Monday, December 28, 2009


My mom got my Dad R2D2 for his birthday. We took the kids to see Aunt Ruth and Uncle Rolf which left my Dad plenty of time to train the druid. This is a man who has written international tax policy and just informed us at dinner that he met the chics in Charlie Wilson’s office when he worked on the hill. It’s good that he worked in tax law and not technology. So far R2 dances and answers in beep beep talk when you ask it if it remembers C3P0. The kids meanwhile continue to shout a variety of commands at it usually in chorus—Jonathan reads something from the directions and Eli repeats it louder and slower. Rebecca talks to it in the teenage voice she uses when she’s most frustrated with me—the one that comes with an eye roll and very slow speech. The robot will likely have a psychotic break before we leave. Maybe Amazon has robot Prozac.

The kids who have been relatively charming by their standards for most of the trip became wretched at Aunt Ruth’s house. The backpack with diapers and toys was left at home. Of the 500 books in the apartment not a single one was satisfying in any way to Jonathan. He was smack in the middle of “Great men of Greece” and nothing else would do. Finally at the end of the visit the gemelli discovered the encyclopedia and looked up China. This kept them busy for a while and we now know all about Buddha. They also looked up butt and found nothing—very disappointing. Apropos of butts Eli’s was positively disgusting since we had no diapers.

The missing backpack liked a good teachable moment in collective responsibility. The general sentiment when something is left behind involves “Mommy forgot. For example as we left cville on Thursday I told Frick and Frack to put their jackets in the car. Nothing happened. We arrived in Alexandria and I heard “Mommy forgot our jackets; Bonnie forgot the kids jackets…..” I’m thinking this sort of collective responsibility can be used to plan my courses. Music 101 needs a tune up and the kids are now big Fantasia fans so they can take care of that. The Jefferson and Music Class needs everything and all three kids think he’s still alive and a good friend so they can use their ouiga board to handle that one.

Friday, December 25, 2009

X-mass birthday

By 7:45 the kids were wrapping Manuel’s birthday present and Rebecca had begun planning to make a birthday cake. She was pretty sure that this year she could do the whole thing by herself and has chosen a flourless chocolate cake from her new Italian cookbook. (As it turned out she needed a bit of assistance) This b-day takes care of the inevitable question of what to do with your Jewish kids on Christmas morning. As my friend Moira’s four year old said to Manuel “you’re the same age as Jesus”

Thanks to the birthday boy and my Mother I had a personal day yesterday. I slept until 9:30 which may be the latest I’ve slept in years. Manuel took the kids to the zoo in the afternoon without me. This makes an excellent Daddy/kids activity. I hate the zoo and going there on a cold day is my idea of family hell. For one thing since the zoo’s all went politically correct and tried to make things better for the animals the wildlife has become essentially invisible to the visually impaired. Not to mention that I don’t do well in the cold—my fingers turn blue etc…. I got to go to the gym and run really fast on the treadmill which I think can only be good for the collective—I admit it I’m addicted to running and the blizzard has cramped my style. And I’m a sucker for nice gyms with saunas and shower products. About the running vice; as it turn out a profession that requires hours on your butt in front of the computer requires some intervention for the hyperactive.

Eli slept with the big kids in a big boy bed. At home he should probably stay in his crib until her turns ten or so. He feels he needs to get up every so often to gather stuff such as a gun “just in case” Apparently grownups sleep with guns by their beds. (I’m not sure what grownups he’s cavorting with). He’s now running around with a bicycle helmet on using a cane as a weapon and making shooting noises. Jonathan looks dapper in pink tie-dyed pants and a pastel tie-died shirt and Rebecca is carefully making pictures of pandas and Shakespeare.

Hopefully I can claim some of those hours today to write the paper that was due last week. I’ve been reading everything I can get my hands on about disability studies for the last two weeks to produce this now embarrassingly late document. It should give me a chance to address Cecilia Bartoli’s problematic album that features giant pictures of scissors and knives. My personal day yesterday involved a little time on goggle books exploring the new “cultural history of the penis” and a history of castration. The birthday boy has already cautioned me to be extremely careful. The last time I did some frantic internet research I infected my computer with a virus that took him three hours to exterminate and he already said he’s not doing it today.

