Wednesday, June 4, 2014

The ending of an era

I was having one of those overly nostalgic moments on our terrace the other day.  Just sitting outside, watching the boats come in and out of the harbor below, sipping a glass of wine in the afternoon's setting sun.  And as I started to get misty, or let's be honest, actually crying, about leaving Naples, Tom came out and judged me harshly.  "Are you serious right now??"  At that time, in the peaceful quiet of Sunday afternoon during riposo, I was very sad.  Thinking back on the friends that we've made, the parties that we've had here, the long dinners filled with laughter and several glasses/bottles of wine....  It was lovely. 

But then our pack out happened and all of that longing and sadness died.  Totally.  And was just replaced by that all-too familiar hatred of the difficulty of life here.  As I'm sure I've covered approximately 1,000 times, we live on the top floor of an apartment building in Vomero, one of the downtown neighborhoods of Naples.  When we moved in, it was August, when all of Italy completely shuts down.  The roads were empty and the traffic was sparse.  Today is June 4th.  Traffic is not sparse.  Italians are everywhere.  After day 1, which included four Italian men packing our apartment for two hours and then two of said men disappearing for seven hours, I was annoyed.  Two dudes packed us up until their disappearing friends returned at 7:45 pm.  They stayed until 8:58pm.  "I swear, Tom, if these guys aren't gone by 9 on the dot, I'm going to lose my %&#*."  This phrase, "I'm going to lose my %&#*," was uttered approximately 600 times in the past 48 hours. 

I pulled paper-wrapped bundles of my prized possessions into the guest bedroom, covering them in huge black X's to denote "I am not pleased with this packing job.  Try again."  Day 2 began at 7:30 am.  Italian men in various version of sweat-pant inspired jeans arrived at our apartment with a few boxes, some packing tape, and swagger.  And then the crane arrived.  Our "lift" getting into our apartment was dinky, like a bucket truck.  Today, they brought the big guns.  Things were moving in a way that I have not thought possible by Neapolitans ever before.  And then I understood why: they failed to get the permits required to operate said crane and wanted to get everything done before the police arrived. 

And did the police arrive.  With 95% of our worldly possessions sitting on the sidewalks of Naples, a fight broke out between the crane operators and the management of the restaurant across the street.  All work came to a screeching halt.  Two police officers dressed in what I have heard called "urban camouflage" arrived with their little lollipops (devices used by Italian police to either stop your vehicle or violently and with great annoyance, provide traffic advice.  The latter is obviously more common but the third alternative, by far the most common, is to see this plastic lollipop cradled beneath their armpit while they engage in vigorous conversation, check their phone or smoke a cigarette) and began writing tickets.  I was unsure what they hoped to accomplish from this visit.  And then our beloved personal items began crossing a two-lane road and were placed on the opposite side of the street inches outside of the way of oncoming traffic.  Rather than assist the movement, the officers watched.  Trucks, cars, mopeds, buses all flew up and down the street, as a veritable game of Frogger began with our couch, wedding pictures, bookcases and dishes.  Nothing like seeing your crystal champagne flutes in a box reading "Handle with care" placed in the middle of downtown traffic.  My confidence soared.

To add to it, we're not the most popular people in our building.  Our downstairs neighbor is this really sweet woman who always reminds us that she was a girl in Naples when the Americans liberated the city in WWII.  She loves me.  We struggle with communication and to date, she's never invited me down for one of her epic meals which smell amazing, but she's very sweet when she sees me.  Her daughter, who speaks English, flipped out about the annoyance of Americans moving in and out of the building every 3 years.  She was screaming on the street about it.  "Every 3 years they do this!  No more Americans living in this building."  You know, except all of this was in Italian.  Screaming like a mad woman into the 9:30 morning sun.  That's the thing about Italians, they hate to be dramatic.  Understated, subtle, subdued, those are the real words to describe Italians.

I'm adding pictures  and video to sum up the day.  I am left, utterly exhausted, annoyed and ready to tell just about any Italian who crosses my path to shove it, but I am finally ready to go back to America.  And, you know, re-purchase absolutely everything that we own.  Because it is likely all broken.

