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Buon Capodanno e Agurri! (Happy New Year and Best Wishes)

February 21, 2012

Nothing fancy, just a sharing of New Years traditions with our neighbors and learning new traditions in a new country.

Happy New Year and Best Wishes! 2012 found the Leese Family experiencing the 1st of January Italian style. Although there were many events going on in the city, we decided to stick to some traditions that would give us a little taste of home. We had buñuelos (family recipe of my Grandma Amalia and courtesy of my Aunt Gloria) and homemade hot chocolate (courtesy of my friend Hugo and his family). We had the neighbors over to share in the New Year tradition. The Nedrow Family shared the Filipino tradition of hanging grapes in the doorways of their home in hopes of bringing money and properity to their family in the coming year. The Laney’s brought sparklers to ring in the New Year. It was simple but fun! And then came the fireworks…let me tell you, Italians looove their fireworks. There were terrific firework displays to be seen right from our front porch looking out in every direction, it was amazing! The displays started at around 8 PM and continued well past 3 AM. I’d say that it was like Fourth of July, but I want to say they probably have us beat. Italians know how to ring in the New Year!So, also in Italian custom, children hang their stockings on December 5th, the night before Epiphany (the day that the wise men found the baby Jesus) in hopes from a visit from La Befana, an old woman that had been too busy to help the wise men in their search who now travels the world leaving gifts in hopes that one day she will bring gifts to the baby Jesus. We asked Ben whether or not he had learned about this tradition in school. He said, “I don’t know, this Befana lady has never brought me anything before…but maybe since we’re in Italy…I’m hanging up my stocking…I’m not taking any chances!” The morning of Epiphany,there were lots of questions as to why La Befana would have brought him an American action figure and Italian chocolates. We traveled on the day of Epiphany, it was like trying to find a grocery store open on Christmas day in the States. Nothing was open. Everything looked like a ghost town. We were lucky to find a hotel restaurant open to grab lunch and did a great deal of window shopping. As for window displays, it was funny because you would have thought you were looking at a Halloween display. They were filled with what looked like witches on broomsticks but were actually La Befana.

La Befana window display in Matera

In efforts to maintain ties to the things we love, I have volunteered my efforts to helping co-direct the high school musical You’re a Good Man Charlie Brown and Rob is the assistant wrestling coach for the high school.  Ben has become a mascot of sorts for both the cast and the wrestling team.  Because he knows the show so well, it was funny to hear him advising the kids as they auditioned.Asking some random student, “What are you trying out for?””I think Charlie Brown.””Hmm, yeah, I think you should audition for Schroeder, you look more like a Schroeder or maybe a Linus.  Linus is really smart and you’re voice is good for Linus’s song Blanket and Me.””Huh?  Really?”  (Talking to another student) “I was thinking maybe I should read for Schroeder or Linus.”On the wrestling mat, the boys took to Ben immediately like their little brother.

Our first weekend trip of the year took us to Matera.  Matera has gained international fame for its ancient town, the “Sassi di Matera” (meaning “stones of Matera”). The Sassi originate from a prehistoric (troglodyte) settlement, and are suspected to be some of the first human settlements in Italy. The Sassi are houses dug into the rock itself.  Many of these “houses” are really only caverns, and the streets in some parts of the Sassi often are located on the rooftops of other houses.  Many may recognize the small town as the setting of Mel Gibson’s movie “The Passion of Christ.”  Our hotel was in a cave and the views were nothing short of breathtaking.

The town of Matera at night

My next adventure was a girl’s outing to the the trash collection areas.  Yes, you read that right I have recently gotten my membership card as a genuine and certified trash digger.  I’d say I was dumpster diving, but Naples doesn’t actually have dumpsters in the conventional sense.  The Naples waste management crisis is a series of events surrounding the lack of waste collection in the city of Naples that peaked in the summer of 2008.  While there a numerous claims to the cause of the problem, whether it be a lucrative mafia scheme that was thwarted, an absence of a proper disposal system, or the striking of municipal workers (don’t even get me started on the striking…I’ll get into that later) there are sections of the city that have now become reserved for the piling of trash.  While the newly elected government officials are doing their best to fulfill their election promises and get the problem under control…old habits die hard.  But I digress, back to my trash digging…

Of the many wonderful products that Itay produces, it is no secret that they have pretty much mastered the wine thing.  For many centuries, it has been carried in italian wine vessels, known as demijohns in English and damigiana in Italian, have been used to hold wine for centuries.  Here’s the thing, once Italians have drunk the wine the damigianas are simply thrown out with the rest of the trash.  We believe it is our responsibility to rescue those containers so that they can beautify our homes with candles, lights, flowers and an assortment of other decor.  And so, we begin our adventure into trash digging.  We go out in expeditionary searches, when we return we tell of our conquests, and if we are in the most generous of moods, we share our gps coordinates so that others may go and find them too!

