Sunday, December 13, 2009

Food, wine & music in Frascati

Last Sunday my friend Ana and I took a day trip to Frascati. The Lawyer (a guy I had a little flirtation with when I first arrived) had invited me there one evening but I turned him down since he asked me at the absolute last minute and I just don't roll like that. But he made it sound really cool so I put it on my list of cities to check out. Frascati, about 20 mins away from Rome by train, is known for its wine so it’s a popular nightlife destination for Romans looking to do something different on a Friday or Saturday night. But without access to a car, Ana and I decided to just go for the day.

It’s a beautiful little town but that’s not really saying much because Italy in general is beautiful—you gotta be bring a whole lot to the table if you want to stand out as a special, unique city. Physically I wouldn’t rank it any higher than say Milan. BUT the trip to Frascati will stand out as one of the best, most-authentic days I had during my entire stay in Rome.

There was a huge street market going so we wandered around the town for a while (it seemed like every single resident and their dog was out enjoying their Sunday afternoon passagiata), looking at the random merchandise, stopping in the church and checking out the views of Rome. Finally we stumbled onto a piazza that had cart after cart of the very thing I came after: PORCHETTA.

Last year a porchetta shop opened on my block in New York. It got great write-ups and there was always a long line out the door but I would pass by the place every day without so much as a second glance. I'm just not normally a pork eater, if I have it five times a year its a record. But now that I was in Frascati (right next door to Ariccia where porchetta comes from) I had to have it—if only to be able to tell all those downtown hipsters I had the real deal :)

So we stopped a man on the street and asked him to point us to the best place to buy porchetta. We bought the sandwiches along with a large container of sundried tomatoes, artichokes and grilled eggplant (all of it drizzled in olive oil) and walked down the street to the cantina he recommended.

Now this was the coolest part: you buy your lunch then bring it to a tiny little cellar that serves nothing but homemade wine. For 1 Euro we got to fill up a pitcher with wine from the huge barrels in the back of the shop, spread out our food on a picnic table and eat and drink to our hearts content.

While we were eating we chatted with the owner of the cantina as people came in and out with empty bottles to fill up with wine (someone even came with a empty liter bottle of Pepsi, no joke). As our wine ran out, Max (the brother of the owner) came over and filled our glasses back up with wine from his pitcher. He was clearly nuts (in the best possible way) but we somehow got into an interesting conversation with him about Italy (he emphatically insisted that he wasn’t Italian, he was Roman) that segued onto the topic of music and he told us he was a musician who performed all over Lazio. Suddenly he stood up and ran out of the shop. Five minutes later he came back with his guitar, plopped himself down at our table and started to sing for us.

Aside from us, there was an older couple from Rome who had driven to Frascati for lunch. Between listening to the beautiful Italian songs, talking with the older couple, speaking in French with one of the customers (he was explaining the concept of the cantina to us but asked to switch to French as his French was better than his English—yay for knowing a foreign language!) and chatting with the shop owners, it was an incredible afternoon. We stumbled out of there 3 hours later, tipsy from the delicious wine (in addition to the two carafes we bought, Max must have filled our glasses 4 times), stuffed from all the great food and grinning from ear to ear. I live for those kinds of experiences.

One funny thing to mention: there were tons of gnats flying around the cantina, one even fell in my drink. I’m really squeamish in general but the owner insisted that they wouldn't hurt us and it was totally normal to have them around since they just finished making a fresh batch of wine that morning. Um… ok. We spent half the time swatting gnats and trying to keep them from falling into our meal. As we were leaving Ana joked, “Don’t worry. If we’re lucky we only ate 10 of them.”

Tuesday, December 8, 2009

Happy Immaculata!

Today is Immaculata, a feast day dedicated to the Immaculate Conception of the Virgin Mary. It’s a national holiday in Italy but since I’m not Catholic (and in fact grew up in the Protestant tradition) I had never heard of it until a friend mentioned it yesterday. After doing a bit of research I learned that it’s sort of a big deal—big enough that the Pope comes out to give a public blessing and pay homage to the Virgin.

Now a chance to see the Pope in the flesh, Popemobile and all, was too good to pass up so I walked over to the Spanish Steps and took my place with the hundreds (thousands?) of other people packed into the piazza. By the time I arrived at 3:30pm (the blessing started at 4pm) I could barely find a spot on the Steps so I can only imagine what time the folks with the front row seats got there.

