Then and only then I was able to call Mariacarla. After we agreed on a meeting point, I dashed to the supermarket in the basement of Termini to buy a new battery charger (and of course after I finished unpacking, I discovered that I actually had my old one). Then I dashed across the street to wait at Bar Trombetta, the exact same place I met another family this spring. We found each other without problem and she drove me to their apartment, showing me important landmarks (like the zoo) along the way.
I arrived at their house a little after noon, was shown the house and the room I was to share with Anouk, the French au pair. If I haven’t already explained this to you, it's helpful to know that the family likes to have a French-speaking au pair since their children go to French school, as well as an English-speaking au pair for more practical language skills. Another enlightening piece of information on this family is that there are very strict rules on cleanliness. Upon return to the house, one must immediately 1) remove shoes, 2) wash hands, and 3) change into clean pants. Additionally, suitcases have to remain in the front hallway (not a bad idea, considering where I had dragged mine in the past 24 hours). So I emptied my suitcases and then they were whisked away to some top-secret suitcase quarantine area (which I later had to locate because I had forgotten something important in the front pocket of my suitcase. It required the use of a 12-foot ladder to reach that top-secret suitcase quarantine area).
With the help of my wonderful and wise mother, I had brought several English books for the boys (Pietro is 6 and Emmanuel is 4). As soon as Pietro saw Experiments with Water he began dancing around the house shouting “experiments! experiments!” and wanted to do them right away. He asked his mother, “You can read English, right? Can we do these?” but he was compelled to wait for me the next day. In the past week we did most of the accessible experiments in the book, with great success and maybe even some learning. He still wants to do experiments, but by now the quality has devolved into mixing salt and oil and soap indiscriminately and then blowing bubbles all over the sink. I think the usefulness of the book has passed, but I appreciated the structured activities to do with him. I need to find more like it, that are age-appropriate and interesting. I try to think of things I used to do with babysitters, like playing cards and checkers and reading books. Reading books are only interesting to them at certain times. Manuel is more inclined to enjoy that activity, while Pietro needs to be always doing something. Sports begin in October, and his mother is so relieved that he’ll have a way to release some of his boundless energy. Really, it’s very hard for two small boys to live in a city apartment, especially when their mother is terrified of dirt and germs. For example, we stopped in a small park after the dentist yesterday, but after seeing some garbage on the ground she decided to only let them go down the slide a couple times (I was shocked she even let them do that) and we left after five minutes. Every time we come home from school or an outing, we take off our shoes, wash our hands, and change into house pants. I’m glad I brought my athletic pants, because they’re comfortable to wear around the house and quite suitable for playing with children on the floor.
Monday, 3 Sept – Anouk was super friendly and made me feel comfortable right away. Not only did she guide me through the workings of the house and the boys, but she welcomed me into her circle of friends and social outings. Her boyfriend is from Rome (although he is currently in California studying wine) and so she was connected with a network of his friends, especially one girl who had even spent some time in France with her. This girl, Elena, was equally nice and welcoming and over the course of the week brought me to several dinners and parties. Monday night we went out to dinner in Trastevere, a slightly expensive neighborhood which is home, all at the same time, to trendy tourists, very old Roman families, and students from the three American universities located there. It turned out to be kind of expensive, but I enjoyed experiencing a dining experience from within a group of Italians (to see what they ordered, how they interacted with the staff, etc.)
Tuesday, 4 Sept – Today was the first day of school at Rockbridge Academy, so my thoughts were in Maryland for a lot of the day. It was also the first day of school for the boys. And it was raining. Anouk, being more useful as a speaker of French, accompanied them for the half day. Then we ate lunch and played with them for the rest of the day. Monday through Saturday we work for five hours, Sunday we are off. That evening, Anouk and I went to Castel Sant’Angelo for a special night time opening called Notti dell’Estate (Summer Nights). As summer is almost over, this was the last week, and I’m so glad we went. It was my first visit, which was exciting enough, but it also provided gorgeous views of Rome lit up at night. We got to explore the walls, rooms, and passageways and I learned a lot about its history. Got a lot of good pictures too, after I figured out the night setting on the camera.
Wednesday, 5 Sept – Wednesday was another half day for the boys (and will continue to be, I think). The advantage of half days and Saturdays is that we can begin sooner and finish sooner. I love having mornings free since it is just about my favorite part of the day, but I can see the advantage of having working out of the way early. So that’s what we did today. Afterwards, we walked around the city looking for a gifts. Anouk was having dinner with her boyfriend’s mother and wanted to get her something nice. That afternoon I learned about the French area of the city, around Piazza San Luigi dei Francesi, where there is a church dedicated (according to Wikipedia) to the Virgin Mary, to St. Denis the Areopagite and St. Louis IX, king of France. There is also a nice French bookstore where Anouk found her gift (later she got some sticker books as a parting gift for the boys). That night I stayed home and got to talk to Daddy and Julie! Then I ate dinner and had a great conversation with Mariacarla and Pasquale.
