Ponte dei Morti

The bridge of the dead. This is what the Italians call the is the triduum consisting of All Saints’ Eve, All Saints’ Day,  and All Souls’ Day. Basically, the Italians take an extended weekend by attaching it to this triduum. Furthermore, whenever there is a long weekend in general, it’s called a ponte, a bridge.

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“Crossing the Marigold Bridge” by Trizephyr, courtesy of gfycat.com.

As a person relatively unfamiliar with Christian traditions, these holidays remain a mystery to me. I first found out about All Saints’ Day in 2003 while I was studying in France. The school was closed November 1st in observance of Toussaint. Back then, I didn’t even know what a saint was. I assumed it was a kind person with a lot of patience, but, alas, I was wrong. It involves an entire process and miracles need to be performed. Not just one miracle in the singular, but miracles plural! It’s really intense.

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“San Crisogono, by Michele Giambono, used under CC BY-SA 4.0 / Text and frame added to original

Since then, I really haven’t learned very much. I’ve basically stayed willfully ignorant. I’m still not too sure what all these days represent, but I know it’s about death. The closest thing I can relate it to is 제사 in the Korean tradition. 제사 (pronounced jesa) is an ancestor ritual memorializing the ones who have passed. It’s usually done for relatives such as your grandparents or your parents, but it can also be conducted for ancestors farther back. For the recently deceased, we celebrate the 제사 (jesa) on the anniversary of their death. Honestly, whenever we have to perform the 제사 (jesa) rites, I whine and moan about it to my mom like it’s a huge chore. Because it is! All the cooking and the rituals and the traveling!

 

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Image by An American Ajumma Abroad

 

My husband participated in his first 제사 (jesa) last year. He wasn’t a fan. He was particularly creeped out by the fact that we eat spirit leftovers. He kept calling them G-word leftovers. (For those of you who know me, you ALL know how terrified I am of the G-word and can’t even utter the G-H-O… EEEEEEEKKKKKKKKKK!!!! It’s forbidden!) The food isn’t the best, I admit. There’s no salt or garlic because the spirits can’t have them. And the food is served cold, no reheating. Wah-wah.

A Procession Of Cardinals In St. Peter's Basilica On Easter Sunday

While explaining 제사 (jesa) to Ciro, it came to me that the Christian equivalent would be Easter. Right? Celebrating a forefather on the day of his death, every year with a ritual and a feast? Easter is Italian jesa. Or would it just be Christian jesa?

Either way, I’d like to celebrate with some sweet raisin walnut bread from Sienna called pan co’santi (no pic sorry, I’ll get you next time). Yum!

A dopo! Later!

A Procession Of Cardinals In St. Peter's Basilica On Easter Sunday

 

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Citizen Pain

Hello! I just got back from a trip to visit my family and friends in the U.S. It was really nice, but I will have to save that for another time because when I returned, I found an official letter confirming my Italian citizenship! Yes, this ajumma, right here, is an Italian citizen. I’m an Italian American ajumma now.

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Flag of Italy” Creative Commons , Public Domain.

 

Obtaining Italian citizenship was a LONG and arduous process. Specifically, it was a LONG, LONG, LONG process. About three years ago, my husband and I started our applications for citizenship at the same time. He was applying for American citizenship while I applied for Italian citizenship. After gathering documents and filling out the applications, we submitted our respective applications two and a half years ago. After six or seven months, my husband was already at the oath ceremony receiving his American citizenship. The process on my end was much more complicated from the beginning as the Italian government requires all sorts of craziness to apply for citizenship. Not that the American government asks any less, it’s just that my husband already had most of his stuff from when he requested his Green Card.

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“Paperwork” by kozumel, is licensed under CC BY-ND 2.0

Returning to the subject at hand, I submitted my application for Italian citizenship from the U.S. When I turned it in, the consular officer assured me that he would enter everything in the system that day and that everything would be ready to go from that very evening.

Then with a deadpan expression he added, “You will hear from the Ministry of the Interior in about two years.”

I must have looked at him with a wide-eyed shocked expression because, he followed up with, “It sounds like a joke, but it isn’t. You will hear back from the Ministry in two years.”

And true to his word, the Ministero dell’Interno contacted me in a little over two years. I tried to reach out to them about six months prior, but they sent me a very curt message reminding me that my application had been submitted LESS than two years ago. It was actually kind of hilarious. They probably spent more time looking up my application and writing that email than it would have to send me a generic, “Your application is still under review,” email.

Basically, there is some kind of Italian law that limits the citizenship process to two years. I think they have two years to reject your application and after two years, they can no longer reject it or something like that. I can provide more precise sources and information if anyone is interested. So, in a little over two years, I finally received a message telling me to call the city of Florence about my giuramento (oath swearing).

Bent over in pain from the strain in my back and barely able to walk, I used my father-in-law as a walker and limped into city hall to do my oath swearing. Yes, it was literally that Monday after that witch hit my back. I was a hot mess. I really couldn’t walk, but, seeing as I took the first appointment of the day, I couldn’t cancel. Even the staff was completely shocked to see me hobbling around in that state. It was awful.

