Monday, August 13, 2018

Italy - day 6!

today's grand adventure was my first official grocery shopping trip! the blessing and curse of Italian food is that it's not stuffed to its gills with preservatives like most of our food in the US, so i plan to make two food shopping trips per week at a minimum. besides the issue of food going bad, there is also the issue of transporting the groceries back home ... i don't exactly have the luxury of an SUV trunk to fill with whatever strikes my fancy. 

when Nick arrived back at the apartment a little after 2 (after eating pranzo with the faculty -- he tells me the meal included salad, pasta with salmon, and a main course of veal!), i headed out. right now, the most convenient store is the Carrefour supermarket chain on via della Fornaci, just over a mile's walk from here. the weather continues to be brilliant -- highs in the low 90s, so it's certainly hot, but there's usually a nice breeze. it reminds me of the weather in Phoenix. i wouldn't want to be running a marathon in it, but it's completely fine for walking around (as long as you have plenty of water!). 

after about twenty minutes' walk i spied the Carrefour, and smiled to see the same cart-return system used at my beloved Aldi. the store was well-stocked with all the essentials, although it took me a long time to find everything on my list (as it always does when shopping at a new store ... with the added challenge of trying to decipher the labels!). their system for purchasing produce is particularly genius. you weigh and print out the barcode yourself, which makes it faster for the cashiers and also ensures you know how much you'll be paying for an item. 

the cashier spoke English, which was helpful, and he also saved me from being scammed. when he went to scan the laundry detergent (yes! actual detersivo and not ammorbiente), he frowned, opened the cap, and peered inside. "see? is mostly gone," he said. and indeed, the bottle was only about a quarter full. he sent another employee to fetch a bottle that had not been tampered with. apparently people will steal laundry detergent directly out of the bottle (and there's no window on the side of the bottle to check the level). next time i'll check it myself! 

i did have a bit of sticker shock at the register -- it was a total of 116 ($132) for four days' worth of basic groceries, although i did buy some household staples today that will last for a while (the laundry detergent, anti-calcium liquid for the wash, balsamic vinegar, all purpose cleaner, and cleaning cloths). the meat especially is more expensive compared to prices at Aldi. the only chicken breasts they had were the equivalent of $10.87 a pound and the ground beef was $5.79 a pound. anyway, i loaded everything into my bags at the counter, and then headed outside to redistribute everything for easy transport back home. 

today's dinner was a simple one, whose "recipe" i gleaned from a blogger who called it Italian comfort food: rice and zucchini, with baked chicken on the side. i quartered the zucchini, sauteed for a few minutes in olive oil, then reduced the heat, covered, and allowed to cook until soft (about 15 minutes). i cooked the rice just like pasta, in plenty of boiling salted water, for 20 minutes, then drained it, mixed the zucchini in, and added freshly grated parmiagiano, salt, and black pepper to taste. for the chicken, i made a little sauce of olive oil, lemon juice, thyme, and basil, and baked at 400 degrees F (200 degrees C) for 15 minutes since the pieces were so thin. simple, but delicious! 

this is the real deal

kinder egg treats for the girls were a huge hit

after dinner, we took a passeggiata up the via del Gianicolo, past the pediatric hospital (we live right next door to it! i hope we will never need it, but it's nice to know it's there!), up to the crest of the Janiculum Hill to the Piazzale Guiseppe Garibaldi. our cell phone cameras couldn't quite do justice to the view of Rome at night -- we'll have to go back sometime during the day! in fact, i know we'll be back soon, because they have a puppet show there every weekend.  

sharing a cone of gelato 

Greta fell asleep in the stroller on the ten minute walk back down the hill, and Cecilia was asking for "seep! nap! seep!" as we walked in the door. they both went to bed without any trouble, and now it's time for me to "seep" as well! 

the dome of St. Peter's peeking out above the campus of the NAC 

Italy - day 5!

our first Sunday in Rome! we had auspicious plans to go to the 10:30 Latin mass at St. Peter's (rather than the 9:30 Italian service). after much googling regarding if we'd be allowed to bring our stroller and diaper bag backpack, we made it out the door in our Sunday best for the twelve-minute walk to the Vatican, cutting through the bus station to avoid some of the heat and traffic (the downside is the steadily increasing scent of pee as you walk further into the station). we emerged on the left-hand side of St. Peter's Square at 10 AM and joined the line to go through the metal detectors. once inside, we saw that the square itself was completely packed with people, many of whom had brought yoga mats and beach towels to stretch out on the ground. it looked more like an outdoor concert than the entrance to a church. then we saw huge Jumbotron screens where the mass was being broadcast from the front steps of the church, where it was being celebrated. we knew that the mass we wanted was being celebrated inside, so we slowly made our way up around toward the front of the church where we encountered an armed guard, letting only a few people through once he saw their badges. Nick said, "qui per messe" ("here for mass") so he would let us through. he shook his head. Nick tried again, pointing to his watch and adding that the mass started at 10:30. again the guard shook his head, and said, "mass at half-past nine" and gestured to the crowds. we decided to try going around the square and entering from the other side. this proved to be a Sisyphean task, as people were sitting around all of the columns and along the steps, and we also were trying to be unobtrusive and reverent as the outdoor mass proceeded. we stopped to ask another guard how to get inside for mass, and he said,"no other mass until 1500."

