Day 2: Settling In
Are all Latin American men male chauvinist pigs? I am, doubtless, showing my age even using that term. Flaco headed out for the Smithsonian this morning, eager to establish a foothold in the mammal range. He found a car pool that can take him to Suitland, close enough to use a bicycle, stashed at a coworker's house, to pedal to the Museum Support Center. Dolores stayed home to enroll Evita at Sheridan, and meet Luba, the uber-grandmother who will be caring for Juan Pablo and Chevre for part of each day. Luba is Ukrainian, one of Vitali’s network of friends and relatives—the “third wave” of immigration from Kiev and its surroundings. Funny how certain ethnic groups seem to get a lock on specific professions. Ten years ago all the IT staff at Cliff’s association were Burmese, all the D.C. cab drivers, from Ethiopia and all the nannies in the neighborhood from Mexico or Guatemala. Now all the “бабушки” come from Ukraine, or Belarus.
Theoretically, this is the carefully orchestrated dance: Flaco and Dolores work a staggered schedule—he goes in early, comes home mid-afternoon. She hands off the little ones to Katerina at lunch and heads for the herbarium, Flaco gets back at 3 to take over as Evita gets back from school. That leaves an affordable portion of nanny-time. She looks all grey and cuddly, but I suspect Luba is capable of being a dragon. Good thing, too, as I have premonitions of Flaco getting home later and later, as he struggles to drag himself away from his beloved potos. Dolores would let him get away with this. Луба не будет позволять ему делать это. (Why didn’t I study Spanish all these years rather than Russian? That wouldn’t have helped with my fencing lessons, though.)
I am just as glad to get out of the way and let them work it all out. This is, in fact, one of the few things that can reconcile me to flying to Italy on Thursday. What in heaven’s name was I thinking when I accepted this assignment? James is a dear, and I know he has a soft spot in his heart for the Palazzo Strozzi, but really, the Italian museum “mafia” could work this mess out without me. Mostly they want to be able to say that they had some big shot American consultant at the table for the negotiations—they don’t actually care what I have to say. Or think they don’t! Since I’m going, I’m going to make darn sure they are going to listen to me.
A tiny piece of progress with Evita today. I asked if she would help me with my Spanish by teaching me one word a day—her choice. Shy she may be, but a wicked sense of humor lurks behind those brown eyes. My first word of the day is “mierda.” At least she is teaching me useful vocabulary. When I made the request I had resigned myself to learning to converse about dolls and hair ribbons. She has enthusiastically promised to take good care of Barsook while we are gone, and somewhat more reluctantly taken on the cats. Dolores (of course Dolores, Flaco wouldn’t think of it) is taking rabbit and fish duty.
Well, too much to do. Tenciero will supervise at the Bakery while I am gone, which has sent Iphan into a sulking fit. But really, I can’t trust Iphan to run the shop during the day when he can’t make eye contact with the customers, much less small talk. People sense that Tenciero is a little “off”, but he puts such earnest good will into his efforts that they tend to overlook his social gaffes. I have to leave him a detailed list, however, of everything that has to be done, in precise chronological order. Knowing that he will, indeed, follow it precisely and unvaryingly is in some ways a comfort, but scary in others. What if he needs to adapt, and vary the routine? Well, the whole idea behind this staffing scheme was to help Tenciero, Iphan, Isabella and the others become self-sufficient. I suppose that entails leaving them to manage on their own at some point.
So, finish the “how to open and close Badger Bakery” instructions. Wire the blades I am taking with me. (Too fun, getting my tail whipped by Italian fencers! Though surely they can’t all be prodigies, Valentina Vezzali not withstanding.) Pack my respirator, sanitary wipes, health documentation, decent snacks for the plane and download a good book. Email Allison and remind her she agreed to open the fencing salle for early practice while I am gone, since Vitali is still laid up. My life begins to seem complicated when I try to disentangle the pieces like this, even for a week…