Saturday, October 22, 2011

Cultural differences

Yes, I have been curiously silent lately. I have been experiencing a lot of different emotions and sometimes when all you feel is emotional it's hard to write about any one thing. I think I end up sounding like I'm simply writing to write, automatic writing that ends up being nonsense. I suppose real writers would disagree with me.

So my real crisis day came on October 15, which is just two months from the date of my return ticket to Minnesota. I'm not gonna lie to you. I kinda freaked out, very quietly. I don't want to go. Leif could tell something was wrong. I think complete strangers could see I was preoccupied with something. Because while the only way I can figure to stay is if we get married, I don't want to get married just to stay here. I know, picky.

Those closest to me would certainly say that I'm making more of this than there needs to be. Of course, they're not living it. Sometimes I think their issues are pretty simple to fix, from my thousands of miles away point of view.

Manifestation of cultural grey zone. Eats airplanes.
I sort of feel like I'm navigating a cultural grey zone, a Bermuda Triangle of Love if you will. Our two countries couldn't be farther apart on the topics of romance and marriage. Italy should be neutral, but that would would be impossible for an Italian. I personally find the grey zone between these points to be filled with the kind of dense fog that  makes a person feel alone and swallows  up sound so silence is the loudest thing to be heard.

I was raised with a particularly American concept of romance. My Barbie had a wedding dress, like every other little girl my age I put a pillow case on my head and pretended I was a bride. Movies and magazines just reinforced in my mind the ritual I came to think of as romance.

A couple meet and fall madly, hopelessly in love. They date for an appropriate amount of time. I don't know what that means, but there's talk when things are "rushed." No longer able to live apart, they get married. Again after an engagement of the appropriate amount of time to avoid talk. All the family weddings I attended were big affairs. Anyone who got married without a big wedding had some kind of secret problem that adults talked about in low voices and even though I didn't understand exactly what was going on I knew it was bad, so obviously a big wedding meant you were a good girl.

So that's the culture (and generation) I come from. Somewhere under all the tulle is the legal reason for getting married. I have such a different life now that I want to throw this fantasy out the window and figure out what love and romance mean to me.

Leif is from Sweden. This is the only thing I know for certain.

Everything else I think I know about the Swedish concepts of romance and marriage come from discussions with Leif, various other Swedes I know and online research. Chances are I will misrepresent a large portion of what I think I think I know. First, I know that there are lots of couples in Sweden who are engaged or living together and never get married. A little online research tells me that cohabiting couples in Sweden have pretty much the same legal rights as a married couple. Marriage is a ceremonial ritual that people who want to do something traditional might choose, but it isn't a common thing. An engagement isn't a part of the process to becoming married like in the US, it is an end unto itself.

We live in Italy and want to continue to live here. And that's why this whole discussion is happening. Italy isn't Sweden, and the only way I can stay is to marry someone who lives here. It doesn't even matter what the cultural norms are here because the Italian government has clearly defined how an American citizen without a job or ginormous bank account can stay here. They lay it all out for you. Where, when, and by whom with an imposing stack of paperwork. In Italian. Not impossible, but fraught with hidden pitfalls and traps.

So there you go. Three completely different views on love and marriage. How do we bring all these opposing views together? Do we try to find a common ground or just let things go and see what happens? Being the outgoing American that I am, do I ask him to marry me? Wait for him to ask me? Get him drunk?

I wish that staying here wasn't all tied up with something as important as getting married. Because in the end all I want to do is be with him.

Tuesday, October 11, 2011

I want to say goodbye to Hello Kitty

On the day of my most exciting adventure to Dicomano I spent a lot of time at the train station near my house. Quite an education for me, I have to say.

They have great vending machines there that sell just about everything. There are machines for drinks, machines for snacks and machines for coffee (not to be confused with other beverages). There is also a machine, handy to the main doors to the station, that sells toiletries. You know, for those times when you forget to pack stuff.