Tuesday, December 22, 2009


Five days of uninterrupted family bliss is just a bit too much for me and if I don’t get a good fast run in soon there’s going to be trouble. When our fabulous friend Cynthia offered to baby-sit last night, so we could escape to dinner she earned our unending love. The down town mall never looked so good. We started our blizzard experience with a slumber party with our friends Liz and John and their three kids—yup that makes ten in one house. Needless to say that by the time latkas were consumed and candles were lit the snow the roads were too much for the flame van. Jonathan didn’t as it turns out have quite the proper gear. He had come strait from violin which he’d been so tantrumy about going to that I had to sit on him to hold him down while my friend Grace and I both put his shoes on him. (Yes it sometimes takes two tenured professor twin moms to outfit one six year old) He didn’t quite have the gear. He was apparently an angel at violin and earned an elaborate knight sticker. The snow was pretty magical in the morning and all five big kids were outside by 8 with snow pants over pj’s. Liz got so jazzed by frying that she did it again the next morning with pancakes. At some point I announced that anyone who potty trained Eli would get anything they wanted at Toys R Us. The adult wishes aren’t fit for public domain. The kids embraced this and set about writing boys and girls all over everything so that when he goes to school he’ll know which bathroom to go to. The kids all got along incredibly well enabled partially by my expert ipod tutorial that occupied the ten year old for much of the time. We finally got a lift home from a neighbor on Sat afternoon just in time for me to cross country ski around the neighborhood. As it turned out it was not a moment too soon as Eli was up all night puking about every 23 minute—that would I’m sure have done the slumber party bliss in.

Meanwhile the Christmas hegemony has set in with full force. The kids are asking me if I think we can attract Santa this year and if not maybe we should give someone else some cookies so they can give them to him. They are fixated on the whole cookie thing. So I explained that thanks to the Macabes 8 day hold out they already got 8 days worth of things they did not need and now we wouldn’t get more from Santa. (Since having children I’ve often wished the whole festival was a mere four nights) In the process I realized I’ve basically convinced my kids that Santa is anti-Semitic since he doesn’t come to Jewish houses---it’s sort of Passover meets pagan ritual. This seems impolitic at best. We had an inkling of this last year when I had the kids gather up toys to donate to kids whose mommy’s and daddy’s couldn’t afford holiday gifts. Without missing a beat Rebecca and Jonathan announced that we should just give the toys to the disadvantaged Jewish kids since poor Christian kids would have Santa. (In central Virginia impoverished Jews are not the problem) My friend thinks I should just tell them Santa isn’t real; but I don’t want them blowing it for the rest of the first grade. She also was quick enough to suggest I burst this bubble after we’ve left cville….. My niece by the way when told that if she was naughty Santa would bring coal announced “that’s ok I’ll just throw it in my mommy’s face…..” She’s going to be trouble later.

In the middle of this I got a love note from one of the Deans reminding me that if my grades are not in by midnight tonight something terrible will happen. After much cursing and three phone calls I figured out how to enter my grades on the hateful SIS. I haven’t yet gotten a similar love note about a paper that was due last week but I suspect that will come at any moment.

Sunday, December 13, 2009

One More from Rome

Even though we are back in cville settling quickly into Hanukkah fatigue here is one last missive from Rome. (It's a move into the synagogue kind of weekend)

I was struck by how many people I’ve been seeing off and on now for a decade. Not the friends or even the librarians but the people in shops and in neighborhoods. We went to the burnt bakery in the Jewish ghetto and I asked one woman if a kind of cookie had nuts. (noce) and she said no. But then the other woman looked at me and said “no no no it has almonds and she has an allergy she can’t eat them” We don’t even know each others name and I haven’t been there in almost two years and she still remembers. ( I temporarily forgot that one has to list every possible nut when explaining a nut allergy in Italian) She’s also the one who when Eli was 17 months old explained how thrilled she was that I was raising him bilingual—at the time he had about six words and three were machine, latte, and pizza. The bakery had a poster advertising a chabad event for Hanukah in the piazza Barberini—slightly incongruous?

We also saw a familiar face at the Borghesi gallery where Manuel had as it turns out never been there even though his kids have been twice. So we took the 116 electric bus up to the villa to see Dafne turning into a tree. And there we saw the mean museum lady who I had a giant fight with the last time I was there. For some reason she insisted that Eli who was then 19 months could not ride in a soft back pack. I kept telling her that everyone would be happier if he was locked up. She finally said I could put him on the front. He was having none of it so we let him loose and as I predicted he spent a good teal of time trying to slap Dafne and Apollo five and screaming at the “Hatu’s” in the ceiling. Hatu meant helicopter and I still haven’t found one up there but whatever. Jonathan was by then impressing our friend and now his violin teacher with his descriptions of various mythological figures. He had a funny way of explaining the rape of Proserpina which alas I can’t remember. In any case Manuel made me give my ticket to the other person. I think he was afraid I’d start fighting with her again as my little obnoxious Italian phrases were already sneaking out of my lips. As always I was moved by the liveness of Bernini’s statues; you can see Dafne in the process of turning into a tree—an self in motion. Those who fell in love with statues seem not that crazy when you look at these. They also had a Caravaggio and Francis Bacon exhibit going. Caravaggio was excellent but the juxtaposition turned into curatorial overzelousness. I couldn’t quite get into it—but maybe that’s just me.

