Tuesday, October 26, 2010

Lello's Hat

Lello, short for Raffaele, is my father-in-law.

Health problems and the language barrier make it difficult for my in-laws to visit us in Cincinnati anymore. But in the early days of our marriage, Michele would draft a list of fix-it projects to keep his father busy while he went to work during the day. Nobody in Southern Italy ever thinks to call a professional to do basic home maintenance and Lello can fix just about anything.

One day I looked out the window and did a double-take at a strange-looking man in our front yard who was painting the mailbox in his undershirt with a paper hat pulled down over his ears. That was the first time my neighbors and I saw Lello's work uniform, the same one he wore everyday in Napoli where he manufactured wooden tips for women's high heeled shoes. Made from sturdy wrapping paper such a hat would last for weeks and keep the sawdust out of his hair.

When we were in Italy last Christmas, I asked Michele to make a video of his dad because you never know when you might need to make a paper hat. And if you watch through to the end, you'll get a chance to hear Lello's very best English.

Monday, October 18, 2010

Consider Yourself Invited

After the inaugural post about Kathy and Michele (The Business Manager and The Academic Director), several readers asked, "Who wrote the article? Where's the by-line?"

Anybody curious enough to scroll down to the two prior practice entries (a video of Michele's mom making coffee and a recipe for pastiera) probably figured out that Kathy is the mysterious ghost writer of the new Amici blog/newsletter and it took a few false starts before it clicked.

Last week I finally figured out that our get-togethers shouldn't be about me and my personal experiences in Napoli and it couldn't be about Michele in America. La Piazza has to be about all of us, students and teachers, natives and travelers of all sorts. We need to reach out and invite everybody who loves Italy to join into the conversation and share their ideas. So I wrote in the third person and turned our husband-wife mash-up into a symbol of the bigger Amici melting pot.

Here's what we hope will happen on La Piazza:

We'll invite people to share their expertise on Italian products, food, books and music. Marty Piazza, co-owner of Piazza Discepoli and instructor for last spring's popular Salute! wine class, has graciously offered to start us off with his favorite Italian wine of the month. Look for his first recommendation next Monday.

Of course all of us want to know about the real Italy, beyond the traditional tourist spots. Sul Luogo will feature different destinations seen through the eyes of someone who knows the kind of things you only figure out after you've spent a lot of time in one place and come to love it. Karen Smith and her husband Paul Demarco are co-owners of a charming house in Umbria and we've challenged her to tell us about her five favorite features of her "paese."

These days there are an incredible number of resources on the internet and I also plan to feature tips on the best apps and web sites.

So consider yourself formally invited. Bring your ideas and enthusiasm. Don't be shy. It's casual, the kind of chance encounters that are the best surprises. Tell us about your favorite musician or a great book by an Italian author, a poem you just can't forget, a recipe your grandmother brought from the Old Country. There's a warm, gentle breeze coming from the east and the sliver of a new moon just beyond the bell tower. The dinner dishes are all put away and it's a beautiful night. Come on. We're waiting for you. Out on the piazza.

Email suggestions or something you want to write about to kathy@schoolamici.com.

Sunday, October 10, 2010

Italia e America

The Business Manager and the Academic Director

America + Italy = ?
Kathy met Michele when she was a Vice President with Merrill Lynch just before everything changed at the turn of the millennium. She was writing a series of columns for a local newspaper about how people handle their money and thought it would be fun to talk to someone from a different country. Normally, an interview takes about an hour. They talked for four. Michele invited her to dinner, burnt the frozen vegetables, and kissed her on both cheeks. Eight months later interviewee and interviewer merged perspectives into a single household “per sempre,” complete with respective children, mismatched dinnerware, and all the cultural assumptions that are so basic to who we are we don’t even know we have them.

 Italy: The Constant in the Equation

Italians don’t like change. That’s their charm, centuries of tried and true tradition passed from one generation to the next for as far as the eye can see.

Here are some of the things Kathy learned after she and Michele joined forces:

1. Dry cleaning is not a necessity.
2. People clean their own houses.
3. Wasting food is like throwing away money and an insult to all the people who don’t have enough in the world. You can save the end of the onion in a little baggie in the refrigerator and use it the next time you make soup.
4. The thermostat never needs to go above 64 degrees in the winter if you wear a heavy sweater.
5. If you stop shopping, eventually your brain chemistry changes and it isn’t even pleasant anymore.

 For Better or Worse, Americans Thrive on Change

Michele came to the United States in 1990 and got his first job at University Hospital where he still works today. When he met Kathy he logically thought he’d found someone who shared his views about the value of a steady paycheck. He wasn’t the only one who was shocked a few months later when she abruptly quit at the peak of her career.

Michele was even more confused after the race riots of 2001 when Kathy opened InkTank, a writing center in the middle of the most crime infested neighborhood in the city. In Italy the first and only financial obligation is to the family and it was hard for him to understand why she wanted to work sixty hours a week for free, and, even worse, finance her idealistic dream to connect rich and poor, white and black through the power of words. After several years of running a non-profit, Kathy reluctantly came to share Michele’s more pragmatic views. Taxable or not, businesses have to create products and services that add meaning to lives so that the community is willing to pay for them on a sustainable basis. After one final non-profit tryst with city transportation to improve biking conditions in Cincinnati, Kathy was ready to partner with Michele in a new vision of School Amici, one that combines two cultures, two hearts, two brains and mushes it all up together.

 America + Italy = School Amici

Come meet us in this place that is neither Italian or American, but Italians far from home and Americans never satisfied with where they are, all of us searching for something we miss. A language school is a practical pursuit that engages all the skills Kathy learned in corporate America and the steady discipline that got Michele through medical school. We study vocabularies. We do our homework even when we don’t feel like it. But those of us who sign up for classes, teachers and students alike, do it because we dream the kind of dreams that carry people to foreign lands far from everything they know, towards a secret desire to be changed.