I couldn’t see the entire ceremony from where I was standing on the steps (the Pope places a garland of flowers on the statue of the Virgin Mary at the other end of the piazza) but I did get to see the military guys come in, the whole motorcade procession and THIS:

And I’m done. I can go back to New York happy now :)

Monday, December 7, 2009

Day trip to Ostia Antica

I spent an afternoon at Ostia Antica, the ancient Roman colony founded in 620 B.C. It’s a quick 30 minute trip on the metro so I decided to go there one afternoon last week and check it out.

The funny (or sad?) thing is that I was so spooked out by the place that there were a couple instances where I didn’t do/see everything I should. I just didn’t expect the place to be so damn creepy! Just imagine traipsing through a bunch of old ruins, its nearly deserted, deathly quiet, in the middle of nowhere, with crazy pigeons popping out of every corner to scare you half to death. Yep.

Like at one point, I walked down this long deserted backstreet to check out the old tenement-housing complex. It was built for the lower-middle class families, complete with several 5-story apartment buildings and even a tavern that had a real bar with shelves for food & drinks, a sink and wall paintings— very cool.

Towards the back of the area there was a building with stairs you could climb up to take a peek inside the apartments from above. I really wanted to look inside. But after a few minutes wandering through the deserted, maze-like place the hairs on the back of my neck started to stand up (it was Ostia’s “projects” after all).

It was like being in a horror movie and I just though, 'You need to get your ass out of here before this turns into some sort of Night of the Living Dead situation!' So I quickly left—walked back out and onto the main path where there were at least a few other living humans. Its so stupid, believe me, I know. Why would I be freaked out by a bunch of old buildings? lol, as my mom would say, I need Jesus.

The thing was that it was a random Wednesday afternoon and it was late in the day so there were hardly any tourists around AT ALL. And the whole place has an eerie, frozen-in-time vibe… if I had known I wouldn’t have gone by myself. To my defense, my friend Ana went a few weeks ago and said she felt really creeped out too and left early. So I’m not totally crazy :)

(The Theatre)

Anyway, here are more pictures from the trip. It was still awesome. Very cool to wander around an ancient village, its so amazingly preserved (the entire town was covered in mud after a bad storm which preserved it and kept it safe from medieval thieves until the excavation in the 1930s and 40s). At the same time, its always hard for me to really wrap my mind around something of this magnitude. This town was here centuries before Christ. That’s a whole lot of history!

(The Thermal Baths of Neptune... cool mosaics on the floor)
(The Mill from 120 A.D., where grains were ground by twisting those blocks of stone)
(An oven to bake bread)
(The Grand Temple/Forum, dedicated to Jupiter, Juno and Minerva)
(Gov't-subsidized forum baths: it had steam rooms, pools, masseuses, the works!)

Tuesday, December 1, 2009

The countdown

2 weeks from today I’ll be leaving Rome…

As I write those words I still can’t believe its true. Where did the time go? I feel like I just got here and yet nearly 3 months have passed since I first arrived. Initially I planned to go home for the holidays and return to Rome in the New Year. This was based on the idea that I would have a great apartment to return to... not the case. Lord knows I can’t and won’t stay in this SanLo apt a second longer than I have to. And with no home to return to I don’t know if I’ll be returning at all.

Leaving Rome feels almost like a breakup. Even though the city kicked my ass a few times, I loved it here and the fact that I have to say goodbye so soon is heartbreaking. But when I look back at this experience, it won’t be Rome that makes me smile the most. What I will think of most is how Rome served as a base for me to explore this beautiful country. Before I arrived I made a list of 19 Italian cities I wanted to visit while living in Rome—I’ve since crossed off 13 of them and that fact thrills me to no end. I have seen the most incredible sights and have collected experiences that I'll be able to savor for a lifetime.

But more than anything Italy brought me back to myself. Just a few months ago I woke up to the realization that the life I was living wasn't for me. The nearly 10 years I spent working in my field were great, perfect for the girl I was then. But by the time I got back from Paris I had finished that chapter and was ready to move on to something new. What? I didn't know. But then there I was, back in that same old job, feeling miserable under the weight of other people's expectations... until I decided to return to Paris. And from there began my journey of being totally authentic to myself. Loving myself enough to ensure my own happiness, seeking out my life's purpose, trusting my instincts, taking a leap of faith. By coming to Italy I proved to myself that I have the strength to start over; that doing things for the simple fact that you want to is not always a bad thing and definitely not something to be ashamed of; that sometimes the unclear road is the best one to take. And finally, I learned to love this period of uncertainty. To really relish in the simple act of living just as strongly during the times of doubt (as Rilke phrases it, "living the question") as when you're floating through life with a concrete plan in place. Its the most valuable lesson I can take home with me. Boy, have I lived. And by now I've walked too far in the right direction to start moving backwards... the road is still uncertain but I'm finally at peace with that and I'm excited about what will come next.