Mamma mia....

The crane arrives.  Safety is always foremost in the minds of Neapolitans.

The view of the scene from the street.

How to safely disassemble a crane.  Clearly you sit on the end that will no longer be connected.

On the left, our worldly possessions.  In the background, a fight between our movers, the local polizia and a gentleman who is very angry that he got a parking ticket for parking his scooter illegally. And on the right, an SUV driving inches away from our things.  Solid.

Molto fragile is Italian for "I wrapped this in a box.  Kind of."

Nathan helped us move into our place 3 years ago.  We celebrated with lunch at Solopizza.  Today, we relived that glorious day.  Big beers for everyone!!

Tuesday, February 11, 2014

Well, it was bound to happen at some point

"Why, Lynne, what was bound to happen?" you just asked yourself.  Come around, friends, as I tell you the horrific incident of my first real Italian car accident.  Mother of pearl.  Buckle in (pun intended) because this one's a doozy!

On our way back from our Christmas Adventure (yes, that's right, I haven't posted that blog spot yet, hold your horses!!), we had gone from Florence to the parking garage on base with our friends, Trish and Peter.  From the base to our house is a very standard 20-60 minute drive, traffic depending.  For whatever stupid reason, I decided to give Tom a reprieve and drove.  It was raining.  This idea was stupid, as I don't see so well at night.  I mean, I can see.  But, in the dark, in the rain, with crazy Italians who seem to have a common death wish, it wasn't my smartest idea.

We drive down this windy, narrow road that, as I've mentioned before, would really be a one way road in America.  In Italy, it's two ways and, as an added bonus, people park on both sides of the street.  It's also steep.  And paved with volcanic rocks which are really slick when it rains.  White knuckles, I made it to the bottom of this road (in previous rain events, I've skidded out and VERY narrowly missed slamming into an Alfa Romeo).  There's a left hand turn onto our road at the bottom, the view obstructed most times by illegally parked cars).  So I stopped fully, looked left, looked right and waited.  The upcoming scooter went behind me to make his left hand turn.  This is really common in Italy, if making a proper left hand turn (i.e. come to the intersection, indicate the direction of travel, turn in front of the vehicle in the opposing lane, complete your turn) just do it whenever and however you feel is the fastest way, regardless of where anyone else is.  I say this not to be mean, it's just seriously a part of the mentality here.  "I need to get to X location, I will get there as fast and however illegal it may be to get there." 

Anywho, I'm waiting to turn, avoided the scooter that turned into my passenger side and then behind me.  That's cool, you just do whatever you want.  But at this point, I was creeping into the intersection and everyone stopped.  So I started to go.  And bam.  I hit the scooter that was trying to pass in front of me, mid-left hand turn.  I was honestly going like 3-6 kilometers (which is like 1-3 MPH) and it was such a tiny love tap.  But the guy, his wife, and their scooter went down.  And I screamed.  "Where the F$#% did that guy come from?? [don't tell my mom, but insert LOTS of expletives here]!!!"  At this point, it's pouring.  Like apocalypse pouring.  The guy jumped up and started kicking my car, pounding on the windshield, and screaming.  We were blocking 2 lanes of traffic, it was pouring, and a crazed Italian man was destroying my car, while his wife lies on the ground, under a scooter in the middle of the road.  Tom ran to help the wife out from under the scooter and move her to safety.  Her darling husband at this point was in front of me, shoving me, screaming and then grabbed my face and shook it, as if to imply that I wasn't paying attention.  I'd like to say that I calmly reacted or flipped out in anger.  No, I just started crying.  I was face grabbed!!  Seriously??  And shoved.  And Gabby, my poor, beat up Honda Civic was kicked and beaten. 

