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!

Wednesday, October 27, 2010

I am not a COUGAR!

I don’t know why this label bothers me so much. Perhaps it's the range of not so complementary definitions that disturb me so greatly. You know, definitions such as:

Cougar - The term is commonly applied to women who are thirty or older and pursue younger men. - Wikipedia

Cougar - An older woman who is primarily attracted to and has sex with significantly younger men - About.com

Cougar - An older woman who frequents clubs in order to score with a much younger man. The cougar can be anyone from an overly surgically altered wind tunnel victim, to an absolute sad and bloated old horn-meister, to a real hottie or MILF. Cougars are gaining in popularity -- particularly the true hotties -- as young men find not only a sexual high, but many times a chick with her shit together. - Urban Dictionary

The Urban Dictionary definition I find particularly lovely. “MILF,” “sad and bloated old horn-meister,” “chick with her shit together!” ARE YOU KIDDING ME?

But, hey, maybe I shouldn't feel offended, I mean, according to the Urban Dictionary cougars are gaining in popularity with "young men". WOW, lucky me! Now, on top of all the normal insecurities that come with aging, I can worry about being the prize winning goal of some misguided frat night out!  Yay for me!

I have so many problems with the cougar label I barely know where to begin. First, 30 years does NOT constitute an "older woman!" Notice the age range of the guy isn't specifically mentioned in any of these definitions? That’s SOOO unfair!

My second issue is with the presumption that we women over 30 who have dated significantly younger men actually “pursue” them. When I became single again at the age of 35 most men my age were married. The only available men were “significantly” younger or “significantly” older than I was. I guess that means I could have been an adulterer, a cougar, or a gold digger.

Remind me again what men are called when they date significantly younger women? Oh yeah, they're called MEN!

That doesn’t seem quite fair, now does it? I think we need a catchy little nickname for men. Hmmm… maybe I should go out and find myself a LION? Sure a LION; a Lying, Immature, Obnoxious, Neanderthal.

Oh no, does that seem bitter or unfair? HA! Eat your heart out boys (or should I say Lions!). How do you like it?


Sunday, September 19, 2010

50 Days in America

I’ve been home for exactly 50 days. After listening to all of the stories of those who had returned to the U.S. after long stays abroad, I was prepared for full-on culture shock as soon as I walked off the plane. I wondered if the eight lanes of traffic on the beltway would overwhelm me. Would the SUVs that dominate the roads here make me cringe? Would I be overwhelmed while shopping in my favorite mass merchandiser? Would the sound of “loud Americans” make me want to run back to Italy? I wasn’t sure, but I was prepared for the worst.

As it turned out, none of the things I was told may freak me out made much of an impact on me. I loved understanding what everyone around me was saying. I didn’t mind the jam packed beltway (except for the fact that they seemingly cut down every tree that lined the roads in the Tyson’s Corner area to make way for the above ground metro system.). And it seemed that a lot of SUVs had been replaced by Mini Coopers and hybrid cars.

The first time I walked into my favorite mass merchandiser, I found myself greeting the store with a warm smile, “Hello Target, my old friend. Let’s get reacquainted shall we.” And get reacquainted we did, as I spent nearly two hours in the store that day roaming up and down the aisles looking at the wonder of all this affordable stuff. My god we have a so many products to choose from in this Country, and at such reasonable prices!

My initial impressions coming back were these. Americans are polite and friendly. When a woman in the Target store almost bumped into me with her cart she apologized profusely. If an Italian took out my eye with the spike of their umbrella I would not even get as much as a glance back to see if I was okay. But here was a woman who ALMOST hit my cart and provided a sincere apology. Ahhh, God bless America!

Americans smile at you, especially if you smile at them. This was so refreshing to me. No one looked back at me like, who the hell are you and why are you smiling at me? I felt a kinship with these smiling people, like we had an understanding without saying a word.

And then I remembered we DID have an understanding. It’s called culture and it’s what defines how we act and who we are whether we realize it or not. And man, as much as I ended up loving Italy, I am happy to be surrounded by my American culture.

We have freedoms and luxuries in this country that most of us take for granted. Long hot showers (in an ACTUAL shower and not a bath tub with a long handled spigot), air conditioning, and clothing driers were the things I missed the most when I moved away. Now I find myself grumbling that Americans use too much air conditioning (And we do by the way. I am freezing most of the time I enter a building here. Is there any reason it has to be SOOOO cold? ), we waste water, and we over use our clothing driers.

I find that I still line dry pretty much everything. The only exception to this, the one luxury I allow myself is to use my clothes dryer to dry my bath towels and sheets. I know many people love the smell and feel of line dried sheets and towels, but I HATE the stiffness of them. To me there is nothing like rolling into bed with warm sheets straight from the dryer.

After 40 years of loving long hot, hot, hot showers I find myself sticking with the habit I had to develop during my first week of living in Italy, which is to turn off the water while you are washing your hair and your body and just turn it on to get wet and rinse off. How, HOW did this happen to me? I just can’t do it anymore; I can’t spend 15 minutes in the shower letting hot water run over me. It just feels like such a waste. Damn those environmentally conscience Europeans!  Have they ruined me forever?

The biggest disappointment to me has been the food. After nearly a year of only Italian food I was CRAVING other foods. In the months before I returned home I had dreams about Pad Thai from my favorite Thai restaurant in the area. I longed for some authentic Indian food and couldn’t wait to eat anything other than Italian.

Unfortunately every meal I had been craving was a letdown. It was flavorless, or drenched in dressing that it didn’t need, or over salted, or over cooked. Even my favorite American gourmet chocolate seemed to have no flavor.

I was sick every morning for the first two weeks I was home. I’d expect this if it’s your first time eating BBQ in a year, but I was sick even after preparing meals for myself with ingredients I purchased at Whole Foods, “America’s healthy solution to regular grocery stores.” I’m sorry but this speaks volumes to me about the food in this country. I think we’re poisoning ourselves and we have no idea we’re even doing it.

After nearly a year of no radio or TV, the one thing I have found almost unbearable since I’ve been back is listening to radio commercials. The sound of them makes me cringe and I have to turn them off immediately. Luckily I don't have a car anymore so it’s not a big problem, but whenever I borrow one or use my local car share service I usually have to turn the radio off. This is a huge change from how I used to be when I could not stand the sound of silence.

I stopped watching TV a while ago, but used to turn it on for background noise. I don’t do that anymore and only turn it on to watch a movie or get caught up on the news. This is another big departure from my younger days when I used to be called a “walking TV guide!” However I am curious to find out what all the hub-bub is about over this show called, “GLEE!”

Everyone keeps asking me if I miss Italy, and the truth is I don't; at least not yet. What I do miss are the friends that I made while living in Italy. I don't know if I will ever be friends with more genuine, interesting, and supportive people; and I truly feel a void in my life because I cannot connect with them on a daily basis. This has been the hardest transition for me, but believing this small group of amazing women will be a part of my life for a very long time makes it a little easier for me to be here and not be there.

Okay this blog has run much longer than expected, so stay tuned for my next blog which will talk about my new job, living without a car, and what happened when I recently met up with the guy I was falling in love with when I left for Italy.

Ciao tutti!

Sunday, August 1, 2010

My Last Day in Florence

At 9:30 A.M. I was awakened by the ring of my Italian telefonino; “Da na na, da na na, da naa, naa naa!”

Without looking at the phone to identify the caller I manage a “Hello?” in a confused and groggy voice.

“Ciao Valeria. Did I wake you? It’s Nicco. We have your checkout scheduled today for 10:00 A.M., but I am close to you. Can I come earlier?” says the Manager of my apartment rental in a thick, but energetic Italian accent. God I love those accents!

I look over at Bartolomeo who is rubbing his eyes to remove the sleep from his unusually long eyelashes.

“Um, I think 10 o’clock would be better.” I say, knowing that even 10 will be hard for me to accommodate. After all, I’ve got a gorgeous naked Italian man lying next to me and it’s my last day in Florence. I’ve got to savor this moment as long as possible!

“Oh, okay, I’ll see you at 10 then. Ciao, ciao.” Nicco responds.

“Ciao, Nicco.”

“Shoot!” I think, “Only 30 minutes more with Barto,” but then I remember he offered to meet me at the train station later in the day after the end of his shift at the restaurant. I look over and inform Barto that Nicco will be arriving in 30 minutes. Barto shoots me an intense look and starts kissing the length of my neck.

Oh how I love his kisses; full-lipped, soft (but not too soft), wet (but not too wet). I know what’s coming next but I am pulled away from this bliss by the annoying ring of my mobile. This time I look before I pick up the phone. It is 9:45 A.M.

“Ciao Nicco. What’s up?” I say with urgency.

“Ciao Valeria. I am in the building now. Are you ready for me to come by now?”

I look up at Bartolomeo who has patiently paused his repertoire to indulge my telephone call.

