25 January 2012

New Word: Retromarcia

The other day, F. was talking about all the things he needs to fix on his car, including the speedometer.  I had thought he’d disconnected it along with the odometer, like people used to do so that when they sold their cars, the true mileage wasn’t recorded.  F. hadn’t done this, but it did remind him of the story of a guy in town.

Apparently, in an effort to keep the mileage from increasing on his odometer, this guy drove everywhere “retromarcia” .  All through town.  Everywhere.  In reverse.

Retromarcia also happens to be a term for a popular birth control method, from what I've been told.  At least around here.

22 January 2012

Plus ça change.....The More, It Seems, So Do I

I was really looking forward to going to Paris.  I hadn’t been out of this country in more than a year.  I missed the familiarity of a place that feels like home to me, where I have my bakery, my “house”, my movie theater, with shops and streets and food I like and that are not, by any means, Italian.   I didn’t want to splurge on a ticket to NY which would also involve another one to Florida plus figuring out where to stay and whether or not to rent a car to get between various far-flung friends and parents and my go-to Paris hotel got out of reach when it was renovated, so €15 airfare each way plus a one star hotel in my favorite city was where it was at.

I was going to eat sushi and croissants and baguettes and snails and foie gras and ham, cheese & butter sandwiches, falafel and more croissants. Maybe get a real cheeseburger, too.   I was going to get American-sized cups of coffee.  To go.  And warm my hands on them as I walked past the Stravinsky Fountain outside the Centre Pompidou or across the Seine on the Ponte des Arts.  I was going to drink over-priced whiskey and watch Italian league football with English commentary and join the pub quiz at a friendly Scottish bar where one pays when one orders, as one should.  Where I could speak English with other native speakers.   I was going to see a movie.

And I did do those things.  Well, some of them.  I met some lovely guys from the UK and a couple of sisters from NY and spent a few hours chatting with them.  I listened to a Canadian bartender tell me she couldn’t make me a vodka martini because she didn’t have vermouth.  They just had Martini.  When V. and I pointed out that that the extra dry Martini perched on the shelf was in fact the vermouth that went in the cocktail, she was astounded.  Even though she’d “made them all the time in Canada.”  She also informed us that she really likes “gow-da” cheese.  I didn’t risk it.  I ordered whiskey.  New favorite: Bowmore—Very Cloudy

I didn’t eat any sushi, from either my usual Japanese restaurant or any of the eight thousand other spots that have popped up on every street corner but I did try the phõ at various noodle shops tucked between sex shops and trendy bistros.

I got the trots from the steak tartare at Bistro Eustache.  

Or maybe it was the escargots.  I don’t care.  The food was good while I was eating it.

                                                                                                                                                                          I got foie gras and blood sausage and venison stew served by an adorable English speaking French waiter about to leave for a business course in Manhattan at Chez Mèmè, an equally adorable restaurant in the still semi-seedy rue St. Denis.

I was shocked by the abundance of English, both spoken and written all over the city, on shop signs, on flyers, in ads, in conversations between people who all ready shared a native tongue but slipped easily between the two languages when talking amongst themselves.

I was asked directions three times, in French, and caught myself answering in Italian.

I did not get bagels from any of the now numerous outlets nor a burger from Le Camion Qui Fume.  It just seemed wrong to get an American-style burger from a food truck that tweets and facebooks its daily street location.  I can always make my own here, even if I can’t find cheddar cheese. 

I got made fun of only once for my attempt to speak French and I delighted in the opportunity upon my return to speak my limited Italian, to both understand and be understood by the natives.

I did get a cup of coffee in a familiar paper cup with a sippy top and a cardboard cozy.  But only once.  Most mornings, I stood at the bar on the corner and just ordered a café normale, which is a bit taller than an Italian coffee but nowhere near the size of an American one.  The barman asked if I wanted it “ristretto”.   I didn’t give in, taking my opportunity to have a coffee that was just a bit bigger than I can usually get.

 It seems that while Paris is becoming more international, I may just be becoming a little bit more Italian.

11 January 2012

Becoming Italian, Part IV (or CSI: Italia)

Yesterday, I tried again to get the oculista who administered my Snellen eye test to sign my damned DMV form for my license renewal and was again thwarted.  For some reason (maybe my inability to communicate effectively in Italian, hmm?) he thinks I should go to the office here that does it for Italian licenses, ignoring the fact that my form specifically states a medical professional must do it, that it’s the only reason I went to him in the first place and that I even google-translated the form to make it more clear for him.  Frustrated and annoyed, I thought it might be a good time to try to get ink fingerprints done at the Questura for the criminal record checks I need for my citizenship application.  It was only 8:15am.  My day was either going to be spent raging against all the people here who seem to delight in torturing me, pretending the don't understand me and just generally being difficult or grinning and dancing around because I'd gotten something accomplished.  Either or.