It happens all the time. Guys forget their shaving cream. Someone always gets a boowha (or boo boo) and needs a band aid. Lucky for us all that Trenitalia has our needs and comfort in mind and thoughtfully provides machines that handle those little forgetful moments we all have.

How often have I packed for a trip and forgotten my Hello Kitty wet wipes? I can't even begin to count.

In fact, Hello Kitty has gone way over the edge, in my opinion. Not only are there the wet wipes, there is also Hello Kitty shaving cream. I assume it is for women/girls for shaving their legs. Unless there are some very confident men out there using Hello Kitty shaving foam in the locker room. Until I studied this particular vending machine I had no idea just how far reaching the Hello Kitty branding had become. Just below the shaving foam were packs of Hello Kitty sanitary napkins and panty liners. I wish I were kidding. And right next to them were extra large condoms. I didn't know they came in extra large. FYI these were not of the Hello Kitty brand but the placement is strange and just a little awkward, to say the least.

My luck, someone who dearly loves Hello Kitty will read this and write to the company about product placement, quoting my blog, and then I will banned from using the trains in Italy. Or maybe just the vending machines, which is fine with me because I never use them anyway. I am an awesome packer.

It's not enough that I have to wend my way through scores of tourists toting Hello Kitty backpacks, wearing Hello Kitty t-shirts and texting on their phones tastefully covered with a Hello Kitty skin. No. Now I have to avert my eyes every time I see a machine filled with shaving cream and condoms. Except that I won't because of course now I will be checking out every vending machine I find to see just how hard Hello Kitty is working to be the provider of all things necessary and not. But I swear, the day Hello Kitty has their own line of condoms is the day I move to a farm in the Australian outback and live off the land.

Monday, October 10, 2011

The train trip that almost wasn't

Last fall Leif and I went to a chestnut festival in the rain hoping to see the ceramic work of a friend of his named Lena. (Yes, she is Swedish. There are so many Swedes here I'm beginning to wonder if Sweden is actually trying to very quietly and sneakily colonize Italy.) Because it was raining that day she decided not to go to Maradi so we never saw her stuff. We had fun anyway. Today she was in a different city at a different festival with her work. I decided to go. I had nothing going on anyway. Leif left today for a five day tour so I'm alone. It sounded like fun.

I bought my ticket at 8 this morning after Leif caught his train for Rome. According to the machine selling the tickets there was a train every hour to Dicomano. I considered taking the 9:57 train. But that seemed a little early for my new kind of life. (When we were young trips to the state fair started before dawn and ended before lunch so we would miss the crowds. Even though it drove me nuts it's a hard habit to break.) So I decided to come back to the station to catch the 10:57 train.

I only live about 5 minutes from the station so about 10:30 I went to the station and looked at the printed departures to see which track to go to. Instead of a little number in a blue circle next to the train listing I saw a little blue bus. A little confusing. I checked the monitor for the latest info on trains leaving the station and behind the 10:57 train to Dicomano were the letters PE instead of a track number. I still have no idea what PE stands for, but I am at a loss as to why Trenitalia, a train company, would sell me a bus ticket. That's what the many bus companies in Florence are for. The machine that sold me the ticket didn't tell me that it would be a bus. I wasn't sure where to catch this train/bus or where it would drop me off. And I was just a little po'd that the machine didn't give me the information up front. I decided to take the 11:57 train, even though every fiber of my being was now screaming that daylight's awastin'.

One more trip home and back to the station at 11:30, where I discovered that contrary to what the machine that sold me the ticket said, there is no train at 11:57 on Sundays. The next train (this time I checked with the printed schedule and the monitor) was at 13.01. My day was rapidly spinning out of control. On the other hand I was so pissed at Trenitalia for their callous treatment of me, a valued customer, that I decided there was no way I wasn't getting to Dicomano today. I triple checked the times before leaving the station and headed for the park near our house. I didn't want to climb the stairs to our apartment yet another time.