“Umm. I’m in the middle of something right now Nicco.” I can’t help myself and I giggle a little after saying it. “Actually 10:15 would work much better for me.”

“AHHH, I understand!” Nicco responds. And by the change in his tone, I can tell he finally DOES understand. “No problem. I see you at 10!”

Ugh, my subtle plea for more time was not picked up on. Oh well, this morning will have to be brief.

At 10 o’clock, after about 50 deliciously full-lipped-good-bye kisses, Barto is off to meet his friends to shop for a gift before work, and I move to the bedroom to finish packing. Nicco bounds in 10 minutes later with a smile on his face that more than hints he knows what just took place in my apartment. I smile a devilish smile, nudge his arm with my own, and tell him to “Just keep quite!”

Nicco and I discuss some details with the apartment, exchange some pleasantries and part our ways. Okay, then, my apartment is sorted.

After a shower I’m off to the center for two last minute gifts. I’m walking today as I’ve given my bike to a friend for safe keeping until my return (whenever that may be). And I’m taking the long way instead of cutting through every back road I can think to avoid the throngs of tourists that congest the Historical Center of Florence in July. Today I want to go at a leisurely pace. I want to look up at the buildings and maybe notice something I had overlooked before. I want to take it all in one final time.

I head first toward my favorite piazza; Piazza Della Signoria. This is the one that took me almost nine months to pronounce correctly. Don't ask me why. It’s not hard to pronounce. I just kept adding an extra “n” in the word right before the final “a.” (Stupid Spanish getting in the way of my Italian!) It’s the one with the fake David statue. It’s the one with the original Rape of the Sabine Woman sculpture. It - is - AMAZING!

This is MY piazza. This is where I rode my bike so many times before in the wee hours of the morning with my friend Christine; she on her bike and me on mine, following each other in single file, making large infinity sign designs with our bicycle tires and yelling, to no one in particular, “Weeeeee liiivvvveee heeerrreee!” This is the piazza I go to when I am sad because it just makes me happy to be there.

I walk into this square with a bit of arrogance. “Ugh, all these tourists!” I think to myself. Cameras are out in full force and I wonder whether these people actually stop to enjoy the surroundings, or whether it’s just about getting the photo. I keep my leisurely pace and knowingly walk through an area where a couple is getting their picture taken near the Fountain. Although I know this is a shitty thing to do, I smile a bit after doing it. After all, it is MY piazza.

I say my goodbyes to Neptune's Fountain (that's what I call it. I have no idea what the real name is), and to the fake David. I take one last spin through the Logge to admire the statues and then I head down the street toward Piazza Della Republica.

Unlike Piazza Della Signoria, this piazza is void of great pieces of art. Despite its lack of artwork it's my second favorite piazza in Florence, although I’m not quite sure why. It’s anchored by higher-end shops (think Hugo Boss) and by restaurants that massively overcharge for the simplest of things (think $7 Euros for a small pot of tea).

On the opposite end of the shops is a lovely arch that serves as entrance into the “Rodeo Drive” section of Florence (think Fendi and Ferragamo). Tucked into a corner of the piazza is a colorful carousel. This is the one I forced my friends to ride with me for my birthday (just so that I could say I rode it). The other side of the piazza plays host to one of my favorite guilty pleasures, enjoying a drink on the patio of the Savoy Hotel.

I desperately want to plop myself down now for an overpriced Spritz (not a Wine Spritzer mind you, but a SPRITZ, which is a perfect blend of Aperol Orange Liqueur and Prosecco with a slice of orange thrown in for good measure) but it is getting late and I still have places to visit.

I move on to the Ferrari store just through the archway. This is my first time in this store, but my brother sarcastically said my nephew wanted a Ferrari as his gift from Italy (but not a red one because all of his friends have red ones) so I needed to oblige as best I could. I wonder if the Ferrari mug I bought him will suffice?

I’m hungry now as it’s after 1 PM and I’ve not eaten yet. I know exactly where I want to eat, Focaccine Bondi which is hidden behind the open air market of San Lorenzo. I am determined to order in Italian with such precision that the grouchy man behind the counter has no cause to pretend like he doesn’t understand me.

It’s the perfect location for me, as I want to say my goodbyes to the Duomo and take one more stroll through the San Lorenzo Market, which has been a source of shopping pleasure for me (and my visitors) so many times that a few vendors know me by name.

I walk back through the arch at the Piazza Della Republica, cross the piazza, make a left past the patio of the Savoy, and head up toward the massive jumble of activity swirling around the Duomo and its Baptistry. I get a kick out of all the people doing all of the same thing; crouching down to the ground as low as possible to include as much of the tall bell tower as possible; or crowding by the Golden Doors to snap a photo that no one may ever look at again. However, I am not annoyed by these tourists. Maybe it’s because this is not MY piazza.

I notice the line to enter the Duomo is the longest I have ever seen, and it occurs to me that in my 9 months in Florence I never did manage to enter the church or climb its famous dome. “Hmm, next time,” I think without any regret, as I am completely confident this is not my last time in Florence.

I walk through San Lorenzo Market with no real agenda. I just want to float around a bit before hitting Bondi for lunch. I stroll past the booths I’ve been past so many times before, listening to the merchants hock their wares, “I make you good price. Look at this nice bag. You speak English?”

I pass once more by the men selling knock-off watches or sunglasses by signs that warn, “BUYING COUNTERFEIT GOODS IS AGAINST THE LAW AND SUBJECT TO A FINE OF $50,000 EURO.” And although I have seen it dozens of times now, the irony of it still makes me giggle.

I enter Bondi with a solid determination to order and pay in Italian without question or criticism. Because it’s later in the afternoon, the place is blissfully free of the swarms of local Italians who eat there. I approach the counter and order the same panino I had the last time I was there (because it was super yummy); tomato, marinated eggplant, and mozzarella placed between heated focaccia bread. No snide comment came from the man behind the counter about my order. Fantastic, mission half accomplished, and the sandwich did not disappoint!

Time to pay; I walk to the counter, tell him my order, pay him and walk off without incident. Well then, mission fully accomplished! “AWESOME!” I say to myself and start to make my way home as it was nearing 3 P.M.

Barto met me at my apartment at 3:30 P.M. to help me with my luggage. I managed to keep it to 2 medium sized rolley-bags thanks to lots of friends taking lots of stuff home with them when they returned to the U.S. after a visit. Although I was emotional and a bit sad at the beginning of the week I am surprisingly upbeat now. I am curious though if I will get teary-eyed at the station while saying goodbye to Bartolomeo.

Barto, being the polite man he is, helped the taxi driver place my bags into the back of the taxi and announced our destination. He even insisted on paying for the cab.

We walked into the main vestibule of the station and looked up to locate my track on the departures board. Yeesssss, the track was not listed yet so we had time to chat and kiss some more. After a pause in the conversation, he looked at me with his deep brown eyes and with the most sincere look I might have ever seen on a man and said, “Valerie I will really miss you.”

Normally I would brush this comment aside and thought he was saying out of obligation, but again, his eyes were so sincere I did not dismiss his words.

After the track was announced, Barto walked me to the train and insisted on carrying my luggage up the deep steps to the designated baggage area (thank goodness he did because they were really heavy). He helped me find my seat and then we both hopped off the train to say our goodbyes.

“I will miss you too.” I share with him, “You are a wonderful man who has more manners, depth and passion than most men I have met in my entire life.” And I mean every word of it. He looks at me with a tiny bit of sadness in his eyes and searches mine for the same. But I am not sad. How could I be? I have just had the most wonderful experience of my life. I am filled with gratitude, pride, and true joy at this moment.

We exchange another round of yummy kisses and I can’t help but tell him yet again how much I love his kisses. He smiles at this (as he always does) proud of his “abilities” in this area.

The train conductor blows his last-call-to-get-on-the-train whistle and I am off. One more kiss, a wave goodbye at the stairs, and I’m headed for my seat.

I get situated. Place my bag in the bin above and settle in with my book. For some reason after a short period I look up from my book and notice Bartolomeo standing off in the distance waiting for the train to leave. We connect eyes and he waves one last wave to send me off. I am deeply touched by this. “What a great guy,” I think to myself and another wave of joy rushes through my body.

“Wow! What a fantastic experience.” I think. “I’m so glad I did this. All of the introspection, all of the sadness, all of the loneliness; and all of the struggle was worth the happiness.” And I decide right there I would not change a single moment of my experience in Italy (with the exception of that one embarrassing dancing experience I shared at Notte Bianco with my friend “Mags”).

I have no idea what the next chapter of my life will look like, but I am not afraid of it. I am excited to see how it unfolds.

Okay, what’s next? I’m ready.

Tuesday, July 27, 2010

I’m Not Special

When I announced to my friends that I was moving to Italy they pretty much thought I was a rock star. For several months I received comments like, “That is so cool!” or “You’re my idol,” or “Oh my god, I would never have the guts to do that!”