Speaking of strength, last year I saw Benjamin Button and this speech from the final scene really resonated with me:

“For what its worth, its never too late to be whoever you wanna be. There’s no time limit; start whenever you want. You can change or stay the same—there are no rules to this thing. We can make the best or the worst of it… I hope you make the best of it. I hope you see things that startle you. I hope you feel things you never felt before. I hope you meet people with a different point of view. I hope you live a life you’re proud of. And if you find that you’re not, I hope you have the strength to start all over again.”

I'm going to enjoy my last days here: spending time with friends, traveling around Lazio, eating everything I can get my hands on and just soaking up the magic of Italy. Living here has been surreal and I’m really going to miss this crazy place. The good news is that I've thrown enough coins in the Trevi Fountain... I'll be back :)

Saturday, November 28, 2009

On family...

My aunt and cousin came to visit me for a few days last week and we had an absolute ball. Their timing couldn’t have been better… they arrived in Rome on the same morning that I lost the apartment of my dreams so I didn’t have time to wallow in self-pity. They just helped me clean up the SanLo apt, get the place organized and stock the fridge with food. And they convinced me that I was better off just where I was.

We didn’t do much touristy stuff—a trip to the Vatican for Sunday mass, a stroll through Trastevere, a nighttime walking tour of the major touristy sites (Spanish Steps, Trevi Fountain, Piazza Navona), shopping on via del Corso and a visit to the Colosseum. One night we had dinner at Tram Tram in SanLo,
another night dinner and drinks at Etabli; but other than that we stayed home. My aunt is the typical Haitian mother and insisted on cooking three elaborate meals every day instead of "wasting money" by eating out— great for me considering that I was wiped out from my Amsterdam trip. So we spent most of the time in my kitchen, sitting at the table drinking wine & prosecco, eating and talking.

At one point, my aunt decided to cure me of my single status by teaching me how to cook (which is of course is the indicator of whether or not a woman is ready for marriage, lol).

She taught me how to make pork chops, rice & peas and potatoes (in lieu of plantains) and it turned out pretty darn good if I do say so myself, especially since it was my first shot at cooking something other than spaghetti.

When they left on Tuesday morning I was really sad to see them go. Being so far away I often miss my family so it was nice to have a little slice of home with me, even for a few days. Plus I haven’t laughed so hard in a long while.

For the record I must say (I'm a bit biased but so what): I think Haitians are hands down the best storytellers ever. I don’t know if it’s due to growing up in a country where most people don’t have regular access to other forms of entertainment (TV, movies, etc), but no one can tell a story quite like a Haitian can— the kind of story that has you on the edge of your seat, eager for more. Its the intonation of their voice, the colorfully outrageous choice of words used to describe the simplest things, the facial expressions, gestures, dancing and full out Oscar-worthy acting that leave you with tears running down your face, gasping for breath. Sadly I wasn’t blessed with the storytelling gene but I've been lucky to have been around it my entire life.

Though my parents came to America when they were teenagers and I had a very typical suburban American upbringing, our family was always intrinsically Haitian (much to my chagrin when, as a kid, I just wanted to be like everyone else). I remember lying in bed with my grandparents and my mother every Sunday morning, listening to them “by blag” (telling funny stories, the level of truth varying widely). And even though I could barely understand their grownup talk at that young age, I laughed right along—it was better than any sitcom I’d ever seen. I remember holidays and parties when all my aunts and uncles would get together, the shrieking laughter that would go on all night, and my cousins and I, the American-born kids, begging our parents to keep their voices down as we tried to watch cartoons in the next room.

These stories are meant to serve as warnings, teach lessons, share family histories, gossip about things going on “back home”, reminisce about the good old days, and sometimes just plain entertain. Translated into English it would lose its magic. Its a beautifully rich culture with wonderful old traditions and though I haven't been to Haiti in many years, its such a part of me. Its something I want my children to experience but considering my fabulous way with languages it probably won’t be me who teaches them :)

So it was in that world that I spent the past 4 days. The fun we had! It still makes me smile to think of it.

I’ll leave you with a little T-Vice, a popular Haitian band my aunt turned me on to… go figure.

Thursday, November 26, 2009

A real Amsterdammer

Ahh, Amsterdam. How I love that beautiful city.