We drove over to the state police headquarters and I asked the uniformed guard out front where I could get fingerprints.  He directed us to the “Strangers Office”.

I produced my Carta di Soggiorno, my FBI and NYS fingerprint cards and my list from the Prefeturra of items needed for citizenship, pointing to the certificato penale di paese di origine line for the officer in the ufficio stranieri and mimed being finger printed.

The officer asked for V’s documenti.  Why he needed to produce his carta d’identita when I was the one with the request, when my permesso clearly states that I'm married to an Italian citizen and V. could've been my taxi driver is a mystery.  And of course, we didn’t have it.  I’d left it at home in the living room where I’d been trying to check-in online with a bad internet connection for an upcoming flight outta here. 

After I explained that I was the only one needing the fingerprints, that both cards were for me, one for the state, one for the FBI, and she admonished him for not having his ID, she spoke rapidly at me, something about a request.  I replied with a blank stare.  She tried again, actually slowing down. Again, my blank stare.  If I need to make a request, how do I do it?

Come fare una richiesta?” I tried, miming scribbling something and hoping desperately that this request didn't require a stamp and a signature and any number of other arcane things the bureaucrats continue to want.

She said something else and asked us to have a seat as she went in to the back offices.

She came back with a non-uniformed man who looked at all my papers and seemed to know what I needed.

He brought us back into the main offices of the Questura where we’d originally asked the guard about fingerprinting, into his office in the forensic science hall.  It smelled like licorice.  There was a big bookcase full of mini-DV tapes and rolls of film.  Reminded me a bit of the drawer in my old office where I’d keep recordings from security issues at my old job.  Then we noticed one of the videos was labeled “Quintana”, the yearly medieval jousting competition/spectacle in Ascoli.  Maybe there’d been a crime? 

He tried to explain something to us.  More about the request and something about liberty.  Ok, I thought.  I need to make a request.  He took in my blank stare and tried explaining two more times.  What I gleaned was that they don’t normally take fingerprints unless you’ve committed a crime.  Something about personal liberty.  But I wasn’t positive that’s all he said.  And I wasn’t sure what to say in response.  After the fourth attempt, he left us in his office.

He returned with a form for me to sign.  I think I signed a request to have my fingerprints taken.  I’m not sure.

Then, he took my two fingerprint cards—one for the FBI and one for NY state and filled in the date and signed them.   I was left to fill in the identifying details like “race, ethnicity, height, weight”.  The next one, “hair color”, stumped me a bit as it’s naturally brown, was most recently brownish and blondish and as of Saturday is more reddish-brown with a bit of blond.    In the end, I opted for brown.

That done, into another room, passed a table full of forensics kits with vials and plastic bags, passed posters of fingerprint samples we went.

Lava blah blah blah solo blah aqua,” he said, gesturing towards a sink with some pump soap and a can of ajax.

“Solo aqua?”

“Si.  Sola l’aqua.”  Hmmm.  Article/noun agreement duly noted.

I turned the water on and rinsed my hands thoroughly.

Basta,” came his voice over my shoulder.  It seemed I’d been a bit over-enthusiastic.

He left again, returning this time with a woman.

He beckoned me over to a stand a bit taller than waist high.  It was about eight inches deep and had a shelf on the left side.  The shelf flipped open to reveal a bottle of ink and a small metal roller.

The man flipped the drawer back over, squeezed some ink onto the top side of it, passed the roller back and forth then rolled it over the top half of my left hand.  The woman held each card in place, bending them down over the front of the shelf so that I didn’t get ink over each next section as I thought to myself, “the NYS form specifically says not to bend the card!  God, if I have to do this again…..”

“Eeen. Dex?” the woman said.

“Si! Index. Brava.”

V. was looking at the Italian fingerprint card on the windowsill.  “Naso.  Grande?  Piccolo? Grande naso.”

Naso grande,” I corrected.

The woman laughed.

Both hands, each finger tip plus four fingers at once plus thumbs times two and we were done.

They set the cards to dry on the heater and instructed me to wash my hands with the ajax.   Five washings later, minus a bit of skin but still some residual ink and we were done. 

Grazie.  Grazie mille.”


As I was ciao-ing and grazie-ing my butt off, delighted to have successfully completed this task, we saw F.’s friend M.  He crossed his wrists in front of him, asking if I’d been arrested.  I waggled my still slightly ink-smudged fingers.  “Si.  Io sono molto pericoloso!” I said in the lobby of the questura, before thinking better of it.  Meno male, the fingerprint technician just chuckled at us.

Now, I’ve just got to mail them to the US, await the responses that I’m not a criminal, send those back to the US State Department for apostilles, translate them, and get them certified.  While that’s happening, I’ve got to navigate the Tribunale here for my certificate of no penal record in Italy.  Maybe while I’m there I can convince them to sign my DMV eye form.