Tuesday, May 31, 2011

I am THAT PERSON, ewww...

As I have mentioned before, I go to a sweatless gym.  This is a place where the Italians meet to catch up with friends, grab a coffee, share a cigarette, and occassionaly walk from one piece of eqipment to another, all while talking on their mobile phone.  Yes, I said gym; not bar; not Wi Fi spot nor did I say a destination for speed dating; is this really what I am getting for my health membership?

Am I the only one who brings a sweat towel to put over the equipment? Sweat towels are non existant, why wouldn't they be, nobody sweats!

Am I the only one who brings a water bottle to rehydrate? A coffee machine greets you as you walk in the door, because I know once I have run a few kilometers on the treadmill, a quick espresso is always good for the heart rate.  No one is drinking any water, but then why would they be, nobody sweats!

There are no showers at the gym, just toilets and change rooms, why would there be, nobody sweats!

I should of paid more attention to the fellow patrons during my orientation.  I am yet to see another cuddly person at the gym.  I am sure there was a 'stage one' gym they were supposed to send me to first?  Some sort of room underground for the sweaters and belt busters to get into shape, before initiation and a pass to play with the pretty people. But instead, I am the only sweater!  I am unique!  I have a sweat towel, (which is more of a double sized beach towel), a water bottle that is refilled in the handicapped toilet several times during my work out, (I am obviously reffering to the basin not the toilet), and a little ipod that i listen to music on, (no need to use my phone for music like everyone else as I have nobody to call or text anyway).

I am now 'that person'That person that everyone looks at but does not speak to when at the gym, ("ewww she's sweating"). At my last gym in Australia, 'that person' wore all green, (shirt, shorts, socks and shoes) and was often seen riding the streets on the weekend with an empty beer carton as a hat. Maybe I am that person minus the beer hat? I know I am watched, I sense it. I huff. I puff.  I sound as though I am having an asthma attack minus the asthma.  I look as though I have been severley sunburnt as my face turns the colour of beetroot.  I smell like I have been attacked by several promotors in a perfume aisle, (I try to overcompensate for the sweating before it happens.) 

So I think I have finally figured out why there is no need for Italians to sweat.  Afterall, sweating could help you loose weight.  Why would you want to sweat if you are already thin?  Besides, if you don’t like to sweat, you could try one of the 100 firming and toning creams sold in Italian pharmacies that promise “un corpo perfetto” (a perfect body), “una impeccabile silhouette” (an impeccable silhouette), and the disappearance of stretchmarks and cellulite. 

I am not rich.  I can not afford the cream.  So for now... I will continue to be that person.  I do however hold comfort in the fact that my husband returns from the gym looking as though he has just been caught in the cross fire of an adolescent water fight.  So, he too is that person.  It is just a shame that we are never at the gym at the same time so we can be that person together.

Sunday, May 22, 2011

I want to ride my bicycle

Life is like riding a bicycle - in order to keep your balance, you must keep moving. ~Albert Einstein

So I did... keep moving.. into a hedge... then onto the pavement.  Splat!
Apparently, you never forget how to ride a bike.  But you definitely lose the expertise, mobility and courage.  Hubby and I purchased new bikes last week and with added seats for the children, basket for the front, I was feeling very 'European' and could not wait to have a leisurely cycle to the city.
"I want to ride my bicycle,

I want to ride my bike,
I want to ride my bicycle,
I want to ride it where I like!"

I had been practicing this Queen song in my head all week, so surely I was well prepared?  I took dibs on travelling with my son, presuming the 3kg weight difference between siblings could make all the difference to my thighs if we hit an incline.  So I strap him in real good, he is not going anywhere, poor thing is very excited "bike, bike, bike" and can barely see under his safety helmet, which is probably for the best, he can not see the nerves on my face.  "I think I will need to practice a bit" were the words to leave my mouth as my husband pushed off with daughter in toe.  I saw my husband wobble slightly, is that what i am supposed to do, wobble? As you know, husbands know best, so I mimick his actions, my bike wobbles.  This resulted in panic as I attempted to mount the high curb, (some may say it was not a high curb, but instead a smooth incline, do not listen to 'them', they are not the ones retelling the story).  So in my attempt to 'get air' over the extremely high curb, I ride into a hedge, and end up doing a slow motion fall to the ground, bike between my legs and son strapped into the back.  "Help.... help... help, help, help," started off mumured under my breath slowly, then increased to a quick squeal.