However, I sat through everything, presented the necessary paperwork and almost even started a fight between the staff and my father-in-law. They were saying that my birth certificate was missing from the record, even though I had already submitted my original birth certificate plus Apostille with translations of both documents. They wanted another original, but my father-in-law, always ready for battle, started getting legal with them and citing the Italian Law that public offices cannot ask for documents that are already in their possession. Fyi, it’s Artt. 19 e 47 del DPR 445 del 28/12/2000, in case anyone needs it. Regardless, it ended in a stalemate. But… just as I was beginning to feel a little like Barack Obama, they agreed to let me swear my oath anyway and follow up with the Consulate General in Chicago about my birth certificate.

Funny little side story, when I called in to make the appointment for this oath swearing, their records indicated that I had immigrated from Japan. Very confused, I asked them if they had the right file and they confirmed by basically telling me (correctly) my address, birthdate, husband’s name and birthplace. So, yes, it was me. I asked them to look into it because I was immigrating from the UNITED STATES OF AMERICA and that the application had originally been submitted to the Consulate General of Italy in Chicago, IL, UNITED STATES OF AMERICA. And that my birth certificate and passport reflect the fact that I have AMERICAN citizenship. The lady assured me that she would look into it, but when I arrived that day, they asked ME why my records showed that I had immigrated from Japan. I wanted to respond that it was probably due to racism and racist assumptions about physiognomy and geography, but, I was not in a position of power here, so I just smiled and stayed silent. Why do I have to be responsible for explaining global patterns of migration and diaspora to everyone? It’s exhausting and a little soul crushing.

Anyway… I swore the oath and a couple of weeks later I receive this letter stating that everything was in order and now I am officially Italian! I immediately went to update all of my documents. Yesterday, my husband and I went to get me an ID card and to change my status at the Italian equivalent of the Social Security office. While we were out we got caught in a torrential downpour and, given that we were on a 125cc scooter, had to take refuge under the awning of a high-end luxury boutique like hobos. We tried to wait it out but it just got worse with thunder and lots and lots of lightning. Then, we saw the rain lighten up for a couple and minutes and decided to chance it. It was scary. I finally understood what Forrest Gump was saying about that “stinGinG rain.”

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“Forrest Gump, One Day it Started Raining” by RequiredDistantBream, courtesy of gfycat.com.

We flew through the city on our little scooter with lightning and thunder crashing down and cars splashing tidal waves of dirty water on us. It was insane! We got home just in the nick of time, because it decided to get serious out there. Our poor little dog didn’t know what to do. Too scared to greet us properly, he just kept turning in circles.

Now all that’s left is to get an Italian drivers license. EEK! I’m terrified of driving here. The traffic is madness and I do not have the courage to navigate it. I’m too used to American driving where people generally respect the laws and rules of the road. It’s a jungle here… that’s actually what they call it, la giungla. It’s survival of the craftiest and most cunning drivers. I’m neither. I’m just an everyday, average, normal driver. I stop at stop signs, I let pedestrians and old people pass. I don’t generally speed and I try to keep the road rage to a minimum. 어떡하죠? What should I do?

 

Ciao from the Italian ajumma!  

Which witchery is this?

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My apologies to my faithful reader! Wait, maybe there are two of you now. Marcee are you reading this?

I have not been keeping up with this blog at all. And I’m afraid that this entry won’t make up for that fact. I have been thinking through the many topics I could talk about, but right now, I have back pain. That’s all I can think about because it has taken over my life this last week.

I threw out my back two Saturdays ago. How you ask? Well, in the stupidest way possible. I was picking up a small and light box and pulled a muscle in my lower back. Then, I couldn’t walk for a couple of days and now I’m basically walking with the same gait as a zombie and can’t put very much weight on my left leg. I had to stay bed the rest of the weekend and all day Tuesday to try to recuperate. I have never had anything like this happen to me, it feels terrible. Not only the pain, but the sheer powerless that comes with not being able to do anything for yourself.

Given my discomfort, I called up both the Western doctor and the Traditional doctor and made appointments. Funnily enough, they both diagnosed the exact same ailment….dundun duuuuunnnn:  il colpo della strega. Literally, it means the hit from the witch. Yes, like a witch hitting you on the back with what, I don’t know. I imagine it must be a broom, a cauldron of some sort or a curse. In medical terms, it’s an acute lombalgia. It’s when you throw your back out or pull a muscle.

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“Sup Witches” by richardsebreower via imgflip.com

My husband kept saying that I had a colpo della strega and I just thought he was joking. How could anyone take that seriously? A hit from a witch? He won’t even go to get acupuncture because he doesn’t believe in it, how could he think my back problem was from a witch? But alas, it’s actually the name of the condition. Who knew?!?

Speaking of acupuncture, I went to my first appointment the other day. I found it through my friend, Google, and decided to get some treatment for this back problem. Of course, I’m a little biased when it comes to acupuncturists and went to a Chinese doctor. He’s (below) located in the Campo di Marte neighborhood which is actually very close to my house. I was scared because I’m afraid of needles, but my back pain was so bad, I didn’t care. It wasn’t bad. Really. It didn’t hurt and since all the needles were in my back, I couldn’t see them. The best part was that I started to feel better the next day. I won’t attribute it entirely to acupuncture, but I think it helped.

