martedì 27 novembre 2007

Naval Wives

Last week Scott and I took a trip to Venice. It is about a 3 hour train ride from our house, so it is an easy day trip. We've been several times, but there is so much to see I'm sure that we could visit another half a dozen times and still not run out of new things to see.

It was the last week for the Venice Biennale, a modern art exhibition, which lasts from June to November. We saw one of the exhibits when we were there this summer and let's just say well it is modern art. However, no matter how weird, it is usually interesting, provided it isn't too disturbing. Many of the exhibits are free to see. Well if we were supposed to buy a ticket, we didn't. There are dozens of exhibits scattered across the city, but we managed to see four of them. Half were strange (naturally) video pieces (one from Ireland and the other was a collection from Central Asia). The Latvian exhibit was a collection of objects that used optical effects which the viewer could interact with, and the other was a collection of hang-on-the-wall really cool geometric designs.

We didn't just see the Biennale however. We visited possibly the most economical museum in Venice. Some of you may be aware of Scott's, let's just say abiding, interest in World War I era battleships. I have visited many a military museum in various countries. One of my favorites was the museum in Vienna for many reasons, but mostly because the snack bar was full of Austrian soldiers smoking heavily. The whole first floor smelled, well like a bar. The exhibits were interesting, and they have a whole wing dedicated to Austria's former status as a naval power. Scott was happy. But back to Venice. There is a naval museum in the Arsenale part of the city. The Arsenale, as Scott explained it, was originally used to have ships not quite finished, that could be quickly constructed in times of war. An arsenal of ships, instead of just munitions. Most of the area surrounding the museum is still used in a military capacity and is closed to the public, but the area is really interesting to see, and I would recommend a stroll through the area if you happen to be in Venice.

The entrance fee to the museum is 1,55 Euro. In a town where it costs 2,5o to see a church and 6,00 for 1 hour on the vaporetto (the Venice boat equivalent to a bus), this is beyond a bargain. It's practically free. At first I wasn't too hopeful. The ground floor is filled with cannons, arquebuses, swords, and various equipment left over from WW II. It had a vaguely musty smell, and I remember thinking, "thank god it's only open for another 2 hours." It was populated, as many of these types of museums are, with the enthusiast and his wife. This is not to malign any readers out there with an equally abiding interest in all things naval. However, out of the two dozen or so people we crossed paths with, most of them were couples. There were two guys taking dozens of photos, surprisingly a group of three middle-aged women, a grandfather out with his grandson, and six or eight couples, the men staring intently at the exhibits while there wives wandered slightly ahead (or maybe that was just me wandering ahead of Scott). I joked with him that at least I appeared to be the youngest naval wife there. Many of the other couples appeared to be British, but we were careful to keep our mouths shut when we were around them. I always find people speak more freely when they think you can't understand what they are saying.

On the first floor (the second floor for my fellow Americans), my outlook on the whole experience altered. The rest of the museum was filled with ship models, decorative objects salvaged from long-departed ships, instruments, and the odd uniform or two (if you've seen two naval uniforms, you've seen them all). Best of all, there was a rather pleasant smell of linseed oil. I began taking photos and really enjoyed visiting the remaining three floors. One of my favorite models was the one above of the galley ship, complete with oarsmen. Each one of them had a different aspect. Some had beards, others were clean-shaven. There was another really fantastic model (to the right) of a oversized gondola. The actual boat had been used for a ceremony in which the city of Venice was married to the sea (At least that's what Scott told me. The explanation was just too long to read. I took photos instead), and later destroyed by the conquering French. It was really cool inside, with parquet flooring and gilded statues.

There is a final floor with a Swedish exhibit, which links Venice to Sweden. The exhibit states that the lion statue that stands in front of the entrance to the Arsenale has runes inscribed on his shoulder. On the same level there is also a wonderfully presented collection of seashells, corals, and starfish. There is also a building further down the Fondamenta dell'Arsenale that houses a collection of boats, and a few small ships. The website says you can, upon request, also visit the chapel San Biagio ai Forni, which is a chapel for mariners, with the same ticket. So my recommendation for those of you heading to Venice in the near future is not to skip arguably one of the best museums for its price in Italy. There is plenty to enjoy, not just for the naval buff and his wife, but for your average interested tourist.