I now know that these bikes are heavy, especially when you are trying to lift it off the ground with a toddler still attached.  He was strapped in well, he didn't go anywhere!  Son was not overly impressed with this new bike thing, and was a little hesitant at my response of "Ta Da", I think he was a little unsure about the adventure ahead.... considering we had not even left the front gate of our apartment!

Needless to say, I am now nursing a bruised leg, wrist and ego, but determined to look like a cute European family, I climb back on the bike.  (I actually don't.  I walk the bike out the gate, accross the road and down the path.  When my husband asks me if we are planning on walking the children on the bikes all the way into town, then I climb back on.)  He was smirking at me for the rest of the day, and I am glad that the mental image of me falling off the bike 15 meters after I mounted it, brings him such happiness.  Afterall, I am here to entertain.  In an attempt for him to feel less guilty for his giggles, he did in return get his wheels stuck in the tram track and squealed like girl.  That makes me giggle.  Now we are even and can enjoy our day.

Our ride into Milan city centre, probably should of been 5 minutes, but took about 10, we were in no rush, and by the time we arrived at our restaurant, I had convinced myself that I had training wheels so the bike would not fall again. We had a lovely lunch at one of our regular restaurants, and the children ate well and entertained each other without breaking any glasses We climbed back on the bikes, now feeling a bit more confident with a couple of glasses of wine under our belts, (surely that would assist with the bike wobbles) and found ourselves on wide paths in the park. Yep, you guessed it... I had another moment. We all giggled riding next to each other, proclaimed our love for each other, everyone was smiling and we managed to maneuver around pedestrians without having to use the bell. I had an urge to sing "The hills are alive, with the sound of music!" Why I do not know because I wasn't on a hill, but it just reflected my happy feeling. The day ended with us all eating gelati, now I just need some flowers to decorate the front of my bike basket!

Saturday, May 21, 2011

E-I-E-I-O... Yee hah!

The anticipation had been building all week, and I am really starting to think that I should get out a bit more often.  Is it appropriate for a 33 year old to be more excited about a visit to a farm than her children?  Denim, checkered shirt knotted at the waist, boots and hair in piggy tails... what, too much?  The Farm Pasquè is located in the hills of Varese and was our destination on this fine Saturday morning, we accompanied 100 others in an organised excursion by our daughters asilo nido, (nursery).

At the farm we saw  many kinds of domestic animals such as cows, horses, donkeys, pigs, sheep, goats, rabbits, geese, turkeys, ducks, roosters and hens, capons, and guinea fowl.  These animals were all accompanied by the stench of tinkle and dung burdened hay piles.  (Farms are fun places, but I would suggest the introduction of barn yard deodoriser to boost return visits.) We also found wild boars, guinea pigs, ferrets , Bismarck rabbits, bantam roosters, Tibetan goats, Shetland ponies and llamas.
We were guided around the entire farm and educated about the general day to day activity of milking cows, feeding the animals, etc.  It was all in Italian, so I did not leave any smarter than when I arrived, I did however find myself giggling with others when the guide would throw a joke into his speeches.  (Seemed easier this way then asking my husband for constant translation.) 

The children had a great time throwing hay at the cows heads, poking animals thru fences and they even got to make their own cheese.  The day ended with a delicious supplied lunch of fresh produce made on the farm, and a smashed glass on the floor. (This occured 2 seconds after the "Please don't play with the glass, it might break" comment.)  The beauty of this setting, was that being surrounded by so many other families, our embarassments and performances seemed to blend with the behaviours of others, enabling us to go slighty unnoticed.  A great day was had by all, I love finding something new to do with the children outside.