I met E’s sister-in-law at her wedding in Ardeche this August. She’s a super sweet girl and her husband (E’s brother) is also really great. We had a blast in Ardeche so when they invited me to come to The Hague to celebrate her 30th birthday in November I agreed. Even though I hardly knew the couple, I figured there would be a few other people at the party who I did know so it would be fun.

E, who lives in Paris, just signed on for a new film (she’s an Art Director) shooting in Amsterdam so she would be there; an old friend from college in New York happened to be in Amsterdam for a business trip and to celebrate his 28th birthday; I would get to see a bunch of friends who I haven’t seen since E’s wedding; I planned to take a train to Berlin afterwards to see a dear friend who’s been doing the music thing out there for the past 2 years; and I’d get to see another part of the Netherlands and visit my beloved Amsterdam again after a long 2-year absence.

In the end none of that worked out. The production on E’s film got pushed back so she wasn’t coming to Amsterdam after all. My friend in Berlin got a last-minute gig in Spain. A few of my Amsterdam friends were out of town or busy with work. My New York friend and I kept playing phone/email tag and didn’t end up meeting up. None of the people I knew ended up going to The Hague for the birthday party so it was just me with 40 semi-strangers. And it didn't help that by the time November rolled around I was broke from my train trip around Italy. Plus it was freezing cold and rainy every single day—which is such a pain in a biking city. It was just one of those trips. But when you travel you have to be prepared for everything to go wrong and just be determined to have a good time anyway. Not to say I didn’t have a great time—its impossible not to in Amsterdam—but if I hadn’t gone, things would have been much better on my wallet.

(Vending machine dining on Leidseplein at 2am. Surprisingly delicious)

I arrived on Wednesday and my friend picked me up from the train station and took me back to her place to drop off my bags before she went back to work. The absolute first thing I wanted to do was go to the movies to see ‘This Is It’, the Michael Jackson documentary. Rome being Rome, they only have a handful of random English-language movies playing at any given time. Everything else is dubbed in Italian. And I desperately wanted to see the film before it left theatres (by the way if you haven’t seen it yet, go immediately. I cried like a baby the entire way through. Then again I’ve been a die-hard MJ fan my whole life).

My friend lent me her bike and I spent the entire week trying to be as much of an Amsterdammer as possible. I wanted to relax on this trip, to see just how lazy I could be. I spent long luxurious days in the brown cafes, rode up and down the canals just to admire the scenery, went vintage shopping on the Nine Streets (I bought a fabulous fur coat and a great army tote bag) and the Dam, ate anything Dutch I could get my hands on, hung out in various English bookshops, had lovely dinner parties with my Dutch friends, met friends for drinks, checked out a couple music venues at night and visited a few sites (including the Anne Frank house which was incredible).

(Anne Frank House)

(Hotchpotch at Moeders restaurant)

I even became a local at Café Winkel—I went there so often that the waiters started saying “See you tomorrow!” when I left. They’re known for their delicious appeltaart and once I tasted it I kept going back for more. Plus its a super cute café in a great neighborhood—cozy and warm and I would stake out my favorite seat in the corner, order my pie and latte, read a book or write in my journal and watch the rain fall outside for hours. It was blissful.

On Saturday I left for the birthday party in the Hague. I was a bit self-conscious since the party would be full of strangers and people I barely knew. But I was determined to make the best of it. I helped with the cooking and the setup.

I was prepared for a lousy time but it actually turned out to be really cool. Nothing to write home about but a nice atmosphere. I mingled with the guests and met lots of interesting people—among them a renowned physicist and a rock musician and a Dutch guy who entertained us with stories about his trip to Compton (LA).

On Sunday afternoon we took a tour of the Hague.

Stopping by the beach for pancakes, and the city center for raw haring, a Dutch quick snack speciality. I'll try it once but that was more than enough for me (note: it does not taste like any sort of sushi). I guess its an acquired taste.

Then we walked around the city center, window shopping and checking out the Sinterklaas displays (is it just me, or is the concept of "Black Pete" very bizarre?). The Hauge is a really nice city but its no Amsterdam so I was happy to get back on Sunday night.

On my last afternoon in Amsterdam I went to check out the new Jimmy Choo collection at H&M (it sucks by the way) and happened to park my bike in front of a coffeeshop.