I noticed an exponential increase in the number of gemelli in Rome. When we first started brining the kids to Rome not only did we notice the very low birthrate but twins were incredibly rare. Ours hanging out in the double stroller were sort of neighborhood celebrities and came off as slightly freaky. I think in three months we saw one other set. This time we stopped counting after we saw ten sets. And all of them were under three.

Friday, December 11, 2009

Rome Senza Bambini

Rome Senza Bambini

We had what the New York Times recently referred to as a staycation. This seems to involve staying at home and doing stuff you wouldn’t usually do. I have not been to Rome in twelve years without trying to both use every possible moment to get archival work done while still spending good time with my kids, my husband and mother who have both made these trips possible. It’s amazing how much easier to navigate the place is when you’re not pushing a stroller or worrying about a cranky kid. Rome literally did our double stroller in at one point and by the time we left its major apparatus was duct tape. It is of course much easier to enjoy a slow late and delicious Roman meal without kids who need to be in an out in well under an hour before turning into mini volcanoes.

We had very good karma the whole time. For example every time I stuck my bank card in a bank machine I received both the card and cash back—this is not a foregone conclusion. Every time we attempted a mode of transit other than feet it worked—also not a forgone conclusion. And no one got hit by a motorino—always a miracle in my mind. I should say that Manuel and I navigate Rome quite differently. I do it totally by feel—oh I think the river is that way, if we go down this street we’ll get to the bookstore with the old guy and the baroque books, and then eventually it will spit us out at the pantheon. He prefers the map.

As always I’m amazed by the way in which Rome still sports a piazza and spectacle culture that I don’t think we really have in the states. Tuesday night after dinner over a drink just to the right of Bruno in Camp di Fiori we saw a fire eater/breather/dancer. This is not the crunchy fire cancers we have in Charlottesville. It’s more like my 17th century puking Frenchman whose ability to puke up wines and lettuces astounded. The guy managed to swallow fire and then blow it out his nose. He also danced with is up and down his arms. There must be a trick but I don’t know what it is. P:iazza Navona at Christmass time is either a nightmare or a spectacle depending on how you look at it. It’s covered with booths of crappy toys surrounding the newly refurbished Bernini fountains. They are by the way stunning at this point in their whiteness and sense of life. To me they represent Bernini at his best with animate marble moving water. Meanwhile the kinky finger puppet guy still comes around in the afternoon and does his show that involves finger puppets dancing rather sensually to some cheesy music.

When we were here in 2005 when Rebecca and Jonathan were two and a half they were absolutely terrified of the “big red man” That would be Santa Claus. Every time we saw him they screamed. Meanwhile Rebecca loved the carousel and would have spent the whole month on it and Jonathan tried desperately to like it. Ever time he turned pasty white, and once he even puked. But he didn’t want to miss out on anything.

Thursday, December 10, 2009

The Pope

Il Papa at the Spanish Steps

Manuel and I got a very slow start on Immaculate Conception of Mary Day. This is for the record the day celebrating Mary’s Immaculate Conception—she had to be without sin to bear Jesus. I was despite very good training in Catholic ritual at first confused and trying to work out the 17 day gestation. When I was in Italy for that event four years ago the entire city shut down so I saw no compelling reason to rush us out of the apartment.

As it turns out Rome has become more capitalist and you can do just about anything except go to a museum. I had read on Wikepedia—my favorite source—that “they” line the Spanish steps with flowers in honor of Mary. So off we went. The steps themselves had no flowers but we wandered over to the giant obelisk with Mary on the top of it and encountered a stunning display of flowers attended to by nuns in various habits. Meanwhile a service with relatively decent music was being blasted out into the piazza and people seemed to be lining up for something. So we did the obvious thing—lined up with them. A group of about 50 people in wheel chairs had been brought up to the front just across the piazza so it seemed whatever it was couldn’t be far off—who would park the infirm outside on a rainy day for a long time? I started hearing murmurings of Il Papa but it seemed unlikely since security consisted of a group of municipal police wandering around aimlessly in the center of a blockade. Finally I asked and yes indeed Il papa was on the way but not for two more hours. After some debate about whether or not to stay and a few field trips out for cappucina and pizza, we embraced the event. Given that I’m writing a book largely devoted to spectacles sponsored by the pope it could count as field work and my experience of seeing John Paul say New Years Mass at St Peters about twelve years ago was truly remarkable.

