I will fake it until I make it!

All about the escapades and thoughts of a girl who thinks WAY too much for her own good!

Sunday, November 22, 2009

Just do it

To dress improperly in Italy is to ask to be shunned. One does not wear “active wear” on the street unless one is working out. And, as I discovered the hard way, one does not do such a vial act as run on the streets of Rome. Running is done in the park or in a gym… only.

There is little forgiveness given to those persons actually walking to the required park in which to run. Piercing stares from un-approving Italians at all socio-economic levels are to be expected until the running actually begins. At that point there seems to be a collective sigh of relief from the Italian citizens keeping guard of decorum while sitting on the park bench; each seeming to turn to their fellow sentinels and nod as if to say, it’s okay. It’s okay. She’s running.

The disapproval starts again when one reaches the 2 block threshold outside of the park. The other day, a garbage man looked at my sneakers and shook his head in disgust.

I understand that appearance is paramount in Italy but, really, must I be treated like a leper while clearly heading to and fro a little healthy recreation?

Thursday, November 19, 2009

Henry Kissinger is my new BFF!

OH MY GOD! I was walking down a side street the other night on my way to my apartment in Rome, but I wasn’t walking the typical easy peasy lemon squeezy Roman pace. My step was full-on fast-paced city walk. You know the speed that says, don’t mess with me. I’m a very busy person!

So, there I am walking when all of the sudden this little old man pops out of the doorway of the Commissione Tributaria Centrale building I was walking past (yeah, I have no idea what that is, but it sounds REALLY important!). I barely had enough time to stop myself from crashing into him. I ended up about 1 inch away from his face.

“Oh Scusami” I offer, as I pull my body away from his.

I recognized him immediately and my face did nothing to mask this recognition. I could feel my eyes widen and my lips turn into a huge smile at the sight of who I had practically knocked to the ground. It was… It was… umm… umm… OH CRAP! I CAN’T REMEMBER HIS NAME!

So I kept on walking.

“C’mon Val,” I say to myself, former Secretary of State, diplomat, Nobel Peace Prize winner. I had nothing. His name would not come to me. But I had to do something, so I turned around to discover that he had turned to look as well.

This was my chance. I had to say something, and so with the biggest, cheesiest, stupidest smile on my face I waved and said, “HI!”

Yep, that’s the best I could come up with… a loud, high-pitched little girl, “HI!” He didn’t seem to mind.  Afterall he did smile and wave back.

I walked on with a new bounce to my step, now only two blocks away from my apartment door. His name, what was his name? Very important man. German born. Nixon. I arrived at my door, inserted the key into the keyhole and yelled out loud, “HENRY KISSINGER!”

I ran up the six flights of stairs to my apartment. I had to Google him to see if I was right. Two short minutes later I was reading his bio on Wikipedia. Staring back at me was the picture of Henry Kissinger, the man I had just, almost, knocked to the ground. I couldn’t believe it. I just ran into Henry Kissinger on the streets of Rome, AND he smiled back at me! 

Think what you want, but I know he and I shared a moment!

Tuesday, November 17, 2009

A Lesson in Humility

Italy is an exciting and beautiful place. Although I have been here a little over a month, I still cannot believe this is my life; that I actually get to live in Italy. I have nothing but appreciation for this opportunity, but the reality is it’s not that easy to be here. Living in a foreign country sounds ideal, but let’s face it, when a dog understands more Italian than you do, it’s a humbling experience.

I’ve had many lessons in humility over these last few weeks. Of course there’s the typical, I can’t figure out how to work my Italian mobile phone because all of the instructions are in Italian, or the,"Oh! You’re not supposed to enter the bus in the middle section because that’s where people exit." kind of stuff. But recently I had a great reminder regarding the importance of not taking yourself too seriously and being humble.

Two weeks ago, I arrived back in Rome after 11 days in Florence. The night I got back an acquaintance of mine, named Pam called out of the blue to say she was in Italy for the next two weeks and could we meet up.

I wasn’t expecting a visitor for another week when my long-time friend Jen would fly to Rome for a short visit. Now, I feared, I would have to change what I had planned for the week and focus my energy on making sure Pam was taken care of and having a good time in Rome. I resented the intrusion on my time in Italy and was not that excited to meet up with her.

I made plans to meet her the next day by the Spanish Steps; Spagna as the Italians call it. I had not done any significant sightseeing yet in Rome so this was my first time in that area. I got lost several times and had to pull out my map to gain my bearings. This frustrated me because I didn’t want to look like a tourist. I kept getting turned around in the confusing narrow streets of Rome.  For quite a while I could not find my way, but was too intimidated to ask for directions because of my limited Italian. I was grumpy, frustrated, and resented that I was in this situation in the first place.