Tom moved our car, we pulled the scooter out of the street (this took about 5 minutes, all the while every car in our neighborhood, regardless of their involvement or delay, started honking) and we all stood in the pouring rain.  I was wearing suede smoking loafers, which were promptly destroyed.  My coat was in the car.  I had my cell phone and the Italian man continued to yell at me.  I didn't understand it all but "cativa" means "evil" and I know he called me that about 1,000 times.  He then went into full Italian soccer player dramatic reaction, laying on the ground, dry heaving, his wife lifting his legs in the air and doing the sign of the cross multiple times.  The phrase "mamma mia" was muttered or screamed so many times, I lost count.  Passers by stopped to ask what was wrong.  Friends of the scooter driver stopped by and took turns reminding me, in various levels of polite, that this couple had kids and who did I think I was???  Damn Americans, or some similar sentiment was brought up as many times as the sign of the cross.

Despite calling the emergency translators that we have at our disposal being Americans with the US Government overseas, they didn't arrive for nearly 2 hours, during which time, the couple and their friends were trying to talk me into taking this guy to the hospital.  "It's what you do in Italy, he has kids.  You must take him to the hospital."  Yeah, I wasn't going to do that for Mr. Face Grabbing Shover.  You'll pull through, buddy.  At one point, an ambulance stopped by but then realized that this wasn't the call that they were actually called to, so they left.  This was 1 hour and 10 minutes after we called them.  At 1 hour and 35 minutes, an ambulance showed up and took the guy and his wife away.  After 2 hours, the translator showed up.  After 2.5 hours, the Italian police showed up.  And made me sit in the back of an Italian cop car.  Seriously?

And the statement that was translated began with: "While driving my husband's car with his permission and supervision..."  It's my car.  I bought it when I graduated from college all on my own.  And financed it.  And paid almost as much per month as my rent when I was making pennies in Cary, NC.  But, that's fine.  We'll call it my husband's car.  They also pulled Tom in and repeatedly asked "Commandante, why you let your wife drive?"  The idea of a woman driving the massive tank that is a Honda Civic was beyond comprehension.

3 hours after the incident, totally soaked, with every drop of water left in my tear ducts left somewhere along our street, we got home.  Our amazingly dedicated friends, Kim and Nathan, to whom we can never repay enough, came to our aid for moral support and a well charged cell phone.  They listened as I sobbed about how in America, this whole fiasco would take about 40 minutes tops and how much I hate this horrible city and how ready I was/am to go back to the US.  And patted me on the back and told me it would all be alright.  Those are the kinds of friends that you are grateful to know for always.  Kim and Nathan, thank you so very much for putting up with our crazy!!!  (more mine than Tom's really!)

So that's the story of that time that I hit a scooter who was illegally passing me in the middle of a turn and not yielding the right of way to a car that out-weighed his by a factor of 20, if not more.  Tom's forced me to drive again, promising that getting back on the horse will help.  I've found a new route home that doesn't involve making left hand turns.  I'm the Derek Zoolander of our neighborhood.  "I bet there's a lot of people who can't turn left."  I'm with you, Derek.  Left hand turns ARE hard!

Xoxo from crazy land!

Coming back on the grid with a long winded explanation about procrastination

You know when you haven't been to the dentist in a really long time, it seems REALLY annoying to actually have to go just to have them tell you that you don't floss enough.  Because seriously, who flosses EVERY day???  People who have stock in dental floss companies, that's who?  Oh, you floss every day??  Well fine, go ahead and judge that I'm not a daily flosser.  Nor have I been to the dentist in 2 years.  During which time, my lack of flossing is probably going to make my next visit, in XX number of months (I don't want to lock myself into a specific date declaration) even MORE horrible.  See?  It's a vicious cycle.  Not that I'm an anti-dentite.  My grandfather was a dentist.  And my next door neighbor as a child worked at a dentist office.  I just hate that they try to trick with the notion of the "fresh from the dentist" mentality.  You know what I feel like after the dentist?  1) guilty for not flossing more often 2) pain because they've hacked away at my gums 3) nauseous because I accidentally swallowed a little bit of fluoride which I know you aren't supposed to swallow.  4) impending doom that I have to go back to the dentist in 6 short little months.