Friends and acquaintances went out of their way to provide me with opportunities or advice to make my dream come true.

All of the excitement was a bit surprising at first, but I loved that people were interested, and I loved the positive attention. I started thinking, “Wow, maybe this is a big deal,” and I started to feel a little special, like perhaps I wasn’t like everyone else.

After a brief stint in Rome I moved to Florence in December of 2009. A week after moving to Florence my roommate took me to a holiday party hosted by a group called YAWN, short for Young Anglo Women’s Network. YAWN is made of up mostly native English speaking women living in Florence.

What was supposed to be a casual holiday party turned out to be a defining moment for me because I met several women at this party who changed the course of my time in Italy, and possibly, as time may reveal the course of my life.

These women had similar stories to mine. They too longed for something different. They too sold or gave away everything they owned to move here. They too left family and friends for something unknown. These women understood the benefits and sacrifices involved in living in a country that was not their own.

Being surrounded by women with similar experiences was such a comfort to me. I was relieved to meet new people and make new friends. But after hearing the same answer to the question, “So what’s your story? Why are you in Florence?” over and over again, I realized I was a dime a dozen here. Everyone had done what I had done. I was not special at all.

At first this realization took the wind out of my sails. But now, as I reflect on my 10 months here I realize, no, I’m not special, but “we” all are. We, the ex-patriot women living in Florence who left all that we knew to experience something different; we who believed in ourselves enough to take a leap into the unknown; we who made the most of our lives here no matter how short or how long a stay. “We” are special.

For some of us Italy was our destiny; for others a break from our lives; for others a chance for love; and for others still a launching ground for the next big adventure. Yes, we may have similar stories, but these similarities in no way diminish the challenges we have overcome. They in no way diminish our bravery, our tenacity, and our strength. We took action. We did it, and absolutely yes, we are all special.

Thursday, July 22, 2010

Differences: Toilets & Sinks

Toilets and sinks; sounds like a pretty basic concept, right? I mean, this seems easy enough… you go, you flush, you wash your hands, you leave. Alas, this basic function is one of the myriad things different from how things are done in the U.S.

The first time I went into a public toilet in Italy and turned to flush I had the following inner-monologue, “Okay, where is the little handle on the tank of the toilet? Actually, where IS the tank of the toilet?” Oh, I see, the flusher is on the wall; simple enough. Ummm, okay, what’s the difference between little button and the big button?”


A little later I finally decided not worry about looking stupid and asked my roommate what the difference in the button size was. She simply explained, “The big button is for a big flush. The small button is for a small flush.” Yeah, I felt stupid.

One of my favorite humiliating moments when I first got here was standing in front of a water faucet in a public washroom trying to figure out how to turn on the water to wash my hands. Because there were no handles to turn, I started waving my hands in front of anything I could think of to trigger any plausible infrared signal. So there I was in the middle of my “jazz hands” sequence when someone came out of a stall, walked to the sink, and stepped on a button on the floor to trigger the water. “Oooohhhhh!” I thought to myself while imitating the movement, “BRILLIANT IDEA! Why don't we do this in the U.S.?”


Another “fun” cultural difference to adjust to was the concept of a unisex bathroom. This is where men and women enter the same undesignated bathroom door into an area that provides a common sink to wash your hands and a common mirror to check yourself out. Although, generally, there are designated toilet stalls inside the room for men and women, there is nothing as startling as the first time you walk out of a stall and see a cute guy staring at you while you’re adjusting your outfit and picking the toilet paper off of your shoe.


Ahhhh, unisex bathrooms… just one more thing I will miss when I leave Italy. Hmmmm, maybe not.

Sunday, July 11, 2010

Differences: The Breakfast of Champions

Before I come home and forget all this stuff I wanted to write about a few more difference between living in Italy and living in the United States. So, let’s talk about the cereal aisle in supermarkets.


Now, in the U.S. the cereal aisle is exactly that. A full aisle loaded on both sides with a veritable cornucopia of every kind of cereal that could be invented by man. You’ve got your Cornflakes; Bran Flakes; Rice Checks, Raisin Bran; and Life. You’ve got your Count Chocula; Sugar Smacks; Franken Berry; Captain Crunch; and your Lucky Charms. You’ve got your Kashi Go Lean; your Kashi Good Friends, your Fruit and Fiber; and your various brands of Granola. And let’s not forget about the instant oatmeal in individual packets; rolled oats in the silo shaped cardboard box; Farina Wheat; powdered breakfast drinks; breakfast bars; granola bars; and last but not least… Pop Tarts.

In my first two trips to the grocery store in Rome I could not even find the “cereal aisle.” The reason being they didn’t have one. What they had was a small area of cereal (and I mean small) located near the tea and coffee section that provided four options; one granola based cereal that offered a choice of granola with chocolate chunks, or dried fruit. And the other which offered the choice between plain corn flakes, or corn flakes with chocolate chunks. I’m not kidding, four choices; two with chocolate chunks. In the U.S., with the exception of maybe Cookie Crunch cereal which seemingly makes no apologies for blatantly adding chocolate into a child’s first meal of the day, you don't generally find chocolate chunks offered in a cereal.

Of course, since my first foray into an Italian supermarket in October of 2009, I have found more of a selection in the cereal aisle, but nothing like it is in the States.


A large part of why the cereal aisle is so sparse is because the staple “breakfast of champions” for Italians is a tiny cup of scalding hot espresso and maybe, just maybe, a pastry. Cereal is just not consumed here like it is in the U.S.


In fact, when I was offered a bowl of cereal after spending the night at my boyfriend’s home, I asked in surprise, “You have cereal?” He promptly explained that the cereal in his house was only consumed by his nieces and nephew, all under the age of 10. “Oh.” I said with pursed lips and a prolonged “o” sound. then I unashamedly added, “Yeah, I’ll have some cereal.”

Color me childish, but I’m not embarrassed to admit I need a little more than 3 sips of super strong coffee to get me through the morning. After all breakfast IS the most important meal of the day!

Saturday, July 3, 2010

Un Tavolo Per Due (A Table for Two)

“I would like to accompany you to my home and show you where I live,” announced Bartolomeo, my dreamy Italian boyfriend.


I know this invitation is no small thing, as I’ve been told many times, by many different people that Florentines don't open their homes to just anyone.

Because homes are so expensive in Italy, they are usually passed down from generation to generation. This is why so many Italians live with their parents throughout their adult years. Homes then become part of the history of the family; not just a place to live. Many homes in Italy are older than America itself. Italians appreciate what they have and they take care of it the best way they can. The home, no matter how grand or how humble is a source of pride.

After an almost 20 minute car ride into the hills of Tuscany, Bartolomeo opened the iron gates to his family home, and pulled his car under a flower encrusted gazebo. Typical terracotta pots of varying sizes full of colorful flowers were scattered about the front patio. After opening the front door, (wrought Iron and glass of course) a gauzy orange-colored curtain greeted us. The curtain, no doubt, was used to keep the hungry bugs out and let the cool air in.

The inside of his home was in the typical Tuscan Farmhouse style. A large stone staircase with wrought iron handrails on either side greeted us. To the left was the door to the kitchen. The kitchen was quite big with wood-beamed ceilings; a marble-topped farmhouse table; and a wood-burning oven that is still used for cooking in the winter. The floors throughout the house were lined with terracotta tiles and antique pieces of furniture flanked many of the room’s walls.

At the completion of my tour Bartolomeo brought me back to the kitchen and started boiling some water. By this time it was late, after 9:30 at night and I was not expecting dinner. I sat at the farmhouse table in the center of the room while he weighed some pasta in an antique scale, and salted the water. We made small talk, he with his broken English and me with my non-existent Italian, while the water came to a boil.

When the pasta was completed Bartolomeo motioned for me to follow him into a room I had not seen earlier. After walking into the seemingly dim-lit room a dining room table, dressed with perfect simplicity, was revealed. The table, lined with a classic white linen table cloth that had delicate blue-thread detailing, displayed a bottle of red wine; two wine glasses; two small water glasses; two forks; and at least 20 glowing tea light candles. A larger vanilla scented votive candle anchored the center of the table.

“Wow,” I thought to myself, “I wasn’t expecting this.” I turned to Bartolomeo with a somewhat confused look. His face showed a small but proud smile.

He opened and poured the wine, first for me and then for him, and then left the room only for a second to bring in a carafe of water and the bowls of pasta. He grated parmesan cheese on both bowls and sat down to toast the meal.

“Oh, I forgot something!” He said, as he popped out of his chair and squatted down at the TV cabinet that sat in the corner of the room. A few seconds later he pulled out a record, placed the needle on the vinyl and sat back down.

“Do you know Louis Armstrong?” he asked.

“Louie Armstrong? Umm yes, of course I know Louie Armstrong. How do YOU know Louie Armstrong?” I say in response.