Thursday, May 19, 2011

It's elementary my dear Watson

You may remember my that I had my handbag permanently borrowed a while back, and I have been in the process of replacing our Permesso di Soggiorno (permit to stay), which I collected this morning.  This is a dreaded and tedious procedure that makes changing smelly diapers feel like smelling the roses.  Needless to say, I loath the management of Italian paperwork.  Anyhow; to celebrate the final stages of closure that I am feeling after my stolen handbag, Milan has called for volunteers for commemoration.  Unfortunately, somebody has stepped forward and in honour of my last theft experience, has decided that today, this very special day, shall be celebrated with another theft.  This time in the form of break and enter into our car.

I am first to admit that our car is not the cleanest, in actual fact, to the untrained eye, it probably looks as though it has been broken into 99% of the time.  But I did recall a quick sweeping clean last time I left the car, so when I approached the car and noticed the drivers door ajar and glove box emptied onto the passenger seat, I realised the car had been broken into.  Nothing gets past this smart cookie.
A quick scan of the car and it appears that only three things have been stolen. Two items of which I needed immediately; the GPS to get me to my appointment at the police station, and the pre-paid parking voucher so I do not get a parking fine when I get there. Memory served me well, (as did my husband directing my via mobile phone), and I made it to my appointment without the help of Lois my GPS advisor.  I was worried about being late, so I parked a truck in, and left the car half up the kerb and across a pedestrian crossing, (very Italian of me), I figured if I was going to get a parking fine I should make it worth while. I am going to miss Lois, we have had many fights over the last ten months, and she has admittedly helped me through some tough times of confusion, and we have spent so much time together exploring this beautiful country.  I never got a chance to say goodbye; I feel guilty now for all the harsh curse words that have been said to her in the past.  Maybe she wasn't stolen?  Maybe she decided to make a break for it... the great GPS escape?  It would explain why the other item stolen was the connection cord for my husbands phone GPS??

I am trying to be the optimist.  We were very lucky that the childrens safety seats were not taken, neither was the two new children bike seats and pram that was in the boot of the car.  I am unsure as to whether a car alarm was set off.  I am unsure as to whether or not the car has an alarm.  There is always sounds of alarms and horns beeping and to be honest my reaction is to usually close the window, not look outside to see if it is my car.

I am not condoning the actions of the thief.  But the person obviously needs help and was not of sound mind, if an argumentative GPS helps their situation maybe it happened for the best.   How do I know that the bandit was a picnic short of a sandwich?  He left all of my CD's, our road trip collection, (at what point is the best of Eurythmics not a necessity), and, he left a full roll of peppermint mentos sitting on the seat.  What sort of person does not take a mentos lolly when on offer?  I am actually a little confused, because I was sure that there was one roll in the middle console.  But one and a half rolls were found on the front seat.  Either the outlaw, sourced another roll from under a seat somewhere, or he is making a presumption about the quality of my breath.  Oh well.  Not to be bothered.  You know why?  Because now I have my permit to stay, so if I want to I can legally stay until July 2012; that gives me 14 months to go all 'Sherlock Holmes' on suspicious looking characters in my neighbourhood.

Please put it away!

I like to think i have been indulgent in accepting the eccentricity of different cultures, but there is something I just can not get used to witnessing. Italian men have a compulsion for peeing by the side of the road in plain view of all passing motorists.  It doesn’t matter if its a quiet country road or a busy autostrada, Italian men are positively enthusiastic about public peeing. They don't always turn their back to the traffic, they stand right next to the car and make no attempt to obscure what they are doing, I am perplexed by this behaviour!