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“Fu Bao Tian” via Fu Bao Tian Medico Chirurgo Agopuntura

The appointment went ok, but there are some things I’m going to have to get used to in Italy. For instance, there’s really no illusion of modesty here. No gown, blankets or covers. There was a curtain, but people kept opening it and prancing in whenever they wanted. They had me strip down to my bra and underwear and just walked in while I was doing it. Then they had me get on the table and basically had the curtain wide open while the doctor was working. There were at least 4 people who passed by, I could hear them and my semi naked form was in full view. I’m guessing they were all medical personnel because they shut the curtain when another patient was being treated. Still, it’s a little jarring. In the States, they give you tons of faux privacy and covers and screens and shields and everything to protect our delicate sensibilities. Here, they’re like, “Strip down and get on the table. And stop dilly dallying.”

Perhaps it’s my overly Puritan upbringing that’s to blame?

Alla prossima! Until next time! Hopefully, that’ll be soon.

Insider Tips for Surviving Italy #1

Every culture does things differently. It’s a fact.

Hey, even from family to family, customs and practices can vary widely. So, it’s actually no surprise at all that I found myself a little confused from time to time. There are many things that work the same between the USA and Italy, but then there are many things that don’t. I will help you navigate some of these cultural differences through what I hope will become a fun little series of survival tips.

I thought long and hard about the very first survival tip that I should offer to you. Would it be key Italian phrases? Navigating the complicated social codes? Fashion? Table manners? Geography? No, in the end, I decided that there was one thing that everyone should know before going to Italy.

And it’s towels.

You see, in the US, we normally find three sizes of towel in a typical bathroom.

 

USA towels

Going in ascending order, the smallest towel is the hand towel.  It’s for drying your hands after you wash them or even your face. The next largest towel is the bath towel and the largest is the bath sheet. The difference between the bath towel and the bath sheet, you ask. I have no idea.  All I know is that the bath sheet is really large and the bath towel is not as large.

You may be wondering why I’m going over the towels so carefully. Well, if you ever find yourself in an Italian house, this information may be very precious to you. The function of the towels are markedly different in Italy. Let me demonstrate with an image:

ITALY towels

You see!!! The smallest towel is not, in fact, a hand towel. It’s the BUTT towel! It’s for after using the bidet to wash your nether regions. You most definitely do not dry your hands on this towel and certainly not your face either. Luckily, it usually hangs over or near the bidet.

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However, that is not ALWAYS the case. Occasionally, you’ll find it near or amongst the other towels. It may look innocent, but it’s not. It’s a dangerous little towel, so watch out.

Regarding the other towels, the medium sized towel is the hand towel which you would use to dry your hands. The giant towel is for after a shower. Those aren’t too complicated and if you mix them up, it’s not too big of a deal.

Hopefully this bit of information was useful to you. Thanks for reading!

A presto! See you soon!

What I love about Firenze…

One of the things I love most about Florence are the dogs! That’s right, I said it. DOGGIES! And my very first post on this blog (that I’ve been meaning to start for a very long time) is about my favorite subject in the world: dogs.

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In Florence, the dogs go where the humans go. I see them everywhere. They accompany their humans to the shops, the market, the bank, the gelateria, to the hair salon, and sometimes even to work. Actually, there is no such thing as “dog friendly” here because everything is dog friendly. When we first moved here in December, we asked a bakery if we could pop in with our dog for a second and the lady just gave us a funny “duh” kind of look and condescendingly answered, “Certo (of course).” It was so obvious to her, she thought it was absurd that we were even asking.

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Unfortunately, Aldo is just about scared of everything so we don’t take him around as much as we’d like. However, that doesn’t mean that he doesn’t go out at all. Aldo and his nonno (grandpa) love going to the Mercato di Sant’Ambrogio together. His nonno takes him along to do the shopping and Aldo gets treats from the fruit vendors and sometimes they even stop by the Zoo di Giovannino for dog related items. The Zoo di Giovannino is an old pet store in the same square as the market, Piazza Ghiberti, and my inlaws have been going there for well over 20 years. They used to shop there for their cat and now they buy everything necessary to spoil the poop out of Aldo. Let’s just say, that after getting treats left and right and gourmet homemade meals from his nonna (grandma), he turns his nose up at his boring, dry dog food at home.

Some more dogs for your enjoyment. I love the yellow lab using the side walk as a pillow! He obviously got bored of his owner talking with his friend and took a little snooze on the pavement. These dogs are all gorgeous and I love every one of them.

A funny thing… people often ask me what breed Aldo is. He’s not a purebred, he’s a mixed rescue dog with unknown origins. In Italian, he’s a bastardo! He is. It sounds terrible, but that’s just how it’s said and it makes me simultaneously laugh and cringe when I say it. My dog’s a bastard. A bastard dog.

Alla prossima!  Until next time!