Saturday, May 27, 2006

Linguistic Challenges

I am posting two blogs today, while I am at an internet point. We do not have internet access in our little home as there is no phone line and no wi'fi signal that we can find. To reach an internet point we must wait from 30 to 45 minutes for the regional bus to come along, travel into Anzio Colonia or Anzio proper, pay and check email. Thusly, today I am transferring two blog posts that I had written and saved to disc this past week, so read on!

Adventures in Linguistic Adaptation

It’s not like I was coming here completely ignorant. I studied Italian informally for about a year. I was conversing somewhat smoothly in my conversational class. I arrived confident that I would be able to have basic conversations and understand what we’d need to get around and conduct daily transaction. It turns out that I was overconfident.

Perhaps it is the local dialect (this is the option I’d prefer), or maybe my ears are just not functioning properly. I am, after all, an American who has been learning Italian by listening to other Americans speak, and the inflection, pace and clarity are different in that instance. Still. It’s rather demoralizing when basic words I KNOW that I know are suddenly hard to understand and I must ask the speaker to repeat them.

Every day seems like a little victory. Tuesday (May 23) I procured for myself a haircut. This task was necessary and seemed daunting. I had a flash of fear at the mere thought. While Bryan checked email in Anzio proper, I took a stroll around the centro and came across a little hair salon. I cautiously peered inside through the beaded curtain over the door and saw that there were two employees with no customers. A fine time to go, thought I, as I could make a spectacle of myself to only two people instead of a roomful of onlookers. This proved a good idea; they were not only patient, they were kind. The younger girl, who was a helper of sorts, smiled a lot and seemed amused that an Americana had stumbled into their neck of the woods. The stylist, professional and businesslike, patiently determined what sort of cut I had in mind and got her scissors flying. There was rudimentary conversation about where I was from and was my husband an Italian, but beyond that I couldn’t venture far linguistically. But I walked out with a new ‘do and another little bit of confidence.

Wednesday-another day, another language adventure-we ventured to the little community of Anzio Colonia for market day. One street was closed to traffic for the array of trucks and booths selling clothes, shoes, and food. We wandered through to see what was on display and to observe the locals as they expertly navigated the stalls. We jumped in and purchased cheese (Grana Padano for about ¼ the price we’d pay in New Mexico); fresh produce (the baby artichokes looked too wonderful to pass up); and a pair of beach shoes for Bryan. He also bought a messenger bag, a little tote that the men around here are wearing. He looks rather sporty with it slung across his shoulder.

The bus is another matter altogether. We are located in the beach section of Anzio, a bit north of town. To reach Anzio proper or the nearby town of Nettuno we must take a regional bus. The price is very inexpensive, but so far our forays into this transit system have proven it to be less than punctual. We have not figured out exactly what the schedule should be, but locals waiting at the stops with us are constantly gesticulating their consternation at the tardiness, indicating that they, too, are not happy with the service. Why is it that when we are traveling north, four buses pass us going southward but when we are traveling southerly, all the buses are heading north? It must be a Murphy’s Law clause written into the bus scheduling.

We did have a rather interesting experience Tuesday, though. In the main piazza, after my haircut, while Bryan went to the bank I watched the people milling about. There was an older man, obviously foreign and probably British, fishing around in the fountain with a cane, apparently having dropped something, or perhaps cleaning out some coins, I thought. In the gelateria nearby, he entered as we were about to leave and he gave us an expression that exuded amusement and openness, but he also seemed a little confused. We said, in English, that he starts by paying at the register. He asked about a couple flavor names he didn’t understand, about our American accents, and began to tell us about his visit around the area.

He was, he said, last in Anzio sixty years ago. He had been part of the military landing in Salerno as well as in Anzio. Many of his friends died here and he came to visit the cemetery. We listened to his experiences and thanked him for sharing them with us. It is emotional to me, I am not sure why, to hear of these individuals who fought in a place like this, in a war that was so different from the ones currently engaged in, and so much more defined. He interested me, and he seemed grateful that we were took an interest in him. He rode the bus with us, his hotel not far from our home, and pointed out spots along the way, explaining the maneuvers the military had undertaken in this section. I am glad to have met him.

