My love affair with Italy has been an on-again-off-again “thing” for 15 years. There is so much about this country that I adore: the language, the culture, the food (duh), the architecture, the history, and the people. I can’t get enough, and I keep coming back for more. It was only a matter of time before I fell for an Italiano.
However, I never imagined it would be a 2 year old Italian boy that would make my heart melt. I kid you not, last night we walked along the beach at sunset, holding hands and laughing as we tried to run from the waves.
All joking aside, Folco is just about the cutest child I have ever seen. This summer I have watched him grow just about every day, and he is developing an adorable personality. He is starting to understand the concept of pain, and that something he does can hurt someone else. Whenever he hears the Italian equivalent of “ouch!”, he rushes to the site of the incident and offers un bacino (a little kiss) to make it better. It is so stinking cute that I have to refrain from faking injury. Tonja captured the moment on film last night and I had to share.
Credit for my second Tuscan makeover goes to “Ridere per Vivere” (Laugh to Live), an organization of performers who dress up as clowns to perform for sick children in hospitals all throughout Italy. Their site is in Italian, but if you are curious: http://www.riderepervivere.it/
Oh Lea. Her mother calls her Leona because she has the spirit of a lion. Strong willed and intense, she is the most stubborn child I have ever known. Any battle will be lost if she digs in her heels, so you best avoid battles at all cost.
One day, in an effort to get her out the door against her will, we tried to play the “Bye Lea, see you later” game…the one where you pretend to leave and after a few seconds the child comes running to you in fear of being left behind. Our whole family left the house, said “Ciao Lea, a dopo” and climbed into the car. We made a big production out of starting the car and even drove down the street a little way. Most 5-year olds at this point would be in hysteria. Not Lea. We had to turn the car around, drive back up the hill, and when we arrived back at the house, she was right where we left her. Sitting on a stair, calm and strong. I must admit that I am relieved I will not living here when she enters adolescence, she is a force to be reckoned with.
Lea had a nasty broken shin and was in week 5 of the 3-month recovery when I arrived. But you better believe that cast doesn’t slow her down. She still hops, skips, runs, and jumps with her sisters. She climbs to the top of any jungle gym at a park.
She runs through sprinklers, frolics in the sea, and swims in her cousin’s swimming pool, with her cast carefully wrapped in a garbage bag and tape to prevent the moisture from entering. We have no other option – once the other kids have their swimsuits on, Lea is going in too…regardless of the doctor’s orders. I see a lot of my sister, Madeleine, in her. Weird, they are both third in a 4-child family. Note to family planners: beware of the spirit of the third child.
The thing that is most incredible about this little one is that when she is not in some form of battle, she is the softest, sweetest, most gentle little girl. Lea loves to cuddle, always shares her gelato and makes me feel like the most beautiful woman on earth any time I wear something she hasn’t seen before. “Wow Mamma, guarda Kadreen. E’ bellissima.” (wow mommy, look at Katherine, she is so beautiful)…simply because today I put on earrings or a new skirt. Seriously, the innocent compliment of a child can boost self-confidence ten fold.
I know I am not supposed to have favorites, but Lea is mine.
Regarding an unborn child, parents usually say something to the effect of: “No preference on boy or girl, we just want the baby to be healthy.” Somehow I doubt this was the case for Simone and his 4th child.
With three healthy, happy, strong, independent, stubborn daughters, I can only imagine how much Simone longed for a son. Just one more Being to bring a slight balance to the testosterone-to-estrogen ratio. As my father can attest, the 5 female-to-1 male family ratio is just plain cruel. (In the words of Phil Wax, “Four daughters is my punishment for being sexist.”)
Two years later, I can see the pride in Simone’s eyes when he looks at his son, Folco. The name is unique in Italy, but it is an Italian version of the word “folk,” meaning “of the people.” And Simone has communicated to me, on numerous occasions, that little Folco is “il prossimo Che” – the next Che (yes, as in Che Guevara) – fighting for the people against capitalism and economic inequality. How’s that for high parental expectations?
