Monday, August 23, 2010

Mangia! Mangia!

Tuscany.....ah the vineyards, landscapes, frescoes, churches, history, people......but most importantly the FOOD! I don't know who was more excited about the food, the kids, Craig and I or my Moroccan intestinal parasite whom I've named Perri. All I know is there wasn't one second on our trip where I actually felt hungry, but that didn't stop me (or Perri) from consuming the most massive amounts of the best food I've (well...we've) ever eaten. Now as you know there are few things in life that we know for sure, but I'm going to add to that list because I'm now positive that Italians put crack in their food. It's the only possible explanation for why I am powerless to stop eating it and why my very next thought after eating it is when I'm gonna get my next fix. Hi, my name is Marie and I'm an addict!

The kids were so happy to go to Italy. I'm sure it had something to do with going on an airplane (they are much better air travellers than car travellers). And we weren't flying just any airline. We're flying Ryan Air. If you haven't been lucky enough to fly Ryan Air before it's kinda like the post office. It's not their job to communicate, be nice to you or in anyway helpful. Their job is to get your package (you in this case) from one point to another. If you make it to your destination anytime in the next 3 days or if you even eventually make it there, their job is done. If not, your tickets were cheap anyhow, you'll know better next time. Welcome to Ryan Air (sarcastic flight attendant smile). And if you haven't gotten on a Ryan Air flight (where they have the most exquisitely stressful open seating) at precisely dusk during Ramadan you have never experienced what must come closest to being squeezed to death in the angry mob of one of those tragic European soccer matches. As the Muslims on the plane break fast for their evening feast I realize for one week we escape the trappings of Ramadan. No more weird Ramadan store hours, no more being out of weird ingredients in the grocery store, no more closed liquor stores, no more slinking down in my car to hide that I'm (gasp) taking a drink of water so I don't get the evil eye AND we can eat out in public any time we want. Food freedom!

I booked an agritourisimo (like a bed and breakfast) on-line between two small towns outside of Florence. The owners have a vineyard, chickens, rabbits, and two boys named Ricardo age 12 and Alex age 9. We are their first American guests. They speak little English and all the Italian we know is boungiorno, cafe, spaghetti, pizza, vino rosso, gelato, ciao and grazie. I think that's enough to make it through the week. Right? Ok, sure it would have be useful to know how to say "do you have more toilet paper?", but is it essential? I suppose that would depend. So when we get up for breakfast we are greeted with Ricardo, a table will 6 pieces of bread, homemade jams, animal crackers and cookies. Guess what kids? Cookies for breakfast! Ricardo gets us coffee. Hmmmmm....I need to train my kids to get me coffee in the morning. They tell us we can have dinner at the agritourismo also we just need to let them know the morning of. So we go about two days of seeing the sights of Tuscany. Museums, walking, the train, that leaning tower, churches....more churches, more churches and more churches. My kids were totally sick of churches when we go to Siena and see the Basilica of San Domenico. It's not the most beautiful church we've seen, but he highlight here? They have the preserved head of St. Catherine from the 14th century somewhere inside. My kids have never been so excited to go in a church before. We were all enthralled by the morbid curiosity of it. We must find it. It was like seeing Lenin's glass entombed, strangely glowing irradiated corpse in Red Square, but alot older. I'm trying to figure out which is creepier. Newer (1920's) intact dead guy or 14th century severed head of a saint. I can't decide. We took pictures of the head even after many signs clearly forbade it. The photos didn't turn out because it's enclosed by some very reflective glass either that or it's a sign from god. Damn it. Shouldn't have taken forbidden pictures and sleuthed around with River and Sky while humming the mission impossible theme giggling and using my finger as a pretend gun in a church. I'm going to hell. At least I covered my sundress up with a sweater so I didn't show my shoulders like the sign said and I was quiet. Does that count for something? Like purgatory? (Just so you know you can google and see an image of St. Catherine's head and Lenin, however you run the risk of joining me.)

What do you do after you're condemned to hell? Lunch of course. Not that it made me hungry or that I was even hungry at all. But I can't argue with the clock. At any restaurant I order my own plate of risotto, ravioli, pasta with pesto sauce, chicken, boar whatever but at least one of the kids would order spaghetti at every meal. So I would finish my plate and then sample the spaghetti. The sauce was so unique at each restaurant. This one had more basil, another more garlic, maybe a pinch of sugar, a hint of some oregano maybe and yet another had a little more crack. You could not NOT eat it. And well when you're eating crack you need a little wine to chase it a glass of your Chianti please. Great now I'm a crackhead, wino who's going to hell humming the mission impossible theme.'s all over now so lets go get some gelato for dessert!

