11 March 2008

Reaching Out

Language. Culture. Fashion. Tradition. Other landmines. There are so many ways to blow it here. It's a small community and Italians love to talk, so the straniera with the odd clothes and even odder ways must make for good gossip. Some people know I give gifts to cats and wear rain boots that look like frogs, complete with buggy eyes. But there is a freedom in knowing I'll never blend in. I don't even have to try. Still, I don't want to be offensive, even in my ignorance. The clarity of intent matters. Most people will give the benefit of the doubt if one appears to be trying. So I smile a lot, more than anyone else on the street. I say "please," "thank you," and "I'm sorry." Maybe it's enough to keep me innocuous, but if we're going to be here for years, it is no way to go through life. It leaves me outside and unknown. To know any other and be known, I must reach out.

But do these people who have lived in this town for generations and known their cohort since they were pushed about in prams even want to bother with a new friend who tortures their language, has no children, and has never said a rosary? Can't know until I've tried. The lady one floor down on the other side of the stairwell ~our balconies are within range of conversation~ seems nice, as does her husband. They also have pets: Titi the cat, Nina the ancient d
og who is deaf as the proverbial post and will flop and roll for a belly-rub just as soon as she sees a likely subject, and a small furry rodent I cannot identify (looks like a tribble with beady eyes, hello CuteOverload.com). Carla has also taken in someone else's cat who needs medication and special care. She and I may have some sensibilities in common. I saw them on the balcony, Carla wiping off Duca's face, Duca minding only a little. The scene was so tender and moving to me that I couldn't let it go. I sketched and doodled for a week. But then Duca hadn't appeared for days on the balcony for sunbeams, fresh air, and intensely interesting birdsong. I feared the worst as he hadn't been looking too good the last time he had been out. Just the same, I finished the charcoal and framed it for Carla.

Would she like it? Would she get it? Would she think I was intruding, either to make it or to give it? And what if he had crossed the Rainbow Bridge? I could be calling bad luck to give a picture of the dead or just being cruel to remind her. With a gut full of insecurity and a tentative smile on my face, I rang her bell. Good afternoon, how are you, well thank you and you... how is Duca?
He was so-so, sleeping. Still with us! I gave her the frame. For you for helping Duca. She was pleased to have it, that I made it for her, impressed with the likeness. I could breathe a sigh of relief. Then Nina saw me, hauled herself up from her bed, and shambled over to plead into my eyes while she leaned ~some dogs are just leaners~ down my calf so I couldn't miss her entirely free belly. Carla popped into the kitchen to show the drawing to her daughter. I bid them all Buona giornata, Carla, Federica, Nina, and Titi observing down the hall.

It's no big deal, but it might make up for inadvertently running my washing machine during siesta or putting my garbage where other tenants do (that earned me a nasty-gram taped to the door, lesson learned). And just maybe it can be the little unexpected good deeds that build a friendship here.

09 March 2008

If Home is Where the Heart Is...

Some companion animals here have a status which I haven't seen in the US. Maybe it's a small town convention, but there are cats and dogs who have no roof of their own, yet may have several humans who know and look out for them. In some cases, there just isn't anyone who can take them in.

Silvano came from the pound as an old man, a biggish blend of a dog. He has no padrona (literally landlady) and lives in a fenced area attached to the public works storage building. His arthritis saves him from wanting space to run and he has at least three different people who take him for walks every day and fill his bowls. Last fall he had a small dog house and a nice hammock bed under a patio umbrella. Before the rains came for winter, someone built him a larger house with his name on the door, moving his hammock inside. Another woman takes him into her house at night. He's a friendly dog with a gimpy gate, rheumy eyes, and a grizzled muzzle, not the one a child would choose to take home. But given those prospects, he has landed well. Like many pensionati, he sleeps a good deal, sees a few friends every day, and gets out to read the news around town.

Then there is Micia. She's an old black cat who lives near the piazza. I don't know where she spends her nights, but days are spent on warm pavement when there is sun or on satin cushions inside the coffee bar when there is not. The bar's proprietor has spoken of her refined tastes, what she will eat and what she disdains. Someone, including the pizza place two doors down, must provide enough suitable foods, as she is none too scrawny. There is always a dish of milk set out for her. She, too, is a friendly creature who enjoys her quiet retirement.

