Of Mice and...Me

Posted by Somebody's Mother on 8:44 p.m.

The ghost of Topo Gigio, the little mouse who used to ask Ed Sullivan to kiss him good night, is stalking me.  My husband has accused me of murdering him, but I swear to all readers of this blog that I am completely innocent of the crime.

It began when I was washing the plaster off the bathroom floor of the house that we’ve been building for the last nine years.  Okay, so we’re slow, but we’re not in debt for it…yet.  I had swept the floor, vacuumed it – plaster dust is stubborn stuff - and was fishing around for a bucket that I could use when I remembered the two buckets of water that we moved out of the bathroom into a corner once we had turned on the shutoff valve for the plumbing upstairs.  The buckets of water were for pouring in the back of the toilet so that we could flush it.  I feel compelled to give you all this background detail as evidence that I’m not an altogether namby-pamby-New-York-City-born-and-bred gal who can’t rough it.  I can do without many comforts when the need arises.

I sauntered over to the buckets where a gruesome sight awaited in me.  In the bucket was a rather large, perhaps bloated, dead mouse floating with splayed legs and a pathetic expression frozen there in his last seconds of life.  I yelled.  My husband, who was working outside, immediately responded with a “What’s the matter?”  To his credit, it was not, “What’s the matter now?”

“There’s a dead mouse floating in one of the water buckets.”  I rushed out to the porch, “Could you deal with it?”  There it was, the line of what I won’t do and what he can do.  When it comes to dead mice and emptying out the kitty litter box along with most of what the dogs and cats upchuck and…well, you know…my long-suffering husband crosses the line of what I have great difficulty doing and does it. 

When he’s not home, I have cleaned up the dog messes, etc., but anything to do with rodents, alive (the squealing presents that Shadow the Cat bring home) or dead, these jobs become his jobs.  I won’t say the man’s job – the feminist in me is humiliated at admitting this in public – but it’s my husband’s job.  I am one female who does not or cannot bring herself to the task of cleaning up dead mice. 

Although he was willing to clean up little “Topo Gigio’s” remains, he was definitely not willing to let me off the hook.  When the mouse was disposed of, my husband gave me the all clear to come back in the house with a big grin and his best mouse voice, “Eddeee, why did you kill me?  All I wanted to do was marry Suzee the leetle mouse from Chez Helene?”

This is my alibi.  Topo and Suzie are long gone, buried in the annals of television history.  I’m not going to take the fall.  I don’t know who this mouse was, but suicide can be the only answer.  This mouse was in the midst of an existential crisis, lost between being and nothingness, and he apparently made the wrong choice. It was written all over his face.

 I don’t know what happened in the field that forced him to invade my house and dive into my bucket, but you can’t hold me responsible.  Remember, I don’t deal with mice so you’re going to have to look further a field.  Yes, I said it, further, a field.

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Ten things that I will miss about Italy

Posted by Somebody's Mother on 1:54 p.m.

1. I’m staying just outside a town that is about 80 kilometres north of Venice. It has a beautiful covered bridge that overlooks a small waterfall and beautiful mountains in the distance.  The historic centre has gorgeous old buildings and very few tourists.  I will miss that town.  Which one is it?  I promised my family that I wouldn’t tell!

2. Caccciotta cheese: it has a creamy mild taste and is amazing to eat when you’re hungry and want to nibble on something before supper, but it’s also easy to overeat.  Alas, we don’t get it in Canada!

3.  The bells.  Wherever you go, bells echo off old buildings on a cloudy day just before it rains, or on a sunny day when people are filling the trattorias at lunch time; it doesn’t matter.  The bells make me happy and remind me that I am somewhere else.

4. The Brenta river.  Uh-oh.  That’s a hint to number one.  White-water rafting down the Brenta was more fun than I expected, especially because our guide kept us ramming into rocks and made us jump into the river.  I jumped into the river and was more than happy that I was wearing a wet suit. A church bell in a tower by the river chimed noon, and it was a perfect moment.

5. Italian coffee.  Caffé Diemme is a brand of coffee that we discovered that was super whether it was done up as a macchiato (espresso with a little steamed milk) or as a cappuccino.  I have guilt because it’s probably not fair trade coffee.  I may write a letter asking them to go fair trade but I’m afraid that my Italian is not up to letter writing. 

6. Pizza.  Would it be so hard for North Americans to learn how it’s really done in Italy?  Thin crust, thin crust!!  Sauce that doesn’t taste like it came out of a great big tin, so that you taste the tomatoes rather than the sugar.  We can do this if want to – it’s important!

7. Siesta.  Things stop at 12:30.  Stores close and don’t reopen till 3:00.  It’s inconvenient but civilized.  People eat lunch with family and friends and relax.  Lunch is the big meal supper isn’t.  No wonder Italians look so trim…except that there is ‘way too much smoking going on.  This may be the real reason that they stay so thin.

8. Reasonably priced public transit – You can take a train from the town that I’m staying in to Venice for about 8 euros fifty.  That’s under $15.00.  It costs a lot more to get from Sherbrooke to Montreal, and wouldn’t it be nice to take a speedy train than hassle with traffic and parking?

9. The climate…but ten days of thirty-eight degree weather did teach me that I don’t love heat as much as I thought I did.  I think I need to check out winter in Italy.  I hear it’s shorter.  Unfortunately, there’s nothing much Canadians can do about that except to love skiing.  I’m not sure that I love skiing that much.