After 45 minutes of being lost within the same 5 block radius, I eventually found the café Pam was waiting in. As I walked up to her she stood and gave me a big smile and hug. She started speaking English a mile a minute as loudly as she wanted. She wasn’t obnoxious; she just did not bother to hide the fact that she was American.

Seeing her was like a breath of fresh air! I hadn’t spoken full-on-rapid-fire-girl-style English in weeks. My bad mood melted away and I jumped into the conversation with just as much enthusiasm as she had.  I realized immediately I had been a selfish jerk.  I didn't have to take care of Pam, she was quite capable on her own!

Pam wasn’t ashamed that she stood out as an American, she embraced it. And, at 5 feet 10 inches tall with platinum blonde hair it’s a good thing she embraced it because there was really no hiding it. Her approach was that she was on a once-in-a-lifetime vacation and she was going to enjoy every moment of it.

That was such a great reminder for me to relax, enjoy the experience, go with the flow, and not worry so much about looking stupid or even worse, looking like a tourist! After all, I AM a tourist; just a longer term one.

Pam and I were practically inseparable for the next two weeks. In that first week together I did things on my own that I had not tried before, like driving a car in Rome and conquering Rome’s underground Metro system. Both were not as hard as I imagined they would be.

I traveled to places I had not even heard about, like a tiny town in the Mountainous Abruzzo Region of Italy named Calascio (kind of pronounced like kah-lodge-e-oh, without the d in lodge), where Pam and I had wonderful Italian dishes that were just added to the fall menu, as most Italian restaurants prepare dishes with what is available in season.

Pam had a chestnut and ridiccio filled ravioli with venison, olive oil, and a little sea salt served on top of the pasta. She said it was the best meal she had ever eaten! Of course the pasta, and ricotta cheese (from my tomato ravioli) was made fresh in the restaurant that very day.

The owner of the restaurant treated us like royalty and provided many extras to our meal like several after dinner drinks that are specialties of the local area.

We had a fantastic time and saw breathtaking views of the mountains and the countryside on the 3 hour drive from Rome to Calascio.

Earlier in the week, we stayed up until 4 AM dancing in a “high end” night club. Night clubs in Rome are just as bad as night clubs in Washington DC, but the drinks are more outrageously priced (a glass of no-name champagne was 15 euros!) and there are more men than women. Most of the Italian men in this club were on the prowl for American woman.  As one man explained to us, they do this because they think American women are “easy.” DAH! Considering most American woman in Rome are either college students or on vacation, I imagine they are “easier” to get than Italian women who are looking for their future husband.

Although “clubbing” is not my thing, it was fun watching the dynamics of the crowd. Imagine a typical dance floor with disco ball turning, lights flashing, music blaring and EVERY Italian man singing American songs at the top of their lungs with a horrible English accent. I still can’t get the sound of this out of my head… “I got a fill-ing, that to-night gonna be a goohd night. That to-night gonna be a goohd, goohd niiiigh…” It was great!

My friend, Jen joined us exactly one week after Pam arrived in Rome. Jen was happy to have the extra company and was up for anything that week. The three of us had a blast! We toured around the sights of Rome, went shopping at the local market, and drank way too much wine! We were on a mission to find the best Aperitivo and Gelato in Italy.  We went shopping in Florence.  We toured Sienna (one of the most beautiful Tuscan towns I have seen yet!).  And we just had a fun laughing and being in good company!

After Jen left, Pam and I jumped a train to Venice for the weekend. SERIOUSLY, who gets to say that?  Who gets to say, “Okay, I’ll meet you at the Coliseum in 30 minutes.” or, “Hey, do you want to go to Venice this weekend?” I am indeed a fortunate woman!

Venice is like no other place on earth. The bridges, the architecture, the canals, the morning mist that hangs over the water, all add to the romance and mystery of this place.  I have decided that I must live in Venice for a short time while in Italy.

These past two weeks have been exceptional and have served as a great reminder for me to be appreciative, to be humble, to be up for anything, and to not take myself too seriously.

Thank you Pam for being you and for reminding me that it’s okay to be me!

Sunday, November 8, 2009

Expressly Espresso: The rhythm of making an Italian Coffee

It’s quick. It’s intense. Just, as I imaging, is an Italian man in bed.

It starts with a quick and loud bang to get the spent coffee grounds out of the single-sized, spouted-cup that will be swiftly shoved back into the massive stainless steel espresso machine.

BANG! BANG! BANG! The fourth bang empties the cup completely.