Predictably the spectacle started a good 90 minutes before the grand arrival. The security got tighter and tighter with municipal police, followed by Carabinieri, followed by terrifying dudes in long black coats scanning the crowd, followed by swiss guard higher ups with purple capes. Meanwhile a variety of priests wandered around. They were all incredibly good looking as I have found are most priests in Rome. (I’ve always had a thing for Roman priests which my to which my husband remains quite tolerant) The priest guards were just as fine. This little fantasy started when we went to St Peter’s and my sister and I were totally enamored of the French priests. That fascination prompted my father to say over and over “girls!” in that stop it tone that even at the ages of 41 and 38 we still receive. This event also involved a new kind of fashion police—higher up Italian police women who made most American models look sort of frumpy. I have no idea where they hid their firearms but clearly if one is to acquire some of those boots in shop windows at the Spanish steps being law enforcement is the way to go. (The aesthetic involved gorgeous hair not bothered by the rain, ravishing boots over painted on jeans, and very dramatic coats and scarves)

Meanwhile the crowd was getting bigger and bigger and tighter and tighter and we were making all kinds of friends. About twenty minutes before Il Papa appeared security got very intense with helicopters over head and men on roofs with guns. Meanwhile a service began which involved saying a particular “Ave Maria” ten times multiple times. One of the odd things for me as a Jew is that in these circumstances I always know all the words—that’s the Renaissance musicologist part. (I believe I’m not the only one with this particular cognitive dissonance) I did somehow feel that belting it out along with the crowd wouldn’t be quite kosher. If there is one thing that distinguishes Jews from Christians it is after all the Immaculate Conception. Meanwhile the crowd was roaring and a cardinal was blessing the infirm. He only got through about ten of them before Il Papa came up in his Pope mobile. We were about ten feet from him and Manuel spent much of the time holding up the cameras belonging to short Italians so he could take pictures for them. Meanwhile the sunset had turned Mary and the buildings around her into a stunning kaleidoscope of colors that were so real they looked unreal. The juxtaposition of his slow moving bullet proof vehicle surrounded by security guys surrounded by Renaissance piazza and a flower display to trump all others seemed surreal. There was even a floral SPQR. Most people around us seemed to experience the whole thing with a mix of reverence and humor. One woman was pretty convinced that the pope could stop the rain. When it started to pour the umbrellas went up causing a spectacle of it’s own which mixed loud laughter with ave marias.

The pope then did a service. It turns out he still comes with very good musicians. I noticed an instantaneous jump in quality when the choir connected with him took over from the choir who had been on duty for the previous two hours or so. I have to admit that having just come from giving a paper on Castrati in the service of the Pope I couldn’t help but think of what the fate of those talented boy sopranos would have been in the seventeenth century. The Pope himself speaks a very slow and heavily German accented Italian. He had me convinced when he talked about the difficult place we’re in and the business of being kind to everyone, which I took to directly slam Burlesconi’s fascist policies towards otherness of any kind. But he got impressively conservative relatively quickly and it was clear that the striving for purity of body and soul that he has in mind is rather puritan at best and not at all good for people of my gender persuasion.

The whole experience to me felt like a cross between a rock concert and a southern Baptist revival. There is an element of spectacle that Jews simply do not do and I recalled why every time we’ve been to Rome I’ve thought that the kids might convert. When they were two and a half and I worked at the Vatican library they used to come and meet me for lunch and were absolutely fascinated by the pope, the churches with giant ceilings, the cardinals in red dresses, and the “mommy’s and the babies” everywhere. There is a collective zealousness involved in a ritual observance for thousands of people that I have not seen anywhere else. And in a way it does count as fieldwork. I look all the time at pictures of processions and documents about them and I try very hard to imagine the soundscape—I can’t quite get it. But this with the incongruous mix of cell phones going off, boy sopranos, a german accented Italian orator, helicopters from above and the occasional speaker reverb, must approximate some of the feeling. It also occurs to me that part of my infatuation with spectacles and with giant stadium concerts must be exactly this sensory overload—what you actually see becomes only marginally important in the experience itself.