At the appointed time (12:30) I went to the station prepared for any disaster they might throw at me. The train was five minutes late, but other than that things went smoothly. And as the train was pulling out of the station I think "Hmm, the machine was wrong about these departure times...what if the return times (I already bought my return ticket) were as much of a lie as the departure times?" I felt the laughter bubbling up, the kind of laughter that could become hysterical or become tears...tough to say. And once I got that under control I decided that I'd get back somehow.

Really, I've never been truly stranded anywhere. There are always options. I just usually have Leif with me. He is so calm. Sometimes it drives me crazy, that calm. But the longer I'm here the more I realize that there isn't any need for the stress that I put myself through. It really does all work out in the end. I knew that there was nothing I could do till I got to the station and looked at their schedule, being careful to look for those "this train doesn't run on Sundays" note. So I sat back and enjoyed the ride through the mountains of Tuscany.

Once at the (tiny) train station I checked the schedule and found that the machine didn't lie about  the return trips. I had 2 hours to whoop it up in Dicomano before the train left. I walked out of the train station into a little street and thought (I've done a lot of thinking today, haven't I?) "I have absolutely no idea where this festa might be at. But certainly not on this little dead end street," and walked away. Trying to remember a few landmarks cuz I have to get myself back to this station somehow. I didn't bring my bread crumbs.

I stopped a man on the street and asked him in my worst Italian (probably) where the festival was. He looked at me mutely for about 5 seconds before repeating my question and finally telling me where it was. This is a common reaction. I am not some kind of stunning here. I'm just blonde and blue eyed and they need a moment to take that fact in before they can concentrate on what I'm saying. Thank goodness he was right with his directions. I would never have chosen that street if it weren't for him.

It was your typical small town festival. The local rotary (or whatever it might be here) had a stand with chestnut ravioli and roasted chestnuts, wine and beer. All the good things in life. Almost everything being sold there was handmade or antique. Jewelry, needlework, wood working, ceramics, soaps, you name it someone was trying to sell it. My favorite (besides Lena's booth) was the man making shaped felt hats. I freely admit I was this close to buying one. I love hats. Lena was there with her ceramics and her dad had driven his genuine Swedish wood crafts all the way from Sweden. I bought myself a sweet little coffee cup and saucer with little ladybugs and flowers on it.

There was a Harley ride through the mountains, but there were more Ducati cycles than Harleys. They had their festival princesses dressed up in period costume, walking around town wearing paper crowns and carrying their wine glasses greeting the crowd. I was sitting in the central piazza in town and it was slowly filling up with other folks in costumes. I was pretty excited because I thought I was going to get to see one of those Medival pageants that happen just everywhere here, but that I never get  to see.

As the minutes slowly ticked towards my departure time I started to get anxious. I really was looking forward to seeing some sort of costume parade, maybe even with flags. But this is Italy, and even if it was scheduled to start at a certain time it's important to remember that it's only a guideline, this schedule thing. They'll get to it when they get to it. And not before. You can't rush them, it only makes the wait longer. Finally I had to leave so that I wouldn't miss my train. I was disappointed (still am) but I will find a costume gala to attend and photograph and be completely awed by. I bet it totally knocks the socks off anything that happens at Ren Fest.

I managed to find my way back to the train station in plenty of time for my train. It gave me lots of time to eat some of my chestnuts and watch a family who were waiting for the same train. Their youngest  daughter (about 2-3 years) had the greatest outfit on. She is proof positive that marketing, no matter how ridiculous, works on the young mind. She had on a red/black plaid skirt, pink Hello Kitty leggings, yellow and sky blue socks with some other character on the sides and white Strawberry Shortcake sandals. Maybe she's a Highlander fan, which would explain the tartan skirt.

It seems a little anti-climactic to say simply that I got home all right. But I did. And the whole trip would have been worth it just for the ride home. In a brand spanking new train, the kind that are articulated so that there is a clear view down the aisle to the front and the back of the train. It's too bad that "that new train smell" resembles a porta-potty, but nothing's perfect.

Saturday, October 8, 2011

Envy is my four letter word for the day

Thursday I babysat for a new family. First, I would like to repeat that someone needs to slap me when I even think about watching two children. And when they are one and two years old I should be slapped twice. Maybe even really hard. But that's an issue for another day.