“C’mon” he replies with his beautiful deep voice and Italian accent. “My father and I listen to these all the time.” He points up to reveal hundreds of records sitting on a shelf that lines the top of the dining room wall.

“Oh my god,” I think to myself, “How does a man with so few years have this much depth? How did I get so lucky?”

I can’t help it. A huge smile spreads across my face; my head tilts a little to the left; and my eyes move to a dream-filled gaze… you know the gaze little girls get when they imagine the man of their dreams. As I sat there starry-eyed thinking what a wonderful night this turned out to be Bartolomeo cupped the side of my face with his hand and pulled me to meet his perfectly full lips.

We made a toast, and started to eat. The pasta was simple, shaped like spaghetti but with a hole in the middle of the tube. It was served plain, with just a little salt and parmesan cheese. Dinner was good, but it was late and I could barely finish what he served me, so I offered him what I had left. He ate it while we talked for a few more minutes and then he announced he had to get the secondi.

“There’s a second course?” I ask in surprise.

“Of course” he replies.

Bartolomeo arrived back to the dining room with a full plate of cantaloupe wrapped in prosciutto. I didn’t even have to ask. I knew he prepared it himself. It was delicious and the combination of salty ham and perfectly chilled melon was a refreshing relief from the sticky night air.

When he left the table a final time I was not surprised when he returned with 2 small glass bowls of Tiramisu which he prepared himself that day. He used the same recipe he uses at the restaurant in which he works (a personal favorite of mine) with the exception, he admitted, of using different ladyfingers because he didn’t have the ones they used in the restaurant. Different ladyfingers or not, the dessert was amazing. Again a huge smile came to my face and true joy filled my heart.

“Thank you for this evening,” I say to him.

“Prego” he replies to accept my appreciation, but I know he does not really understand the full extent of it.

How could he? How could he know that a simple dinner together in his home or that any of the little things he’s done for me over these last 4 months have not only provided me with fantastic memories, but have helped me open myself up again, to trust again, and in some ways has restored my faith in men?

He couldn’t know of course, but I’m sure the smile I have on my face every time we are together provides some insight to him that I am happy and he is a part of that happiness.

Saturday, June 12, 2010

Differences: The Naked Truth

This blog is the first in a series I will be doing regarding the differences between the American and Italian cultures.

Italy, like many European countries, is much less uptight about showing the human body in advertisements or storefronts than in the United States. It is quite common here to see bare bottoms, bare breasts, and, if it’s artistic enough, full frontal nudity in advertisements.

The ads here would never fly in the U.S.!  We're way too uptight for this much skin!  This cracks me up because in America many people have no problem with violent movies or video games where one person blows the head off of another without shedding a tear, but show an ad with some nipplage and you'll hear about it on the evening news! 





Note, the ad below is for coffee.  The people have been painted on arms and hands, two of which are holding a coffee mug.  I don't know what this naked jumble has to do with selling coffee, but it's quite artistic, no?



In fact, I’ve become so accustom to seeing nude women in ads or seeing nearly naked mannequins in storefronts that when I came upon a large tour group huddled outside of an underwear store pointing and giggling like 12 year old girls, I could not figure out what they were fussing about.  That is until I heard one of the women say while pointing to a mannequin displaying a pair of thong undies, “Oh my gosh, why would they show that? That’s so weird!”



“Oh that’s right!” I explain to my Italian friend who was equally as confused as I. “We don't really have shops like this in the United States that display their, ahem, “stuff” like this.”

He was surprised by this because in Italy they have at least four national retail chains that sell only underwear, socks, and pantyhose.  Because America has superstores that sell everything from pancake batter to guns, I don't think these little (non-high end) stores would survive.  Sure we’ve got the Victoria’s Secret at the mall, but it's different from these stores and we certainly don't have four national chains thriving on selling only underwear and socks!


I think it's great that people here find beauty in the human (and naked) form.  I find it refreshing, and I will miss the freedom of it when I return to the United States.  We could probably do better worrying less about nudity and worrying more about things that really matter.

Saturday, May 29, 2010

No Pride in Prejudice

Prejudice:

1. An adverse judgment or opinion formed beforehand or without knowledge or examination of the facts.
2. A preconceived preference or idea.
3. The act or state of holding unreasonable preconceived judgments or convictions.

I’m lucky. My parents did not raise me with prejudice. I have long felt that not carrying these preconceived notions about people has allowed me to expand my horizons beyond those who are limited by pre-judging those they have not met. Prejudice and racism are things I have had exceptionally little tolerance for throughout my life. As Austin Power’s dad said in Goldmember, “There are only two things I can’t stand in this world; intolerance for other people’s culture… and the Dutch!”

Italians are prejudice against African men. Notice I didn’t write African American men. I wrote African men. I say this because many, if not most, of the black men working in Italy are from Africa. Unfortunately, a very large number of these men make their living by selling tourists counterfeit goods on the street.

Without obtaining the necessary permits, these men display their illegal wears on large white bed linens so they can scoop up the ends in a Santa Claus-esque sack and make a mad dash from the Italian police whenever the police decide to enforce the anti-counterfeit laws.

While traveling around Italy and Europe I noticed this trend in many tourist destinations; black men with white bed linens on the ground displaying designer purses, wallets, and sunglasses. It’s impossible to miss. They approach you on the street and can be quite assertive in their sales pitch depending on how direct you are about saying no.




This selling of illegal designer goods has not done much to encourage the Italians to open their arms to those from Africa. Quite the contrary; it has caused resentment, distrust, and in some cases flat out hatred. But unlike the U.S. where we have a large and diverse population, Italians do not. It’s hard to convince someone they cannot judge an entire country based on a few, when their only experience with this culture has been witnessing the African male selling illegal goods on the street, while diligently avoiding the police.

As much as I hate to admit this, for the first time in my life I understand how people could form these opinions. Before, I would just write people off as closed minded, or afraid of anything unknown or different, but now it’s not that "black and white" to me.

To understand this prejudice you have to understand certain aspects of Italian culture. For one, Italians are a bit of a closed society. They have a deserved and understandable, albeit extreme, pride in their own history, in their own traditions, and in their own products.

With obvious exceptions, Italians don't mix up the nationalities as much as other countries do when it comes to marriage and making babies (Maybe this is why so many Italians are vertically challenged. Perhaps if we cross-bred the Italians with the Dutch we could stop this shortness epidemic!).

To over simplify, Italians like Italians.

Additionally, Italian design is a source of extreme pride throughout the country. Ferragamo, Gucci, Fendi, Prada, Dolce and Gabbana… so many of the world’s most elite designers are Italian. Unlike other parts of the world where everything is manufactured in China; a large quantity of apparel and leather goods are still made in Italy, by Italians. Selling fakes on the street that were made in another country weakens the brand, takes jobs away from Italians, takes money away from the shop keepers who are selling the legitimate pieces, and reduces the amount of sales tax collected by the government which reduces the amount of money available for public services.

To many Italians this practice not only shows disrespect for something they take great pride in, it threatens their way of life. This explanation is not to say that I condone this view. I’m only stating I understand where it stems from and I can see how it would be hard for an Italian to not think that way.

Living in a foreign country has also opened my eyes to my own capability for prejudice that I had no idea I had. I have come to the realization that I have formed my own prejudice against… Italians.

I know how this must sound. I live in Italy. I’m dating an Italian man. I have a few Italian friends. Still, I have formed opinions of Italians based on my interactions with them and I find myself assuming things about them that I have very little basis for.

For instance, I really do believe a large number of Italian men cheat.  I really do think it’s a larger percentage than in the United States, and I really do believe that I could never marry an Italian man because of it. I have NO statistical proof of any of this mind you. I just believe it based on what I have heard and my limited experience here. On a less negative note, but just as unfounded, I also believe that most Italian men are wildly romantic and fantastic lovers. Again, I have no idea if that is true, but it is my belief.

I’m also not that fond of Italian women. I’m not sure why. The few Italian women I have actually met have been kind enough. My roommate in Rome (an Italian woman originally from Naples) is one of the most lovely people I have ever met, Italian or otherwise. The few women who have spoken to me at the gym seem fine, and the girlfriend of my boyfriend’s best friend was friendly, charming, and welcoming.

However, I find myself thinking that most Italian women are stuck up, have no sense of humor, and are only concerned with their appearance. Again, I have almost no basis for this feeling. I shouldn’t judge all Italian women by those who have felt it necessary to tell me off because I was riding my bike on a perfectly large sidewalk that gave each one of us ample room to pass, or for placing my umbrella too heavily on the ground when entering a building, or for coming into a yoga class without introducing myself first, or for constantly asking me to walk more softly in my own apartment which happens to be above hers.