This whole dental rant, which really went on significantly longer than I had intended, is a giant metaphor for my lack of blogging.  It started off small, "Oh, I'll do that later."  Then it grew to "Oh my hell, I haven't blogged since October, how will I ever make up that time??"  To "meh, screw it.  No one really reads my blog, right?"  To be heckled by people (I'm looking at you, Richard Yates specifically) for not blogging recently.  Son of a....

So here is my public apology for lack of blogging.  This is also me summarizing anything that was important in the last couple of months as I go.  If the events don't go exactly chronologically, give me a break!  I'm busy!  Will post soon.  Or relatively soon.  Or in like a month.  Or at some point.

Procrastination, it's amazing.  What's that, something shiny?  Ooo the Olympics are on....

Monday, November 18, 2013

So this one time, during the government shutdown....

Sometimes the American legislative system can't get their act together.  During those times, the federal government shuts down.  Government shut down, you say?  I took that opportunity to buy a very last minute plane ticket to the States (like 19 hours before my flight last minute) to see my sister, Lauri.  She lived in Chicago (between that trip and now, she's already moved) and I hadn't ever been there before.  Nothing like checking off your major American travel bucket list from overseas! 

Off I went to see my sister, who was 8 months pregnant (due ANY DAY NOW!!!  AHHH!!!  ANOTHER NIECE!!! (no seriously, I'm not excited about this at all.  I certainly haven't had anything made from Etsy or bought every tiny outfit at the Navy Exchange.  Only freaks do that....)), in the ol' Windy City.  We ate, my goodness did we eat (I, too, was eating for two.  Me and Lauri.  See?  Two), Mexican food, American food, Thai food, more Mexican food... I had not one pumpkin spice latte, no I had 3!!!!  CAFFEINE OVERLOAD!!! 
The Bean

While she worked one day, I took myself on a walking tour of Downtown Chicago, strolling the rainy streets, taking in architectural feats that I wrote about as an undergraduate, seeing the mighty Bean, AND a Frank Gehry design (who I wrote my graduate thesis about!).  I followed in the footsteps of Ferris Bueller and saw priceless works of art, ate at my sister's yacht club (Sheesh, talk about fancy!), and then repeatedly hit my sister's dog in the face with her own tail.  Best aunt ever!!  And if that wasn't fun enough, I got my hair cut at Aveda!!  But then is THAT wasn't fun enough, my very dear friend, Kristine, was in town from San Diego for a conference and we met up for tapas and said hair cut.  Kristine, you are the only person that I've ever met who would sit and chat for an entire 3 hour hair cut.  I miss you so much!!  Kristine is the same friend who helped me explore the Amalfi Coast when we first arrived.  Oh the crazy that we got ourselves into.....

And then, things got crazy!  My dad showed up!!!  I swear, Chicago seems to be where you meet up if you are traveling from anywhere.  Centrally located, really good restaurants, not completely freezing in October.  What's not to love?  So my dad, sister, and I all three piled into her seemingly enormous SUV (I swear that they are bigger than SUV's were when I lived in the US.  I swear.) and drove Ann Arbor, Michigan, home of my sister's alma mater, the University of Michigan.  Now, my alma mater, THE University of Virginia, has never pretended to be a football powerhouse.  But UoM (not Units of Measure which is what that acronym now means in my super nerdy head), is a serious football school.  "The Big House," their football stadium, is enormous - to the tune of 112,000 people.  Mother of pearl.... that's absurdity!!!  It was so fun to get to hang out with my dad again on a trip.  First London, now Chicago.  He and I are such world travelers together!  Here we are, doing our best "Go Blue!" cheer.

The trip couldn't have been more perfect.  And then, it ended in a ridiculously stressful manner.  My sister's lovable dog, read the one whose tail I repeatedly shoved in her face, got too excited at the dog park and while rolling around with another dog, took my sister out at the knees.  Lauri and I spent the next 48 hours in the hospital, after I ran (barefoot) down the streets of Chicago to drop off Lauri's dog and grab both of our purses, calling Tom to re-book my ticket to the following night and calling Lauri's husband to tell him that we were getting into an ambulance.  Lauri and her baby are both fine, but I cannot tell you how incredibly terrifying the whole thing was.  Leaving my sister, hooked up to an IV in the hospital about tore my heart out.  But what's important is that it all ended out being fine.  So all of those prayers worked!!