Today we are talking about apartment envy. I've heard our friends here talk about how they would like a larger apartment, or one in a different place, or one like someone they know has. Let's face it, there's always someone out there with nicer stuff than our own. But apartments are small here in Florence, and most of them are extremely expensive. Most of them are also very dark, as in few windows and those are close to an adjacent building.

We are very lucky. Our apartment is pretty large, by local standards. It's fairly modern (built in the 1930's) but in desperate need of paint and some love. New furniture. Maybe a few pictures on the wall. It has oodles of potential, which in real estate terms translates into looks like crap but can be saved if enough time and money are lavished on it.

Today I spent a couple of hours in an apartment anyone, in any city, would be thrilled to live in. Well, unless you're filthy rich, but it would make a nice "roughing it" getaway. Two floors, fireplace, three (!) bathrooms, two terraces and a roof garden. An elevator. OK, some of it's over the top. No one needs a genuine zebra skin rug. They probably photoshopped the picture of themselves with the Pope.

I shouldn't be feeling this way. I've been here a year and this whole time I have been truly grateful just to have a place to live that wasn't the size of a phone booth and that remains bugless,  if you don't count the mosquitoes, which we won't. I've seen first-hand what that urge to keep up with the Joneses (or the Martellis, or whoever) can do to a life. I don't want to go there again. I don't want to spend all my time working for the apartment or on the apartment. It's so easy to start with paint and end up with all new furniture and floors and windows get what I'm saying. It's so easy for "want" to be understood as "need" and suddenly there's never enough money. And then, instead of enjoying each day for the miracle that it is, I could find myself wondering how many jobs I have to work for this or that thing that I need.

So I either have to start nesting a bit and practice incredible self-control or continue to live in a place that was last painted in the 1980's. None of the plaster has actually fallen onto our heads yet. And it's warm(ish) and dry. Everything else is just  frosting on the cake.

Thursday, October 6, 2011

Running water

Yup, those are our drains and
the mighty fine drain cleaner.
So the big news today involves plumbing. I know I talk about it alot, but hey, when it doesn't work it's more than a little annoying. You have read about the haunted bathroom and it's little quirks. You'll be happy to know that (and this is a little scary) everything works the way it's supposed to in that room.

Of course once the bathroom started working the kitchen developed an issue of it's own. The drain there started to run slower and slower. And then one day we found that draining one sink filled the other, unless it was done super slowly. And forget about laundry. That filled both sinks with some pretty nasty stuff. Yeah, eventually it would drain out, but it took longer than I really wanted it to.

The day before Leif's dad was coming to stay with us the drains in the kitchen gave up working at all. It took a half hour for the water to drain out after washing dishes. Running any water into the sink resulted in standing water. It wasn't completely clogged, because if you waited long enough it would drain. But I have better things to do with my time than watch water drain. Really, I do.

Leif had gone to the store where they sell "everything household-like" and talked to the guy behind the counter, who recommended a drain cleaner. He brought it home and we tried to read the directions. First, the letters are so small no one old enough to use the stuff can read it, and second, directions in Italian always seem to lack real direction. We managed to figure most of it out.

1. Be careful when pouring into water. Darn right, be careful. It makes a sound like acid eating through steel and this hideous smelling smoke comes out of the drain. Of course I worried that it was eating through the plastic pipes, but Leif said he told the guy that our pipes were plastic and he still recommended it. Little comfort when the drains are making crackling and snapping sounds and smell like they're burning.
2. Leave in drain for at least 30 minutes. No indication of how long might be "too long." Remember, the drain is belching out foul smelling smoke for most of this time. Every time we used it I hovered near the door so I could dash in and start running water if I sensed that the pipes were in danger of being eaten away. The rinsing directions are just as vague. Rinse with water. How long? Hot or cold? I need way more information than this.
3. Keep away from anything that isn't a drain or stainless steel. We set the bottle on the floor one night and when I came back in the morning the tiny little drips that had run down the side of the bottle had eaten the surface of the rock flooring. Yikes. Now I carefully wipe any drips off immediately, extremely aware that the thin layer of paper towel is probably not enough to stop my fingers from being dissolved if I'm not careful. But that's better than coming in one morning to find a round hole in the floor and the bottle in the neighbor's kitchen.
4. Don't drink, get in your eyes or get on  your skin. Duh.