I’d never been inside of one before. The last time I was here my friends wanted to show me the real Amsterdam, minus the stereotypical touristy stuff so I skipped it. The thing is, I’m not a smoker but I always thought it would be interesting to give it a try in Amsterdam since its legal and all. I hesitated for a couple minutes before finally deciding to go in. I went up to the bar and looked at the menu while I waited in line. I felt kind of stupid trying to figure out what was what while everyone else just came in an expertly ordered their drug of choice. By the time my turn came up at the counter I was already feeling a bit lightheaded from the contact smoke so I decided to leave. I’m such a lightweight (this summer I tried pot brownies for the first time and spent an hour throwing up in the bathroom) Lord only knows what that Dutch weed would have done to me! lol, maybe one day I’ll finally try it but not this time.

So that was my trip. I had a great time and it was so awesome seeing all my friends, but by the end of the week I was so ready to get back to Rome. I’m not sure when I’ll get to go back to Amsterdam again... but next time it had better be warm out! That winter weather is no joke!

Saturday, November 21, 2009

Ain't that about a bit*h...

The past two days have been an absolute whirlwind! Intense highs and lows, all within a 24-hour time period. You know when every single thing that can possible go wrong DOES GO INSANELY WRONG?!

About 2 weeks ago, just before I left for Amsterdam (still need to blog about that, forgive me), I got an email from a woman who saw my Craigslist ad in search of housing. K is an American filmmaker who lives in New York and keeps and apartment here in Rome. She emailed me and said her place would be available from mid-Nov to late-Dec and from the pictures and description it looked great. Unfortunately it was also out of my price range and I told her so—she said she would email me in a few days and if no one else was interested in the apt I could have it for my price (I gave her a figure at the upper end of my budget). A couple of days later I got the “OK” from K and we scheduled a time for me to view the place. She was in Germany but her French boyfriend B could show me the apt the day after I got back from Amsterdam. I went to see it on Thursday evening and it was absolutely gorgeous. It’s a cozy 2-bedroom apt in a lovely old building near Forum Romano, beautiful indoor courtyard, amazing views of the ruins and a big slice of Rome, all white furniture, working fireplace, new electronics—it looked like a hotel. And the best part is that it would be all mine. I quickly agreed to take the apt and scheduled to come by at 8:45am the next morning to hand over the money and get the keys from B.

That night I was literally on cloud nine. I could finally leave the hellhole of an apt I was staying in and really enjoy my last few weeks in Rome (more on that later). I stopped by the ATM but it wouldn’t allow me to withdraw the full amount so I decided to do half that day and get the other half the next morning. But the machine spit my card back out, giving me the message “Invalid Card”. I didn’t think too much of it, just went home and called my bank. They said they would increase my credit limit so I could withdraw the full amount and my card would be functional again within the hour.

At this time L (the girlfriend of the guy I’m renting my room from) comes by to pick up the money for that month's rent. She didn’t get my text so I had to explain to her that something came up and I would be moving out in the morning. After a little protesting she left but 30 mins later I get an angry call from T (the guy who’s room I’m renting) from Ghana. He was going on and on about how I have to give him the money for the month anyway since I gave him no advance notice that I was leaving. I was going to tell him exactly where he could shove his stinkin’ apartment but once again my mom had (wisely) told me to be polite and calm and just say I was sorry for leaving suddenly but something came up. We ended the call with my telling him I would do my best to try to find someone to take over my room and we would discuss details later.

2 hours have now gone by so I went back to the ATM. Again, “Invalid Card”. I tried several times then decided to walk down the street to another ATM. Still no go. By this time its midnight and I’m starting to freak out. I tried to call the bank again but there was a long wait for a live person so I said to myself, 'Ok I will go to bed and wake up at 6am to try again'. Then I'll have 2 hours to straighten this out with the bank if my card still doesn’t work.

Meanwhile I did feel really bad about skipping out on T. He’s a really nice guy, its not his fault that his roommate is sh*t and he lives in a crappy neighborhood. So I prayed on the situation—I asked God if I had done the right thing and to show me some sign if I had made a mistake. The next morning I go to the ATM to try again: “Invalid Card”. I’m on the phone with the bank for the next 2 hours—alternately running to the ATM and back to my apt to frantically call and tell them its still not working. On their end they said there was nothing preventing my card from working—no block, no hold, my available daily limit had in fact been increased. And the weird thing is they didn’t even see any activity showing that I was attempting to make a withdrawal.

By this time its 8am and I have to head over to the Forum apt to meet B. I tried 3 more ATMs along the way, each one said “Your card is not valid for international transactions”. I was nearly in tears. When I arrived B was in a big hurry—he had to leave at 9am to catch his flight. He looked at me and said, “Where are your bags?” and that’s when I told him what happened. I told him I had my checkbook for my American bank account and I could write him a check for the amount in US dollars but other than that, my hands were tied. He told me that since it wasn’t his apt he’s not sure what K would want him to do. Understood. He said she was flying back to NYC from Germany that day but I could try to reach her. He would leave the keys with the grocer downstairs and maybe in the next day or two it would all be sorted out and I could move in then.