And some wouldn't deign to be "let in." Some, like Ricky the Red, keep more on their plates than morsels. They have business to take care of, things to do. Ricky was one of my first friends here. I saw him sitting in the middle of a ~much coveted~ parking space like he owned it. I suspected right then that he had some protection racket going on. Ricky was huge, pulled upright on his back feet, he was as tall as my legs, a long-haired marmalade tabby monster. He'd lost both canine teeth on one side (you should see the other guy), which allowed his little pink tongue to slip out, ruining his tough guy persona. His voice didn't help either, such a quiet mew, a lover but evidently an accomplished fighter. He'd earned quite a territory, which included a piazzina, a private parking lot, a Vespa on which he napped away siesta, and a shop where he had hired a nice lady named Angela to run while he sat in the entry to keep an eye on his street. He made his rounds, the pasticceria, delicatessen, seafood restaurant, and various shops, being greeted by name and fed generously. Angela told me that he'd had his picture in the paper once, so loved and popular he was. But he was no one's cat.

So when Ricky became ill last fall, Angela went out of her way to have the vet stop by and spent much time and energy getting medicine and food into him. He came through it, but wasn't the swaggering cat-about-town I'd met a year before. He decided having a bed inside mightn't be so bad. He was getting tired. At Christmas, I brought him tins of kitty delicacies to celebrate his regained ability to eat. I also gave a plate of cookies to Angela for being so good to him.

When I returned after a vacation last month, I stopped in to see him. He was fading, but not suffering. Knowing he wasn't long for this world, I sat down by his cardboard box bed to talk to him and cry. I overheard Angela telling her friends how I brought gifts to Ricky at Christmas. Crazy cat lady. There are worse reputations to have. When I went back the day after next, Angela said, Non c'e piu. "He is no more." The day before, he'd called out to her, not in distress, but perhaps to say "Good bye" or even "Thank you," then slipped away over the Rainbow Bridge.

Homeless? People care for these creatures and they go about their lives freely. Those lives are shorter and colder than they would be indoors, but some prefer the freedom and I'd wager they all prefer this to the fate which awaits those whose options are more limited. Living on the streets is not the answer to over population ~spay and neuter, people (spay and neuter people being a topic for another day)~ but it is a solution, after the sterilization, for some right now. I think it is good for the human soul to recognize other beings who share our spaces, to remember those who are smaller and look to the more powerful for a bit of kindness.

03 March 2008

Coming Out of Retirement

Last week, a neighbor and co-worker of Craig's talked me into doing an AquaGym class. More exercise is good and it would allow me to see how the public pool is organized. But there were real swimmers in the other lanes. My ego shamed me as I ran in place wearing a foam belt. Also, it was boring, almost as boring as swimming laps. Then a guy walked out of the locker room wearing water polo headgear. I nearly cried. It was like seeing someone you haven't seen in ages, having no idea how much you missed her. There, loping around the pool on a stranger, was my old sporting companion. A hundred hockey moments flashed through my mind. There is no hockey in our area. He was there for polo. Maybe I could play water polo. It did feel good to be back in the water, even if it was with a bunch of women riding their invisible bikes. But Italian women don't play sports. Still, it couldn't hurt to ask. So, when we were finished kicking and punching, I asked one of the waiting polo players if girls play. He said, "Si" and which days. I was floored. And Eek! Polo really is much more rough than UWH. Am I talking out of my cap even to consider it? Well, turns out only little girls get to play. I don't know what they expect them to do once they're hooked. Our high school players would be furious if they started playing hockey, then were told, "Just the guys now. Ladies don't play hockey."

But that recurring affliction was burning inside me again. I went home and asked Craig if he wanted to go to Bologna and play hockey this weekend. We went. It was groovy. The players were friendly, the water wasn't too cold, and the bottom. . . oh baby. Big, fast tiles like we never see in the States. So the only thing in our way to a fantastic game was us. Several years out of the pool, not to mention crossing the fearful threshold of 40, had left us both somewhat less than prepared. But I have the tiny Torquemada who leads my ladies' exercise class to thank for the surprising level strength and fitness which did attend me last night. Which is not to say I was eager to get to said class this morning, creak, groan. But Craig rode his bike to work, so I would lose much face if I skipped class. In fact, last night was encouraging in that it was clear how much those classes are holding me together.