the view from the far end of the piazza ... fat chance of getting inside
so, we decided this must be some special event and headed off to find another church. fortunately, the Chiesa di Santo Spirito in Sassia is just down the street and we caught the tail-end of their English mass, including the announcements which mentioned that today was Italian Youth Day at the Vatican (aha! that explains it). we then stayed there for mass in Italian at 11 AM. the church is a beautiful Renaissance structure built in the 12th century, and restored in the late 1500s. as always, participating in mass in a foreign language is such an incredible experience in the unity of the church. the order of service, the responses and the gestures are the same. our individual languages and idiosyncrasies are blurred in the vast tapestry of the liturgy as we worship our God together. 

leaving the Borgo area to head back home
little shrine on side of the road leading up the Janiculum Hill
after mass, we came back home for pranzo (lunch) and a quiet afternoon. i did quite a bit of research to prepare for grocery shopping and cooking this week (the best information came from sites teaching study abroad students how to cook!). the girls cooled off with a pool party on the terrace, and then we were invited to join the seminarians for a casual pizza cena (dinner) in the refectory. orientation for the new seminarians begins later this upcoming week, so the school is still fairly empty except for faculty and returning seminarians who are helping with orientation. 

the refectory is beautifully light and airy, with huge glass windows facing the grounds. i took the picture below as we were leaving just before 8 o'clock, so it was much brighter when we first arrived. we enjoyed pizza, salad, watermelon and dessert, and met several of the other faculty and seminarians. everyone has been so friendly and welcoming. one of the priests gave us some much appreciated information on the best local supermarkets (apparently there is a full grocery located within the Vatican with excellent prices and some imported foods, but we need a special card from the business office to gain access). 

at the top of my plate, note the salad made of peas, carrots, pineapple and mayonnaise  -- delicious!

we had talked about going out for gelato afterwards, but it was already 8 p.m. and the girls were tired, so we came home and started bedtime routines. i actually fell asleep in bed with Greta, while Nick headed over to La Botticella to watch the Steelers pre-season game ... and it's a very good thing he did, because Giovanni had been holding onto Greta's pink water bottle that she left there! when i couldn't find it in the apartment, i assumed it was lost forever. Nick said that as soon as he got within eyesight of La Botticella, Giovanni ran outside to flag him down and return the water bottle. grazie, Giovanni!! it's good to know that the Steelers Nation is watching out for us abroad as well as at home! 

Saturday, August 11, 2018

Italy - day 4!

Today was a day of absolutely no sightseeing, and it was just what the doctor ordered. Greta has been having a lot of trouble settling down at bedtime, bouncing between her bed and ours, and for the last two nights, she hasn't fallen asleep until close to midnight. Then once she falls asleep, I'm wide awake for another hour or two, and we both sleep in until 9:30 or 10 AM. Meanwhile, Cece has adjusted beautifully and sleeps usually from 8:30 PM to 8:30 AM -- except this morning, when she woke up at 7 and so I brought her into bed with the rest of us. She was up and down, playing with toys, looking at books, and periodically bouncing on my stomach while I tried to sleep a little longer. Finally we all got up (Greta took a lot of coaxing) and had breakfast. 

Our main items on the itinerary today were to find the so-called Chinese store (similar to a dollar store) to pick up more pantry staples, including condiments for the wurst I brought yesterday (I know, I know, wrong country); and to visit the Colosseum. First, Nick headed off to practice.   The girls kept busy with various art projects, books, and more toys left for us. The Fisher Price train set was such a hit that I had to threaten to confiscate it multiple times if they couldn't share. Cece only slept for 45 minutes of her usual 2 hour morning nap and the girls lounged on the couch for a while, watching cartoons in Italian (PJ Masks aired in English, and Greta exclaimed, "Mommy, it's regular!"). Meanwhile, I finished up the laundry, cleaned the bathroom, and made lunch. 

