Thursday, 22 September 2011

How to survive in a restaurant: lessons from Italy

One way of making sure that your panoramic lunch on a holiday is enjoyable is to make sure that the foods keeps the toddler content and are among his or hers favourites. At Montepulciano, famous for its vino nobile, we were lucky to encounter a restaurant looking up towards the hillock town serving pizza. At lunchtime! This is not guaranteed in Italy before dinnertime. We ate a nice meal of local cheese, honey and ham, wild boar and steak while enjoying the landscape in the heartland of Tuscany.

A stop in a nice street cafe and an ice cold beer makes Archaeologist Husband to suffer happily any short-lived periods of entertaining Number One Son during our museum visits. For a successful – or bearable visit - to a cafe the key is to pay attention to detail. First of all, it is essential to sit. Yes, it costs more in places like Italy but a chair and the props provided by a menu and such like guarantee some relieve from an immediate run away around one pedestrian area or worse - roads full of traffic. Number One Son quite enjoys being entertained by a straw.

Another way to survive even a higher end establishment is to burn our toddler’s energy before contemplating lunch. Air conditioning makes life so much more enjoyable in the Mediterranean but these restaurants often clearly target the local town people and lack the terrace area essential for attracting tourists. In Chiusi we visited Zaira where the food turned out to be beautifully executed. Archaeologist Husband enjoyed his marinated trout starter and I marvelled with my angelotti with local pork sausage filling and truffle sauce. It was not a busy day so other clients and staff hardly paid attention to our son’s antics. Only cooed a bit. We were able to enjoy the food of a highly decorated and awarded gourmet cook because the business was slow. However, even with understanding staff and quiet dining room, a three-course meal just doesn’t happen. The short attention span of a toddler just wouldn't take waiting for a dessert. Even if it was chocolate...

Saturday, 17 September 2011

Among the record crowd

The Dinosaur Gallery in the Leicester Museum on New Walk opened on the 3rd of September. During that weekend more people visited the museum than ever before during ones weekend. Instead of the normal 760 visitors 5,244 individuals entered the museum. Among these visitors were Archaeologist Husband and Number One Son. This visit was more suitable for the Son’s slightly older Number One Cousin who is in an age where dinosaurs start to be interesting.

Museum visits make parents feel good about themselves since they see themselves giving their children an opportunity to explore and learn – a good constructive experience. However, Number One Son sees a museum, not matter what is on display, as a huge open space where a toddler can run around and express himself in the way two-year-olds do. Preferably, he likes to chase or be chased by other toddlers. The more delicate Cousin was not too keen but there were many other children to see the dinosaurs with whom to have a contact and run. Additionally, the displays with their stands created a landscape where to hide. The TV screens caught his eye – not the least because of his very bad Cars habit – although he did not interact with the displays.

I was in London and got my constructive experiences in teacher training and the British Museum. Archaeologist Husband said that the new display was well designed but that he really did not have an opportunity to see it. The huge dinosaur skeleton is still there but otherwise Number One Son was having his kind of museum experience by enjoying the space and the hubby was running after him....

Saturday, 10 September 2011

Luni – a small person’s view

Number One Son has his own take into museums and archaeological sites. Museums are not necessarily interesting but they may have fascinating additional features, such as large rooms and wide corridors to run through or steps and different bits meant to help wheelchair users to climb over. In the Roman town Luna at Luni near Carrara that managed the marble trade from the famous quarries the clanking metal ramp that was part of the wheelchair access was much more captivating than the reconstruction of a Roman kitchen in the museum. Similarly, the narrow space in a doorway in an additional exhibition building, sadly closed due to the limited number of personnel, besides the imposing ruins of the main excavated temple made him giggle and smile since he could squeeze himself between the door frames whereas the ruins themselves did not mesmerise him one bit.

It became apparent that his little bag of crispy snacks (healthy, of course) was much more important than a possibility to wander in this famous heritage area. One must admit that most of the area is relatively flat and the ruins, while worth visiting, are not like in Herculaneum. Most structures have preserved to the height of perhaps one metre and the distances feel vast across relative emptiness – this was a large town with urban magnitude after all. We also had slightly unfortunate timing since the morning visit to the amphitheatre organised by the guards was just over when we arrived to the museum, and there was no way we could spend the hours with the little one before the afternoon visit. However, that kind of standing features with a connection to blood, tears and sweat will probably feel exciting when his is slightly older, enjoying his knights and cowboys phase.

