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!

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.