venerdì 16 novembre 2007


It was four years ago today that my wonderful sister passed from this mortal coil. I could tell you all of the really great things about her, which would all be true, but I'll tell you a few of the more wicked aspects of her sense of humor. Now both of these tales occurred when we were both very young, and as such may be colored by a little sister's pique, but as the storyteller I am allowed to remain the virtuous injured party.
Kris had this book by A.A. Milne, "And Now We are Six," and I being of a somewhat romantic nature, had decided that I must wait until I was six before I read this particular book. I must have talked about it quite a bit, because on my 6th birthday Kris performed one of her best practical jokes. While we were waiting at the babysitter's house for my mother to pick us up after work, Kris told me that I was a special girl and that I wasn't going to turn six, but instead was skipping directly to seven. Now this was coming from someone who taught me how to tie my shoelaces, and how to whistle. She was an authority. I was alarmed, and panicked thinking that she might be right. I went to the babysitter for reassurance, but instead Joan confirmed my sister's version of the story. I was beside myself. Joan and Kris kept up the charade for the whole afternoon, which when you are six, seems like a lifetime. By the time my mother arrived I was in tears and told her my sad tale. She had to get them to tell me it was just a joke, but as you see I've never quite recovered from the shock. The book itself was a disappointment, and I don't think I ever finished reading it.
The second story is not one of misdeeds, but of how Kris and I managed to work together. Those of you who know me well, may remember that I have a scar across the top of my nose. I received said scar when I was 1 1/2. My mother, sister and I were lunching at the house of my mother's friend Sue. After lunch, Kris and I remained inside while Sue washed the dishes. I have a fairly clear memory of the events, as it was probably the most traumatic thing that happened during this period of my life. I was crawling around on the floor and I decided that it would be a great idea to place my feet against the base of the table, which was one of those pedestal style tables with bench seating. At some point the table began to fall. I remember the ketchup bottle sliding towards me, and my mother's friend turning to stop the table from falling. After that all I remember was my mother soothing my tears. Years later when I was recalling this story with my sister, she happened to mention that while I was crawling on the floor she was sitting at the table kicking the the tabletop from underneath. Since that time I've always believed that between the two of us we created the perfect fulcrum. We always accomplished great deeds together.

domenica 11 novembre 2007

Lo Smoking

An interesting facet to living in another country is seeing how they use, and sometimes abuse, words from your language. I'm sure this happens in English too, but since I'm a part of the whole process it hasn't occurred to me to find it funny. I have that luxury here. I first came across this phenomenon in Germany. They call cell phones "handys," which sounds deceptively like an English word, but even the British call them "mobiles." I guess they are handy. Germans also use the word hand for hand, but adding a "y" to the end of the word I don't think is typical ( They also used the word "beamer," not to describe a Bavarian auto, but rather it is a name for a video projector The great part is that when you tell them these aren't real words in English a look of genuine confusion passes across their faces. Apparently there is a word for this, pseudo-anglicism ( I did once have a French person tell me that she was confused by English speakers use of "deja vu," as in French it has the more literal meaning of actually seeing something for a second time, not the sensation that you have. I won't even go into what another friend told me about the French verb "to kiss." It has given me an entirely different concept of the word "french kiss."

The first on my Italian list is "lo smoking." At first I thought it was just a way to say smoking jacket, as any sport that we commonly refer to with "ball," i.e. basketball, volleyball, they generally lose the ball part. In this way the sports are "basket" and "volley." However, after watching TV (tee vu) last night I realized "lo smoking" actually means a tuxedo.

Another great experience was the use of the word "playback." Last summer they had a tour of Italian pop-stars give a concert in the main square of Trento. It became apparent that the singers were not really singing, but merely lip-syncing the songs. The Europeans that were with me all looked at each other and said in disgust, "playback!" I had to ask what they meant, and they were genuinely confused that we used a completely different word.

Once I had a very long conversation in my Italian class about the word "stage." They use it to mean either a workshop, or an internship, although I think internship is the more common usage. They haven't really borrowed this from English, but from French. I'm sure the English borrowed it from French ages before it was used in French to mean internship, as it also has the same meaning in French as it does in English. After trying to explain in Italian what we use the word in English for, the teacher seized on one part of what I was saying, the part about "stage" meaning a period of time, a phase, and seemed to conclude that it did mean internship after-all. Apparently, the Germans use it for internship too. It must be part of this whole euro-speak concept.