Now, the really exciting news. Bear in mind it's 2+ hrs drive and a hefty highway toll to go to Bologna, as welcoming and friendly as they are. (We have a place to stay now any time we come to town. Hockey people are just like that.) But there is a solid rumor of [drum roll, please] underwater hockey in Genoa! The Bologna leader gave us contact info for a woman who has in recent weeks secured a pool and declared it hockey. That means half the drive. Still a harder gig than SF to San Jose, but doable. Now on to European tournament hopping! There is a handful of expats of various ilk spread around hockey forsaken lands. F
or tournament going purposes, we have proclaimed ourselves to be the Swiss team , since one player (just one) does live in Switzerland, but we've yet to play together.

Sticks up: Go!

01 March 2008

What I'm Into Now

Digital animation is amazing. I remember back in the day when Star Wars was the coolest film... evah. But now? Quaint, precious even. I love what the studios are producing today, even if the target audience is several decades behind me. Sitting down with a dvd and my laptop, hand poised over the pause button to catch those moments of sheer artistry, is something I relish.

But it's not today's topic. Sure, I enjoy taking in digital art, but creating it is not my bag, baby. I like making a mess. If it doesn't require the play-clothes or threaten to stain my fingernails (or nefariously attack my liver or nervous system), it's just not satisfying.

So, the Silk Painting interest group convened through the International Women's Club (yeah, I know, it might be the Stepford Wives) caught my attention. For the first meeting of the club year, in the fall, Isabelle drove me to the woman's house where we usually gather. It was over the river and waaay up the hill. Someplace I'd never be able to find on my own. But her studio was so inspiring, just filled with her work in many media. The silk pieces they showed me were stunning. I even thought I could fall in love with the process, as opposed to (just) falling in love with the product. This concept was instilled in me by the potter George Dymesich in Santa Cruz. He is as an excellent potter and a dedicated instructor, but he sets high standards for success, and students pay at the wheel for their future excellence. I tried back then, but the early parts of process gave me much trouble, a disappointing student. Gabriella's help in this was more gentle, and encouraging, than George's. She simply suggested that I look at my early work as experimental and not expect too much from it. So, with a plain piece of silk in my purse and ideas swarming my brain, I went home to sketch. In four weeks, I would return for the next meeting with a suitable design drawn in pencil on my fabric, and maybe a color scheme in mind.

So I did. But my ride was unavailable! GPS to the rescue. Our
talking, planning, course correcting (marriage saving! absolute necessity for driving in Italy) little palm pilot led me there like a dream. It was just Gabriella and me, so she was exceptionally helpful with each step: silk tacked onto frame, outlining completed in latex-based gutta resist, each section tested with clean water for proper isolation ~any break in the gutta and dye will escape into the adjoining section, thus altering (not ruining! but giving opportunity for further creativity) the design~ and enough time to begin the coloring. Then home with a care package of several colors of dye.

At home, Craig and I built spare IKEA shelving into a serviceable and adjustable frame for my new tartaruga and future projects, too. Per Gabriella's suggestion, I basted scrap fabric to the sides of the silk piece to avoid pinning the silk directly. Then she was ready to go under the brush. Note to self: do not paint in direct sunlight or strong heat. By good fortune, the speed drying, and resultant boundary definitions, created a reasonable facsimile of turtle shell ridginess. She's beautiful and looks almost three-dimensional. At our next meeting, I filled in the background and fiddled with some other texturizing techniques. There is one more step to go before it's finished and ready to wear or hang, a steaming/boiling/cooking process, with which Isabelle, who lives nearby, will help me. But in case it fades dramatically, or ~gasp~ scorches, I'm posting this while I'm still ecstatic. The photo is the piece still stretched on the frame, easier to see this way, too.

Creative Commons License
This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-Noncommercial-No Derivative Works 3.0 United States License.