Thursday, May 23, 2019

What? No Harriet Tubman on the Twenty?

Shame on you, Mr. President.

I have been waiting so long to see a woman on the money. Phooey.

It's not fair.

Tell me what I can knit to protest. I need a new project. This is ridiculous. 

Friday, March 29, 2019

Make Way for Goats!

I haven't been blogging lately because I have been writing more offline. I have also been getting up at 5:00 every day to run. This may sound crazy to you, but I did a little life assessment. This means I tried to remember the last time I had a surplus of energy and felt healthy and could do a million things and felt happy and fulfilled all at once. I had to go back a few years to a simpler time when it was just me in a big empty house in West Falmouth, Massachussetts. The big difference between then and now? Bed time and wake up time. At that time I was waking up at 5:00 and running until 6:30. Then I would go back home, take a shower, and go to work.

In early February I decided to give this a try. Being out of shape and a good twenty pounds (minimum) heavier, I decided to shoot lower as far as time, so I settled on one hour, which was one hour MORE than what I was doing before. I chose a start date and went for it. I use my watch as an alarm clock so I don't wake up my husband with my phone, which I charge in the kitchen. I lay everything out the night before so I get dressed automatically with no thinking necessary. This is important at 5am. When you are worried about waking other people up you can't use the snooze button, either.

At 5, the world is still sleeping. Your time is your own. After 6:30, people start wanting things from you. I run on the bike path by my house. I have a flashlight, but I don't need now like I did a couple of weeks ago.

For the most part it's just me and the birds. One day there was a red jackal on the path (I turned around and went the other way because I hadn't yet read that they normally don't attack people). Over the last two weeks I have seen jackrabbits too.

Today I didn't get to finish my whole route. I was interrupted by about two dozen GOATS on the other side of the old railroad tunnel. Hilarious. There was a dog with them, so I imagine they belong to someone. There they were. Right in the middle of the road. I thought they would go away once I got closer to them, and a couple of them did move, but most of them were more interested in whatever they eating than me. When two of them did an honest-to-God Head Butt against each other, I realized that this was a turf war that I could not, would not, did not want to win. I watched them for a while, then I turned around. 

What happiness! What energy! What a day! And all it took was a bunch of goats.

Monday, December 17, 2018

Anyone up for some Gnagno?

Looking for the gift for those kids who have everything? How about a pack of Triestine playing cards and a quick lesson in "Gnagno." Basically, it's the same as UNO but with skinnier cards and funkier suits.


You Never knew the Triestini had playing cards of their very own? Ever heard of the game Scopa?


Well, here you are, my friends. YOU ARE WELCOME! 

We are going to the States this week and guess what we are bringing. Yep, two packs of cards (and some Olive Oil and some trinkets).

In Trieste, quality time with family means playing cards. 

You can buy them in most Tabacchino shops (look for the stores with a big T sign outside). It's what the kids here play when they are skipping school. It's what the senior citizens most love and fight about with their friends.

Having a deck of cards can be a good way to make friends and/or enemies. Either way it's a good way to pass the time.

If cards aren't your thing, don't worry, your new Triestine pals will entice  you into a nice game of Tombola (Bingo basically) after Christmas supper, which is also a great way to practice your numbers in Italian.

Sunday, December 16, 2018

Sunday Lessons in Village PR

We finally had some time to get stuff done around the house today so Cristian was out in the driveway cutting wood this morning. See, we have this woodburning stove we use to supplement the regular gas heat (and having fires in winter rocks). Since there are other people at his work with fireplaces and woodburning stoves, they order their firewood together. You can load it up and take it home when you want (company perk, Triestine style). The wood is cheap but you have to cut it to fireplace size yourself, which is a great excuse to buy a chainsaw.

Which brings me to the lessons I learned today.

Lesson 1.
My husband really loves his chainsaw.

Lesson 2.
Chainsaws are Man Magnets.

Within about 10 minutes there was a 3-man fanclub out there talking wood: where to find it, how to cut it, the best ways to burn it.

And in this neighborhood, when men come over to talk anything, you better offer them something to drink. This is met with, "Oh no, I couldn't. You are so busy..." followed by "Oh, alright. Let me bring home the hound and I will be right back."