Mary Victrix

After lunch, the girls were still somewhat ornery and they both had time-outs for hitting each other. I knew this day was coming, when all the big feelings about the transition would come out. Greta still insists that she likes it here, but it's obviously an adjustment, and to top it all off, her sleep schedule has been so disrupted. During one time-out I actually laid down on her bed with her and we just snuggled for a bit. She's been entranced recently with the image of Mary stepping on the serpent's head, which is portrayed by several statues we've seen here. She knows that the serpent is a manifestation of the devil and we've talked about how Mary is strong and can conquer the devil through God's power (the concept of power is quite alluring to this child). So this afternoon she asked me to tell her about Mary and the serpent again, and we had a long conversation about Satan, and sin, and Jesus, and grace. We talked about how nothing bad or imperfect can be in heaven with God, and with wide eyes, she solemnly said, "But Mommy, I'm very bad. I'm like Satan." 

I almost fell out of bed, but at the same time, I knew this was a crucial moment. "Yes, we all choose to do bad things sometimes. That's why we couldn't get to heaven on our own. We need someone to make things right with God for us." And we talked for another twenty minutes about redemption, and God's plan, and the sacrifice of the lambs and the sacrifice of Jesus, and the parts of the Mass that tell us this story again and again. And most of all, the fact that God's power will always be stronger than Satan's power. And she had a few rascally moments later in the day, but several times, I would catch her pausing to stomp her foot on the ground, crushing that serpent's head, as she visibly chose to do the right thing. We may need to acquire a painting of this image. This is feminine power at its most forceful.

We then did a little craft from a Kumon workbook I brought for her, and Cecilia proceeded to color on the marble floor while I was looking the other way. After my initial heart attack, I discovered that a damp microfiber cloth cleaned it right up. Going from the spiritual heights to the very tangible floor, I needed a little gustatory reinforcement, and decided to try my hand at the Moka pot. This is a clever little stove-top espresso maker invented by the Italians, and oh... my... goodness, does it ever make good coffee. You're supposed to use espresso grind, of course, but all I had was the tin of Maxwell House medium roast in the cupboard. I filled up the bottom of the pot with hot water, loosely scooped some ground coffee into the filter, screwed on the top, and placed the whole contraption on the burner over medium heat. In about four minutes, it began to chortle and gurgle, and I immediately took it off the heat and poured a steaming cup. I can assure you, this is the best that Maxwell House has ever tasted, and I know a thing or two about coffee. I sipped it black and velvety, and immediately felt better about everything. 

By the time Nick got back to the apartment, it was about 4:30 PM. The girls were both still tired and Cece was rubbing her eyes, but I figured she could nap in the Ergo. We got the stroller loaded up (I took the necessities out of the diaper bag backpack and put them in the bottom of the stroller, as "large backpacks" are prohibited in the Colosseum and I'm pretty sure Old Faithful falls into that category). Cece wasn't too thrilled about getting into the Ergo, and Greta flat-out refused to move from the front steps as she said it was "just too hot". This was not an auspicious beginning to a 2 mile walk, so we decided to cut our losses and see the Colosseum another day. 

However, it would be a very sad supper of plain sausages on plain buns if we didn't make it to the Chinese store, so I sent Nick out with my list while the girls and I stayed in. I chopped up some carrot sticks and cooked the wurst, finishing it up with the grill function on the microwave (?! It has an actual grill coil inside the top). Nick arrived back with lots of household goodies in tow, including salt, garlic cloves, lemon juice, eggs, and little wheels of cheese (the closest substitute for my requested "string cheese"). We had a lovely dinner and the girls both had baths. While Cecilia was playing in the bath, I happened to check my phone and caught Kelli's live updates from the sprint triathlon that Dad and Kira raced in today!! Truly incredible. They crossed the finish line together, in under two hours, and I'm so amazed and proud of them! 

With Cece tucked in bed, Greta had her turn in the bath and then drank a mug of peppermint tea while I read her a bedtime story. I decided not to even try putting her in the same room with Cece tonight, so we snuggled in our bed for about fifteen minutes. "Tell me again about Satan and how God's power is so, so bigger!" she said. And so I did. 

She was sound asleep by 9:15, with not one single hijink to speak of. I ironed Nick's clothes for tomorrow with the new Bosch iron, which worked like a dream even without an ironing board (I laid down a clean bath mat on top of the dryer ... got the job done, but the pants were a little tricky). And now, I'm sitting outside on the terrace at 11:30 PM, with a chilled glass of Castelli Romano Bianco, under the stars (which you can actually see, I might add). 

Tomorrow morning, we will go to St. Peter's Basilica for the Latin Novus Ordo mass. To worship at the altar of the Chair of St. Peter in the universal language of the Church is an experience I know I will never forget.