Since then, I've been miserably homesick.  I try to focus on the positive but all I want right now is to be with my family.  I've said it before and I'll say it again, living abroad is so wonderful, but I feel like my family, my friends, and all of America is growing up without me.  Even as the magic of life in Europe tends to inspire and amaze me, I still long for the familiarity of home, the comfort of my sisters' hugs, the sound of my mom's voice, the way my dad goes "Oooooo, good song" whenever anything from the 1960's comes on the radio.  I could go on and on.  But I know that I can't and more likely, that no one will read my blog again.  I use this simply to stress that there are blessings all around us and even when they are very far away, they are always out there. 

From my home to yours, much love.

Remember that holiday back in September?? Yeah, me neither.

I seem to recall promising that I'd be back on the wagon after our trip to Tuscany.  That it was really and truly going to be the event that got me back into regular blogging.  And then... it was August.  And then September.  And then October.  And SHAMEFULLY, it's November 1 and I haven't blogged since July.  Oh my goodness.  Lynne, step your game up, girl!
To remember what happened that far back I a) went onto Facebook and stalked myself a little bit.  (Wait, not everyone does that??  Hmm... this just got weird...)  Anyway, several months ago there was this whole Syria situation, if you'll recall from the global news and basically everyone freaked out for a while.  With all of our significant others on ready alert, a group of 4 wives and 1 baby cancelled/changed our plans for a girl's weekend in Lecce, Italy.  I had searched the interweb far and wide for an epic hotel and found this faux-riad, which seemed just ridiculous enough to be Italian.  "This will do nicely."  When I assigned Tom to book the rooms, he booked us this absurdly fatty suite which was approximately the size of our entire apartment here in Naples. 

This place was totally a compound in the middle of nowhere.  It felt really fancy and relaxing and Moroccan, just kind of weirdly in the middle of the not-quite-developed section of Lecce.  There was an overly friendly bell-hop/generally lurky dude that was excessively ready to assist us with just about anything. Mohmed, said dude, would show up out of nowhere with some item that he thought you might want (towel, hooka, pillow, firewood (oh wait, no we did want you to build us a fire, Mohmed)).

This hotel has this enormous, I kid you not, like entire beach-sized, very shallow pool.  At its deepest point it was probably only chest-deep.  Low drowning hazard?  With these huge pillars in the water.  We basically spent two of three days in this pool, Mohmed showing up with bottles of water, prosecco, or snacks every once in a while.  "Thanks, Mohmed...  (where did he come from?????)" 
It wasn't one of those trips that changed my life or ended with ridiculous stories.  It was simply four friends and one ridiculously cute baby hanging out in a weird hotel in the middle of no where with one very lurky bellhop.  We shared so many laughs, whirled around in the spa, ate non-Italian food, and then some Italian food that was just different from Napolitan fare.  A successful, unintentional girl's weekend!

Sunday, November 3, 2013

So what else has been happening???

September, it came.  It went.  I didn't blog.  Here's an update on what happened over a month ago.

I had a birthday!  To celebrate, I found this hotel is Pietrasanta, Tuscany.  But it's not in the part of Tuscany that's close.  No, it's like 7 hours north.  This is why you should always consult a map before looking on Jetsetter and seeing a great deal on a beach-front hotel.  When you put it into your GPS and realize "Wow, this is going to be a LONG drive" that's probably too late.  Regardless, we drove northward, listening to my new favorite podcast "Stuff You Should Know" on NPR.  The trip flew by while we learned about really important things, like Dungeons and Dragons, Whiskey Runners, and Crystal Meth.  See?  So useful for life! 

Special birthday treat -- Dom Perignon!!!  (Not quite as good as I was expecting.  Perhaps my pallet isn't that refined??  Nonsense.  #dontbelievethehype

We spent a glorious day on the beach with my new birthday gift: his and her personalized beach towels!  Necessary for life!!!  Special thanks to my sister, Christy and my momma, for one of my favorite gifts this year!!