I called K and couldn’t get through to her. So I sent her an email asking her to let me know what we could do ASAP. Meanwhile, L had been calling me nonstop all morning, 15 times in a row! I ignored it. She was in the neighborhood and wanted to come pick up the keys from me. By noon I still hadn’t heard from K and the idea of being homeless on the streets of Rome just didn’t sit well with me. Plus I couldn’t dodge L’s calls and texts any longer so I took a deep breath, called her and gave an Oscar-worthy speech: I told her that I had slept on it and realized that I made a mistake in not giving them adequate notice that I was leaving. That they were really nice people and I didn’t want to leave them in the lurch so I would do the noble thing and pay for one more month. I wasn’t sure if I wouldn’t be able to stay for the entire month but I would let them know if I had to leave before Dec 15th. In any case, this would work out nicely for them as they would not have to scramble to find a replacement. It would put both our minds at ease. (Thank God I my mom made me be nice about it in the beginning or they could have thrown me out on my ear!)

And with that, the Forum apartment was gone. I was irrevocably tied to the SanLo apt until Dec 15th.

By 2pm K finally sent me an email saying she was at the airport but I could send her the money via Western Union and when it posted (next Wed) I could go pick up the keys and move in. Of course, Western Union costs 50 Euros and since I was already exceeding my budget for this apt, I just couldn’t afford the extra expense. Plus by that time it was too late. And there’s no way I could have stayed in the SanLo apt for another week while I waited for the money to clear. So I would have had to move into a hotel and that’s just way too much drama and expense. I tearfully wrote her back saying that I wouldn't be able to take the apt after all.

And wouldn’t you know it, by 4pm that very afternoon my ATM card suddenly decided to work. Now ain’t that a bit*h...

I believe that everything happens for a reason. Yesterday was a strange series of events that made it IMPOSSIBLE for me to get that apt:
1. My card stopped working the day I needed to withdraw money; in the 2 years that I’ve been in Europe (and the 3 years I’ve been with this bank) that has never happened.
2. B had to leave Rome at 9am, if his flight were in the evening instead, my card would have been working again and I could have given him the money.
3. K is traveling and doesn’t have access to phone or internet so I can’t contact her to find out how she would like to handle things. Maybe that US check would have been ok.
4. My cousin arrived from NYC with enough cash to lend me for the rent. But her train got into Rome at 10am, just one hour after B left.
5. By 4pm my card is working again, 7 hours too late.

I don’t believe in a vindictive God so I know it wasn’t that He was punishing me for handling things badly with T and my sudden move-out. God makes no mistakes so I know there must be a reason why I was meant to stay here in SanLo (to work on my patience perhaps?) or why I shouldn’t have been at that Forum apt. I have no idea what it is. And even knowing that everything worked out exactly as it should it doesn’t stop it from hurting (it was soo painfully close!). I just have to swallow the feelings of disappointment and keep it moving… I will stay positive and continue to enjoy my time in Rome regardless. As a wise man once said, “You can make the best or the worst of it. I hope you make the best of it.”

Wednesday, November 18, 2009


Before I mention my trip to Amsterdam I just need to rant about my roommate for a bit or I may be driven to do something irrational...

Last night around 11pm I come home after a looong day of traveling. I’m exhausted and have the beginnings of a cold so I’m feeling pretty crummy, I’m just glad to be back in Rome and ready to climb into bed. As I walk around the front of the building I notice that the lights are off in the apt so I’m even more excited—great, my roommate isn’t home so I’ll have the place to myself. I unlock the front door and what greets me? An overwhelming stench of stale cigarettes and hot garbage that nearly knocks me right over. And it didn’t help that he left the heat on (meanwhile its 65 degrees outside), just to cook everything to the right level of putridness. I put my suitcase and bags in my room and went to investigate.