Friday, August 10, 2018

Italy - day 3!

well, today was just amazing, all around. we had a bit of a fiasco in the morning as the girls and I overslept, and were trying to rush to get everything ready to make it to the post office on time. in the midst of this, the porter's office called to let us know our missing carseat bag had arrived from the airport! great news, since now we don't have to replace a carseat, and because I had stuck my toiletries bag in there since our suitcases were so close to the weight limit, and thus have been without my usual face wash/moisturizer/deodorant for the past three days (the baby powder-scented spray deodorant sold at the local bottega is just not the same). 

after getting that sorted, we were off! i'm amazed at how we are already better oriented to the city, and we walked a much more direct route to the post office than we did yesterday. and lo and behold, they were indeed open!! the postal employee was very nice but spoke very limited English. I wasn't too worried about that initially, since the staff at the College had prepared all the forms for us and even called down to the post office today to let them know we were coming (honestly, I'm not sure how people manage to do this without this built-in network!). but then, he found some problem with the forms, and kept repeating a phrase to us that we couldn't understand. I thought we might have to try to call the College from there to sort out the trouble, but then he motioned to one of his fellow employees who came over and they discussed the situation for a minute. the other employee seemed to be saying that there wasn't actually a problem, and so with a wave of the hands, the original employee buckled down to the process of getting us our appointment at the police station for the permesso di soggiorno. this required multiple forms to be printed out and signed, including one form printed on what appeared to be an old dot matrix printer, on which he slammed down a very official looking stamp. about twenty minutes later, we were all finished. we are to appear at the local police station on August 28 for finger-printing and to complete additional paperwork to grant us legal status to stay here beyond 90 days. 

we then walked back towards the Piazza Navona. along the way we spotted S. Eustachio's church, with quite the unique deer head atop the roof. the church was closed for the afternoon, so after a quick look around the portico, we continued. 

I don't think I will ever tire of the Piazza Navona. there is so much to see, from the sculptures to the fountains, to the people themselves. we ran into a street performer who initially was standing statuesque himself, with his tie and briefcase halted in midair. then someone threw a coin in his cup and the spell was broken. he started pulling people from the crowd to mime with him. Greta was not interested, so I jumped in. Cecilia didn't know what to make of it either. ;) 

at this point, Greta was asking to go home. we stopped for a family picture in front of the Bernini fountain and then popped into a small grocery store a few blocks off the Piazza Navona for some essentials: sandwich bread (I settled for hamburger buns), yogurt, milk, salami, vegetables, fruit, blueberry jam, sausages, and food for dinner tonight. we also picked up a bottle of limoncello, a glass of which I am currently enjoying as I type. la dolce vita, indeed. we continued towards home and I had to stop in at another grocery store to pick up laundry detergent and some other things the first place did not stock. the stroller makes for a good sherpa, but still, I did not envy Nick the job of pushing it up the Janiculum Hill towards home. 

we all relaxed for a bit in the apartment and then Nick headed off to practice for a few hours while I put on my domestic goddess hat and cleaned, swept the floors, and did the first few loads of laundry. so far so good, although I had to run the dryer through a second short cycle to get the clothes completely dry. the girls had some much-needed downtime to read books and play on their own. then it was time to cook! the previous musician's family left many household supplies including some spices, but unfortunately no salt, garlic powder, or olive oil. so we had tuna steaks au poivre (cooked in a pan with butter), rice (which I thought was normal white rice but turned out to be a cousin of arborio rice ... it did NOT take kindly to being boiled), and asparagus (which I overcooked). my kingdom for some lemon juice and a garlic clove! but it actually tasted okay, and Greta even said she liked the rice. 

after dinner, we went for our first passeggiata, the traditional Italian evening stroll. Greta was thrilled to be able to bring her scooter (another gift from the previous family!), although she decided she didn't like riding it on the "bobbly" roads (cobblestones). we headed down the hill towards St. Peter's, cutting through the bus station to avoid the traffic and the majority of the hill.

the NAC chapel is on the left; our apartment is directly on the right

it's a bit surreal, coming out of the slightly ghetto bus station, turning to the left, and immediately seeing St. Peter's Square and Basilica come into view. we all stopped in our tracks and stood there, entranced. Greta actually started singing softly to herself. then she wanted to pose for a whole photo shoot. the girls were so excited to see the fountains and it was lovely to visit at a time when not many people were around (both for better viewing, but also for safety for the girls). as we meandered along, taking in the colonnades, the central obelisk, the statuary and all of the beautiful things, Nick reminded me that the architecture of the Square is designed to symbolize the Church reaching out to the world. I had to blink back tears several times, thinking of God's faithfulness to the Church throughout history and around the globe, and his faithfulness to me and my family. it is truly unfathomable. 

buona sera, friends.