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!

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!

Friday, January 8, 2010

Just me

I might be destined to be alone for the rest of my life. Sometimes I’m okay with this realization and sometimes it scares the hell out of me. Not that long ago the thought of being alone (as in without a long-term partner) never really bothered me. Then a few of my girlfriends who are in the 50+ age range kept telling me how much it sucks to be alone and it freaks me out. That’s when I usually jump on Match.com with a solid determination to find SOMEONE to share my life with. I’ve done that now on two different occasions and I have to say the search-through-pictures-and-read-a-bullshit-profile route doesn’t really work for me.

To be completely honest, in the back of my mind I think I will find lasting love, but it won’t be for years and years. I’m not sure why I think this, but I do.

I tend to put my own life on the back burner when I have a man in my life. I suspect many women do this. At least, I hope I’m not the only one! By putting my life on hold, I mean doing less of what I like to do. I work out less because I’d rather stay snuggled up in a warm bed with the boyfriend then drag my ass out of bed at 5:15 AM to prep for a 6:00 AM workout class. I read less. I write less. I explore less. I try less new things. I’m not sure why this is. Over the years I’ve tried to maintain more of “myself” when I have someone in my life. I’ve gotten better at doing so but, still, maintaining balance in this area is a challenge.

For me, Italy has never been about finding a man… never. As I have blogged about before, Italy was always about challenging myself. When I came here I was dating someone who I would have happily stayed faithful to. However, many of my friends old and new seem to have a different idea for what this trip should be about. Some friends thought I should have broken up with my boyfriend before I arrived so I could be totally open to new experiences here. Some friends think I should have a series of torrid affairs with foreign men, just to see what it would be like. And some want me to find the quintessential Italian man who will sweep me off my feet, recognize how “special” I am, and take care of me for the rest of my life.

By the way, I’m not quite sure I like the term “special” in this context. To me, “special” is sometimes code for: high maintenance, difficult, picky, and/or in no way normal like the rest of us!

So many people are interested in this aspect of my trip, I have found myself getting wrapped up again in the need to “find” someone. The number of inquires are serving as very subtle pressure to have a great “story” in this area. I understand completely that people are just curious and, in some ways, living vicariously through this experience, but I’m starting to get anxious about not having someone and I don't want to feel that way. I don’t want to fall into old patterns. I don't want to force this part of my life anymore.

I don't know if I’ll meet someone here. I don't know if I’ll be alone forever.  What I do know is I don't want to worry about whether I'll find someone. I don't want this to become the focus of this trip. I just want to chill out and be me for a while.

My new philosophy at this moment is to be open to every new experience. I want to keep an open mind and re-adjust if I start going down the wrong path. For right now that’s the plan.

Oh, and if I do meet the gorgeous man with the amazing accent who makes mad, passionate love to me, maybe I’ll let you know in some secret way like by titling a blog entry, “It’s a whole new world” and then writing about something that has nothing to do with that topic. Until then, it’s safe to assume that it’s just me enjoying Italy and all that I can make of my life here.

Sunday, January 3, 2010

Florentines have no awareness of spacial relationships!

There are now 2 things I miss about Rome; the Villa Borghese and Roman drivers. Yep, that’s right, Roman drivers. Those people know the rules of the road. They stop for pedestrians in the walkways, yield to other vehicles when appropriate, and seem to have a sensible understanding with the motorcyclists and bicyclists.

I knew without a doubt if I walked out in the middle of the street at a designated pedestrian crossing the cars in Rome would stop. In Florence I feel like I’m taking my life into my own hands even though I’m crossing legally. Luckily my exceptional “Frogger” skills come in handy when maneuvering through the very busy, very unpredictable streets here.

Equally as clueless as the drivers in Florence are the walkers. No one looks before they pop out into the middle of the street and no one yields. I had a man look at me for several steps as he walked right into me and then started yelling at me. He honestly expected me to move, even though he had cut into my lane walking in the opposite direction of pedestrian traffic. I just laughed when he started yelling. Oh wait, no. I mumbled that he could bit me too.

No one seems to have any common sense here. For instance, the sidewalks are very narrow. If a couple is walking down the street with open umbrellas, they will not form a single file line to make room for you on the same sidewalk. So, if you're already on the sidewalk, as close to the building as you can go, the couple will not form a single file line. Instead they’ll bash you in the head with their umbrella, get you soaking wet, and keep on walking without a care in the world.

Women are certainly not granted the courtesy of going first here. The phrase “Ladies before gentlemen” might actually make the men in Florence laugh out loud. I can’t tell you how many times a little old Italian man has cut me off or bumped me out of the way.  It’s not just me. Italians cut everyone off. It’s equal opportunity discourtesy here. This was surprising for me. I was expecting that women would be treated with kid gloves and pedestrians would have a kinship against the evil drivers of automobiles no matter how “Smart” their cars were.

I have access to a bicycle now. The freedom one has with a bicycle is fantastic. Obviously you can get to places in less than half the time and you can go farther than you can when you’re walking. However, motorists here think that cyclists are less than dirt! Cyclists have no rights, which is weird because so many people ride their bikes in Florence.  Helmets are not worn because, apparently, Gucci hasn’t designed one yet. And cars come so close to you on the street that it takes all your resolve to remain calm and focused.

This kind of anarchy would not fly in Amsterdam, I can tell you that! You can get stoned off your ass there, but don't even think about messing with a cyclist!

So, I guess Rome wasn’t all bad, and Florence has some flaws. Sorry Rome. I suppose I owe you an apology.