So after a few days of eating out, the day for a real home cooked dinner at the agritourisimo fit into our plans. "Dinner is at half past 8" she says. What? My kids usually go to bed then, but ok. Eight thirty it is. So all day we wonder. What will she make for dinner? Spaghetti? Pizza? Risotto? I can't wait! And even though I'm not at all hungry the thought still makes my mouth water. Or was that Perri's? I can't remember. It was a long day filled with many snacks so we could make it late into the evening. Finally it's 8:30. There is water and wine made from the grapes in their vineyard of course already on the table. Every other guest at the agritourisimo is having dinner there. I think we're the only ones not doing this every night and I'm totally self conscious and feel awkward and embarrassed by that fact. We are the stupid Americans after all. Ricardo serves us bread with a pate of something I try to figure out what it is, but it doesn't matter. It's gooooood. Then it's garlic bread. Then there were like 3 more bread courses including a pizza. The kids are shoving it in and we discuss the fine art of pacing yourself (which of course no adult can do let alone a hungry, tired, cranky kid). We have no will power over the food. Finally we take one of whatever and put the rest on the side table. Outta sight, outta mind. We tried anyway, even if we did sneak it off the side table. The rest of the meal was meat lasagna, chicken, potatoes and I don't even remember what else. After cake at 10:30 pm with River resting his head on the table because he was so tired we bid our hosts farewell and I gesture with my best "I'm so sorry we must go but my kids are exhausted and if I eat one more bite I'm gonna puke, but it was the most delicious meal I've ever eaten in my life" look. So maybe some more Italian phrases would have come in handy. They ask if we'd like coffee. I'm sure that there are a few more dessert courses to go with it? Crack dealers are persisent aren't they? That's it. Just say "no". No more guilt of not dining there every night. It was fantastic, but I can not eat a 2 hour long Thanksgiving like feast every night and then go to bed on it. Ughhhhh. I feel sick. In the morning the light breakfast of a little bread and animal crackers at 8am all makes sense! Oh my god. I don't think I can eat anything, but her plum jam is amazing. So I'll have just a bit and some coffee and oh yeah, I never tried one of those cookies...

So my advice is this. If you travel to Tuscany pack pants that stretch at the waist or loose flowy dresses, an extra suitcase to bring back the wine (and for that size larger pair of pants you will need to purchase), Metamucil or an enema might be advisable to help "move things along" after all that bread and pasta unless of course you eat alot of gelato and are lactose intolerant. That could be a very good plan. And a warning: be suspicious of the beautiful seductive Italians with their succulent food. They want to be your dealer. And once you're addicted you have no choice but to return to get your fix. And you'll remember who dealt you the good stuff too...

(Recommended reading: How Pleasure Works: The new Science of Why We like What We Like by Paul Bloom)

Saturday, August 7, 2010

Coffee, Donuts and Camels

I don't know about you but when I'm on the beach in the scorching days of summer I long for just the right beverage to quench my thirst. That deep down in the core of your being thirst. And when I feel like that I automatically think.....oh my god, I wish some young Moroccan guy was roaming the beach selling some steaming hot crappy instant nescafe coffee out of a thermos.

Well lucky me! You can score a hot cup of the worst coffee you have ever dreamed of at the beach here! It is served all day at 5 minute increments every time they walk past shouting "cafe". I don't think that the frequency of service indicates that refills are free like the waitress at Denny's, walking around constantly topping off your cup from the permanently stained coffee pot. I'm glad my thirst crisis is averted. But you know what? When I have a cup of coffee at the beach, I need a donut to go with it. Lucky you! Because trailing behind coffee guy is beniet guy. That's French for really greasy donut. Could your day at the beach get any better?

Oh could.

Some of the things you may experience on a Moroccan beach:

1. Groups of men hanging with their friends because (I assume) they don't allow their wives at the beach. Either that or this is the only place gay men can hang out in a country where it's illegal to be gay. Actually it's illegal to be gay throughout Africa, with the exception of South Africa.

2. Women (whose husbands do allow them come to the beach because they are so progressive like that) swimming in their head scarves and djellabas. I assume that they let them tag along so they can take care of the children, oh and to pack and bring the lunch (and clean up after the lunch, and change the kids diaper after lunch and order the coffee after lunch.....)

3. There are also liberated bikini baring women, however they are usually accompanied by their significant other. Protecting a woman's freedom to wear a bikini is probably best left in the hands of a man.

4. Hot shirtless young Moroccan men playing beach soccer (Dare I say that there may be a correlation between #1 and #4?)

5. People with their pet cat. What in the world do you do with a cat at the beach? Dogs love the beach, but don't cats hate water?

6. Then there's the camel. Yeah, there's a camel on the beach.

7. Young children selling candy. I'm sure my kids would rather boogie board than sell candy at the beach. Wait, do they get to eat the candy? It might depend on the day then...

8. Men who will give you free unsolicited advice so they can talk to you. What was I thinking coming to the beach in a bikini without a male chaperone to protect my right to wear it? How American of me.

9. Other creepy men who will offer to kindly take your picture on the beach. Um, no thanks. I guess they don't get the Sports Illustrated Swim Suit edition here.

10. Kids handing out pamphlets on the environment that the beach goers leave in the sand littering the beach. I don't think that was the desired result...

In my younger days pre-kids, I could often be found in a book store with a cup of coffee sitting and rummaging through books going from topic to topic for hours. Letting the book take my mind wherever it went. And stealthily sitting back watching the passersby. It's a pleasure I have missed. And while there's no Borders here, I think I just discovered the next best thing. The beach. You can bring your book, get that cup of coffee and donut and sit and observe the cultural oddities while your kids while the kids play. And just in watching you'll cover more topics than you probably would in Borders: the environment, child labor, homosexuality, male dominated societies, cats and camels.

