Thursday, December 4, 2008

“I Knew You Must Be American…”

“….Because you’re holding a cupcake in one hand and a bag of popcorn in the other, and you’re grinning from ear to ear.” (Classically American, or just classic Trofie Wife?)

Trofie Wife spoke to more people on Monday than she has in a month, and the above gem was just one of many great outcomes of her roving afternoon adventure. But first, a little background.

Readers might have noticed from the large slew of writing posted to the blog in recent days, that Trofie Wife spent little time out of the house last week, apart from the Thanksgiving movie. In addition to putting pen to paper, as it were, the weekend was a dull and dreary one, and with a midweek deadline looming, Martello wanted to spend sabato (Saturday) and domenica (Sunday) getting in some extra (laptop) screen and snooze time; our big weekend highlights were a trip to the Voltri grocery store and our sublime concoction of rimasugli (leftovers)—it’s amazing how good a (slightly burnt) amalgam of jarred peppers, tomatoes, sundried tomato paste, sweetened (we’re not sure why) zucchini, tuna (but not the yucky, wet kind that Trofie Wife abhors) tastes over extra-long fusili! (Martello would like to add that despite the pouring rain Saturday night, he actually did suggest doing something that evening but Trofie Wife demurred. Trofie Wife would like to note that she wanted to go into Genoa on Sunday afternoon, but Martello was less enthusiastic.)

So, given the casa fever to which Trofie Wife was likely about to fall victim (how do you say “red rum” in Italian?), on Monday, she finally made it as far as the Genoa Brignole station to attend the Natale (Christmas) bazaar hosted by the friendly ex-pat group that she has been scoping out since September. Not yet certain that I wanted to make the financial commitment of membership, I wanted to be sure to attend at least one event before sealing the deal, and the one involving shopping that was open to the public seemed like just the ticket. Trofie Wife was thrilled to meet the ex-pat woman with whom she had e-mailed and spoken to (on the payphone advertising the funeral home) during her first visit to Arenzano and to be introduced to many other English speakers (and more than one or two New Yorkers, including the club doyenne, who made a sneering comment about another peer originating from “lowly” Philadelphia—a lady after my own heart!).

 The club seems more akin to the Junior (but certainly not “Jew”-nior) League than anything else. The women (some of whom, I was pleasantly surprised to learn, work) socialize and raise funds for local charities benefiting women and children in need (certainly a plus). The bazaar raises funds for the local international school in addition to the charities the group supports. Most of the available items were gently used toys, clothes, and books (three of which may have ended up on Trofie Wife’s bookshelf…I just can’t help myself!!), but there were also delectable delights. In addition to the cupcakes (rumored to have been made by someone with a connection to the actual Magnolia Bakery! In Genoa! I must find her!!!), there was an entire table filled with processed American staples—canned cranberries and pumpkin (likely left over from the group’s Thanksgiving event), marshmallows, sundry baking supplies and mixes (I resisted), and Jif peanut butter (Martello actually enjoys the sugar-free peanut butter he found in the Voltri grocery store. I wasn’t so much missing peanut butter, and when I tried a scoop from the jar, decided it was definitely something I could forgo for the year. With that vow in mind, I passed on the Jif).  As I scanned the table I realized how easily our cupboards have adapted to the Italian offerings. While it would, of course, at times be easier if we had all the usual ingredients at hand, such convenience would stifle the culinary creativity that has captured us in recent weeks.

Everyone that I was introduced to at the bazaar was lovely and invited me to partake in their regular tea-fueled card and Scrabble games. While the thought of entering the drawing rooms of these welcoming 40-somethings is appealing on one hand, in many ways it only further served to illustrate Trofie Wife’s peculiar position. One particularly wise member gave me a concise overview of the Genoa expat community that served to confirm the general weirdness of us being here, especially at this (still quite youthful!) stage of our lives. Unlike some of Europe’s more cosmopolitan (globalized?) metropolises, Genoa tends to be exactly the opposite of a constantly-in-flux, itinerant city that attracts young and energetic expats. It sounds as though aside from Martello and his colleagues, few people pass through here for short stretches of time. In fact, the only person I encountered at this event who had been in Genoa for less than five years, arrived from the UK “a mere” 18 months ago. In other words, they’re lifers. Apparently, with the cruising industry so big in this port town, many couples meet aboard while working or traveling. Given their long-term position as wives of Italians, these women are able to work while others are either forced—or content, especially while raising children—to stay at home with their Scrabble boards. Most of the husbands are either import/exporters or engineers involved in some aspect of the shipping business (plus a few architects).

I was also relieved to learn during this tutorial that my hesitancy towards teaching my native tongue is well-founded; it’s not considered a plum employment opportunity, especially for someone with a graduate degree (plus, my interest in teaching faded when my Cabbage Patch kids—ever the attentive students— received their diplomas).  This state of affairs is in line with Italy’s trend of having one of the lowest rates of women (especially mothers) in the workforce. Indeed, aside from the cupcake, the highlight of the event was the opportunity to conduct some networking regarding nonprofit-related volunteer opportunities in the community (in addition to my high hopes for the canile, from which I’m still anxiously awaiting a ring!). Even so, as with most things in Italy, while there is an increasing hunger (especially amongst youth) to connect with community-based organizations, ridiculous bureaucratic restrictions impinge upon their rapid actions (and the kids only have so much patience before they decide to move on). So, we’ll see if any related projects pan out. Nevertheless, I left the event with a good feeling about the group, and determined that membership would be worth its weight in euros— even if productive contributions to the world would have to be sought elsewhere.

Before heading back to the train station, I wandered through the nearby market, which mostly sold the same mix of food, schlock, and crafts that the Arenzano and Voltri markets feature. Upon my arrival home, Martello seemed pleased that I was buzzing about my encounters and had more to share than the usual events of making a mistake at the grocery store or post office. BF would be proud.

Baci e gelato,

Martello e Trofie Wife

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