No matter how much we parents appreciated to see the town forever associated with the best building and sculpturing materials of the Roman Empire, widely on display in Rome and most key museums around the world, the highlight of the junior’s day was a moment of play in the play area by the cafeteria at the car park. The column drum he climbed onto became only second.

Monday, 5 September 2011

It's all uphill!

The castles tend to be on hillocks for safety, control and good views. This is a problem when you are visiting culturally interesting places with a toddler who is happy to walk in the pedestrian areas on flat land but gets easily tired and dispirited when faced with a steep slope. Dragging a stroller uphill is very dispiriting for a parent and when a ‘lazy’ toddler decides even not to try the parent who is in duty to push the pushchair is under strain.

The Lunigiana area in the boundary of the northern Tuscany is interesting since its local geography has formed how its dispersed settlements were governed through centuries. The foothill areas of the Apennines north of the famous Carrara are filled with small castles that were outposts in a sparsely occupied wooded area. This area remained hostile to Roman dominance for a long time and seems to have stayed relatively pagan during the time when Christianity was the dominant religion across Italy.

Although most of the castles remain in private ownership some of them are museums. When we headed to Potremoli to see the famous stone stelae I was hoping that the museum would be somewhere in the outskirts of the local municipality but secretly expecting in fear that it may be in the local castle. After we had parked the car the reality hit; we saw the posters – and yes, the museum was in the castle on the hill. As we archaeologists say, Il castello del Piagnaro has a dominant position. But for a parent – an uphill struggle.

I was the unlucky parent doing the pushing since it was my photo call in the museum. Even if most of the stelae are from the Bronze Age, some of them are Iron Age and probably part of the same traditions that resulted with the Etruscan stelae in places like Fiesole and Volterra. In addition, the stelae are a phenomenon widespread in the Alpine area and together with idols an art form that was shared across large areas of prehistoric Europe. Thus, I was able to read the information boards and make notes in peace while the Romanist Archaeologist Hubby was tending Number One Son. Our son really needed some tending since the stelae were erected into gravel in the museum displays. Number One Son took a shine to the gravel – grabbing it in a room with an elaborate alarm system.

This castle was deemed ‘grim’ in one travel guide. In reality, it was quite cute, though functional small castle. It was under renovation and a bit in a flux. I found it interesting and Number One Son will probably find it a lovely place to roam in a couple of years’ time when the knight and cowboy phase kicks in. However, now he was far too young to get excited next to a several metres’ drop to the cobbled courtyard level. Thus, together with the start of Italian lunchtime this was the reason to usher the toddler downhill in his orange stroller.

Thursday, 1 September 2011

At their own pace

Number One Son has just had his first and perhaps only speech therapy session. This was the initial assessment and it seems everything is alright; he just develops at his own pace. A parent cannot be without comparing one’s offspring with others’. At least this parent can’t. Archaeologist Husband seems to take the moral high ground and frown on my slight anxiety. He is right in the sense that if I air my doubts and other children’s perceived superior development when our son is around he may pick up the negative words and feel inferior – or think I, his mother, think he is inferior. But he is not; it is just me losing my nerve and my patience.

It is blatantly apparent that this is the pace our son develops at. He did not start crawl before nine months and was older than 18 months when he started to walk. He does make continuous development but he is not among the quickest. He does things when he is ready. I am in awe when observing this all since it does not matter, if the other babies and toddlers are crawling or walking or whatever left, right and centre, he ignores them. He takes notice eventually and sometimes you know exactly the moment when the penny drops. When crawling he was very quick in it and did not seem to need to walk. But at the swimming pool he saw another toddler running and seemed to realize that this walking malarkey may be a good idea. Now with speaking he seems to make himself understood with grunts, squeaks and pointing out things. He talks but in his own tongue so the moment of truth must be near. He does shout 'Airplane!' every time he sees one.

The therapist explained different techniques to use in order to give him incentives opportunities to use other expressions than ‘yes’ and ‘no’. However, just making comparative questions does not seem to make the trick. Number One Son has inherited Archaeologist Husband’s diplomatic, very English manner. When asked if he prefers to have biscuits or fruit, our son stubbornly answers ‘yeah’ – repeatedly. Ho hum, Archaeologist Husband only started speaking properly when he was three...