It also didn't tell us how many times it's safe to use it before it actually does start dissolving the pipes. Which would have been really useful information to have. We used it probably six times in the weeks before his dad was scheduled to come hoping that we would have the problem licked before he arrived. As I said earlier the drains pretty much stopped working the day before he came. So I put on my big girl panties and poured way more cleaner in than I thought was advisable, I left it in for much longer than I ever had before and I left the apartment so I wouldn't be tempted to rush in too early and rinse it away.

I finally went back into the kitchen and started the water running. The water seemed to be running out the drain perfectly fine. So of course I yanked open the cupboard doors below the sink expecting to see gallons of water pouring out of pipes that looked like swiss cheese. But it was dry. I looked at the sinks again. Yup, everything was working now. The bathtub was making satisfying glugg-glugg sounds (don't ask or judge, just know that all the plumbing comes together in one glorious mess somewhere under the bathroom floor and that sound means all is well) and I finally relaxed.

But not too far. I know better. I'm sure that there are new plumbing horrors yet to come. But until it happens (probably when we start up the radiators) I'm going to enjoy the relative peace we have.

Wednesday, October 5, 2011

A year in florence

Last night Leif and I celebrated the anniversary of my arrival here in Italy. A little sparkling wine and pasta, then a bottle of wine from last year with the steak. He gave the bottle to me at the airport when I landed and we just never got around to drinking it. Last night seemed the perfect time to open it and drink to a year of life together here in Florence. We're buying another bottle this weekend to keep for next year's anniversary.

It's been a great year. I've experienced living in another culture, which is completely different from visiting another country and being mildly amused at the differences and the inconveniences caused by those differences. Living here means learning the language beyond ordering a meal and asking where the bathroom is. It's learning bus and train schedules and how to ride my bike through a crowd. I've had the time to spend with myself. Which sounds a little nuts, I suppose. Wherever I go, there I am, as the saying goes. I mean that I took the time to ask myself some tough questions and then took more time and effort to actually try to answer them. I thought about what my life has been in the past and where I think I might like it to go in the future.

It's taken a year for me to make friendships and connections that are strong enough for people to recommend me to others. For people to believe that I'm not here for a little while and then gone. To convince them that I'm tough enough to stick it out here. For people to know me well enough to hear of a need in the community and think of me. I have another babysitting possibility and a chance to tutor a larger group of ten year olds in English. I am at a point where I could make enough money to live. This is a bittersweet victory for me, though.

So here's where I share probably more than I should. And really, I just need to get some of this out of my head. I welcome your ideas. I have been thinking about this for a year and haven't come up with a good answer. My visa expires in December and I have to leave Italy.  For three months. Then I can come back. For three months. (repeat endlessly) I can't split my life into two pieces like that. It's financially impossible and I think the constant moving around would eventually break me down physically and emotionally.

I have to tell the moms of the students that I am leaving in December and don't know when I'll be back. Leave the decision whether or not to hire me in their hands. I would love to tutor these kids. I think (after years of denying it) that I am a good teacher. I enjoy teaching. I have to be sure that the parents of the kids I babysit understand that I won't be here forever. Which is hard, because I really do love watching Mia. And just this week her mom sent me a text saying that they hope I don't stop watching Mia because she loves me and when Mia is with me she knows she's safe.

I also found my love for Leif growing every day. He's an exceptional human being; strong, thoughtful, sensitive, intelligent, loving, and tough. I know when my body leaves Florence that my heart is safe with him.

Yes, there are options. If you would like to see them you can go to the Italian Embassy website and read them. You might see something there that I missed. Believe me when I say I have looked at this from as many angles as possible and I see few options. Those are tough words for me to say. I've sacrificed a lot and worked very hard to get here.