The last part of my diatribe has to do with using English phrases on clothing. It often resembles the headers on the email that ends up in my spam folder, meaning they are words strung together that make no sense at all. Here is a picture of one of my favorites that I found in a flyer for a local shopping mall. In case you can't read it all is says "Runaway Biker For Rebel."

venerdì 9 novembre 2007

La piscina

Several months ago, June to be exact, I went to a physiotherapist for a problem I was having with my shoulder. My neck and shoulder had been causing me pain for more than 8 months, so I had finally relented and went to a doctor. She advised 10 sessions of electro-therapy and suggested I start swimming. I could go on about the electro-therapy, but I won't. I think the most useful outcome of my 10 sessions with, what seem to me a very 19th century approach to medicine, was the daily bike ride to the rehabilitation hospital. It is on top of a fairly steep hill and there is no longer a suttle bus from Pergine. My options were to go by bike or on foot. After two weeks my stamina on the bike had improved tremendously. I was going to continue to bike daily up a steep hill, there are plenty around, but you know what they say about the road to hell.
Today, November 9th, four months after being advised to do so, I took up swimming. I keep meaning to do it, but the terror of the new that grips me whenever I do something here was strong enough to keep me from acting on my doctor's orders. I didn't know if I needed a bathing cap, or where on earth I would buy one. I'd even quizzed my 9-year-old neighbor about the swim cap issue with no clear results. Well I have a thousand excuses, I should get to use some of them. What finally pushed me over the edge was my aunt. We were talking last night about how good swimming was, especially for people with back problems, and I told her how I had been delaying my trips to the pool. She told me not to think about it anymore and take myself to the pool today.
I arrived at the pool with my suit and my towel, paid my entrance fee and walked on in. I told the woman at the desk this was my first time there, and she made no mention of swim caps so I thought I was in the clear. As luck would have it I ran into someone I knew right away. This really isn't a difficult feat in Pergine. I asked her if there were lockers inside and she said yes, but I needed a lock. Lucky for me she was kind enough to lend me hers. This was to be the first kindness bestowed upon hapless, perennially unprepared Kate. The second came from the lifeguard, who upon informing me that I needed a bathing cap (as I had feared), found one for me to use when I replied that I had none. Really what I said was "I don't have," when I could have more elegantly said "I don't have one of those." After surviving these traumas (I omitted the first trauma, which was knocking over someone else's bike, as well as my own, while trying to secure my bike to the bike rack), I slipped into the very nice pool.
I haven't swum laps in years. As a child I took many a swim class, but I was never very good. I flunked beginner swimming 4 times, as I was unable to float on my back. My sister, of course, was much better than me. She even took a lifesaving course. As with most things I am unable to instantly excel in, I did the best I could and vowed to just ignore it whenever possible. Don't get me wrong, I can swim, but it's not pretty. I just concentrated on my favorite strokes, the breaststroke, the elementary backstroke, and the sidestroke, and avoided the hated crawl. I love the sidestroke the best, but was dismayed to find out that I had tremendous difficulty doing it with my left arm on the bottom. After two or three laps I started to feel the work in my arm muscles and I was getting a bit fatigued. I stuck it out for about 25 minutes to half hour and figured I was good for the first day. By this time it was close to 11am, and it was starting to get a bit busy.
Back in the dressing room, I started to notice all the signs that were posted about this and that rule, and realized that I had broken just about every one. There was the sign that told me it was not only obligatory to use a swim cap, but I was also supposed to shower before I entered the pool. Oops. I rinsed off afterwards just to make a good show of it. On my way out as I sat down to put my socks and shoes back on I noticed the sign that said is was forbidden to wear your street shoes into the locker room. Oops. Good thing nobody noticed. They did have a huge bank of hair dryers to use, and I only had to switch once to find one I could manage to turn on successfully.
Since I wasn't yelled at by an angry employee and my acquaintance suggested I go with her to the water aerobics classes on Monday, I think I might just go back, as long as I can swim in silence, and I don't piss off the personnel with my strange foreign ways.

martedì 6 novembre 2007

The Saga Continues . . .