Folco is entering the Terrible Two’s, and it has been incredible watching him explore his world and test its limits. His personality is truly starting to shine, especially in his facial expressions. He is learning new words at an alarming rate and now, with my help, he’s also picking up the English equivalent. He is the only one in the family who says “Katherine” instead of “Kadreen,” but his favorite Italian words are:
“VIVA!!!” said when he is thoroughly enjoying something new.
“Sta zitto!” – a command meaning “Be Quiet” – usually said when he hears the dog, Toast, barking.
“Ciccia” – a word for kids meaning “meat.” This child is a carnivore.
Folco is a master artist and proudly decorates any surface or wall. He adores his “bee-chee” (tricycle) and has no fear going down the hill by himself at a gut-wrenching speed. He will always let you know he is finished eating by helpfully clearing his plate, aka throwing whatever is left on the floor.
He is truly a charming toddler, this Prossimo Che, and bacini (little kisses) from him simply melt your heart.
Last night after dinner, I went upstairs to help the older girls with their summer workbooks. Vera was working on Math (multiplication & division) and Anna was working on Italian Grammar. Sidenote: if you ever feel up for a challenge, try to assist with homework in a foreign language. I gave myself a pat on the back just for simply understanding the instructions.
Anyway, around 10pm I heard Simone (father) yell from downstairs:
Simone: Katherine, lo vuoi il caffe’?
Simone: Sei sicura?
Me: Come Sempre!
Simone: Sei sicura come sempre? O lo vuoi il caffe come sempre?
Me: Tutte le due!
Simone (muttering): Madonna, che faccio con questa ragazza?!?
Simone: Katherine, do you want an espresso?
Simone: Are you sure?
Me: As always!
Simone: You are always sure? Or you always want espresso?
Simone: Holy Mary, what am I supposed to do with this girl?!?
There are many stages in language learning, and I am by no means fluent. But if I am able to be a smart-ass and if parts of my personality are starting to shine through, then clearly my Italian is improving. One month down, one more to go!
Do you remember eating Eggos as a child and how it was of the utmost importance that each tiny square received syrup? I remember being quite certain that the world would end if even the triangular parts around the edge were left out. My sisters were the same – they would tip poor Mrs. Buttersworth upside down and sway her back & forth for what seemed like an eternity, all in the name of total sugar saturation. The fact that the syrup ran onto the plate once the waffle was cut didn’t ever enter into the logic.
Today, during lunch, I found the equivalent for Italian children: grated parmesan on pasta.
Let me interject with a brief statement that up until now, I have feared cooking for these kids. Vera (9) has already lectured me on the proper way to make espresso (so as not to give it a burnt flavor), as well as the appropriate order to eat your courses (pasta always before salad and/or meat). Italian kids are raised in Italian kitchens on food cooked by Italian mammas and nonnas (grandmas). Combine that with the pickiness of children in general and o mio dio, you have one tough crowd. My first attempt was something simple: Rotini pasta in a tomato sauce with onion, garlic, and zucchini.
I observed the Italian equivalent of the Eggo-Syrup phenomenon when we all sat at the table. I started grating fresh parmesan for Anna (7), but I made the mistake of grating the cheese just over the center of the plate. She quickly informed me that I missed a spot and she would not eat a bite until there was cheese “Qui e Qui e Qui e Qui” – here and here and here and here. Every noodle had to have a morsel of cheese on it before it was ready for consumption. And just as I added the last bit of cheese to the last noodle, what did Anna do? Mix it all together, of course. So apparently the illogical obsession with the meticulous placement of a topping is a worldwide trend. Who knew?
I do have to brag a little bit. All parties were very satisfied with the pasta. Apparently I can cook for Italian children. Phew!
I boarded the Lucca-bound train at Roma Trastevere station, unsure of what to expect upon my arrival in Tuscany. The 4-hour train ride was unreal, worth every euro cent in and of itself. I marveled at Michelangelo’s dome topping St. Peter’s Basilica in the Vatican, and I saw the Leaning Tower of Pisa somehow still managing to defy gravity. I passed countless lavender and sunflower fields, streams of purple and yellow for miles on end. The Mediterranean Sea, just as brilliant as I had left it in Turkey, though now more blue rather than Turquoise in color. The Italian sun, even this early in summer, so strong and so so hot. “Do not open windows…air conditioned cabin,” the sign read. False. The stuffiness was suffocating and the only way to combat it was to close my eyes and dream of gelato.