So there you go. Like I said, bittersweet. It has been a wonderful year. I have never felt so relaxed and happy. I didn't worry myself to death and yet there was always food on the table and a roof over my head. I didn't work fifty hours a week and I still had clothes to wear and the chance to travel to a few places and see the country.

For a couple of years I have been saying that the universe will provide. But for those years I also worried and worked to give the universe all the help I could give it. This year I said the universe would provide and trusted that it would. And it did. So I suppose I should take my own advice and watch  for the answer the universe provides for me. Kinda hard to do while mentally packing my suitcase, but I'll try my best.

Tuesday, October 4, 2011

The week in review...or...veckan i översynen

So much has happened this week while Leif's family visited. I will try to give you the highlights,  but once in awhile a little detail is bound to creep in. Bear with me...

Getting ready
Quick trip to IKEA for breakfast food for his dad, who will be sleeping on our couch. IKEA sadly lacking in the caviar department, which is apparently the cornerstone of his breakfast. Quick call to the sister insures breakfast will include his favorite things. Whew. Making out said couch into a completely uncomfortable bed. If he keeps to one side of the bed and on top of the extra air mattress he should at least be able to keep from falling off or through the bed. Oh, I wish I was kidding.

Monday: The arrival
Actually, their arrival is far less interesting than what happened directly before it. I took the train to catch the bus to meet them at the airport (no car, remember) and while I was at the train station a man proposed marriage to me. This is significant because I have never been asked before. My first husband told me we were getting married and my second threw the ring box on the dashboard and said "So how 'bout it?" I only wish the first time someone asked me  to marry them that it wasn't a complete stranger at a train station. Looking like a young George Clooney does not guarantee a good relationship, even with the totally sexy accent. I said no.

We got everyone to the hotel and his dad to our living room safely. I told you the first part was more interesting.

Tuesday: Getting familiar with Florence
We spent some time walking around town finding the places they would need like a grocery store and gelato and markets. His two nieces are kind of picky eaters and were horrified to discover that I didn't have ketchup in my refrigerator. What were they supposed to eat on their spaghetti? So when we went to the store they presented me with my very own bottle of ketchup (for their dining pleasure) which I will probably never use now that they are gone.

We fed them all lunch in our apartment. All nine of us stuffed into our little kitchen. The girls only like plain pasta (with ketchup) and his dad can't eat garlic or onions (which is all I cook with so I was a little stymied as to how to cook for this group) so we creatively  used every pan and dish in the place and everyone managed to eat what they liked. Whew.

We had dinner out. I didn't get the message that I should bring the ketchup with and there were some long faces at the table. Ketchup is an ingredient here, not a condiment. Asking for it is, well, not done.

Tuesday was brought to you by the word smör. Butter, for you English speakers...yes, this is "teach Michele Swedish" week.

Wednesday: Exhaustion sets in
I personally took two naps this day. I'm sure the rest of the group did too. But in between naps we managed to see the city from the overlook at Piazzale Michelangelo and eat yet more gelato.

One note about gelato. It is typical to get more than one flavor in your cup/cone. Even the small ones. And when you buy a big one like Leif's dad always did, well, the more flavors the merrier. Your server will be confused if you don't want at least two flavors (because they certainly would!) His dad wanted only one flavor in the biggest cup. I got used to saying YES, he only wants one flavor, everywhere we went. They were baffled and amused. So much banana, or cafe, or passion fruit in one cup. I don't know how he did it.

Wednesday was brought to you by the words Tack så mycket. Thanks alot, in English.

Thursday: The big birthday
Leif's brother had a birthday this day and the whole day was dedicated to celebrating. First we surprised him at the hotel. When my family plans a surprise there is always noise and possibly water involved. Something unexpected. We knocked on their hotel door and when he opened the door we all stood there. I don't know how to say surprise in Swedish so I understood why I wasn't making noise, but I didn't understand why the rest of them were so quiet. He said "Oy" or something similar, Rebecka handed him the flowers and we all trooped into their room single file to sing happy birthday. I think there is a cultural gulf between what his family considers surprising and what mine does. Mine would agree to show up at noon and then show up at 7am, talk the hotel into giving them a key and enter the room singing happy birthday in 4 parts, ending with a group hug on the bed.