Thursday we went to the Giorgio-recommended pizzeria nearby, Pizza DOC, where they serve genuine Napoletana pizza. We sat down and the owner, at the oven, yelled over for us to shout out our orders. The first bite confirmed in my heart and my mouth why we had so wanted to live here. No matter what brick-oven-baked pizza I’d consumed in America, none have ever come close to this melty, thin-crusted bit of heaven. One bite and my memory flooded back; THIS is the taste. Oh yes, I remember how good this is and how dull our tastebuds are at home without it.

The owner stopped by the table to inquire about the food. When we rolled our eyes heavenward and praised his culinary abilities, he asked where we were from. “Gli stati uniti,” I replied. He raised his eyebrows and was speechless a moment. “AAAAHHHH, che bello! Americani!” We had a brief conversation, another little victory for me. But more than that, he seemed genuinely surprised and pleased that we would find his little pizzeria, all the way from America. We’ll return; it is located just seven blocks away. Next time, we’ll split a pizza, though. The pie spread over the edges of the plate and filled me to the brim. Che bello.

copyright 2006 Valerie Schneider


Our first days in our new country are a whirlwind. Saturday morning we rise early and drink two moka pots of coffee while awaiting Francesca and Giorgio to awake. The air is heavily scented with the honeysuckle and heavy with dew. The garden is wet and pleasant as early morning begins to lift.

Once everyone is caffeinated and dressed, we go to the Polizia office to register as is required, and to apply for our Permesso di Soggiorno, the permit to stay. There were only a few people in line at the Immigration Office, which surprises us, and Giorgio thankfully jumped in to inquire about the necessary documents. I understood not a word as the man behind the glass spoke rapidly into a microphone that faded in and out. They determined what was necessary and we proceed to make the rounds: the office supply store for a document and to make copies; to the post office for official franchibolli, stamps; to a photo booth to have little passport-sized pictures taken; and back to the Polizia to make the official registration. Once that part of the process is completed, we try to return to the Immigration Office but it is now closed for the day; they are not open Saturday so Giorgio and Francesca immediately make plans to stay an extra day so they can return with us on Monday. They have an appointment in Rome at noon, but are sure that we can complete the paperwork early enough.

Giorgio has been cooking for us daily and we feel rather useless as we stand about and watch him work…in the kitchen, around the house, in the yard. He must think we’re imbeciles, but we’re not quite sure what to do with ourselves. We are to live here, but it’s not out home and we don’t want to upset any apple carts or step on any toes, yet we desire to be useful. We occupy a bit of time by putting some things away, but there is not much room for the vast amount of clothing we brought, so we store away the fall items we’ll not need for months and try to prioritize which summer gear we’ll want first.

We walk down to the beach and sit on the warm sand listening to the tide. The sea is rather choppy and the waves break onto the shore with a bang. Salt is in the air. With Francesca we take a long walks on the beach as she points out the Saracen tower, explaining it’s now owned by the World Wildlife Fund, and she shows us where a natural sulpher spring produces a mud that is “very fine for your skin”.

Monday, May 22, we return to the Questura early, about twenty minutes before they open the office for the day and there are about 9 people in line. Once the door is flung open, everyone rushes in to the respective windows. We line up again at the Immigration Office window and wait. And wait. And wait. The official has taken our paperwork and gone into the back with another foreigner. We watch as the line is quickly disseminated by an efficient woman and wonder why we couldn’t have dealt with her. Apparently she only handles the renewals of Permesso di Soggiornos, not primary applications. At length, about an hour and a half later, we are called back. The same official who gave us the list of errands on Saturday attends us brusquely. He staples some of the five photos we’ve provided to the application and gathers information from our passports to input into his computer. He asks my height, but to his annoyance, I don’t know it in meters. Giorgio guesses that I am about 165 metri tall and Bryan is about 175 (both of which turn out to be nearly correct). The applications are printed and we sign them. During the procedure the official gets into a discussion with another employee; Francesca, then Giorgio jump into the fray to our great consternation, because they begin to argue and we hope that the official doesn’t decide to rip up our applications during the dialogue. As he rises, the guy smiles and bids us to follow; apparently political discussions don’t end in hard feelings here.