Maybe this is even better than Borders! After all they don't have a beach. I won't drop a wad of cash on a big stack of books and I don't even have to remember to bring my reading glasses. Next time I go, I might try to be a a bit more "local" and wear a djellaba, bring the lunch, pick up after the lunch, take care of the kids, order the coffee, bring our cat and ride the camel. Although I'm pretty sure I would need a permission slip signed by my husband to ride the camel...

Thursday, August 5, 2010

The woman with the purple veil

I've seen the woman with the purple veil twice now. wasn't actually a veil, it was a head scarf. Veil just sounded way more poetic. She's got big, kind liquid brown eyes. That's the advantage of wearing a head scarf, you can't help but notice the woman's eyes. She doesn't speak English, but she's got us in a precarious position and she's wielding a drill. Please be gentle. And she is. I think I'm in love with her...

Our meeting was forced by my sensitive nature. I'm talking about my sensitive teeth of course. And the woman with the kind eyes is Dr. Helli, our new dentist. I knew it was time once again for my kids dental exams. It was on my list to get that done. (I swear.) It skipped up to the top of the list when I feared that the new and sudden pain in my mouth was a cracked tooth. She is a pediatric dentist, but we're all just big kids anyway right? Especially when it comes to going to the dentist.

Now as an aside, I feel bad for anyone in the dental industry. They are probably the most hated people on the planet. Nothing personal mind you. It's just that you chose a painful profession. I would say that you are a lovely person regardless of your career choice, but now I'm wondering why someone would want to look in someone else's mouth all day. Halitosis, rotting teeth, cavities, drills, those wicked pick things........ewwwwwwwwwwwww! What's wrong with you? On top of all this to have the name Dr. Helli.... just exacerbates the dread. And I must say that I think that she should change her name. A dentist with a name that includes hell in it....well that's just too damn intimidating (and funny at the same time).

Teeth in a 3rd world country really are a status symbol. Dental care is reserved for the rich. (Ironically, it costs significantly less to get your teeth taken care of here than in the states where we have that wonderful dental insurance industry of ours.) One trip through the medina and you will see countless people with rotting or missing teeth. This is good incentive when you need to get your kids to brush their teeth. Remember the old guy selling olives at the medina with no front teeth? Do you wanna be him kids? Better brush for the full 2 cheating! Kids don't get to see these visual cautionary tales in the States. We are a country full of people with beautiful teeth. Not only do you probably have most of your own teeth, they might even have been straightened to perfection with orthodontics So while I have a deep seated fear of dentists from traumatic dentists visits past, I'm thankful for everyone of them and my orthodontist. I am cringing while I write this. My sister reminds me every so often that I was the fortunate child of 6 to be the only one to receive braces. So take that for some dental guilt. I was raised Catholic after all.

We have an incredible pediatric dentist in Colorado Springs. So I feel like a traitor bringing my kids to a new I'm cheating on my kids regular dentist or something. More dental guilt. Maybe I should do some Hail Marys? But alas, it must be done (the dental visit, not the Hail Marys). The kids are all nervous. It's the dentist how can they not be? And a it's a Moroccan dentist who speaks little English and they don't know what to expect. There's no one else in the office. I think it's the time of year cause alot of people go away during August and Ramadan. So it's only one exam chair, 4 kids, Dr. Helli, her assistant and me. The kids climb onto the chair one at a time for their exam and every kid is cavity free until we get to kid #4. What are the odds that 4 kids are cavity free? Not a chance. Kid #4 has a small cavity that they can take care of right now. No lines, no waiting. In the states your kid would live in constant fear for the 2 weeks until you could get another appointment to drill it. But this isn't the states. "Do it now?" she asks. I hope we're talking about the cavity still. "Sure", I say nodding my head (as she might not understand sure means yes in American slang).

Now in America a cavity as small as this one could be done with a laser. Dr. Helli ain't got no laser though. She whips out her drill (no Novocaine necessary), and fills it, then has this thing that looks like a glue gun. I don't know what the hell (or helli) it is. I would love to have gotten the camera to take a picture of the glue gun, but we were all crowding child #4 on the chair to watch the whole fascinating process. (Oh yeah, and to support child #4 too.)Then it was done. The quickest and most painless, as child #4 reported, dental procedure in recorded history! And trust me, none of my kids would water the pain quotient down.

At the end of the visit she wanted to give me an update on the kids dental health. Since she doesn't know English and I don't know French/Arabic she calls her sister (who went to University in the states) to translate exactly what she wants to tell me into English. Everything is perfectly clear. I got 4 dental exams, a cavity found and filled, made "small" talk (extremely small, small talk) and got a translator to clarify our dental destiny. All of this in 20 minutes time. And get this....the bill for all this without any dental insurance........ dat dah dah dah.............$25!!!

Question my love of the woman with the purple veil no longer.

****I have referred to the cavity filled child as child #4 to protect his/her identity in the Cavity Protection Program.****


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