I have even passed an emergency stopping section 100 meters before a service stationa and witnessed a man in release.  It is not uncommon to see a row of Italians peeing together. I am sure that studies will show that they appear to attract one another.  Girls use public bathrooms together, so why shouldn't men use the side of the road together?  Perhaps peeing in public is preferable to public restrooms. I don’t know why? Over here no one seems to bat an eye when someone decides to relieve themselves in full view of everyone, are they more liberal than me, freedom of the individual blah blah blah.  Surely their liberalism deserves a fine for disorderly conduct of public urination.

What irritates me the most is that if women can stay on the roads in perfect control of our body fluid movements, why can’t men? I am yet to see a lady squatting on the autostrada at the rear of her parked car in full view on oncoming traffic.  Do Italian men think its allowed and hence don’t take the necessary precautions like using the bathrooms when its available. The ease and comfort with which these so-called well-bred gentlemen unleash themselves to water the plants makes me think that men young, old, rich or poor, must feel its their legacy and see no offense in dangling their tools in front of hundreds of commuters. Please put it away. Immerse yourself in the fascinating underworld that is the public toilet.  That is where true courage lies!
I guess the public peeing could be worse?

Saturday, May 14, 2011

A family that shares

When it rains it pours... I am not sure if it started with my daughter or my son, but to be honest they have been playing 'pass the loogie' for the last month or so.  As soon as one wakes up perfectly healthy, it appears that the snot wipe and snail trail accross the cheek will be found on the other sibling by that same afternoon.  We finally bit the bullet and took princes to the doctors on Monday when she was awake most of the night complaining of an ear ache. (One of the advantages of the child being able to communicate with words, we no longer have the charades guessing game when it comes to their ailments.)  So after a visit to her assigned doctor, we left with a prescription of antibiotics to clear her ear infection.

In our health relay, the baton is now passsed to my husband, who after 2 consecutive late nights at work, has crashed and burned.  He too went to the doctors to receive anti biotics for severe tonsilitis, which did not appear to help with the over 40 degree temperatures he was having 2 nights ago. The poor thing suffered shivers, hot sweats and performing the rigid movement of initial kung fu moves everytime he went to swallow.  But 48 hours later, he appears less deathly and the horse tablets mixed with asprin for the body aches, nurofen and panadol for the temperature, throat gargle for the pain of swallowing and gelati for the thighs, all seems to have helped. I do not understand how it is not safe to swallow a chicken bone but it is perfectly safe to take a tablet of similar size, especially when tonsilitis means swallowing seems to be the problem in the first place?!?

And so the relay continues; last night I felt like a hooker on New Years Eve jumping from bed to bed for a solid 4 hours; giving drinks, wiping faces with wet clothes and assuring  everyone that "it will all be ok in the morning".  So this morning, exhausted.  And my throat is sore, damn my husband for handing me the unhealthy baton!  Usually I live in denial about illness, afterall, you can not all be sick at the same time, the rule is that there must always be one able bodied person to support the family in time of need.  At this particular time, my son is next abled body in line, and under the age of two, perhaps administering medecine would be a little inappropriate.  I have the baton, and my husband makes me a doctors appointment.

The Italian health care system is a welfare system, meaning everyone is covered and doctor visits etc are covered by the State, which is great once you are finally assigned a doctor, then the next trick is trying to get an available appointment.  I think it may be a universal problem, but it always makes me laugh that when you call to make an appointment at the doctors, you are quite often told, "Not a problem, how does fortnight from Tuesday sound?"  Ummm, not to convenient considering I will be either better or dead by then!  In this particular instance, it was in 15 minutes or 4 days.  So I grabbed my bag and ran out the door.