The food up there was fantastic, complete with God's gift to the human race: Florentine steak.  It's soooooo delicious!!  Throw in a couple seriously delicious bottles of wine, an evening stroll through this super cute little town and we were set!

On a whim (and to break up the lengthy drive back), we stopped into Perugia on the way back.  Finding parking was bit tricky and we barreled through, what I'm sure, is not supposed to be a road for regular vehicular travel.  But, va bene!  We're Napolitano now!

Here's a summary of our return trip:

Pocket coffee!!  The AutoGrill's finest!
Getting ready to have lunch in Perugia!

Tom models my new Furla purse.  Whilst sliding down a railing.  That's us, spreading America's good name overseas!  You're welcome, America!

Sunday, August 25, 2013

No seriously, this is our life.

July was an expensive and drinking-intensive month.  After Belgian beer and Irish Whiskey, we came back to Italian wine and dove right in to a ridiculously awesome launch party for a bottle of wine.  If that’s going to be a thing for life, I’m very readily available to attend as a seat filler.  

Il Palazzone is this vineyard up in Montalcino, Tuscany that is run by an Italian man and his Scottish wife, who, not surprisingly, is able to easily communicate with the hoards of Americans here in Naples.  Back when in May, when my mom was visiting, we went to this winery at the strongly worded encouragement of just about everyone of our friends down here.  When we were up there in May, the American owner was in town to sample the varietals that would go into their 2008 Rosso di Montalcino.  Again, not to nerd out too much on wine, this is normally like your crap table wine.  But Il Palazzone lets theirs sit in wood and the bottles for 5 years.  You can get a rosso for as cheap as 2 Euro a bottle at some places, but this one is actually legitimately delicious.

Into our little Honda Civic Tom and I hopped and raced northward to Toscana.  If there is one thing about Tuscany that is amazing, well that’s obviously wine.  But if there was a second thing, it’s steak.  Florentine steak is what I want heaven to be like.  Just heaps and heaps of Florentine steak and pretty much wine from Toscana.  

We stayed at this quiet (until we arrived en mass) agriturismo that had amazing wine.  Fear not, we bought 2 double magnums after learning that they age well.  It felt very, very necessary.  If in 15 years you get invited over to our house when we open one of those, you are a truly, truly good friend.  So, feel pretty privileged.

Il Palazzone has this ridiculously fancy infinity pool overlooking the valley of Montalcino.  The view is so horrible, I’m including a picture so you’ll feel sorry for us.  We do it all in the name of freedom.  You’re welcome.  And by “we,” I mean Tom.  I stand by him with a glass of wine in my hand and my TripAdvisor account active.  Dangling my feet into this fatty infinity pool, a glass of prosecco in my hand, a plate of antipasti in the other, it was pretty much the worst ever.  Ok, I’m 100% lying, it was crazy swanky.  Tuscan bread salad, rice salad, regular salad, pasta, and like 2 WHOLE COWS were on the menu for the evening.  Steak after steak followed bottle after blissful bottle.  Laughter was abundant as the sun set over the vineyards.  It was one of those days where I’d catch Tom’s watchful eye from across the table and see that glint that still makes my heart full.  We live a life that I could have never imagined and I share it with the most amazing man who loves me, flaws, crazy, and all.  

Now that we’ve been here for 2+ years, a lot of our original friends have come and gone and new people are taking their place.  We’ve met a ton of fun new people who I have hung out with a few extra times since our Tuscan adventure and had such fun with.  It’s funny how long it takes to feel like you belong somewhere, but it’s finally feeling that way here.  Don’t get me wrong, Bella Napoli has an expiration date and I’m kind of glad about that because it’s batshit crazy, but we have met some really wonderful people.  Each one that comes into your life, be it friend or foe, teaches me something.  I’ve found friends who would move mountains for me and for whom, I’d do that same in a heartbeat.  It hasn’t been the easiest path and, believe me when I say that there have been a lot of lonely nights and more drama than I ever thought possible, but from this comfortable perch where I sit now, the view is pretty spectacular and the blessings are more than I ever thought possible.