I know I’m being ridiculous. However, if you make me join a queue in Italy, I’m gonna automatically have my arms on my hips, elbows back with my right leg extended a bit behind me to block the inevitable Italian woman who I just KNOW is going try to cut in front of me in line and not think twice about it.

I’m not proud of this realization about myself, but to deny it would be a lie. And to not address it would be a dishonor to all that my parents taught me and to all of the great people I could befriend. I’m hoping this realization keeps me in check. I hope it keeps me looking at things from a position of empathy and keeps me questioning why I think the way I think, and why I feel the way I feel.

I’m not perfect. I have many flaws that I want to learn to accept, but intolerance is not one of them.

Tuesday, May 25, 2010

Tick-Tock, Tick-Tock

On August 7th I will turn 40. Although I find I talk about age quite a bit, I have never worried about it. I have never been one of those people who panic about becoming the big “four-oh”. In fact, two years ago I started telling people, “I’m almost 40.” As I recall, my entire adult life I have volunteered my age.

Surprisingly to me this admission has subjected me to several lectures from various girlfriends over the years (including those younger than I am) about how I shouldn’t discuss my age. I didn’t understand what the issue was. I was proud of my age. I didn’t feel like I acted or looked my age. Why not talk about it? It’s just a number. But as that significant “number” draws nearer to being MY number, I find myself with more dread than happiness or anticipation. And for the first time in my life, I am seriously contemplating shaving off five years after the big day.

Maybe I’m feeling this way because everywhere I turn I see an article, or have a discussion, or get an email about how much the body starts to degenerate with age; how it’s significantly harder to lose weight; how all of the hair on your body starts thinning; how you stop producing collagen and elastin; how it’s harder to heal from an injury; how your ability to reproduce slows down; how your sexual drive slows down; etc., etc.

OH MY GOD! Too much information! I don't want to know this stuff!

For the last few months I have been dating someone who, let’s just say is significantly younger than I am. Significantly to the point that I won’t even tell you how much younger. One might think this is a good thing; a testament to my young spirit and looks. But dating someone a lot younger isn’t all “Demi and Ashton” glamourous.

Don't get me wrong, in some ways I feel like a total rock star that I can hold the attention of a gorgeous younger man. But, lately, it’s also making me feel more self conscience and aware of my age than even before. I’m noticing every wrinkle on my face that is not yet on his; every extra pound that is harder to shed; every sag here and every bump there.  These are my own insecurities.  I know every person has them.  But knowing that every person has them is not lessening my own burden of having them.


Maybe it’s not so much that I am worried about becoming 40 as the dread I feel about time zipping past me without any way to slow it down. I can’t believe that I have been in Italy for nearly 8 months now. I can’t believe that I only have 2 months left. The first 20 years of my life seemed to take forever, and the last 20 have careened past me like a high speed train running late for its on-time arrival.

Remember when, as a child, a day seemed to last an eternity? And if you were looking forward to something two weeks away it felt like you had to wait an entire year?  I’d like that feeling back please.  Could someone please figure out a way to slow down time?


Monday, May 3, 2010

Turn and Burn Baby!

When one thinks of dining in Italy one may conjure up romantic notions of 2-hour long dinners spent with great friends out on the piazza enjoying mouth watering courses of Italian food and wine served with precision and care.  Well, after living here for 7 months, I now know “one” should think again!

The reality is most Italian restaurants have no idea what customer service really means. I find this strange because Italians are so concerned with quality and customer service when it comes to other industries, like apparel, where it’s considered rude if I select my own shoe box from the stack of boxes on the floor because it’s the job of the staff to pull that box for you and place that shoe on your foot… daahhh!

Let me warn you now, if you come to Italy expecting the kind of restaurant service you get even at a Denny’s in America, you might as well just ask the pilot to turn the plane around right now, because you’re not gonna get that kind of service in Italy my friend!

Most of the time Italian waiters have severe tunnel vision. There is no such thing as working a section of tables rather than one at a time. In Italy waiters get to you when they get to you; can only manage to take a drink order during their first visit to the table (mostly because ordering your meal at that same time doesn’t make sense to them. You order your meal when they come back with your drinks… about 15 minutes after you ordered them); and disappear for what seems like an eternity after the meal has been served.

You know how it gets really annoying at some American restaurants when the waiter or the manager continually comes over to see if everything’s okay at the table? Yeah, well you don't have to worry about that here because NO ONE would bother to ask you how your meal is because they’re not going do anything about it anyway! For reasons that are still unknown to me, the wait staff will pass by your table of empty dishes for 20 minutes without clearing any plates.

But here’s the absolute kicker for me; on 3 separate occasions my friend Christine or I have been asked to leave a restaurant. Yep, someone on the wait staff actually came over and said, “I need you to go soon.” One time Christine was asked to leave after only being at the restaurant for 30 minutes. She was still nibbling on her dinner plate when the waitress said she needed the table!

I’m sorry, you can talk to me about cultural differences all you want, but there is nothing as off-putting as being asked to leave a restaurant while in mid-sip of a freshly poured cup of tea! Especially when you’re not being loud, you have not stayed there without ordering an appropriate amount of food, and there is no wait at the door!

Oh Italian restaurants, if you could just adopt this one little habit from the United States, just this one little concept called restaurant service, I’d be the happiest gal on the planet!

Saturday, May 1, 2010

For Stephen

If you were still here I could share with you all the insignificant things that only you and I would understand and appreciate.

If you were still here I could tell you how sorry I was for being so judgmental when we were married.

If you were still here I could wish you happy birthday, on this day, which would have been your 40th.

But you are not still here.

You left this life 1 year, 5 months, and 18 days ago.

You left this life before I could forgive you.

You left this life before we could be true friends again.

Today, I say to you what I said to you on our six year wedding anniversary when we did not know if we would stay married.

Today, I say to you what I whispered in your ear when you were dying.

Today, I say to you what I think to myself every time I become overwhelmed by your death.

Stephen, my heart is always with you.

But today I also add, I forgive you and thank you for all you have taught me.

Thursday, April 22, 2010

Letting Go

If you know me or if you’ve read my blog profile you understand that I’ve had quite a lot going on over the last 5 years. Some things fun, many things not so fun.

I have often wondered why these things happened to me. What did I do, or who did I piss off to make this bad karma come my way? After a while, difficult events became so commonplace in my life that bad news didn’t upset me anymore. So in January of 2009 when I was called back into my doctor’s office (10 days after we buried my former husband) and was told I had a suspicious lump in my breast that needed to be investigated more thoroughly, I actually laughed out loud. I remember thinking to myself, “Are you kidding me? What else could possibly be thrown my way?”

Eventually, I noticed I found an unexplainable satisfaction in telling my friends yet another story about something crazy that happened to me. I had this weird need to talk about my sad story even with people I didn't know very well. I think most people would keep these things to themselves. After all, some of my stories are kinda humiliating. Why would anyone want to tell anyone, especially relative strangers about it?

I recognize of course that part of why I talk so much about things others would not is because this is how I process things. Others in my family are more cerebral. They think their way through things and don’t take action or even talk about it before their thought process is complete. I’ve tried to be more like this; to think more and talk less, but I can’t do it. It’s just not the way I’m made. I’ve got to talk things out or I literally feel like I’ll explode!

I’m also positive a large part of me needed validation from those around me. I needed to hear that I did not deserve these bad times; that I was a good person, that I deserved better.

The talking helped. The validation helped. But what also happened was I became defined by these bad events. I wrapped them around me like a security blanket and I found a strange kind of comfort in the, "Don't you feel sorry for me?" role.

The problem is when you hold on to pain, or resentment, or self pity it’s hard for the events that caused these emotions to become part of your past. It's hard to move forward.

But taking this time for myself; to think, to write, and to just “be” me has brought me to a place where I am ready to move on. I am truly ready to forgive. I am ready to throw away the security blanket and let go of my precious pain.

Yeah, some tough stuff has happened to me over the last few years, but that is not who I am. That is not how I want to be defined. I want to be defined by the woman I have blossomed into; confident, happy, goofy, and content.

Friday, April 9, 2010

The Sounds of Italy

I am sitting by my open window sending emails to friends and absorbing the sounds floating into my new home. The sun is shining. A church bell is chiming in the background. The smell of fresh flowers and an occasional cigarette from my neighbor's window is filling my nose. Italian is being spoken by the construction workers in the courtyard below.

When I can simply listen to Italian, without the pressure of having to understand what is being said, I am reminded of the absolute beauty of this language. I hear the music of its cadence, and I get lost in its rhythm.

Of all the major Romance languages, Italian retains the closest resemblance to Latin, which was spoken by the Romans and forced upon Italians during Rome’s reign of power. Until the 19th century Italy had no national language, but was filled with local dialects. It was common that Italians from the North could not communicate with Italians from the South (or any other region) because the languages were completely different.