We are fingerprinted – full hand prints as well as fingers. He sends us on our way telling us that the Permesso di Soggiornos take about two to three months to arrive, that they’ll call us to let us know when they are ready to be picked up. Another discussion ensues, the only gist of which I gather is related to us possibly buying a car, but beyond that I am in the dark. Later I ask Giorgio, who explains that the official said that he is unsure, but we may need a residency permit to buy a car, but that there is an inexpensive place to get long-term rentals in Rome. Given our rather remote location we may have to look into this option. At this point a vespa would be nice, too. It’s been an arduous task to try to figure out the regional bus system to get into town.
We have receipts of our applications, so we are approved for the “permit to stay”, and are officially allowed to be here for the year. I would have thought that the hard-earned visa would be the only necessary document, but Giorgio says, “this is Italia; there is very much burocrazia here”. They calmly explain to us that this is normal operating procedure in Italia. Bureaucracy and lines are a way of life, and that the line in Anzio was actually “non c’e male” in comparison to those in Rome or Florence, so we’re grateful for that, and grateful beyond words that these kind, kind friends went along to smooth the path for us.

copyright 2006 Valerie Schneider

Thursday, May 25, 2006

We are here!

We are here! After a year of planning, months of wrangling with paperwork, and an uncomfortable but uneventful flight, we have arrived in Italy. We collected our copious amount of luggage and found our friends waiting for us at the airport. They graciously didn’t widen their eyes at the sight of our bulging bags but proceeded to cram and stuff them into the trunk and backseat, and we were on our way to our new temporary home by the sea.

We now reside in a beach community north of Anzio in a cute, little efficiently-furnished, semi-independente house just steps from the Mediterranean. It is essentially a duplex, with another family living in the house attached on one side. While Giorgio says they live there year-round and we see them outside, their shutters seem always to be closed. The street is narrow with access to houses only on the right side of the road; on the left a long wall demarks the homes on the next street over. All the homes are walled or fenced off from the street with tall gates giving seclusion and a sense of mystery to the dwellings behind. Giorgio threw open the shutters and showed us the house and the particulars about living here: how to light the stove, where the gas line comes in from a bombola (a bulbous propane tank just outside), the bedroom we’ll occupy, bathrooms, the little service building with a shower and washing machine -where we are to take our showers as the water heater in there is electric whereas the water in the indoor bathrooms is heated by the bombola, which is apparently very costly to refill and thus used only for cooking. A little rustic perhaps, but the beach is only a block away and the house is free.

The first thing I notice is the sweet, strong scent of honeysuckle perfuming the air. The small secluded yard is well-planted with flowering shrubs and annuals, as well as fruit trees and herbs, all neatly bordered with small rocks. From the upstairs bedroom window I looked out over the surrounding walls and notice that our garden is by far the nicest. Birds sing and call as I breathe in the honeysuckle and lemon blossoms. Potted cacti line up along the wall just outside our front door. There are two varieties of palm trees. Francesca, reminding me of my friend Lynn, is a gardener at heart and has taken great care to create a lovely atmosphere. The garage, a small guest house and the service building form a wall and make the garden feel sheltered.

I lie down for a short rest, much-needed after the long, sleepless flight, hour drive, and unceasing motion sensation that is beginning to make me feel queasy. I notice that the bed and linens and even the velour couch all feel damp. I admit that my first thought was, “we need a dehumidifier,” then I realized how very American that sounded, even if the thought only occurred in my head. Of course it’s damp; we live a block from the sea! Being a desert-dweller for nineteen years has given us a different perspective on humidity and we are aware of the moisture in the air, which makes our skin feel clammy.

There are also accompanying bugs – the dreaded zanzare, mosquitoes, which like to eat me alive. I am sure that by week’s end I’ll be covered in the characteristic welts that balloon up on my skin when bitten. In New Mexico mosquitoes are not much of a problem (lack of moisture) and I tend to forget the bothersome buggers exist. The other bugs which love me, and which I loathe and are present here, are what we call “no-see-ums”, the miniscule, irritating insects. I was once swarmed by these creatures in the mountains in NM, bitten all over me; I was covered with extremely itchy welts for over a miserable week, so their presence here is not a welcome sight to me. Giorgio is happy of my presence, which draws the blood-suckers away from him as no bug can pass up the opportunity to attack me if they possibly can help it.