When I left for Amsterdam last week I said I would not throw out the trash or do the dishes this time. No matter that I use maybe one plate and two cups per day, I’m always the one doing the dishes. And the trash was just about full when I left so I was sure that by the time I got back, Asshole (that’s my roommate’s new name) would have been forced to clean up a bit. The dumpster is RIGHT in front of the building, its not that difficult. But no. Of course not. When I opened the cabinet the can is literally overflowing with garbage (I hate when people leave trash teetering on top of the pile. Its obviously full! Just throw it out!). Then I look at the sink and its full of dirty dishes (one of which is a cup of milk which has turned bad, adding to the delicious smell). Then I notice that the same ashtray full of cigarette butts and joints (can I call the police and get him arrested?) is STILL on the kitchen table. Then I notice a pot on the stove. I lift the lid and what do I find? Something that I imagine used to be tomato sauce is now a pot full of mold! MOLD for goodness sake! That was the absolute last freakin straw. All I was thinking was that this motherfu*ker better be murdered in his bed, there is no other excuse for the place to look like this (I actually went to check. No body).

But wait, it gets better. After the assault in the kitchen I escaped to my room, determined to leave everything exactly as it was and give him a piece of my mind when he got home... never mind that he doesn't speak English. Later I went to the bathroom and of course he had left the seat up… fine. I can deal with that 3 times a day. But then I went to use the toilet and stopped dead in my tracks. There was literally FECES smeared on the toilet seat. This disgusting, stupid, no-good, cheating, lazy, nasty ass piece of SH*T! I cannot and will not.

Do people seriously live like this??! I am not a clean freak by any means. I don’t mind leaving dishes in the sink for a day or two, my clothes may be strewn around my room from time to time, that sort of thing. But to live with someone who NEVER cleans up after himself? Who lets things get so bad that you’re literally gagging from the smell? I have to close his bedroom door when I go past b/c it smells so bad in there. I don’t know if it’s the Italian male thing and he thinks that since there’s a woman in the house, he doesn’t have to clean up after himself. I know he just moved in recently (the guy I’m renting the room from only said by way of an explanation, “He’s not the most interesting roommate but he’s never home so that’s good”) and I don't know what his level of cleaning participation was before I arrived but this is downright ridiculous.

Now you know homeboy and I already had some issues but this just pushed me over the edge. I planned to put the bag of trash in his bedroom, along with the pot of mold but my mom talked me out of it—she said, “You don’t know him. He could be crazy and kill you for doing something like that.” I guess she’s right. So I left the pot of mold on the stove (I cannot even look at that thing, let alone touch it. Just the thought makes my stomach queasy), threw out the trash, washed the dishes and opened the windows to air the place out. But would it be so wrong if I cleaned the toilet seat with his toothbrush?

Tuesday, November 10, 2009

Day 5-7: Milano

And finally, Milan. The last stop on the trip and the city I was LEAST looking forward to. I don’t know what it is, but every time you mention Milano to anyone in any other part of Italy, they give you a look and say, “It’s the worst city in Italy. Don't go there, you'll hate it.” Consistently. Every single time, same response. Well all I have to say is that I didn’t hate it one bit.

I stayed with my friend Sonia who I met at M’s wedding in France in September. She works at an executive search company for the fashion industries and travels between Paris and Milan once a month… she also has a French boyfriend who lives in Paris and travels to Milan once a month for his own job. How perfect is that? Anyway, I arrived from Torino on Monday afternoon and dropped off my bags with her doorman (she lives in a beautiful apt in the city center) before starting my tour of the city at the Duomo. As I was exiting the station, I saw a sign for a ticket office for La Scala so I went over to see if there was anything available for that evening's performance. The woman I spoke to, Lucy, was an ex-New Yorker—she got her Masters from the photography school there and actually lived 2 blocks away from me downtown. She was dying to go back so we reminisced about the city for a while. And she offered me great seats in one of the middle boxes for a ridiculous price (5 Euros), “because I'm a New Yorker too”. Sweet.

After getting the tickets, I spent the afternoon shopping on via Torino in search of some warm clothes and a coat. It was cold and rainy in Milan and I wasn’t at all prepared. At one point, I went to H&M and left my umbrella by the front door with the pile of other umbrellas. Five minutes later I went back to get it and, of course, it was gone. I’m still kicking myself about it. Why on earth did I think I could leave my favorite, beautiful Samsonite umbrella unattended, even for a moment, in this country of thieves? Ugh. So I ended up buying a cheapo 5 Euro umbrella from H&M. Ok, I don’t want to think about it too much, it still makes me angry.

Anyway, that evening I went to a little bar near Sonia’s apt to get out of the freezing rain and wait for her to come home from work. Milano does the best aperitivo; I ordered a 4 euro glass of wine and ate a feast of food—caprese, prosciutto sandwiches on croissants, rice, salad, garlic bread… it was madness. Sonia joined me at 6:30pm for another glass of wine, then we went home to change for La Scala. On our way to the theatre, we stopped at Galleria Vittorio Emanuele so I could “spin on the bull’s balls for good luck” (lol Italians).