Italy’s unification in 1861 produced profound transformations including mandatory schooling which caused an increase in literacy and resulted in the adoption of the national language, based on Tuscany’s dialect, with less native dialects. As a result, the modern and beautiful language of Italian was born.

Okay, the construction workers have started to speak again. The echo of their words are rising up through the courtyard of my building. The church bells are once again chiming; time for me to get lost in the sounds of Italy.

Saturday, April 3, 2010

Embracing Home

For months I felt off kilter here; definitely not like myself. I didn’t understand why I wasn’t happier. This was my reward for my last 4.5 years of hell. I was supposed to be living my dream, but there was an underlying uneasiness; an underlying sadness that I could not shake. Insecurities I had hoped were gone forever came back to me. I felt ugly. I felt out of place. And maybe hardest of all for me was I felt invisible. “Ugh,” I thought to myself more times than I'd like to admit, “After all I did to get here, I made the wrong decision! I gave up too much, and the “prize” wasn’t worth it.”

I arrived in Rome on October 11th. By December 5th I wanted to come home. I almost did come home for good, but my friend Nat convinced me not too. She didn’t say, “Don't come home,” she just asked a lot of good questions about motivations, frustrations, and personal goals. Nat understood where I was coming from because she moved from her home country to live and work a foreign country and had to essentially start her life from scratch. She understood where I was in my head. Truly, if it were not for her, I don't know where I would be living at this moment.

By early-March I was still not feeling like me, and then my friend Sherrie came to visit. She was just what I needed; a slice of home, a kick in the ass, and a reminder of whom I really was. The day she left something inside me switched back on, and I felt empowered. I realized that my destiny was not to live in Italy. I stopped fighting the desire to go back home and set a date to return in August of 2010. I felt back on solid ground again. I felt like a weight had been lifted from my shoulders AND my heart.

This decision allowed me to relax and enjoy the ride much more than I had been. I’m smiling more. I’m laughing more. I’m flirting more. I’m dating more. I’m speaking more Italian, and I’m forgiving myself more for not being better at speaking Italian. Life is good, but it’s funny where life takes you. The day I decided to move back home is the day I felt the most comfortable in Italy. I’ll tell you what though, learning that your real life is better than your dream is a fantastic lesson to learn and a lesson that, I believe, was worth moving to Italy for!

Thursday, March 25, 2010

Reflections Upon My Time in the Women’s Locker Room: The Differences Between Italian and American Women

One of the biggest cultural differences of note since I arrived in Italy is… well… hmmm, how do I say this? Okay, let’s just say the personal grooming habits of American women versus Italian women; which is to say that American women actually have personal grooming habits, and Italian women seem to be a bit more “tribal” when it comes to this particular area.

Actually I find this very interesting because Italian women are exceptionally concerned with their appearance. In fact, plastic surgery is quite common among Italian women. Apparently, however, no plastic surgeon has ever consulted with them on the wonders of a Brazilian Bikini Wax or laser hair removal, ‘cuz honey if you walk into any women’s locker room in Italy you’ll think you just entered the African jungle with women who have never seen a razor or a pair of scissors in their entire life!

I know this because Italian women walk around naked as a jay bird in the women’s locker room. This naked locker room stuff may sound normal to American men, but here’s a news flash; American women don’t like to do this. In fact, we hate it! We know that every woman in that locker room is checking us out when we’re not looking (because we do it too) so we’ll do everything we can to make it look like we’re okay with changing in front of women, but to avoid it at all costs.

Not Italian women; no sir!  Italian women will chat away with their friends while standing buck naked in the middle of the locker room. Of course it’s almost impossible not to steal a look at them, which is how I know they don't shave or have any cellulite. Seriously! Even the few and far between big girls don't have cellulite. They are just thick. I really don’t understand how this is possible with the massive amount of pasta consumed in this country!

I don't think I’ve seen a pair of full coverage cotton undies since I’ve been here. These ladies love their g-strings; and since even the grandmas here don't have cellulite, I guess they have no need for “granny panties!”

Oh, and try to walk out of that locker room without taking a shower after class and you’ll get looks like you just said the Pope wasn’t Catholic.

The last observation that makes me want to fall to my knees, hold my head in my hands, and scream out, “IT’S JUST NOT FAIR” is that Italian women don't sweat. I’m not joking about this. They just don't. Keep in mind I work out 5 to 6 times a week, often 1 to 2 hours every session. My point is, I am a reasonably fit woman; but I’ll walk out of a fitness class drenched in sweat, while the Italian women (who seemed to have worked just as hard as I) have only a light glimmer of dew upon their brow. This baffles me so much I’ve asked the other sweaty American women who go to my gym if they’ve noticed the same thing. They all concur; Italian women don't sweat! Seriously, it’s bizarre and soooo unfair!

Wednesday, March 17, 2010

Putting Yourself First

Before I left for Italy my sister told me that she did not want to be my friend anymore. She explained that although she loved me very much, she needed to change our relationship due to many deep and personal reasons having to do with her childhood. My sister and I had always been very, very close. We supported each other through the roughest of times (and believe me there were some very rough times growing up in my family) and the happiest times of our lives.

Hearing my sister say she did not want to be my friend anymore was crushing. Truly it was like someone sucked all of the air out of the room and my lungs were struggling to function. Anytime I thought about what she said I would cry.

Why didn’t she like me anymore? Was I so terrible of a person or a friend? What had I done? How could I change to make her like me again? All of these questions cycled through my head as I tried to figure out why she felt the way she did. I cried for weeks and weeks until I could get my head around what she said and why she said it.

The fact is her decision had little to do with me. It was a decision my sister made to ensure that she followed the path she needed to follow so that she could live the life she wanted to live. Justified or not, I reminded her of her painful childhood and nothing I could do or change about myself would make her feel any differently. She needed to separate me from her life so that she could move away from her past and continue to mold herself into the person she wanted to be, not the person her family had determined she was when she was growing up. Again, it took me a few months to look at this with some perspective as I was hurt, angry, and confused.  

Now I understand how much strength it took for my sister to do this; to look out for her well being above another’s well being. To ensure she was making the right decisions for her even if these decisions caused pain for someone else. This is not such an easy thing to do. As women, I believe we have a natural tendency toward nurturing and putting other’s needs before our own. In the religion in which we were raised we were taught to do for others before doing for ourselves. Of course one cannot be so self-centered as to be oblivious to others and their feelings, but she was not doing that. She was taking care of her own needs so that she could be a happy and complete person which would allow her to be giving and kind to others in a more balanced way.

Recently I needed to make some decisions that were not as serious but in the same vein; best for me but most likely would hurt or confuse others. This was not easy to do. I struggled with putting my needs first and then being honest and upfront rather than making excuses or telling little white lies. In the end I hope these people also realize my decision to put myself first had very little to do with them and almost everything to do with me.  I hope they can forgive my selfishness.  I hope they understand that a large part of this trip has been about finding balance, understanding and loving who I am, and making the most of the time I have on this planet.

Tuesday, March 2, 2010

Italian Men Do Not Like My Blog!

I find this pretty interesting for a number of reasons. First of all, how do they even know about this blog? No, no, I know who you are and I know how you know about my blog.

Actually, I have only met two Italian men who speak English and seem to understand American culture well enough to really understand what I am saying in my blogs. That does not mean all Italians can’t speak English well or don't understand my American sense of humor. I just haven’t met too many of them yet.

Of course Italian men don't like my blog! Putting the language and cultural barrier aside, look at the stories I have written: The Thing about Italian Men; Italians Have no Awareness of Spacial Relationships; Welcome to 1950; The Phenomenon of Blonde Women in Italy; 95% of Italian Men Cheat. And now add to the list a little ditty named, “Italian Men Do Not Like My Blog!” and I am sure I’m not scoring any additional points with the fine Italian Uomo (men) in this country!

The fact is the blogs I write about Italian culture are full of overgeneralizations and clichés. They are written tongue in cheek on purpose (that means not seriously for any Italian man who may be reading this blog and not understand the term). They are written from my point of view only which is unapologetically sarcastic. They are written with the intended purpose of seeing things from different or non-glamorized point of view.

Of course I have no idea if 95% of Italian Men Cheat! Of course not all Italian men gawk at Blonde women. Of course not all Italian men dislike my blog… well, that may actually be true. But the point is these blogs aren’t written to please the audience. They are written as therapy for me, and used as my creative outlet.

I write when I am feeling lonely or intimidated, when I feel inspired, or when I find humor or irony in a situation. I don't write much about how much I love living in Italy, or how I love Italian food, or how I love the passion Italians have for life because I don't seem to have anything interesting to say when it comes to these topics.

The fact is if I did not like being here, or if I disliked Italians I would leave. Yes, sometimes it is hard for me to be away from home, but Florence is a special place. In most ways it is still unspoiled by American culture (there is not a Starbucks in sight!); it is still very old world. I absolutely love most parts of living here; but still, you won’t find me writing too much about that. This general state of happiness doesn’t inspire me to write, it inspires me to go out and experience more happiness. And that’s what I think I will do right now.