We ate lunch on the roof of a store downtown with a view of the dome. I forgot my  ketchup. They survived.

His brother got a massage while we ate gelato. Win-win. But after this week I would kill for a massage.

Then we took the whole family on the city bus across town for drinks with a Swedish couple Leif knows here in Florence. Naturally, Swedish was the official language at this event. I kind of sat to one side and tried to look not too lost. At one point Mariann waved a bottle at me and asked something in Swedish. I naturally replied, "No, tack." In Italian she said that I understood Swedish pretty good. I'm pretty sure I just got lucky there.

Friday: Pisa
They all wanted to go to Pisa to see the tower and then to Viareggio to swim in the ocean. Leif and I both had to work a little so we stayed in Florence and sent them off on their own. I went with them to the train station and rode with them to the first stop to make sure they got going all right and that they understood how to read a train schedule. Leif's sister, his brother's fiance and I were standing in the door of the train while everyone got on. They were talking as I was counting heads and I said, "It's OK, we have all nine of us." They just looked at me and Karin said, "You do understand Swedish." No, I don't. I am just too absurdly lucky.

They headed off for the beach and I went back home. A little disappointed, I have to say. Two different train stations and not one proposal of marriage...

Saturday: Feisole
We took the city bus with Leif's dad up to Fiesole so he could see the whole valley. I think (although I can't say for certain, since Tord only speaks Swedish) that he is starting to understand a little better what drew Leif here and what his life is like now.

We had the birthday dinner tonight at a little seafood restaurant by our house. We don't live in a tourist area, so the server didn't understand Swedish or English, and quite frankly didn't want to even try. Eventually everyone found something they liked and Leif got our order placed. None of that American, namby-pamby stuff when the pasta with lobster has little bits of meat in the sauce. Oh no, not here. Here your lobster comes in it's shell, on top of the spaghetti. Too much fun. No one even asked me for ketchup. They were so sweet to celebrate my birthday also, since they were here with us. I got a giant pasta pot for when we have company. It must have been painful to watch us boiling water in two different pots just to feed 9 people.

Saturday was brought to you by the words (phonetically spelled, and poorly at that) vair-so-guut. All my Swedish friends are rolling their eyes right now. I feel it. You're welcome (I think) in English. Leif's dad practiced his "thank you" with me a lot today. Showing off. I can't say vair-so-guut so good.

Sunday: Game day
Most of the group was ready to watch a football (soccer) game this afternoon at  the stadium by our house. Through a strange set of circumstances I had an appointment to meet some American tourists and show them a little of Florence for the afternoon.

They just wanted me to take them around Florence without going to all the usual places. So I took them somewhere for lunch and then we walked little streets to gelato and then more little streets back to their meeting point for the group they were traveling with. They brought me ziploc bags (I asked for them, it's not some weird black market kind of thing), bought me lunch and gelato and then (unexpectedly) they paid me for my time. Weird.

We made a final supper for the family at our house. Ketchup was consumed. Rebecka said that Leif's spaghetti was the best, even better than at home. That's a strong statement coming from a 6 year old. We said good-bye to his sister's family then, because she thought it would be easier for the girls than if we came to the hotel in the morning.

Sunday was Swedish word review day...I barely got passing grades.

Monday: The vikings return to their homeland
We walked Leif's dad (and his suitcase, and my suitcase filled with wine) to the hotel so his brother, fiance and dad could take a taxi together to the airport. His sister left earlier that morning. One more gelato, because you can't have too much gelato, and we packed them into the taxi and waved good bye.

When we got home it was very quiet. They aren't my family, but they kind of feel like family. Don't tell anyone, but I think I miss hearing Swedish.