10. Finally, I will miss the Italian language and the Italian people. As soon as you make an effort to communicate in Italian, people will warm up to you and be happy to engage in conversation.  Plus, it was lovely to be in a place where people talk as much and as loud as I do!

Arriverdeci, Italia!  I will miss you and I hope that I get back before too long.  Ellen Goldfinch may be reached at radiomother@yahoo.ca

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Viva Italia!

Posted by Somebody's Mother on 1:52 p.m.
I’ve been in northern and central Italy for about two weeks now visiting family and touring around as well.  The joy of re-visiting a country that I’m madly in love with for its food, its language, its beautiful countryside, and rich culture is being mitigated by one negative factor – blistering heat.  After four years that have included four winters of complaining about the cold, I put aside a little money every month so that I could finally go away with my family to Italy, and what have I done for the past two weeks?  Yes, I’ve been complaining about the heat in pigeon Italian, “E caldo.  E molto caldo.  E caldissimo.”

I really would like to chalk it up to trying to make conversation and using the few words that I know but it has been thirty seven to thirty eight degrees every day which means that you can only walk in the shade and when you sit down, you perspire so heavily that natives of Florence or Venice refuse to come anywhere near you.

It is a mystery of nature how the women of these cities manage to look perpetually cool, elegant, and chic in such high temperatures. I would like to think that they walk around in some sort of transparent air conditioned bubble that is only available to native Italians. In Florence, women manage to look fashionable, wear extremely high-heeled shoes, and cycle through anarchic traffic while looking like they are about to fall asleep. Meanwhile, my ankles are caving in from hours of walking in my comfy flat sandals, my deodorant surrendered hours ago, and I am looking for the nearest air conditioned café to drink aqua frizzante or carbonated water on ice.  They must have a technology that I don’t have.

Apart from this, I feel like the luckiest woman in the universe to have been able to share this experience with my son (who managed to keep my husband and I museum hopping for ten days) and my daughter who, like me, enjoys the experience of sitting in a nice café while eating good food.

Yet some of my happiest times have been meeting a very dear high school friend who lives in the walled city of Lucca with his lovely and personable family, and hanging out in what I have come to think of as my Italian hometown, Bassano del Grappa, a small city in the foothills of the Dolomite mountains where my sister-in-law lives.  It takes about one hour and twenty minutes to take a train from Venice to Bassano, and though it’s not in most guidebooks, it’s one of my favourite places to be.  It’s old, there’s great food to be had, beautiful scenery, and not a lot of tourists fighting you for your space.

Today, there was a huge thunderstorm at four in the morning and it’s been cloudy all day.  Best of all, the temperature has gone down to twenty-five degrees so it’s been a real treat to walk around Bassano’s old town and eat a pannino (the real word for pannini) in an outdoor café with a really good cappuccino to end the meal.  This is the good life; I’m trying very hard not to think about the winter to come.

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Organizing Stuff and Facing the Unexpected

Posted by Somebody's Mother on 1:48 p.m.

Vacation.  Breathe in, breathe out.  Breathe in, breathe out.  Decompressing from the stress of work and shifting gears is not easy.  The first Monday of my summer holidays was spent looking for things that I misplaced and trying to organize the house for vacation mode.  As a professional librarian with twenty-seven years of experience, organization should be second nature to me, and it is…at work.  Home is another story.

Getting ready to frolic requires reservations, itineraries, changing money, preparing the housesitter/dogsitter, getting the animals to the vet, making lists, packing…wait a minute. Organizing is what I do for a living - why am I spending days of my vacation doing what I do at work?

Then there’s helping my children organize their lives. When you have kids in university, they invariably move, and they move once a year so there’s the packing and organizing of someone else’s stuff which requires lots of questioning and hence lots of arguments about what to throw out, what not to throw out and the best way to organize stuff. No matter who you are, you will eventually have to organize someone else’s stuff.

It’s somewhat amusing to me that my last rather serious column was about organizing your parents’ stuff or getting your parents to organize their own stuff so that life doesn’t become a complete and utter living hell when all hell breaks loose.  Yet, the other side of the coin is that no matter how organized you think you are, life has a way of throwing challenges at you that makes that old British game show, The Weakest Link, look like child’s play.  It’s always best to leave room for the unexpected because it’s coming and it’s darn well going to get you. Don’t be The Weakest Link

Travelling is an invitation to the unexpected which is both its attraction and the thing that causes many people to just stay home, put their feet up with a cold beer, and watch whatever game is going on TV.  That’s the safest bet but without the unexpected, life just doesn’t have any spice.  The older I get, the less I like the unexpected, so that’s why I comfort myself with lists, research, and planning so that I can get the most out of a travelling vacation that I can get while still maintaining the point of view that if things go out of whack, you just have to go with it and see where you wind up.

One of my first adventures was nearly ruined because I was bound and determined to see the Sistine Chapel, the Tower of London, the Eiffel Tower and all those sights that we expect to see.  I soon learned that sitting in a café with new friends and watching the world go by was far more fun and gave me more insight into a new culture then rushing off to tourist sights. When I went to India this year, I found the Taj Mahal very beautiful, but it wasn’t the highlight of my trip – singing Twinkle, Twinkle Little Star to a mentally handicapped little girl in an orphanage was.  Her smile will always stay with me even though I didn’t take a picture of it. 

There’s no doubt that organizing stuff can make a trip safer and more fun, but leaving room for the unexpected will always allow for the opportunity of a magical memory and apart from relaxation, that’s what we really hope for when we travel.

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