The bean grinder hums a quick hum and dispenses a perfectly portioned amount of grounds back into the spouted cup.

The tiny espresso cup "chings" when it is placed under the spout to receive the coffee.

Then the hot water chimes in and floods through the coffee grinds to create an intense and insanely hot cup of espresso.

Gulp one. Gulp two. Gulp three. It’s over... and I’m spent!

Saturday, November 7, 2009

Happy Hour Should be Ashamed of Itself!

In Italy it is completely unacceptable to sit at a table or at a counter while in a bar or restaurant unless you pay extra for service. Same food, same drinks, but if you order at the bar and stand at the bar it’s cheaper. If you sit, you’re charged a service fee. Same concept as in the States, but you don't tip based on the cost of the meal, you pay a flat fee.

The exception to this rule is Aperitivo. You can sit during Aperitivo and not pay a service fee. Aperitivo is similar to Happy Hour, but it starts later and ends later (around 6:30 to 9:30 PM) and provides an extensive and free buffet of make-your-mouth-water Italian dishes.

Warm penne pasta with pesto? Sure. Why not? Mini faccia sandwiches with salami and pecorino cheese?  Why, yes, thank you! Caprese salad; thin crust pizza; creamy risotto with asparagus; bow tie pasta with olives and cherry tomatoes; pistachio nuts; marinated olives… YES, YES, YES! And all for around 6 to 9 euro, the price for one glass of wine. OH MY GOD, I LOVE APERITIVO!

I must find a way to get this tradition instituted in the United States. Happy Hour must be adjusted from measly drink specials and discounted mini burgers to a full buffet of Italian wonderment for less than $10! C’mon my American compatriots! Who’s with me?

Monday, November 2, 2009

October 29 - A Foreigner in Florence

I spent the entire day traveling within the Historic Center of Florence meeting potential roommates and visiting new apartments to live in while staying in Florence.

I am quite fond of Katrina (pronounced Kat-air-ee-na in Italian) the woman I have been renting a room from for the last 11 days in Sud Firenze (south Florence), but the bus trip from her house into the heart of the city is taking up to an hour due to construction. Florence has captured my heart and I want to be a part of it. Living on the outskirts of the city isn’t real enough. I want to be in the center. I want to be part of the city; part of its energy. I want to be a Florentine! Allora, the outskirts will not do!!!

My first stop of the day ended up being the apartment I selected. My new flat mate is a French woman who has 47 years. Italians don't say “years old.” Agnès (pronounced An-yay) teaches French at the University of Florence and speaks French, Italian, and (thank God) English fluently. Of course she speaks English with that amazing French accent that every man melts for and every woman would love to have... Oh, oui, Val-au-ray, I wood lik to off-air you zis flat, az I think you air a lovely perzon, noh? 

My room is large and bright, thanks to a nice-sized window that lets in tons of natural light. It’s been painted a soft yellow, has a queen bed, and a big white desk and bookcase from IKEA. French posters are hung on each wall. The cutest antique chair rests in the room.

My view out of the window is of the terracotta rooftops next door. I love terracotta roof tops! The color, dimension, and texture give the roofs their own personality. Too me they are art.

It’s about a 15 minute walk to the Historical Center from my new home. I can see the very top of the Duomo from my new street. My neighborhood is chock-full of beautiful buildings with character and style that new construction simply cannot recreate. The area is blissfully free from the graffiti that plaques much of Italy.

After my new domicile was secured with the required deposit, I ventured out to discover my neighborhood. An Italian girl, who looked to have about 25 years, stopped me to ask for directions. When I hesitated at her question she said in broken English, “Oh, you no speak Italiano,” and I quickly replied in Italian, “Yes, I speak a little!” I motioned for her to go ahead with her question. She asked if I knew a particular street in the area, which, of course, I did not. BUT, I had a map of the city.

I whipped out my map and found her street in less than 5 seconds (it was only one street over from where we were standing). She looked at me, laughed, and said in English, “I can’t believe a foreigner had to give me directions!” I smiled and walked on thinking to myself, “Yeah, well, THIS foreigner just handled that situation pretty well.”

Feeling proud of myself, I walked into the self service market at the end of the block to buy a bottle of water. I pulled at the refrigerator door lightly at first and then with more gusto, but I couldn’t get it open. I pulled again, with no luck. Oh god! Was it not really self service? I tried to look casual. The shop keeper said something to me in Italian. After seeing the confused look on my face he rolled his eyes, walked from behind his counter, pulled the door open from the opposite side I had been tugging on, and handed me a bottle of water.

I paid the man, smiled, and thought to myself, “Yeeaaah, this foreigner could have handled THAT situation a little better!”