well, one week (out of your 4 or 5 delicious weeks, sigh) would have to be in August, but the others, whatevs, people!!

So the Triestini started to disappear around mid-June and, surprise surprise, you couldn't get much done.

Then there was the Mass Exodus in the two weeks sandwiching Ferragosto, which is August 15, but let's call it Labor Day, even though Labor day here is actually May 1st, but, you get the idea, it means Summer is pretty much over, even though it isn't really, so no more going Up North, which here is not actually North, but more like Croatia or Grado or Lignano. So, you couldn't get much done then either.

Then, life would begin again in September just in time for school to start.

Long story short: if you were trying to make a living in Summer, it was, like, a wasteland.

So the Big Vacation Experiment didn't last very long. This short period of time when Trieste kept offices and businesses open in August and scattering vacation around did not seem to increase productivity. Sure, offices were open, but no one was making decisions or anything, because they were too busy covering for their colleauges who were on vacation!

Which was too bad in some ways, because it was GREAT if you were the one going on vacation, but a NIGHTMARE for companies when they realized THEY were working but their suppliers and clients were not. So, that went by the wayside pretty quick, and we were back to the August vacation thing.

Flash forward. It has been a hot summer, but people have been working anyway. I mean, a lot, and well, and I am just shocked and amazed and delighted by this.

But now I am ready to go on vacation. That's it. I'm working tomorrow then I am OUTTAHERE until August 16th or so. Just in case you are looking for me.

Spritz Morbido on the beach starting Saturday.

That's what I'm talking about.

Have a Great Summer!

Tuesday, July 26, 2016

Put on Your Dancing Shoes

I always wondered where people dance once they have taken all of those lessons. Now I know: the SAGRA. This is the sort of outside party that the villages around Trieste take turns having to raise money for cultural events in their paese. You can go for dinner and have grilled civapcici or chicken or ribs and french fries and there is usually a great quantity of beer and wine to be had.

There is also live music and dancing. The music ranges from folky Triestine to 80s pop. The band will have at least one accordion. The senior population will ROCK OUT in front of you-- slow rocking-- but rocking all the same.

A Triestine favorite is the Line Dance. It is always the same one. It's like the Hustle with less soul. Let's say it's more like country line dancing. If you join the line, great. Try to get in the middle of the crowd so you don't end up in the front line when the group turns. They can do this one for hours and it seems to defy genre.

Watching everyone the other day, and seeing a group of small kids out on the dance floor, it reminded me of an American wedding, maybe the only time where everyone dances and nobody cares (Thank you, Booze!). And then I thought. Dang, if you know how to dance (just having the courage to try will suffice), you can always have a good time.

Monday, July 25, 2016

Your Summer Survival Kit in Trieste

Yesterday was one of those days where we had Things to Do and People to Meet. We finished our lunch date with friends and then suddenly had 3 hours before our meeting with other friends at the Sagra in Prosecco.

We, of course, had tons of things to do at home, but it never crossed our minds to go there. Nope, we are Triestini and it was Sunday. Therefore, once we got out of that place, we were out for the long haul. That is because we had our Survival Kit packed right in the car. Here is what is in it.


1. Kid. If you don't have the kid with you then it's only a matter of time before you have to do the where's-my-kid polka, and that is a time waster.

2. The dog. The beast needs watering and walks, which can both be done best when close by. Trieste allows dogs most everywhere and people don't seem to mind usually, unless the dog is a yipper. Also, there are enough crazy dog owners in Trieste that we look normal in comparison

3. The Beach Bag. This is key. We always have our beach bag packed and ready and already in the car. It contains: three swimsuits, three towels, three pairs of flip-flops, and a plastic shopping bag (for wet clothes afterwards).

When you have your kit, you never get bored! You never know when an opportunity for a Toc (that's Triestino for a dip) will present itself.

You must always be ready. With that, we killed 2.5 hours at Barcola yesterday afternoon. Had a couple of swims, got the dog in there, too. Even caught a nap. Life is good here, even in the heat.