I was on my way to Tuscany to meet the family I will be living with for the next 2 months. A family of six, all four children under the age of 10, and a mother who wants them to learn English. Am I insane? Probably.
Tonja (host mom) and I had been corresponding via email since mid-March. She contacted me after reading my profile on Work Away. The website puts people in contact for volunteer work-exchange opportunities around the world. The expectation is 20-25 hours of work per week in exchange for full room and board.
While Tonja didn’t present any set schedule or hours for working, she seemed completely reasonable in her expectations. For me, it was too good to pass up. The town is Castelvecchio di Compito, and it sits on top of a hill 20 minutes outside Lucca. Shockingly gorgeous, incredibly small, and very off-the-beaten-path for tourists.Over the next 2 months, I will eat, sleep and breathe Italy. I will learn Italian recipes inside an Italian kitchen. I will partake in headed debates in Italian over simple topics such as what constitutes a “typical” Tuscan work week. I will sing Italian lullabies. This is exactly the type of immersion I have dreamed of for so long.
I knew the risks – I could end up working much more than 25 hours/week, or the family could be a disaster, etc. But if La Merda truly hit the fan, I have my life in a backpack – I am extremely mobile & flexible – I could just leave.
But upon my arrival at the Lucca train station, I was greeted by the biggest hugs and warmest smiles of Tonja, her mother-in-law, and the kids. My heart melted instantly, and I knew this was absolutely what I was looking for. Here I am, finally under my Tuscan sun.
I have grown accustomed to the question “do you get any days off?” The short answer is “No”. Actually, the long answer is “No” as well. I work 8 hours every day, no days off.
This does not bother me for several reasons. First, Tyler and I have the flexibilty to change our shift schedule to fit our plans for the day. The flexibility means that work does not interfere with my ability to explore and experience Olympos.
Second, the rest of the staff all work from sunrise to well after sunset, every day. The only time they take off is for family obligations. I’m amazed by the Turkish work ethic, especially in the tourist industry.
Third, the work is anything but demanding. I read, chat, think, and occasionally restock the shelves with beer. My skin could use a break from the sun anyway (thank you Irish roots), so I’m happy to have a reason to stay in the shade.
You see, we are approaching high season; there are always new guests checking in and checking out, needing help with their air conditioning or wanting to know where to hike. This is the hospitality industry, there is no time to be taken off. Or so I thought…
Daniel, Adam, and Heinz have been staying here for what seems like an eternity. They’re like the brothers I never had (photos to come). They keep me company during my shifts and help me with my inability to create a good playlist. On my time off, I join them on bike rides or hit the beach in search of Hussein selling stuffed mussels. Today they decided it was time to leave Olympos and continue their travels. Tomorrow, they will depart on a 4-day/3-night Gulet Cruise up the Turquoise Coast to Fethiye.
I have been dying to do this cruise, but I was hesitant because I’d be going alone…and on this type of excursion, your company makes or breaks the trip. But with the three stooges going, I found myself with great cruise company. Drama-free and full of sarcasm, laughter, and great music.
I asked the manager if I could have a few days off to join them. After thinking about it for a minute, he asked if that would enable me to stay a few extra days in June, when it’s much much busier. Without hesitation, I said absolutely.
And that’s how you get time off in Turkey. Negotiate around your “temporary” work schedule – I am much more valuable during high season than low season. So for a very very discounted price (another benefit of being “Staff”), I’ll be sailing on a wooden yacht for the next 4 days. The itinerary is a dream come true: exploring St. Nicholas Island, kayaking over Sunken ruins, possibly Paragliding off the cliffs above Oludeniz, and marveling at the gorgeous coast. Pinch me, I’m dreaming.