Say what you will about my increasing irregularity with this blog, I might not be as predictable as the #44 bus in Monteverde Vecchio, but I'm certainly more likely to make an appearance than the mythical #75.
Since my last installment, we've hosted family and friends and partaken in many memorable outings -- the Appia Antica, Colosseum and Palatine Hill here in Rome; Lago di Bracciano, Tivoli and Hadrian's Villa outside the city; the Chianti region of Tuscany; Orvieto in Umbria; the thermal baths near Viterbo; and most recently, the Etruscan necropoli of Cerveteri and Roman ruins of Ostia Antica (the Temple of Ceres pictured) -- many of these jaunts involving illegal picnics with superlative views. Full Disclosure: When it comes to prohibitions pertaining to the breaking of bread amid picturesque and storied surroundings, we are avowed and unapologetic transgressors. As such, we can attest that food tastes best outside and is exceedingly more delicious when you know you are breaking an absurd law.
We've also met dozens of visiting artists and scholars over the past several months, including Kathleen Crowther, the inspirational head of The Cleveland Restoration Society (here in part to persuade the Vatican to preserve some of the shuttered churches and architectural gems of my hometown), photographer Annie Leibovitz (who helped document Giovanni's pasta-making workshop for the AAR community last month while here with her children), and current resident artists poet Derek Walcott and painter Chuck Close. Here's a shot of Annie graciously assisting Giulia out of the Academy aqueduct after one of Giovanni's "family friendly" (aka significantly more raucous than M-Th) Friday night dinners.
Other noteworthy developments include Giulia learning cursive; Giorgio volunteering as Italian translator for a new Canadian girl in his class; Giovanni successfully managing to purchase and register a used car for weekend jaunts (no small feat); and me working as a part time research assistant with a National Science Foundation 3D imaging project. It's only a few hours a week but permits me to spend time milling about the library stacks so that I can take pictures of etchings, paintings and historic photographs. These will ultimately be used to help flesh out an interactive reconstruction of the Roman Forum and Colosseum from approximately 300 BC to the present day. For those so inclined, there's a very good NSF video clip explaining the project here.
I also invested in some new cleats and played in our first inter-Academy soccer match against the Spanish last month. We lost 3-1 and had 6 subs to their none, but were undisputably superior sartorially, if not in terms of skill (see action shot at left). The indignity of being so easily dispatched was blunted by our side's collective rationalization that we were up against several hundred more years of collective and cultural experience with the game. A round of beers with the Iberians thereafter also helped dull the pain. Our next face-off is against the Germans this week and promises to have a more punctual kick off if not a more satisfying result.
Now that it's spring in Rome and the perennials of the Mediterranean have returned en masse to the urban parks and meadows (red poppies, white daisies, purple wisteria, yellow daffodils and unnaturally bronzed male pensioners in form-fitting Lycra® shorts), mothers inevitably turn their thoughts toward reintroducing short sleeves to their brood, incorporating the season's first strawberries into school snacks, stocking up on elastici (Band-Aids), and, in my case, renewing their guest Visas until their dual citizenship application is accepted by the state authorities ("estimated processing time: 2.5 years").
While taxes may not be inescapable here, excessive paperwork is and its proponents ascribe to it a kind of fetishistic power that's unmistakably sadistic in nature. Based on my limited experience and as a non-native unaccustomed to its vagaries of application, I admit to being thoroughly unsettled at the thought of trying to obtain a "simple" extension. I'm not sure there is a word in Italian that adequately captures my overwhelming sense of dread, so I've taken it upon myself to make one up that sounds apt enough:
Scartoffolaccia [scar-toh-foh-LAH-cha]- the fear and/or hatred of seemingly endless paperwork and obscure forms invoked by lesser officials to circumscribe one's freedom (be it with regard to travel, expression, choice of entrée, etc.).
Just saying it out loud can be cathartic. I also find that a sense of blithe resignation can be more rapidly attained/regained if your forceful utterance of the word is accompanied by something resembling a spontaneous and indelicate hand gesture. You can begin practicing and refining these gestures while waiting for the #75 and seeing two alternate buses with the same route number go by at the same time (Exhibit A pictured: two #710s in flagrante delicto. Mating season perhaps?)
The good news is that I need to renew my Visa not only to enjoy our summer vacation tooling around northern Europe in our newly acquired 2005 Renault "Scenic", but to remain at the American Academy another year (for those of you who haven't heard, Giovanni will be stepping up to sous chef in the RSFP kitchen and I'll continue to help as a part time midwife concerned with the healthy delivery of the new AAR website and its postpartum care). While we've logged some highs and lows over the past nine months, we're thrilled to be staying on and look forward to becoming even better aquainted with the eternal city over the next sixteen.
We haven't nailed down the particulars of our summer itinerary yet, but I'm advocating that it involve a smattering of imposingly crenellated, moat-surrounded castles, one or two idyllic alpine farm stays and gallons of perfectly chilled Gewurtztraminer. I'm even willing to entertain a pilgrimage to LegoLand in Denmark or Germany and break my solemn parental vow of avoiding all merchandice-based amusement parks if it'll help get us over the Alps with a minimum of whining. No small sacrifice, but I am bouyed by thoughts of returning to Austria after more than 20 years, resusitating some of my moth-balled Deutsch and introducing Giovanni to die weiter Welt der Wurst.
The bad news is that Daddy believes the kids will only be satisfied if they experience EuroDisney as well. I maintain that the bambini would be just as happy, if not more thrilled, to each receive their own roll of duct tape or a large appliance box so we shouldn't even mention it. Besides, LegoLand should more than suffice. What's becoming clearer with each discussion however, is that it's he who's most eager to visit the "Magic Kingdom". It's still early so I'm hopeful that with the dollar in free fall as I type and Parigi being rather far removed from other collectively agreed-upon targets, circumstances will conspire in my favor. God-willing, I'll be able to "slip the Mickey" at least another year.