When they come back, they bring a bottle of wine and you know it's going to be good because it has no label, which means that it is "Domace" and if they didn't make it themselves, someone close by did. This is a precious gift and a gesture of friendship.

Of course, you will not open it (now) because you also have a bottle waiting. It also has no label and is "Domace," fresh from the cantina of someone in the village up the hill. In this case, it is Emil's, the one with the twin boys who just graduated from College. Uncle Boris gets his wine from him, too.

The neighbors stay for two drinks and in that time they talk about what the village looked like 40 years ago, when our house was a small grocery store and the yellow house on the corner was a bar, and the house behind ours was the bakery.

Oops. Look at the time, they drink up, and say their goodbyes. They, too, have a lunch to get to. We call the mother-in-law and explain that we lost track of time. We were cutting wood, the neighbors stopped by and Cicole Ciacole, an hour has passed. In the meantime the washing machine finished its cycle and we still have to hang out the clothes (in our village you hang clothes outside even in winter), then we will be right over. Of course, she says, that's life in a village.

Monday, November 19, 2018

How Not to Look American -- from an American who sticks out

Triestini can spot their own kind from a Kilometer away. "You can tell by the way they walk... Check out those sunglasses!" My husband says, "Italiani in vacanza!!"

The Triestini say the Germans wear sandles with socks and, in summer, they are anywhere they can be naked (boats, nudie camping grounds, anywhere in Croatia...).

Americans are also abbastanza obvious. Use this guide and maybe you can fool the Triestini (not likely), or at least not stick out too much.

1. Yellow gold.

Leave it at home (it's considered old-fashioned) unless it's your wedding ring. White gold is okay.

2. The Diamond Engagement ring.

Triestini don't do engagement rings. They would prefer that money go toward a down-payment for their very own apartment or an awesome vacation. Two rings on one finger means you are a widow/widower and you are wearing your deceased partner's ring.

3.  Bottles and Bottles of water.

What is it with Americans and obsessive hydration? American tourists can be spotted in European capitals wearing contraptions in the Baby Bjorn family designed for holding bottles of water. They seem to be hanging everywhere: on the backpack, over the shoulder, one in each hand. You might as well be wearing a sign that says: "I am not from here, please pick my pocket."

Having a bottle of water with you in your bag is fine. Many Italian cities have water fountains in various places where you can fill up your reusable bottles with "aqua del sindaco," and it is perfectly delicious (Trieste and Rome are great for this). Better yet, why not do like the Italians? Stop at a bar and order something to drink and have a conversation with someone or do some people watching! Be careful what you order if you don't want to stick out. According to my mother-in-law, "Water is for washing." She would order an espresso or a glass of wine.

4. White Tennies.

Italians prefer shoes that can work in both casual situations and in a professional context. Their reasoning is you can never be overdressed, only underdressed. For this reason, it is a safer bet to go dark, which is always more elegant than white, or, godforbid, dirty.

5. How you stand can make a difference.

This video by an ex-CIA Chief of Disguise explains that you can even spot an American a mile away because of how they have a tendency to lean on one leg rather than distribute weight evenly to both legs...

6. How you use space.

Americans are used to having lots of space and not having to touch anyone on public transportation. David Sedaris says you can spot an American on a metro in Paris because they "hug the pole" rather than hold on with one hand so that others can hang on, too.

Same with elevators. Americans will not get on a full elevator. They will wait for the next one. A European will squeeze in and be happy to be so close to the door so they can be the first off.

7. Going to the back of the line.

If there is a line, Americans will go to the back of it EVERY TIME.

I was just in Rome with American friends who have lived in Italy longer than I have. At the conference where we were presenting, they saw a line and went immediately to the back. I did not.

Like a good fake Italian (observer), I went to the front of the line to understand the situation. There were actually TWO lines: one for speakers (no waiting) and one for guests (big long line). I registered immediately and went back to rescue my friends.

All this is not to say that I don't look American. I do. I also sound American, but I do not look or act like a tourist. It's all about situational awareness. You want it to be clear that you know what's up!

You know me, I just want you to fit in!

