Saturday, November 26, 2005

Roba da matti!

A few weeks back I learned a useful phrase in Italian class. Roba da matti, which translates as "crazy stuff", or "what nonsense" was introduced into my vocabulary. It's one of those sayings that can be used in varied situations: in a coffee bar when the patrons are gesticulating and discussing politics trying to draw me into the conversation, I can throw up my hands and say, "roba da matti!". The weather, misbehaving unseasonally, can be described as "roba da matti". Prices in the stores, injustices, and more. I've tucked it away for use when we arrive in Italy.

So yesterday, when I turned on the morning news and saw the coverage of the insanity that is the day after Thanksgiving sales with the accompanying hoardes of fools plowing over one another in their quest for cheap goods, my initial utterance was, "What a bunch of losers," but then I recalled my lessons, threw up my hands and exclaimed, "roba da matti!"

This is one of those phenomena that I will never grasp. What is this all about? Why, why, why, I ask myself every year. There is something seriously demented about these people who will rise at 4:00 a.m. to beat down the doors of a retail store, trample their fellow citizens, punch and claw their way to an item for their children and call it a bargain. Excuse me, but no matter how low the price, the cost is too high. This is teaching kids proper behavior? How to share? How to brook disappointment? Not on your life. And why, I always wonder, must the media cover this with such obvious glee, giving glory to these wack-jobs?

More disturbing, this is done to "celebrate" Christmas. Is such mayhem really a good way to commemorate the birth of the Prince of Peace?

Don't get me wrong. We celebrate Christmas and we give gifts as signs of affection and goodwill. But instead of scratching and biting my way into a store, I make purchases throughout the summer and fall when I see an item a loved one would like, or we make hand-crafted gifts, giving a more personal touch. We're certainly not going to clobber other shoppers in pursuit of an inanimate object and call it a "merry Christmas". And, as Christians, we remember that it is a holiday and try to keep the reason for the day in perspective. (Another issue is that Christmas is now too-often thought of as the most significant Christian holiday, but that would, in reality, be Easter.)

Giving gifts goes back to the magi presenting their gifts to Jesus, but how it's evolved into a full-fledged orgy of gluttony is beyond my comprehension. The overly-commercial emphasis and the greed that drives it must surely have Jesus shaking his head, throwing up his hands and saying, "roba da matti!"

copyright 2005 Valerie Schneider

Tuesday, November 22, 2005

Of Trash and Treasures

It's becoming obvious that we have lived in one place for quite some time. As we begin to take an objective look at our household possessions we realize that we have, set before us, the daunting task of packing for our upcoming move. More daunting, though, is the prospect of how to go about said packing. We must first prioritize what possessions will be kept, and are, hence, worthy of paying storage fees to keep; what we will pack to take with us to Italy; and what we need to unload. At this point the ballast seems heavy. We need to clear out some things.

I've never really considered myself a "consumer"; I am not one of those women who have a deep and abiding love for the action of shopping. Rather, I find it rather tedious, mostly because when I'm looking for a specific item I can't ever find it. And if I went just to browse I'd find all kinds of tempting things that I really didn't need and would later regret purchasing. So I gave up shopping as a leisure pursuit and confined myself to going to the mall only when absolutely necessary (and because I dislike the lighting, fake atmosphere, and redundancy of malls, it really must be absolutely necessary). I also try to buy whatever I need locally, supporting my neighbors when possible. Wal-Mart is never a stop on my list, I utterly refuse to give them one thin dime. But that's an entire blog topic in and of itself.

Because of this shopping reticence, it was surprising to realize just how much "stuff" we'd accumulated in our home. And it's not a cluttered house by any means. I don't have knick-knacks or objects d'arte on display (do I look like I can afford that?). No, we're rather minimalist in comparison to most people we know. And yet we've got all this stuff to go through.

Some of it came from my grandparents' house when they moved to assisted living. While I've never put out the silver-topped condiment bottles of etched glass, it was Grandma's and someday I'd like to have it replated. (I hope I will.) The antique furniture pieces are a given...they'll be stored. But what of the leather sofas? Is it better to sell them and then buy something else when we get back? Or pay to store them rather than buy new later? A conundrum. My kitchen items are staying. I'll never find another Oster Kitchen Center, that most useful of products which Oster no longer manufactures, for reasons beyond my comprehension. I use this treasure daily. It slices! It grates! It blenders! It mixes!

How I got some truly hideous sweaters that have been shoved to the back of an armoire, I don't remember. Those need to be given away. But will anyone want them? This is the other dilemma. I know the saying is that "one man's trash is another man's treasure" but I feel bad about pawning off my trash on someone else. But on the other hand, it seems wasteful to just throw it away. I must admit, though, that the ugliness of some of these things makes me think they should be burned rather than inflicted on a fellow human being.

My stuffed animal collection, hoarded and treasured from childhood is difficult to part with emotionally, despite the fact that they have languished in a box in the garage for several years, like some unanimated zoo waiting to be loosed again. Some are well-loved (ie, worn) and will be of no value to anyone but me. But are they valuable in a crate? And what of Bryan's camping gear, unused for several years now that his camping buddies have all moved away.

While four months seems like plenty of time, it's deceiving as we've procastinated far too long already and really must begin the unloading process. I think the first step will be in determining what we absolutely don't need. And then what we definitely will take (this is will be easier, as it will be mostly clothes and books). It's the in-between we're having problems with. Meanwhile, we console ourselves by not buying anything new that won't be given as gifts. Or maybe we can just make our trash someone else's treasure for Christmas. Anyone up for an ugly sweater?

copyright 2005 Valerie Schneider

Monday, November 14, 2005


For the past few months I have again been enrolled in the advanced Italian conversation class which previously so intimidated me. While I'm not necessarily improving at a rapid pace, I find myself understanding more of the conversations, participating a tad more, and enjoying the interaction. In short, I look forward to Wednesday mornings.

There are five of us students with the teacher and this term we are meeting at her home. This has been much more conducive than a sterile classroom to the free exchange of ideas, opinions, and thoughts. I have gotten to know much more about my fellow Italian-speakers and I'm awed by them. We have an amazing circle of women (and one man) who have led fascinating lives, overcome incredible hardships, loved deeply, given much, and who laugh often. They are, I think, steel magnolias - beautiful and delicate yet strong, with resolve, talented and complex, who continue to bloom.

Spending time with these ladies is pleasurable. Their stories touch me, inspire me. Each is unique with an interesting history, yet we've melded together over our common desire to learn Italian. Is it speaking in a foreign language that allows people to open up a bit more about themselves? Or just the feeling of safety we have as we are cocooned away in the living room sipping coffee for two hours as one topic flows into the next.

I often feel rather mute, not so much because of my still-lacking Italian skills, but because I don't have much to offer to their years of experience and intrigue. Any one of their lives could easily be made into a compelling, beautiful film. My own,often dull 39 years would make a short, not-so-interesting comedy in comparison. And that's okay. I am just thrilled to be part of this group, to hear their stories, to learn from them and laugh with them, and hope that I will be as graceful and giving and full of life as my years pass. Oh yes, and as fluent in Italian. I have much to learn.

copyright 2005 Valerie Schneider