Next on the list of adventures was a trip to Nusco, where they celebrate La

La notte dei falò in Nusco, warming up to one of the many bonfires set up around the town

Notte dei Falò or the Night of Fire.  We enjoyed traditional foods of the region, listening to music and warming up by the many bonfires set up throughtout the town.  The annual tradition commemorates the first bonfires that were lit to ward off the plague, which in 1656 had a record of up to 1,200 victims in Nusco.  In the kingdom of Naples, in the late seventeenth century, was distributed the Saint Antonio’s bread, prepared with the purest fat of a early age pig. It was a sort of ointment to treat herpes zoster infection, known as “Saint Antonio fire” The fires were then lit to purify the places but also the bodies, citing the miraculous virtues of St. Antonio.  It was lots of fun to witness the coming together of such a small little community surrounding the fires throughout the town with singing, dancing and of course eating…there’s always eating!

Now let’s talk about surviving a strike Neapolitan style.  Since we have been here, we have witnessed a large number of strikes.  This or that airline will be striking for 4 hours on this day, or this train service will be striking for two hours next week.  We have never been affected or if so only mildly inconvenienced at most.  And then came January 23, 2012…

As I headed for home from my Italian class, I noticed that the expressway that normally runs three lanes, was slowly being reduced to 1 lane and moving very slowly at that.  Then, I saw what was causing the delay.  Semis and cargo trucks were lining themselves along the two lanes and blocking the exits.  Then, I realized in looking across the median, the other side looked exactly the same!  It was later that I learned that truck drivers were demonstrating opposition that had been mounting to fuel tax rises and economic reforms aimed at opening up competition in protected sectors including transport and pharmacies.  The strike:  truckers were on strike for a total of 5 days.  This doesn’t seem like a long time, but when you aren’t able to fill up your tank or run and get milk before it happens, it feels like an eternity.  Trucks drove down the interstate and blocked 3 of 4 lanes of all major arteries throughout Naples and completely blocked several major exits.  The scary part is if they believed you were a truck that was not adhering to the strike, they slashed your tires.  One person that we know of had her SUV tires slashed because they thought she was a courier van, they then profusely apologized and helped her get on her way when they realized that she wasn’t.  Tourist buses were subject to the strike.  The problem with that is that the kids ride what looks like tourist buses to school everyday.  Our worry was that they would try to stop the buses.   There were a few reports of scuffles but once they realized they were school buses, they let them pass through.  So no gas stations had gas, because the trucks couldn’t get there to fill them.  We didn’t get our mail for 5 days because Italian contractors bring the mail to the American postal system on base to then be distributed.  Fresh produce and dairy had no way of making it to the grocery stores.  It was crazy, it’s a good thing we drink skim milk, because apparently nobody wanted it.  There was absolutely no 1% or 2% on the shelves!  The biggest fear was that even when the strike was over, it would be another week to get back to normal.  Because as people neared empty on their tank, and as soon as gas was available, the stations would be tapped out in no time and need another truckload of gasoline.  In addition, a gas strike was supposed to immediately follow the truck strike, and then we really would have been screwed–that was predicted to last for 10 days!!  Thank God I have a gas efficient Prius, that’s all I can say.  Unfortunately, set and costume pieces that were ordered for the show have been held up indefinitely.  Welcome to the unique experiences of Italy

So we didn’t get a gas strike, instead Italy got snow.  Although, I am a Midwest girl well versed in the world of snow, we cannot say the same of our Italian brethren.  This is the first time Rome has seen snow of any accumulation in 26 years!  So where the strike left off, the weather picked up.  With no traffic being able to reach us from various parts of the country, both our mail and anything other than local produce was halted, and extra curricular activities like the high school wrestling team’s tournament in Aviano (near Venice) was cancelled.

Snow in Rome for the first time in 27 years!

Things have just started getting back to our normal schedule.  I was the announcer for this year’s spelling bee.  Last year, Ben had studied his butt off and then was sick the night of the bee.  This year he decided he would watch it and then try for next year.  So since the PTA needed a volunteer and Ben wasn’t competing, I decided to lend my public speaking skills to the school.  Let me tell you, it was no easy task.  The tension was so thick you could cut it with a knife, realizing that my mispronunciation could mess a poor kid up and his chances to compete in Washinton, DC.  But we got through it and Naples declared a winner to the bee, a fourth grader from Ben’s class.  Afterwards, I asked munchkin what he thought about it all.  This is the excahnge that followed:
“It was pretty cool.  It was pretty much obvious who was going to win.”
“Really?   You think so, I didn’t think it was obvious, there were some tough words.”
“Yeah, but once Kayla started praying, I was thinking it was pretty much… over.  I mean she had God on her side, how could she lose?  Heck after I saw her doing that thing…”
“The sign of the cross?”
“Yeah, the sign of the cross…after I saw her doing that I said a prayer for her too.”
“You said a prayer?”
“Yeah, I said, ‘Dear God, she’s really nice and she’s in my class and I know she’s been studying really hard and I saw her praying to you, so I think you should help her win.  Amen.’ “
Now how could I argue with such logic.

So there have been lots of little adventures here in the beginning of 2012 and no reason to expect any less in the months to come especially as we approach Carnivale and the Easter season.  The wrestling season has come to an end and the musical is set to open at the beginning of next month.  I can only imagine what Italy has in store for us next!

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