"Sono Così Emozionante"
You are very clever, youse.
In our recent guessing game of "Where in the World Will Sabbatical Take Them?," quite a few commenters came very close, or even rightly named, our family's likely port of call for our upcoming travels.
Here's the summary of how we got to our current perch:
1) Jocelyn was born. Half an hour later, her mom ate a ham sandwich, thus modeling for the infant life-long behaviors in pork ingestion;
2) Jocelyn grew up and liked reading books and talking. When she headed off to college, she thought she'd be a lawyer;
3) Jocelyn took a political science class in college and quickly realized she just wanted to read novels and not about the structure of the Swedish government;
4) Jocelyn declared an English major. Several years later, she graduated and contemplated applying that major to driving a taxi;
5) A couple years later, after working as a temp in tall buildings and, in much shorter buildings, as a nanny, she realized graduate school might help aim her towards a career that didn't entail filing receipts for bulk flour purchases (as did in her stint temping at Pillsbury) or babysitting a fluffly little marshmallow guy (again, compliments of her stint temping at Pillsbury);
6) Because she still just wanted to read books but realized that a graduate degree in English literature would still end with her behind the wheel of a taxi--or watching other people's children, perhaps as she gunned towards them from behind the wheel of a taxi--Jocelyn decided to go for a "practical" graduate degree, based in English. She earned a Master's in Teaching English as a Second Language, a course of study which, to her surprise, entailed a host of linguistics classes that made her shriveled brain ache. She cried softly during weekly quizzes in Phonology, during which the professor articulated made-up words like "Schwizzlegnaufengleut" and required that students transcribe his sounds into the International Phonetic Alphabet. When not weeping during quizzes, Jocelyn, as part of her fellowship, taught sections of composition;
7) Which meant that the only things she could put on her CV after finishing graduate school were "weeping," "transcribing," and "teaching composition";
8) Which then meant that she was hired at several institutions to teach composition, and occasionally--living the dream here!--literature. This continued for 19 years, during which time she enjoyed the bounties of her job, with students who became personal friends, students whose lives were changed through education, students who were legendary characters. On the flip side, she also felt her soul suck away sometimes, with students who were high on meth in the classroom, students who treated her with hostility for having the audacity to assign work, students who lodged complaints about her with the dean for receiving non-passing grades after missing 11 out of 16 weeks of class, and students who died prematurely, tragically;
9) At some point, the idea of taking a breath sounded appealing. Right about then, her second sabbatical opportunity came around. She applied. She got it. That evening, she choreographed an inspiring interpretive dance and performed it for unsuspecting onlookers (woe to them for not getting out before she locked the doors);
10) After taking her bows, Jocelyn signed up with a couple of home exchange Web sites and spent hours trying to take photographs of her home that didn't reveal the dust bunnies, stained counters, and towers of Lego creations. Doing this required all the limberness she'd warmed up the night before during the interpretive dance, as getting pictures wherein the house looked "clean" and "as though you'd really like to live here!!!" called upon profoundly imaginative camera angles. Ultimately, she managed to package her home relatively appealingly. The most difficult challenge of the whole thing was showing the house's windows without actually snapping anything OUTSIDE the windows...'cause it was January out there, and January ain't always pretty, Poodles;
11) Next, Jocelyn spent hours sending out more than 40 inquiry emails to home exchangers around the world, receiving back, in rapid order, approximately 35 "Nope, won't work for us" responses;
12) Weeks pass, and Jocelyn's family began to consider Plan B, in which Jocelyn and her husband would divorce, just for a year, and go on the hunt for new, international spouses. Whoever would score a new partner first would then send for the rest of the family. Ideally, there would be a compound involved, a place that could house everybody without conflict. Jocelyn supposed that she could use her red hair to snare a Moroccan man, so long as he was of poor eyesight and hearing, able to ignore the rest of The Accompanying Jocelyn Package. Right about when she was contemplating joining ArabMenWhoLikeRedheadsMatch.com, an email hit the Inbox;
