Keeping up with The Jones

Thursday, July 22, 2010

I was thirsty and you gave me something to drink

We're back in Rome for our last week in Italy. We've been helping run a children's program each day here. As you would expect from these sorts of things, the children are very energetic and a lot of fun. The other day one of the boys came up to me as I was standing by the snack/craft table.

"Ho sete."

At least, I'm pretty sure that's what he said. I'm still not entirely certain. My Italian has progressed from non-existent to laughably American. All I knew in that moment was that I didn't know what he was saying. Plan A: ask him to repeat.

"Ho sete."

Nope, still nothing. It's not bathroom, I know that one. Now that he'd repeated, I realized that the sounds coming out of his mouth had no meaning to me. I momentarily considered plan B: smile and nod. I looked down at this little boy looking back up at me, thoroughly expecting that as the adult I would act on his words. Plan B was not going to work. It's time to swallow the pride, accept my limitations, and go with plan C: just admit I don't understand.

No capito.

Upon hearing this, the boy took me by the hand, pulled me down a little, and leaned in.


So I guess it's true. Slower and louder really doesn't make foreign languages understandable.

Monday, July 12, 2010

Super Santos

This ball is nothing short of amazing. Not in its performance, mind you. Its genius lies in its marketing. I have no idea exactly what this entails. I only know that every kid I have seen lately has one. Everywhere we go we see one. Not since the red Spaulding kickball from the '80s have I seen a playground ball this prolific.

Of course, we see lots of more authentic soccer balls as well. It's amazing to see what some of these kids can do with their feet and a ball. One kid we've been playing with is an incredible striker. He can rip off powerful shots from distance with great accuracy. Today he took off his shoes and then took the ball the length of the field through defenders and scored a goal. He dances with the ball, left, right, over and back.

Of course, before the game, when someone lobbed the ball to him from five feet away, he caught it like a two year old. His arms flailed around like he had no idea what to do with them. He had to cradle the thing with his whole body like his hands had been cut off.

And that is why America will never win a World Cup.

Wednesday, July 07, 2010

A walk in the park

They have merry-go-rounds here in Italy.

I realize this isn't the deep, insightful, cultural observation you may have hoped for from someone spending a summer on another continent, but it jumped out at me. When I was a kid, I absolutely loved merry-go-rounds. They were my favorite piece of playground equipment, hands down.

Somewhere along the way in our country, someone decided that "fun" was synonymous with "unsafe." We no longer have seesaws, high dives, earth balls or giant hamster wheels. We no longer have merry-go-rounds.

So when I stumbled upon this beauty, I took it for a ride. Like most things, it's not quite what I remember. Getting spun in circles gives me a bit of a headache these days. But I'm not too old to remember the boundless joy simply spinning in circles once brought. Just the thought of it made my day.

Sunday, July 04, 2010

4th of July

I'm in another country on our nation's independence day, which is not quite as strange as the time I was flying over the Atlantic Ocean in who knows what time zone when the clock struck midnight in a new year.

This day is actually more significant to me because it is my dog's birthday, or at least the day we picked as such. We got him when he was a little more than a year old, so we just guessed, really. By our count, he is 15 years old today.

A few years ago I wrote about how we almost got a dog when I was seven or eight. After the Commodore 64 debacle, we were successfully stonewalled for the next decade. We just accepted that we were not a pet family. The question was hardly ever raised, and on the rare occasion that it even began to surface, my mother squashed it quickly.

The story of how we finally got a dog is somewhat remarkable in its unremarkability. In September of 1996, our family went to a local orchard to go apple picking, an annual tradition. My brother happened to see two dogs in a cage on the property. I have no idea what possessed him, but I guess he just decided the time had come for us to have a dog. As we walked through the orchard he lagged behind slightly with Mom. I still don't know how he did it, but by the time we left the orchard, we were on our way to the pound to get a dog. I still think Mom might have thought that she hadn't fully committed to anything, but she had stepped out onto that slippery slope, and we were going to take full advantage.

We found Radar at the shelter. He wasn't too big, and he was already house-trained. It was almost my birthday, so Matt decided that he would pay the $20 shelter fee and get me a dog for my birthday (then Mom and Dad payed the $200 vet fee, and all the subsequent vet fees, and for all his food, and so on. Matt still gets credit for buying the dog). It's still the best birthday present I've ever gotten.

Mom was still determined to keep control of her clean house, but like I said, it's a slippery slope. First Radar was supposed to be just an outside dog. Then he was supposed to live in the garage. Then he was only allowed downstairs. It wasn't long before he ruled the house.

The irony is that I think Mom ended up loving that dog the most. When he hurt his shoulder, she was the one who gave him his physical therapy. When he got out during that fluke snow storm on April Fools Day, and we couldn't find him for an hour, she was beside herself. Even after she broke her leg tripping over him, she still loved him.

Yesterday I got an email from Mom letting me know that tomorrow, they are putting Radar down. He's no puppy anymore. His legendary house-training has long since left him. The dog that once could leap over the wall in our driveway can hardly climb stairs, and usually falls down them. The cruelest joke of all is a dog named Radar that can't even locate a doggie treat dropped directly in front of him. So I guess the time has come.

We had hoped that perhaps we wouldn't have to make the decision, that his sleep would take him one night. I told myself that if we had to do it, that I would be the one to take him, but that is now impossible. Once again, I entrust him to the care of my parents.

I always said that someday, when I got in the right situation, I would come and take my dog to live with me. Deep down, I knew there was no way that would happen. But whenever I would go home, Radar was my dog again. Uncle Clark once described him as "the most hand-lickingest dog in the world," and I would sit with him and just let him lick my hand for half an hour or so, until he was satisfied. I'll miss that.

I know he's just a dog, but after tomorrow, our family will be down by one. We had one shot at this pet thing. Radar made it count.

Tuesday, June 29, 2010

This one's for you Mom

Monday, June 21, 2010

Outside St. Peter's

Some signs you don't think are even necessary...

...then you look down.

The Vatican

I had a chance on Saturday to see St. Peter's Basilica and the Vatican Museums, including the Sistine Chapel. It's really quite overwhelming to see the collection of art and artifacts that they have there. I'm not sure one day or one visit is anywhere near enough to take it all in, but I'm glad I got to see it. I tried to take as many pictures as I could, but there is no way I could have captured everything. Room after room, the walls, the ceilings, even the floors - all of it is priceless.

Thursday, June 17, 2010

Still learning

Last night after a service we put on for residents of the social center, we went out for a late night tour of Rome. One of the soldiers took us around from sight to sight in the corps minibus, getting out at various points and giving us historical background. It took a while, as he required translation, so we got back quite late, but it was well worth it. I learned more than I could process last night, but today was a day of learning as well.

I learned what Italian coffee tastes like. I’ve actually been drinking a lot of cappuccino since I’ve been here, particularly when it is served cold (as a kid from New Bedford, it reminds me of coffee milk). But this was straight coffee, as they take it. It is viscous and strong and persistent. I understand why they take it in small shots.

I learned that there are few things more humbling than four year old girls laughing at your attempts to speak Italian.

I learned how to drive a stick (sort of)…stay tuned for more adventures on that front.