While Giorgio naps Bryan and I walk the short distance to the sea, and down the long, curving, covered staircase that leads to the beach. There are a few people scattered about sun-bathing, and three or four who are brave enough to swim before la stagione has officially begun. I think the water is still rather cool, but the sand is very warm beneath my feet and I immediately find three intact shells to send to my grandma as I’d promised to do. We listen to the tide, breath the salt-cleansed air and say, “we’re here!” as we smile at each other.

Later Giorgio takes us into Anzio to show us around. He points out the general direction of the closest train station, about 1 ½ kilometers uphill from our house. He shows us the closest supermarket, which is in our neighborhood but which we probably would never have found on our own, tucked away among the houses and apartments, which he says is convenient but piu caro, more expensive. He drives past the fish monger, the produce vendor he prefers, the supermarket where he normally shops, all of which are reachable only with a car, which we do not have. There is a bus, he says, but doesn’t know the schedule. We hope we can figure out the timetable quickly.

In Anzio our trusty local guide takes us to the centro where we stroll about. He shows us where local fisherman sometimes sell their catch to the public if they have anything left after fulfilling their commercial orders. I see a hair salon and am reminded that I desperately need a haircut, which I didn’t have time for before I left, but find that I’m suddenly, completely intimidated by the prospect of going into a salon and trying to communicate what I want in a foreign language that I can barely speak. A bit of fear grips me unexpectedly. I need to “get over it” if I’m going to get anything accomplished here; now is the not the time for timidity. I decide that my new mantra will be, “don’t be a wimp!” and I hope that it will give me courage when I falter.

After a grilled dinner with a little bit of vino we go to bed to sleep off the effects of jetlag. The shutters plunge the room into total darkness, which I like but Bryan fears he’ll have to get up in the middle of the night and slam his toes into something, so he opens them a crack. We sleep soundly until about 6:30. We open the shutters to the sound of the birds and the scent of the honeysuckle. We are here in Italia.

Tuesday, May 16, 2006


At long last we are leaving! We have escaped bureaucratic purgatory, we have wrestled our way out of the Twilight Zone, and in 24 hours we will be headed for the airport to embark on this adventure. Finalmente.

Excitement and fear mingle together; I alternate between butterfly flutterings and heart-pounding trepidation. A move to another country, another language. Ancient streets and wonderful food. These are my convergent thoughts. After the delays it seems somehow unreal, but I'm also ready to be on our way!

Our friends, Giorgio and Francesca, who have so graciously offered us the use of their summer home, will meet us at the airport. I fear they will faint when they see the load of luggage that will be accompanying us. I am sure all these over-stuffed bags will not fit in the trunk of their car and have reserved a rental, for the transportation of our goods, mostly clothing and some books. I wish we could pack lighter; I wish I could take more. It's a dilemma; what do we need? I think we need the entire wardrobe. Then frustrated at the girth and weight of the offending bags, I think we should just go with a suitcase each and our passports (stamped with all the all-important visas!)

My anti-jetlag plan, devised by my friend, personal trainer, and all around smart-girl, Maria, strictly forbids caffeine or alcohol for 48 hours before (as well as during) the flight. I can do without the booze, but no cappuccino? No green tea at my Japanese meal in Cleveland tonight? I'm quivering at the thought, but then recall the disaster of jetlag, how I felt like a zombie for two days on my last trip. I'll muster through.

We must finish packing, finish cleaning, visit my grandparents. That's going to be the most difficult. My maternal grandma is 95. My paternal grandpa is 93. One of the good points of the delay has been the extra time I've been able to spend with them. Still, I can't help but wonder if I'll see them again, and tear up at the prospect of goodbye. I must bid adieu to my sister, who has lived close by in location and heart for the past ten years. My closest friend. It's been rainy for days, reflecting my misty feeling inside. No regrets, but heart-felt emotion.

We are leaving tomorrow. We are flying over the ocean on a 777 which is, I am told by a friend, "the cat's meow". Tomorrow. A new life begins in a ancient land. Tomorrow.