13) From a family in Sicily that has done 10 exchanges in the past and is open to exploring the U.S. this time. Excited communications took place for five hours...before the Sicilian family went a bit silent. During their silence, an email of interest came in from a family in Hungary. Then one flew in from a family in Switzerland. Jocelyn called upon all of her diplomacy and tact (things she first learned back in her political science class in college; something about "the Swedish model," and, trust me, there were no photos of Tiger Woods' wife in that textbook) and kept all the families dangling on the hook, mostly hoping that no option closed before she heard back, with more certainty, from the Sicilians. Because, honestly, as awesome as Hungary and Switzerland are, they aren't Italy. (Plus Jocelyn has been to Hungary before and was pretty certain the manifest orderliness of Switzerland would collapse into chaos the first time she annouced to a native, "Actually, I don't wear a watch. I don't really like to know what time it is.");
14) Eventually, after several weeks of limited communication, the Sicilian family emailed that it is INNNNNNNN for an exchange. The hang-up had been the educational situation for their 15-year-old son (they also have 9-year-old twins, for whom a regimented education is less essential) who, if he missed an entire year of high school in Italy, would have to repeat it upon his return. As a compromise, he will accompany the family for the first six months and then return to Sicily to live with his aunt (next door to where we'll be living; Jocelyn hopes to wave at him through the window as she plays Tetris on the computer in his bedroom). From that point on, depending on how Teen With Auntie does, everyone will play it by ear. If he hits the skids, his family will return home sooner rather than later. But, ideally, if he--as teens often do--thrives without his parents around, the rest of his family will remain in Duluth for two or four more months. Thus, the exchange could run July-December, July-February, or July-April;
15) Jocelyn's family is gunning for April;
16) Because the longer they stay in Sicily, the more of this stuff they'll actually get to see:
Coliseum Thing, which is the untranslated Greek term for it
A photo of the house they'll be staying in.
hahahahahahaha. I often feel fortunate that I enjoy my own humor, as it eludes the masses.
They have beaches there. It gets hot. I believe I will do okay with the heat, if I can have gelato and granitas.
Maybe I forgot to mention it, but there are beaches.
Thus, we're super excited, to the point that I'm listening to Italian language CDs in the car and printing out flashcards of the days of the week. Girlchild memorized counting to 20 in a few minutes flat, so I have hopes for the kids' more absorbent brains to adjust enough that they can help us talk our way out of traffic tickets.
Fellow blogger Lucia, over at Dim Sum, Bagels, and Crawfish (http://www.bagelsandcrawfish.blogspot.com/), whom I found through the Magic Google Machine, has already been exceedingly gracious and given us a few insider tips, including "If you want to blend in with the Italians be sure to pack black" and "If you don't already own a GPS system I would recommend bringing one or buying one." Based on these recommendations, I feel certain of my success as a Sicilian, as I'm nothing if not a gloom-ridden Goth who can't find her way to the rave.
(Not that Goths worth their salt would be found at a rave; I just liked the sound of it, so hesh up, Know-It-All Objector)
As we launch into the logistics of the trip, we're already experiencing a cultural lesson in dealing with Italians since the exchange family is, er, less actively communcative than our goal-driven American personalities would hope for. At some point, we'll get travel dates ironed out, though. Until then, we're emailing with the Italian consulate about visas--another cultural lesson in patience, as replies to our questions come back without any of our questions addressed or answered...but with a whole new host of complicating factors laid out before us. Before we're done, we may have to get fingerprinted (only $12!) and have FBI background checks.
Imagine, in the photo below, that we are the road, and the Italian bureacracy is the lava from Mt. Etna.
Yup, that's how emailing with the consulate makes us feel.
At least, as we wait for the charismatic swarthy man to stamp our documents, we'll have ample time to practice some fundamental phrases:
Dove è il vino?
Riempia prego il mio vetro di vino.
Riempialo alla parte superiore. Seriamente.