The performance was by Emanuele Arciuli, an Italian classical pianist. He was really very good but after the first hour or so, I was just struggling to keep my eyes open. Sorry. I do love piano but there’s only so much of it I can take. I was more interested in scoping out the audience and taking in the grandeur of the theatre, pretending I was Madame Bovary, back in the 19th century off to the theatre (don't ask, I just happen to be reading that book at the moment).

On Tuesday I spent the day sightseeing. I went to the Duomo, walked around the fashion district, that sort of thing. Then I decided to try to see if I could get tickets for the opening night of Giselle. I asked my friend Lucy from the ticket office about it the day before and she said that it would be next to impossible but I could head over to the theatre at 1pm and give it a shot. So around noon I went to La Scala and there was already a crowd of people waiting. At 1:30pm (after blocking a few latecomers from trying to get in front of me... what is wrong with people not understanding the concept of a line?? The French are the same way) I finally put my name down on the list, then I went off to see The Last Supper at the church of Santa Maria delle Grazie, which I managed to get reservations for last minute. They only give you 15 minutes in the room but it was very cool to see this famous painting I've seen millions of times in art books and reproductions.

At 5pm I went back to the theatre and I was number 68 out of 120 people who received a ticket!! I was thrilled. But by the time I finally got my ticket (lots more waiting) I had about 1.5 hours to go home, change, go to Sonia’s office to hand over the house key and make it back to the theatre. As I was leaving Sonia’s office, all the buses going toward La Scala decided to be delayed so I jumped into the first cab I found. Of course my driver was a complete nut job (I knew it as soon as I got in, he looked crazy) and drove slow as molasses the entire time. And you know when you’re late you’re even more anxious and impatient. At one point, he even stopped the taxi so he could take out his glasses, inspect them for 2 minutes, wipe them clean, then put them on his face. That was the last straw. I told him to stop, it would be faster for me to run to the theatre instead of riding with him taking his sweet old time. He had the nerve to catch an attitude about it but I just threw my money at him, jumped out and ran down the street to the theatre in my dress and heels. It was a funny sight. I was out of breath and a bit sweaty but I literally made it there with 5 minutes to spare.

My seat was in the absolute furthest corner of the theatre, at the very top where you couldn’t see the stage at all. So I just kicked off my heels, propped myself up against a column and stood the entire time (for 10 Euros what can you expect). But the performance… OMG. My cousin has a membership at The Met in New York so I’ve been to the opera with her a bunch of times, but I’ve never seen a ballet. And to see Giselle, one of the most beautiful love stories/dances ever created, in one of the most important theaters in the world, with some of the most famous, most talented dancers in the world… I cannot even describe how incredible it was. For the first 20 minutes my mouth was literally hanging open. I was completely blown away, shocked by how beautiful it was and the sheer power of the dancers. I don’t think I’ve ever experienced anything like it. At the end of the first act I had to go to the bathroom to pull myself together, it was so emotional. During the intermission I spoke to an old man sitting next to me in broken English/Italian. He drove 2 hours to come see the show, it was his favorite ballet. He gave me his program, pointed out the royal family sitting in the center box, told me about each of the principal dancers and the history of the theatre, which he had been coming to almost all his life.

When I got home Sonia was waiting up to hear all about it. She was a ballerina until an accident at 20 years old forced her to quit dancing. But she spent the evening indulging my new found love of ballet and showing me videos of her favorite old dancers and a trailer for the new documentary on the ballet company at Palais Garnier in Paris that she insists I go see. It was a fantastic night, I'm still dreaming about it.

On Monday I met Sonia for lunch at a traditional old restaurant near her office, took a final tour around the city (visiting the castle and a couple more shopping areas) before settling into one last happy hour (aka getting a free dinner) before my flight back to Rome.

I enjoyed Milan. Its true what they say, that for every church in Rome there’s a bank in Milan—I’ve never seen so many in my life. But I didn’t find the people rude or anything. They’re city people focused on their careers, naturally they aren’t as warm and cuddly as folks in other parts of Italy. But I thought it was a pretty decent city to hang out in for a few days. Though I do think La Scala alone may have raised Milan up a couple of notches for me :)

So that was the end of my birthday trip. A nice way to celebrate turning a year older in a beautiful, foreign country. Tomorrow I'm off to Amsterdam and The Hague for a friend's 30th birthday bash so I'll write about it when I get back! Have a great week!