Sunday, February 21, 2010

Desire

I try to stay away because too much of you is dangerous. But sometimes I can’t control myself and my body actually longs for you; to take you in my mouth; to feel you on my tongue.

Sometimes my mind drifts back to the first time I had you. I think about how surprised I was at how different you were from what I had imagined. I remember how you made me feel; how in my entire life I had never experienced anything like you. Even now, your taste lingers in my mouth.

And, as the spring draws near, my resolve is weakening. I’m finding it harder to maintain my will power and stay away. But how can I be expected to stay away? How can I continue with this self-inflicted abstinence? I don't think I can hold out much longer... Oh gelato you are my vice and my muse!

Friday, February 19, 2010

The Little Things

When I first moved to Rome in October of 2009 I was scared to death to get on the bus. But in Rome you NEED the bus to navigate the city. It’s too far to walk everywhere; taking a taxi is way too expensive; and the metro doesn’t get you to enough places. But I didn’t understand how the bus system worked and I was intimidated to even buy a ticket even though I had memorized how to ask for one in Italian. There were just a lot of unknowns in this area, so the whole bus thing was very intimidating to me.

I remember the first time I got on the bus on the correct side of the street and exited the bus at the proper stop. I was filled with self satisfaction. “Yeah, that’s right,” I thought to myself, “I just took the bus by myself… in Rome… without any help!”

When I managed the Roman subway system, AND a bus transfer, AND a walk to the Ikea located in the suburbs of Rome, I really thought I had accomplished something noteworthy. And on the rare occasion when I actually manage to put together a sentence in Italian without any help, I feel like a complete rock star! “I just used the past tense of “to have” in a sentence in Italian! Who wants to touch me?!”

Yes, these are quite the accomplishments for a woman of 39 years! I mean, could you imagine the reaction of your friends in your home country if you announced at a dinner party that you were proud of yourself because that day you rode a bus to the supermarket and you managed, all by yourself, to buy some cheese and vegetables! I dunno, I think my friends in Washington, DC would look at me like I was on crack!

But not here; not when you’re a foreigner living in Italy. Here your fellow ex-pats understand these small victories. They know firsthand the challenges of finding your way in a foreign country. They understand that these little things matter. This, I have to say, is one of the things I absolutely love about my friends here in Florence. There is nothing like having a table full of people shout, “BRAVA, BRAVA” while giving you a round of applause because you’ve managed to piece together the most basic of Italian sentences.

And so, this has been a large part of my life here over the last 5 months; managing the things that seemed so small when I lived in a world I knew; riding a bus, buying a pineapple, learning a new language, making new friends.  But these things, these little things are in no way small. They have taught me immeasurable lessons in humility, in survival, in patience, and in appreciation. And these lessons, no matter how hard to take sometimes are a large part of why I came here in the first place.

Thursday, February 11, 2010

95% of All Italian Men Cheat!

Yep, 95%! At least that’s what I’ve been told REPEATEDLY by Italian men. The first time I heard it, I blew it off with my usual, “yeah, right” response. By the fifth time I heard it I was mumbling, “What, what, wha…” in high-pitched confusion, like my Aunt J from Bean Town.

How could this possibly be true? NINTY-FIVE PERCENT of the Italian male population cheats? I was astounded. The Italian guys sharing this statistic were also astounded… astounded that I actually thought the rate was not that high in the U.S. “No, it’s the same everywhere,” they would say, “You just don't know about it.”

A quiet and defeated “ugh,” came from the back of my throat. Could this possibly be true?

“It’s a good thing,” these Italian men try to convince me. “How? How could a 95% cheating rate possibly be a good thing?” I ask, almost begging for enlightenment.

The compilation of answers is actually interesting. But before I get to sharing them with you, there are some things you need to understand about Italian men first.

In many ways, Italian men are in NO WAYS like men from the U.S. For instance, even with a casual hook up Italian men will treat the women like they are seriously dating. They will “make love” to them on the first night, spouting lines and making moves that rival the best movie scenes ever filmed. They will ask them to sleep over, to snuggle all night, to walk the dog with them in the morning, and they’ll spend the entire next day with them. When you hair is ragged and your makeup is a memory of what it was the night before an Italian man will make you feel like you are the most beautiful woman in the world. But what you have to remember is they will do the exact same thing with the next random girl they hook up with the very next night. Italian men believe in “taking care” of their women; even the hookups or the ones on the side.

Okay so back to the noted reasons why; I don't know how else to share these with you other than in a bulleted list, so I have ranked them in order of my favorites, the first one being my absolute favorite reason.

• It’s just what we do. It’s expected of Italian men.

• It keeps us interested in sex with our own partners.

• It keeps things fresh because you’re not having the same old sex all the time. (Same as before just said a little differently)

• As long as we are treating our wives and families properly (and they dont know about it) where’s the harm?

• If we had kids I would stop cheating for a while until they grew up.

• My wife and I are only staying together for the children. Don’t I deserve to have some happiness in my life?

The thing is I believe these guys actually believe this stuff. And maybe it’s because of the different culture here, but these reasons are starting to make sense to me too. Oh my god! I’m going to have to turn in my girl card soon! I mean, I still don't wish it upon anyone, but it was becoming more and more difficult for me to have an intellectual argument against this, you know, other than blurting out, “it’s just WRONG!”

That is, until I started assuming the same rules applied to women. I mean, it’s that whole goose and gander thing, right? As a woman shouldn’t I be able to keep things “fresh” in the bedroom too? Don't I “deserve” happiness as well?

And that’s when I think every Italian man in the country stopped what they were doing, raised a quick ear to the wind and let out their own quiet huff of disgust in response to my clearly American supposition that women had these same cheating privileges. “What? Women don't need to cheat on Italian men,” I’m told in response, “And if they do it’s rare and not really acceptable.”

“Ahhhhh… of course not,” I say feeling like I’m back on solid ground again. And then I think, God bless America (and Canada too… love you N). Let the arguments begin!

Sunday, February 7, 2010

The phenomenon of blonde women in Italy.

Italian men are obsessed with blonde women! I had heard the stories over the years about Italian men approaching blonde women on the street, touching them as if they were some sort of freak of nature; calling them names or just circling around them like a pack of hyenas moving in for the kill. You’ve probably heard these stories too, but you think they’re clichés, so you don't pay much attention... right?

Personally, I’ve never been attracted to those with blonde hair. I like my boys tall, dark, and handsome (in a pinch, normal height, dark, and handsome will do. And, don't get me started on my fascination with red heads or salt and pepper colored hair!). Anyway, as a lifelong brunette I’ve never really understood the fascination with blonde hair. What’s the big deal?

But in Italy, OH MY GOD it is insane!

You can’t help but notice the difference in the way blonde women are treated here. Men of all socio-economic levels will literally stop what they’re doing and stare. But not just any stare. This is a long, deep, and dirty stare. The kind that sorta makes you feel uncomfortable after you’ve witnessed it! Italian men will run up to an unsuspecting blonde, flip her hair with their hands and keep running. They’ll yell out, “Hello Barbie” with those gorgeous Italian accents. They’ll slow down on their motorcycles and lick their lips while getting a better look. It’s truly unlike anything I’ve ever seen.

Italian woman HATE the blonde girls. ALL blonde girls: skinny, not skinny, tall, short, young or not young. It doesn’t matter. They’ll shoot them death stares for seemingly no reason; ignore them while working behind a counter; and make their boyfriends change seats with them at a restaurant so the boyfriend can’t make eyes at the pretty blonde across the room. All of these things I have witnessed firsthand. And I have to say, I still don't really get it… it’s just blonde hair!

You might think this is incentive enough to go a little darker on top. Ah, but let’s not forget the upside to this phenomenon. You’re smiled at by men all the time. You get into clubs for free. Men hold the door for you and grant you the right of way most of the time and you’re always the first to be approached while in a group of women.  These are some nice perks eh?

Still, don't fret about me, we brunettes (who blend in nicely with the locals) get our share of attention too.


Monday, February 1, 2010

WOW!

I've received quite a few emails and comments on my last posting, Growing Pains. It’s been both interesting and encouraging to hear people’s responses to that entry. Some people focused on the finding a guy part, some focused on the control freak part, some wanted to know why I thought I would be a failure if I came home, and some just didn’t want me to be sad. One friend (you know who you are!) asked if I was allowed to use profanity in a blog.

Let me start by stating that I am feeling better now. I’m not 100% of myself yet, but I’ll get there. I have a tendency to give myself deadlines for when I should feel better or be over things (whether I’m ready to be or not) and, along with growth in other areas I’m trying to break this habit. As much as I like to think I’m Superwoman the reality is I am not.  And, although I am strong, and I do believe in myself, and I really do like who I am, I have insecurities. I have low points. And I do get scared.  This time I’m letting myself feel this sadness and loneliness because it’s normal and I know it’s necessary.