Monday, December 7, 2009

Conference extravaganza

This conference turned out to be quite the shindig, and perhaps one I ought not to have attempted without an entourage. The featured singer, Anna tarina Antonaccie came with one. She has a, a pianist, a few fans, some sort of handler. I luckily had a talented friend with me who was able to mend the tights I ripped at breakfast the morning of my paper. My getup might have made me at least approximate European chic had my little knee not been poking out all day. The paper was fine. I had a panic attack at two in the morning based on the idea that I had decided to give the wrong paper. The cultural mix has provided some hilarity. Trying to herd a group of Academics through a conference, when half of them are on German time, and the zone is clearly Italian makes for some cultural dissonance.

The event included tons of food. Most notable was an incredible banquet in the palazzo that was bought by JP Morgan in 1920's. Dinner was preceded by basically a house concert in the music room of this 17th century palazzo. The singer, one wit the entourage, is an amazing Italian operatic soprano. I know that's how they heard music in the 19h century but I've never heard that kind of voice in that kind of space. It was truly a ravishing assault on the ears. The whole room vibrated with her sounds. The only comparison I could think of was when our friend Kathleen let an aria rip in Rebecca and Jonathan's room when they were babies which stunned them out of their 13 month old fits. The dinner was a sort of five course affair and a nice older waiter looked out for my nut needs, which involved making from scratch two pasta dishes. The hotel was also ironically exactly the site of my worst running accident ever. The day before we left Rome in 2005 I went for a run and tripped on a hanger on the cobblestones and fell face forward hitting my head and a knee cap. Since I spent the entire next day on the plane the whole leg swelled up like a balloon.

Tuesday, December 1, 2009

Rome Tomorrow

It never fails that the lead up to international travel comes with drama. This may result from the spazziness that accompanies the inevitable compulsion to do everything that has not been doe for the last two months. In addition to various medical crises that left me working way more at the last minute than I’m comfortable with my computer had its own brush with death. While innocently looking for images for my power point I got onto a porn site and downloaded some virus from hell. I was looking for images; of eunuchs, fireworks, and vocal cords. Somehow this got me to a fairly obscene site. I was hoping that when Manuel got home from the soccer game he’d taken the kids to that the conversation would involve phrases like “oh it’s so hard to be married to a humanities professor let me push this button and fix it.” Instead there was lots of cursing and “I hope you’re backed up. No you can not use my computer ever.” So there I was saying in front of the kids saying. “Ok I promise I will never click on any sites with penises or breasts again” And no I can’t put the kiddie controls on the computer because it blocks my own book—Renaissance musicology is racy stuff. And for the record one of the images is owned by the Vatican. There is a certain irony in someone with a visual impairment getting zonked by a porn site bug—talk about an audience for whom the visuals are irrelevant. Three hours and much cursing later Manuel had fixed the computer and felt like a total stud. (he is of course)

Meanwhile the kids are not thrilled about my going away for a week. This is the first time I’ve been to Rome without them since they were born so although I have a heavy dose of maternal guilt and will miss them I am mostly itching with excitement. Eli is expressing his opinion by throwing things. Rebecca is asking over and over again, when will you be back, how many days? Jonathan has proclaimed he’s not sure he can get out of bed without me. The big ones have also put in special orders. Rebecca would like a picture of a fountain made by the man near the church in Trastevere and a couple of cookies with apricot in them. Jonathan wants a “model of a Roman poem” I have no idea what he’s talking about but when I asked if he was talking about Sapho I was told “no mommy that’s greek” He thinks if I go to the store in piazza navona I’ll find one—I have no idea what store.

It’s not by the way entirely logical to go away for the week at the end of the semester. But my students are bearing with me. Or at least so I thought until the grad students requested that we read Lacan. Somehow at the advice of various hirer authorities I determined that Zizek would be easier and after frantic emails to friends entitled “Zizek emergency” I got the text and struggled through it. For a low pedagogical moment I actually told them to please go ahead and read the wikepedia sites on Lacan and Zizek. But in the end I’m glad they made me read it. I learned a lot. (wait aren’t they supposed to say that about me”?)

The paper by the way features my usual cast of castrati, fountains, fireworks, etc.. One of my friends who kindly read and edited for me pointed out that she associates my work with puking, exploding, gushing and other such images. This is clearly a project that was nurtured while taking two reflux babies to Rome. Not only were they still puking but we spent much of that sabbatical looking at puking lions, spitting ladies, peeing men, etc…..

Ok now it’s time to continue obsessively puttering around, printing crucial documents, finding hidden Euros, and maybe try to sleep!