Thursday, 6 Sept – We went to the park after school today. It was a great way to let the boys run around and release some energy. That evening, Anouk went to Elena’s for dinner, and afterwards they took me out to the young, hip part of town – it’s just north of our neighborhood, actually, by Ponte Milvio. It’s so strange to think that this really important historic site, the Milvian Bridge, is now just a place for young people to mill about and drink and smoke and socialize. A feature of living such an old town, I guess. I suppose there’s nowhere in this city that doesn’t have some significance.
Friday, 7 Sept – Anouk and I got the boys from school and went to the children’s museum. I was astounded at how distractible the boys can be. It was hard for them to focus on one thing for very long, especially Pietro (not that he isn’t intelligent; he has a huge gift for languages and perhaps this is why he has trouble focusing and working at something: some things just come too easily for him, so he doesn’t understand how to persevere through more difficult things.) It was a lot of fun at first, but then Pietro didn’t listen to me when I told him to wash his hands after the bathroom (imagine what his mother would say!) I held him in place and wouldn’t let him go back to play until he did so, and he let out several shrieks before realizing he had no choice and stomped off to the bathroom saying “This isn’t an education!” Well! I was quite indignant, and so was he, and he rather avoided me the rest of the day. I was a little bit sad about that, but the next day all was forgotten. Well, hopefully not all. I hope he knows now that I am serious about some things. That evening, I don’t remember what we did.
Saturday, 8 Sept – We worked in the morning and had plenty of time in the afternoon free. The evening was crazy. We went to a birthday party for Giuliano, one of Elena’s friends, at the chic bar of MAXXI (Modern Art of the 21st century, clever, huh?) There was nice party food and even better, free wine and cocktails! Then, after a brief interlude at Ponte Milvio, we were off to the discoteca. Oh my. What an unbelievable experience. There were swarms of kids trying to get in, but it was already full. Still, they just hung around outside, waiting for a chance. Unbelievable. SO not worth it to me. I was just along for the ride (literally, since we were driven there by a friend of a friend of a friend) so when Elena said there was and “understanding” and we were going to get in for free, I was like “okay, cool, I guess”. Then it turned out to be 30 euros per person and I was like “okay, I guess”. But there I was, so I made the most of it. I drank the fancy vodka and tonic and danced in my little spot on the floor and sang along to the horrid dance mixes and cheered when they threw confetti and tried to avoid getting vomited on. We didn’t leave until they closed at 4:15. It was hardcore. I was happy to have the experience, but even with such exclusivity I was NOT especially impressed. I just don’t get the appeal. At all.
Sunday, 9 Sept – Despite a HUGE need to sleep in, my love of mornings won out. I went to the 10:30 service at an Anglican church I had spotted near the apartment. Then I met my dear dear friend Anna as she was passing back through Rome from a family reunion in Austria. Her boyfriend Ezra was also there, and he was super nice. We walked and talked (and talked and talked) and caught each other up on EVERYTHING. It was such a good time, really. We finished up with two flavors of Tiramisu at Il Regno di Tiramisu, then parted ways. I felt really lonely after she left, but I was consoled 1) she was not far away and I could visit her nay time now and 2) that I had such a nice family to come back to. I really appreciate sharing a room with another girl, since I am apparently really susceptible to loneliness. The super-friendliness of Anouk is just a bonus on top of it all.
Monday, 10 Sept – The first good thing to come to an end: Anouk had to go back to France. In the morning we looked for a gift for the family (books for the boys, flowers for the parents) then she came back to help me get the boys from school, do homework with Pietro, and pack her suitcase. Then I left with Mariacarla and the boys for the dentist, and she left to go home! Goodbye, Anouk! She invited me to visit her in Bordeaux while I am in Europe, and I really hope I can! I will have to get over my fear of French. She did help me with the pronunciation of the French “r” and certain phrases such as “Jes nous comprend pas” – “I don’t understand!” That night I went out by myself and found the Lutheran church about a half hour away. It seems to be a German congregation, so I’m not sure if it’s the right fit for me. I really liked the Anglican church, and there seems to be a great community to get involved in, as much as I have time.
Tuesday, 11 Sept – My first day totally alone. We’ll see how it goes! This morning I went to Angelina, a beautiful but rather expensive café near the Trevi Fountain. I drank a cappuccino and had a tiny little cornetto while read an article about Ann Romney in an Italian magazine. I meant to read some Latin (that would be more classy, no? and definitely more useful) but I haven’t acquired one yet. There are plenty of used book sellers around, so I hope to get one soon. I just could not bring any more weight in my baggage, or I would have brought one from home. I have been given a huge and awesome Latin-Italian dictionary to use by Pasquale. It was so thoughtful of them and such a novelty for me. I love it.