As some of you know, I’d like to be an author. I love to write, but after college I stopped writing for pleasure. Several years ago I started keeping a journal to help me manage the myriad things going on in my head (it’s a scary place up there!).  Writing is therapy for me.  It gives me the opportunity to explore and admit how I am truly feeling.

I wrote in my blog that I want to stick it out and not come home yet for many reasons, but the primary reason is because I know if I come home now I will throw myself into work, give up on my dream of being a writer, and settle into a life that I don't want. That equals failure to me. If I try to write a book and I cannot find the words, or if I write a book and then cannot sell the idea to an agent or a publisher, I would consider myself successful. Not believing in me and not having the courage to at least try to make this happen is failure. It doesn’t matter what anyone else thinks. It really only matters how I feel about this.

Writing in my blog has given me the chance to try out my writing style on a varied audience. It’s given me the opportunity to see how comfortable I am with putting my raw feelings out there. It’s given me a forum to understand how I handle both criticism and praise.

The feedback and comments I have received on my blog have given me the confidence to know I have a point of view people are interested in. I’m gaining more confidence in my writing style. I’m not letting my grammar mistakes get in the way of sharing my feelings or my point of view. Writing this blog has given me the confidence I need to start my own book. But, if I were not in Italy I would not be writing the blog. I would not have the time to write. If I were home I would work and maybe see my friends for dinner one night a week. That’s all I could ever manage to do in my life. Again, this is not a bad life at all. That life is not a failure; it’s just not the life I want right now.

Life is full of highs and lows. As is said, life is the ultimate journey. I just wanted to slow things down and actually experience this journey. That includes the messy stuff too. I certainly got what I wished for. Now I want to have the courage to be the real me, accept the real me, and move myself toward the life that I want. Being here is a big step toward that life. I know I can do it. I will stumble at times, but as a new friend says, “that which is for you, will not pass by you.”

Thank you for your interest and please keep the comments and the feedback coming (the good, the bad and the ugly).  It's helping me get to the life I want.

Thursday, January 28, 2010

Growing Pains

I have been down for days. It started off with a general bad mood that moved into a terrible head ache and now deep sadness. Yesterday I cried harder than I think I have since my former husband died. And as I write now, I have tears in my eyes. I am embarrassed to admit this. I mean, I live in Italy. I only work part time. I am “living the dream!” What’s there to be sad about?

I keep telling myself that I am just homesick; that the “honeymoon” phase of being in Italy is over; that I am settling into my life here and this is to be expected. I know all of this is all true. I know this is normal. I know this feeling will go away. I know I am growing from this experience. I know all of this. But, the fact remains; I am filled with sadness right now. And, although I am surrounded by wonderful new friends again, I feel completely alone.

This is the first time in 19 years I have had time to slow everything down and think. When I think about that statement I have to admit it’s in no way an exaggeration. Since I left for college I have filled my life with activity that has left almost no time for real introspection. Yes, of course I have taken time off over the years and had those epiphany moments (that’s how I got here!). But I have been in Italy for nearly four months. Four months of introspection while navigating a new culture is quite different from a week at the nearest beach.

The truth is I am afraid. Like most people I hate the unknown. I hate not knowing what’s next for me. What will my life look like after Italy? Will there be an “after Italy?” Will I ever meet this person that everyone thinks I “deserve?” Will I ever stop caring about meeting that person? Will I ever truly be okay with “just me?”

All of my friends (old and new) have been great. The pressure of finding a man or meeting “the one” is off. Well, the pressure is off from everyone else. I have realized at this point, the only one trying to force the guy thing is me! It’s not like I talk about it or am actively pursuing it. But in the back of my mind I find my thoughts moving toward finding a man way more than I realized or than I want. At times this has weakened my resolve and I have almost gone down paths I am sure I would deeply regret.

This frustrates the hell out of me! Why do I care so much? Is it really so horrible to be alone? Of course not! I know this in my heart, but as a reforming control freak I’m finding it hard to stop engineering every part of my life.

Right now my unknowns are pulling me back to the life that I know; work, career, and professional fulfillment. These are all honorable things. There is absolutely nothing wrong with having a successful professional career. I could move back to Washington, DC tomorrow, resume my old life and make a legitimate point about why it was the right time to do so. I could do that and most likely no one would blame me or look at me like I failed. Well, that is, no one but me. The truth is I believe I am destined for a different path in life. The fact is I have no idea what that path is and it scares the hell out of me.

Don't worry. I’m staying here. I’m riding this out to the end. But my god this is fucking hard sometimes.

Saturday, January 23, 2010

Welcome to 1950

Living in Italy today is in many ways is like I what imagine it would have been like living in the 1950s. Most of the time the little idiosyncrasies are charming and there are many lifestyle choices that I want to bring home with me, but there are some things about 2010 that I miss a lot.

How is Italy like 1950 you ask? Well, I've taken the liberty to outline of few of my thoughts on this topic in the paragraphs below.

Everyone smokes... everyone.

Campari and Martini Rossi are very popular here. What, never heard of those mixers before?  Yeah, that’s because they’re from 1950!

Everyone dresses in their Sunday best at all times. Fedora hats with wool scarves and overcoats, Italian leather dress shoes and gabardine slacks are the standard winter dress code for older men. Take away the Fedora hat and you’ve got the standard dress code for the rest of the men in Italy. Many Italian women continue to proudly wear fur coats because no animal rights organization is going to impose on their right to stay warm and be fashionable. Actually, the dress here is surprisingly conservative for men and women.

Walmart, Target, and Costo do not exist (although IKEA does.  They pronounce it EE-KAY-AH). The concept of bulk buying does not exist. People shop daily and they buy in small quantities as there is no “extra” room to store that 20 roll pack of paper towels. Paper towels are seen as luxury and a waste. Dish towels are the norm.  Just imagine the dish towels your grandma had in her house and you’ll understand what is used here.

Refrigerators are the size of "ice boxes" and eggs are not refrigerated. Microwaves are exceptionally rare. You’ll stick that last piece of pizza in the oven if you want to warm it up. And if you want to heat up some left over pasta or soup you’ll use the stove. There’s no instant gratification in 1950!

The weather still plays a major factor in how Italians live. Most Italians cannot afford clothes dryers. The machines themselves are expensive, but more so Italians cannot afford the electricity that is required to power a clothes dryer. Because they dry their clothes on an outdoor clothes line (even in the middle of winter if it’s not raining) or on an indoor fold away rack, drying time must be taken into consideration for what is washed and when it’s washed. For instance, the clothes you want to wear on Friday had better be washed on Wednesday to allow for the proper drying time.

Apparently the fear that one can catch their death of a cold is not just the stuff of Jane Austin novels. Italians (and many Europeans) still believe they can get sick from being out in the rain or out in the cold. They'll decide whether they'll leave the house based on the weather. Of course not having a car to get you from one point to another plays a major factor here, but still, Italians don't want to hear any scientific mumbo jumbo about how only viruses or germs can make you sick.

Many Italians cannot afford a car so they own a bicycle. People of all ages dressed in their Sunday best ride their bikes everywhere; to work, to the market, to restaurants, to bars, to school, to church… everywhere. But because it’s common for bikes to get stolen, no one invests in a new bike. That’s why so many “vintage” bikes are still in existence. These bikes have not changed much since the days of poodle skirts and saddle shoes. The bikes here still have chain guards so your dress pants don't get stuck in them, utilitarian baskets so you can carry your fresh bread and vegetables from the local market, and bells so that you can signal for the frustratingly unaware Italians to make room for you on the street.

Very few people, including students, walk with earphones to listen to music. It's a little strange to see because in Washington, DC and many other major metropolitan cities in 2010, earphones are an essential component of any wardrobe.  It is still common and acceptable to be late for work because you ran into a friend on the street and were catching up.  Italians believe wearing earing earphones isolates people from one another and that's not acceptable behavior for 1950.

Office dynamics sound quite Mad Men-esque. For instance, smoking in your office is allowed. Drinking at lunch is common place and sexual harassment is a relatively unknown and un-feared concept. Dating the boss is certainly not frowned upon. In fact, several of my girlfriends working for Italian companies have been told that women who “fuss” about suggestive comments at work probably just need to get laid.

Of course Italy is not COMPLETELY stuck in 1950. They have high speed Internet for goodness sake! Then again, you do have to sign a 2 year contract to get it. This forces many Italians (and visitors) to survive on an Internet key. An Internet key is the equivalent of an air card in the U.S., but it’s way more expensive and way less reliable. And then of course there’s the… the… umm… Okay, let me think… how else is Italy not like living in 1950? Hmmm (long uncomfortable pause)… Nope just that little wormhole called the Internet; that’s pretty much it!

Allora, welcome to 1950!