Most businesses are found in the lower level of residences in Milan, so I enter a lovely apartment building and take a seat in the waiting room; this is where I practise my ailments in mime as best as possible, (just in case the doctor does not speak any english).  "Signora Gonzalez" is called so I stand and make my way into the doctors office, which has wooden floors, beautiful high ceilings and decorated as I presume a barristers office would be, (model sailing boats, wooden world globe and lots of leather bound books).  There is some confusion over my first name.  I apologise for not speaking italian, so in return he apologises for not speaking english.  I try my best to explain that my throat is sore (with out looking like I am trying to choke myself), and he looks at my throat and says "Rosso" (red).  This I already knew.  So I leave his office now knowing I have a red throat.   As I depart the secretary informs me that I took Signora Gonzalez's appointment, (the little old lady sitting in the corner; hence the first name confusion as I entered the doctors office), I apologise in english, then italian, then out the door as quickly as possible.  Two Gonzalez's out of 3 patients waiting, what are the chances?  No wonder the doctor was looking at me strangely, wrong Gonzalez profile on computer screen?  'Wow you are looking pretty good for age 73 and two hip replacements!'

I still have the baton, but today I am going to throw it in the rubbish bin.  I have decided we are all going to be in denial about our health.  Lets go and order a lunch we can not swallow and look at buying bikes we could not be bothered to ride...

Saturday, May 7, 2011

"Tell me what I want for you!"

I have always made it a rule to avoid 'dropping names'; no free advertising and no suing for defamation. So if you work this one out, it is your pure intelligence and nothing to do with my lack of tact.

I have always used the same hair dresser, (I am referring to the company, not a pocket sized assistant that I carry with me to various destinations), and I consider myself lucky that '....&...' are a worldwide company with over 400 salons, so they tend to follow me where ever I go.  But I must admit, there are a few differences to getting a hair cut in Milan compared to back in Australia.  First of all; on my first visit, I was sure that due to translation issues I was going to leave with a 'mullet' and green hair; it actually took until the third visit for me to leave with a 'mullet' and looking like Suzie Quatro, but pretty sure I requested it on that occassion; I think...according to Wikipedia; "The mullet is a hairstyle that is short at the front and sides, and long in the back.  Often ridiculed as a lowbrow and unappealing hairstyle, the mullet began to appear in popular media in the 1960s and 1970s but did not become generally well-known until the early 1980s. It continued to be popular until the mid-1990s". (Apparently, but I think this could be debateable depending on if you lived town or country.)
You have to admit, Suzie made a statement with her hair...

....and she looked awesome in her earlier days!

As I arrive, I am dressed in my very 'Un-Milan' attire of a hairdressing gown, (what no Gucci?) and ushered up the stairs to the colouring level.  As I walk the stairs I am spotted by my 'cutter' Sergio, (yes, not taking the Italian piss, that is his name), and he greets me with an over zealous "Hallo!"  Ok so he obviosly learnt his english off a german cartoon show but I appreciate his memory of my language skills and the effort to make me feel welcome in his salon.

I am seated by my colourist and he talks non-stop for a few minutes; as he comes up for oxygen I feel obliged to inform him that I do not speak Italian so have no idea what he has been saying.  "Bene" he says as he rubs my shoulders, (no sexual assault lawsuit necessary, Europeans are touchy), but I am concerned he has said "bene", as this means good, is he glad I have not understood what he has been saying to me?  Was he greeting me as the big fat cow that was keeping him from his weekend, please make my job easy and do not complain that I smell of nicotene and coffee?  Anyhow; when asked what colour I would like today, I request the colour black.  Like whispers in the school yard, my colourist and cutter are soon seen whispering in the corner, and pointing at me. "Nero, nero", I can manage to lip read Italian.  (Tried this while people watching the other night out to dinner; very unsucessfully; I forget that I am reading Italian words and not english and had all sorts of scenarios happenming involving lost puppies, affairs and purple elephants... do not quite have this skill mastered yet.  Seriously, I am living in Italy... I read hands not lips!).  I am approached by my 'cutter'.  He rubs his hands in my hair and looks at me like a daughter on her wedding day.  A deep breath out...."So".... big pause for effect..."No! Black you say!  Black is too hard!"....  There is an awkward silence shared.  You know the kind when you ask a fat lady if she is expecting a boy or a girl.  Obviously I am making the wrong decision for my future career in the public spot light, (or they have just run out of black hair dye)?  "Oh did I say balck?  I meant dark brown...  marrone... sorry must be the translation..."