Thinking the bicycle seat thing was just a Halloween prank, I decided to ride my bike to the train station yesterday. The first problem was, having walked my bike home last Wednesday, I hadn't noticed that the little punk had let the air out of my back tire. Time being of the essence, as always, I decided to take Scott's bike instead. The seat on his bike is clamped on and doesn't have the convenient little lever that mine does. I had some misgivings, but I decided to be trusting.
Upon returning from my Italian lesson, I alighted from the train and noticed right away that someone had taken the plastic "raincoat" that the seat usually wears and stuck it under the rack over the rear tire. Ha, ha, very funny. As a bonus, they flattened the front tire. Another walk home with a bike.
I'm now entertaining fantasies of staking out the train station. I figured I could bring my folding chair and camp out sometime before two and wait for the little darling to show up. I of course was going to bring a bike as bait. Today I've ruled out making this little fantasy reality, due to relative intertia on my part. The other problem would be telling them what for in Italian. Maybe I could just cuss the charming little prankster out in English. That might just confuse him enough, and he would have the benefit of telling everyone about the crazy foreigner.
You must realize that the train station is not some hub of activity with endless streams of people coming and going. During rush hour, the usual crowd that gets off in S. Cristoforo consists of at most six people. I've counted, as I have some strange obsession with counting the number of people in most situations, provided that it is under 20 people. In D.C. I used to count the number of people in the elevator at the Metro stations, and sometimes I would further subdivide it into the number of men and women. As an aside to my aside, there were always more women in the later part of the rush hour. If I left work at 4pm I was usually the only woman on the ride up. Yesterday, I counted the number of students in my Italian class, and I noticed that I do this everytime. I wonder what that says about my personality. Back to our regularly scheduled train station. The building itself was built in the later half of the 1800's when Trentino was part of Austria. I've seen period postcards and the building hasn't changed a bit. What has changed is that the station building is in part used to store items needed to stock the ticket automat, and various other sundries. The other larger part of the station is a home for a employee of the railway. My neighbor informs me that sometime in the 1980's the trains stopped stopping in S. Cristoforo and only resumed within the past 3 or 4 years. The point is that this is neither a big city station nor even a well-used commuter station, and I'm really pissed that I can't ride my bike there anymore unless I want to risk having a flat tire.
Thankfully my tire was not slashed, just emptied. The real pisser is that when I tried to ride it yesterday for all of 2 feet, the tire became unsealed from the rim and I'll have to take it to be repaired anyway. I thank God everyday that I am no longer a teenager, but too bad someone else has to be one.

giovedì 1 novembre 2007

Bicycle Seat

Yesterday when I got off the train in San Cristoforo (pictured here during the big snow of 2006), I went to get my bike and my seat was gone. There sat my wonderful bike, looking a bit like I imagine the headless horseman looked like to Icabod Crane. Now I know that you might not think that a seatless bike is a horrifying sight, but I would beg to differ. It is horrifying because of what it represents to me. Most likely it was some idiot kid who took it because he could. However, I live in a community of less than 1,000 people, not in some bigger place where you get used to the invasions of everyday life. When I told my husband he said, "what!! In San Cristoforo." I felt it destroyed my happiness here just a little, not a lot, but just a little.
I won't be able to get a new one today, as it's a holiday here. Friday will have to do. I'm afraid of the expense. Often the cost of these type of parts can be a large percentage of what you originally paid for the bike. I'll also now have to worry about how to secure the seat so it won't happen again. These aren't huge insurmountable problems, but it makes me sad that I have to consider them.
I have in mind that I should put up a sign at the train station thanking the culprit for improving the comfort of my ride. I've been formulating how to say this in Italian for many hours. It was the last thought I had before I went to sleep and the first one I had when I woke up. I'm surprised I didn't dream about the whole incident. I guess I hope that some sarcastic sign will instill a little guilt in the creatin, but I'm sure he (yes, I am assuming it was some pimply teenage male with an overabundance of homones) won't even think twice. I hope he at least uses it. I'd hate to think he just tossed it away.
The weird part was that I didn't know what to do. I wanted to call the police, but I was sure they wouldn't be interested. Then how would I say it all. These aren't conversations I've already had with someone. The most difficult things to talk about in any language are the ones you've never talked about before. Here, each novel situation brings the horror of unlearned words and sentence constructions. I think I will report it to the train authorities in Trento, but I am prepared for indifference and outright hostility. The folks that work for Trenitalia seem generally harrassed, and are often hostile if you present them with a problem that is not easily solved.
Well, it's a beautiful day here. I think I'll walk to the station and take a look around. Maybe my teenage friend left the seat in the trash.
I took the walk and found the seat. The precocious little imp had hid it behind the ticket machine. What a great laugh, ha ha! I'm not sure if it has restored my faith in humanity though. At least I don't have to buy a new seat.