The Chronicles of Mommyhood

Sunday, March 25, 2007

Revisiting a Roman Vignette

I was reminded of this vignette by a friend who was in town recently. I was also thinking of this incident as I was touching up our recent painting of the boys' room at home. So I thought I would post it here.

For those who don't know, I worked for half a year at the US Embassy to the Holy See in Rome. I periodically sent emails to give friends a glimpse of what life was like living and working in Italy. This one was titled:

Rome Vignette V: Trading Spaces this is not

I awoke early this Friday morning after not one, but
two wonderful Thanksgiving meals to come to work. With
my boss in Bulgaria (even as the Bulgarian president
made his way to Rome to speak with the Pope yesterday),
he had asked earlier this week if I had any plans for
this Friday (a day most Americans take off). As a
consequence of me being the only person in the room
when he asked, I was called upon to perform a task of
great magnitude.

My job—: watching paint dry.

On Wednesday I was introduced to three Italian
painters, of comically different heights and statures.
Their job is to paint the third floor of the Embassy,
consisting of two large rooms, but, as it is a secure
floor, an American with a security clearance must
always watch them, to be sure they don’t install
wiretaps or bugs or something. Their task on Wednesday
was to simply determine the color of paint and “prep”
the rooms. Unlike in America, where one
simply makes a trip to Home Depot, buys several cans of
paint in the desired color and begins, the painters
showed up with “paint base” and a box of at least 30
colors of dye. Then they began mixing them together at
random, bickering the whole time.

After the mixing, a one-foot square section of the wall
was painted, and the three painters stood with their
heads inches from the wall, quite literally watching
the paint dry.

I was watching them watch the paint dry.

The first attempt resulted in a Valentine’'s Day/Betsy kind of pink. Pretty, but I did not think my
boss would, upon his return from Bulgaria, be happy to
find himself seated inside a giant room of cotton
candy. The second attempt was much better, a neutral
shade of beige, which was again watched with great
interest, then reapplied to another section of the wall
by the window so it could be seen in another light. I
was desperately trying to contain my laughter at the
gravity and intensity with which three grown men with
their heads together were staring at paint as I
exchanged looks of incredulity with the other intern.
When this color passed the test, everyone was relieved.

Time elapsed making the color—: 3 hours. (An entire
episode of Trading Spaces is one hour.)

Then they began to move the furniture in my boss’'s
office and cover it with plastic, an agonizingly slow
process for me standing there simply observing. The
other intern came in for five minutes so I could get
some water, and I returned to find everything finished,
including the second room, in which they had covered my
desk, chair and computer with plastic--computer still
on, all my papers and work trapped. I have no idea what
could have prompted this seemingly impossible burst of
speed, but it appears in Italy a watched pot never
boils. Unfortunately, it is my job to watch.

This morning, two of the painters returned and began
painting Peter'’s office while I sat and glanced at
today'’s International Herald Tribune while watching the
paint being applied. As we all know from watching
Trading Spaces more than we will admit, the simplest,
most efficient way to put paint on a wall is with a

One person can easily finish an average sized room in
two hours.

But these two guys whipped out paint brushes— slightly
larger than the ones you used in second grade art
class— and started painting.

Four hours later, I began perusing the Italian papers.
I can’'t read Italian.

After six hours, Peter’'s office is a warm beige. This
was apparently enough to call it quits for today, so
they have not even started the bigger room that I share
with the other intern. I am delirious with shock and boredom at
watching two men paint an entire room with two
paintbrushes for six hours (coupled with paint fumes?).
A few days ago, I took a cheap shot at Italy's not having
embraced the Industrial Revolution. Now I think it
fully justified.


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