I am asked what I would like to drink and when I request water, am asked if sparkling would be good.  So I sit sipping on my 1/4 litre of S.Pellegrino frizzante aqua, and writing on my sanitary napkins I collected from the bathroom.  I am very impatient and after 5 minutes of waiting for requested paper, thought I would source my own.  I ended up quite embarassed when 'new mate who colours hair the colour we say we want to colour' returned with my requested pen to see me scibbling on my second sheet of a sanitary napkin like an eccentric let loose.  I have a bad memory and like to put pen to paper.  In the words of Robin Williams  "You're only given a little spark of madness. You mustn't lose it."  

Now time for a cut, and I am no longer willing to share an opinion, "Please make me look cool"  I am thinking but "I want to grow it, can you fix the fluffy bits!" escapes my lips.  How about "Tell me what you want from me".  Sergio, (my cutter), seems happy to oblige, or just seems happy in general.  I am apparently paying for the first 3 months worth of nappies for his first child expected next month, but I am happy with end result, quality and attention to customer service.  I am given a blow dry that lasted for 20 minutes, (seriously), every single hair was assured to show jealously of its neighbour.  But I look great now, although I will need to sleep in the sitting position and avoid sweating for 48 hours at least... I will not look like this for another 10 weeks... (next cut before holiday home to Australia... how often are you supposed to wash again?).

This is my "blue steel" pose

Thursday, May 5, 2011

Borromean islands, Beauty in Style

The Borromean Islands are a group of three small islands and two islets on Lake Maggiore. It is only a one hour drive from Milan to Stresa, I thought that this major local tourist attraction would be a good finale to my parents Italian holiday.  What better view than of water of Lake Maggiore and the surrounding mountains, very picturesque setting.

We pulled into the Stresa public car park parting the congregation of boat tour guides and were instructed to park in a certain spot.  Like seagulls to a potato chip, as soon as I opened my door I was attacked with offers of boat trips to the beautiful islands. Presuming I was being led to purchase tickets for the ferry, I instead bought 3 tickets for a private boat ride to the islands.  For 25€ each, (children free), we managed our own little boat and trips between the 3 islands.  Felt a bit like I was in a James Bond movie, (minus the swim suit, pistol and Martini.)
Private boat ride

Enjoying their boat ride
The name of the islands derives from the Borromeo family, which started acquiring them in the early 16th century (Isola Madre) and still owns some of them (Isola Madre, Bella, San Giovanni) today.
Isola Madre, the largest of the three, is also noted for its gardens, which are maintained from about 1823 in an English style. Its palace, though uninhabited, is splendidly furnished with 16th to 19th century Italian masterpieces and paintings.

Isola Madre

Hidden pathways in the gardens

Nature at work

Peaceful setting

View of Lake Maggiore and mountains every where you look

Children playing with the tame bird life

Chapel next to old residence

Beautiful flowers

Isola dei Pescatori or Isola Superiore is now the only inhabited island in the archipelago. It has a fishing village, many restaurants, a few galleries, some private residences and of course, tourist shops.

Lunch with a view

Isola dei Pescatori

Isola Bella, named for Isabella, countess Borromeo, was originally a large barren rock but now stands an attractive summer palace and an exquisit terraced garden.   This was a lovely place for the children to explore and would of been a lovely place for a picnic, (apart from the fact you can not sit on the grass and there was no picnic area).

Isola Bella

Ballroom was perfect for climbing on the couch and dancing for a crowd, (thought my prince)

Atrium had great acoustics for squeals (thought my prince)

The floors and ceilings were the most ornate inlaid designs and mosaics

Princesses legs would not work anymore when we reached the garden, she decided it would be best to sit on the stairs and collect rocks....
Rocks to feed to the hungry white peacock!