Wednesday, October 17, 2018

Let's Stop Being So Available

I had a shocking experience in the Adult Classroom this week (it was not at the Italian American Association, but in a company). I realized that many adults can't detach from their cell phones anymore.

There have been cell phones in my classes for as long as I remember, but the difference is that in the past they were a discreet presence. You would do a hip grab to see if that ringing phone was yours, you might pull it out of your pocket to see who called or where the message came from, if you actually took it out all the way you would be genuinely embarassed to take attention away from those around you.

That has changed. Apparently people are now allowed to disengage on a near constant basis. What I mean by this is that they were physically present in the space (a small group course, workshop format) yet they continued working with their laptops and cell phones as if they were in their office and not in a classroom, and when I say working, I mean checking their emails and text messages and responding to them in real time all the while I am trying to teach the coolest lesson plan I have come up with in a decade and yet I am feeling like an analog dinosaur speaking in Morse Code because they are just NOT FOLLOWING ME AT ALL.

What I wanted to say to these people was this:


The messages I received:
Real people are a waste of time.
Creativity is not useful.
The participant is in no way responsible for the success of a course. 

One student even told me that she "tuned out" because I showed a video that was longer than 4 minutes. Wow.

So it was a depressing day because it didn't matter what I did, there was always going to be something better going on somewhere else.

And it hurt. Boy, did it hurt. I have never left a workshop with less energy than I had going in. I usually go home riding high on the energy of an excellent group making something incredible out of nothing.

At first I couldn't figure out where I went wrong.

Yes, there were a ton of unforeseen annoying obstacles because there always are. Normally we get past them with a little empathy and a sense of humor. Technology that doesn't work the way we want, a room that doesn't fit our needs,  big whoop, we laugh and go to Plan B.

But this time there was no shared understanding. Instead, each glitch was an opportunity to check email again (and rack up nasty feedback points for the form at the end of the day).

Phones and laptops became barriers that never allowed us to connect as human beings, and that broken circuit made all the lights go out on the string.

There is a huge price to pay for this semi-presence.

1. It kills the vibe of an otherwise positive atmosphere.
2. It communicates disrespect for colleagues and the instructor.
3. It substitutes reflection with distraction. 
4. It makes it impossible to create a productive working group.

It's not just in the classroom, though. Even in restaurants, chefs are getting annoyed at people taking constant photos of their food rather than enjoying the experience. One article I read (which I can't find at the moment) linked an increase in complaints for cold food with people taking longer to eat it because they have to photograph it first.

They say success is a string of failures. I count yesterday as a turning point (which is what you call a failure when you don't want to keep feeling like a loser) because it made me approach my next workshop differently. I planned like crazy, put as much paper material together as possible and ordered a room with only chairs. Then I made an excellently detailed plan with a disclaimer.


And just to make my point, I turned off my own phone for an entire six hours. When I turned it back on, I was happy to note a good 15 different fires that had been addressed to me and subsequently (and rightly) extinguished by somebody else because I was not available.

Tuesday, October 16, 2018

Hooray For Useless Languages!

Today I went into my classroom and made the following list on the whiteboard. See if you can figure out what it all means.

International Cities:
Dubai, Budapest, Nurnberg, New York, London, Manchester, Paris, Lisbon, Bolzen, Rome, Florence, Bologna, Ancona, Milan, Sao Paolo, Dakar.

Professional Sports:
NBA, World Championship Sailing, World Championship Paratriathlon, Formula Indy.

Other Sectors:
Insurance, Toys, Tunneling, Engineering, Food and Bev, Wine business.

Did you get what they have in common?

My students couldn't figure it out either, so here the solution.

These are all of the cities (actually it is a partial list of just the sexiest ones) that I have visited for work in the sectors above (Formula Indy was not work but thanks to languages). I had all of these opportunities because I studied what other people called "useless languages."

The "useless" languages that led to these experiences were French, Portuguese and Italian.  I have lots of others I am working on with varying degrees of commitment as well: Albanian (specifically Kosovan), Triestino (yes, it's a language), Wolof, Slovenian, and, most recently, Swedish.

What are your useless languages? Who knows what doors they will open for you.