Saturday, December 17, 2011

2011: Year in Review

During 2011 my trusted HP laptop pooped out and in fear that I would lose all photo memories, I decided to create a photo album of our memorable adventures during this year.  In so doing, I've realized just how crazy this year has been.  Starting with a 2 month work trip to DC in January and February, this was the year of travel!

It was also the year of wine... We went to Napa with our friends Mike and Kathryn in April and up to Temecula about 20 times with friends from San Diego.

Then our great pack up and the Goodbye America tour.  We criss-crossed our way through state after state, taking ridiculous roadside pictures along the way and visiting friends and relatives.  I'm so glad that we got to see so many of our wonderful friends and family before we left on this crazy journey.  It's going to be a long time before we see everyone again and having those brief little visits was such a treat!

And before we knew it, we were shoving cats under the seats of a plane and bringing two months worth of clothes and cherished possessions with us to Italy!  Here the real traveling began.  As a girl whose dreamt of traveling around Europe, we've really hit the ground running.  From four trips to Rome to the three day Amalfi Xtravaganza with my wonderful friend, Kristine and then up to Le Cinque Terre, Pisa, and Venice, it's been such a wirlwind tour!  Beyond Italy's borders, we've been (sometimes together, other times on our own) to Berlin, Ireland, Paris and Isreal. 

Our 2012 trips hopefully will include:

1. Marrakech
2. Lisbon/Porto
3. Tuscany
4. Prague
5. Ireland (Cork and the South)
and hopefully many more!

To my wonderful hubby, Tom, I couldn't do this without you.  You are such a wonderful support network, balance to the crazy and partner in ridiculous.  Looking forward to a 2012 full of love, laughter and many more exciting memories!


Wednesday, December 14, 2011

Unpopular in the Office

Popcorn in an office environment is always dicey.  If you make it perfectly, you are the belle of the office.  If you burn it, you might as well have brought tuna caserole and heated it up in the office microwave.  So here I've been, nervous about making popcorn for fear of the retaliation if I burn it.  To this end, I brought my cup of tea into the break room and watched it popping, in case I needed to snatch it out of the microwave at the first unpleasant burning smell.

Well I cooked it perfectly.  The new Orville Redenbacher stuff has this fancy red celophane on top that you can see each little kernel as it turns, magically, into popcorn.  I mean, it's fancy.  I felt very high society with my microwavable, low-fat popcorn and sat at my desk to continue my boring training about recycled concrete (wow, Lynne, pace yourself here.  First a course on traffic circles and now one on recycled concrete?  Talk about an exciting workday!), eating my popcorn with the salty delight of being in a movie theater. 

And then Franco came over... "Mrs. Lynne, can I close your door?  That smell is making me sick."  He was dead serious.  I have smelled all levels of strange come out of the break room during lunch time and any other number of smells of the smoke-laden breath of some of my co-workers but I smile and back away in that WASP-y way that I have spent a liftetime perfecting.  Alas, popcorn was a bridge too far in my office.  That buttery deliciousness was not welcome.  And so, it was with shame and sadness that I finished my little 100 calorie bag of popcorn and tossed it in the trash can outside, just to be sure that the smell didn't linger.

Who knew, popcorn cooked perfectly in the US makes you a hero.  Popcorn in Italy makes you the villan.  Italy is full of popcorn haters.  I'll miss you, Orville. 

Tuesday, December 6, 2011

Breaking Out of My Shell

For those who know me, the idea of me not being out of my shell seems both foreign and completely unlikely.  However, there are times when the comfort of knowing things seems like a safer bet and, I must confess, has been happening a bit here in Italia.  During a discussion at work, I commented that Tom and I have kind of fallen into an Americana Rut - shopping on base, eating out at our normal ristorante, hanging out mostly with our American co-workers - it was all just a little bit easier and more comfortable.  Well, this response was not acceptable.  "You've only been here 6 months!  How can you be in a rut already!"  To help push me out of my comfort zone, Liz (said co-worker), Molly and I decided we would go to the legendary and highly discussed "Shoe Alley."

Shoe Alley has been touted as a great place to get anything from shoes (obvi), to clothing to jewelry to curtains (one of these is not like the other...).  So, off we went!  At 8:45 the three of us met at Piazza Vanvetelli in Vomero to take public transit to Shoe Alley.  Molly had researched our route on WikiNapoli and found all necessary funicolare and metro stops involved.  With our 90 minute tickets, we set out, through the rain, with adorable apparel and inspired thoughts.  About an hour later, we were at the last metro stop and thought that a mass of people would likely be heading to this massive market and could easily follow them.  Assumption #1 = wrong. 

We proceeded to ask a fellow metro traveler if she could help us find "mercato di scarpe" (which is totally the wrong gender agreement but va bene) to mean "market of shoes."  Her husband told us, in Italian, to go left at the bridge and then straight for a while and then turn right.  Solid, fool proof directions.  So through the tunnel under the bridge we went with men urinating openly against walls, some other guy following us telling us we were beautiful and the general fear that we would be mugged and need to defend both our bodies and our honor with nothing more than our umbrellas.  I had convinced myself that Molly and Liz were trained assassins and that I was significantly safer with the two of them.  I'm sticking by the assumption.  Assumption #2 = probably correct...

Well we got lost.  And ran into probably the most helpful Neopolitan woman who spoke amazing English.  The number of people that you run into on the street who actually speak English is incredibly small here.  Probably 10%.  She gave us directions and onward we went only to have an old man follow us and yell things at us in Italian.  Fearful for our lives (though I'm not sure why given Liz and Molly's trained assassin skills...), we crossed the street in earnest and went on in a totally different direction from the old man.  In hindsight, I'm fairly certain he was saying "If you turn right here, you'll get to the market" but we thought we was going to lead us to a crack house and kill us.  I've seen the previews for Hostel, I'm not following an endearing old man or prostitute into any warehouse looking building.

At this point, we were lost, in the rain, in the sketchy part of downtown Naples with cars splashing us with dirty rain water and the fear of being sold into the cast of dying victims in the next Hostel movie.  Smart Phone Time!  I put the coordinates of the market, from WikiNapoli, into my Tom Tom and we walked the route.  Along the way, no less than 20 Italians asked us where the market was.  "Mi dispiace.  Solo Inglese" (I'm sorry, only English!).  They would grunt and drive off.  However, a man and woman started following us and told other lost travelers that they should follow us as well.  I think 10 people were behind us when we finally got there.  "No need to thank us!"

So shoe alley.  It was like a lot of the other markets we've been to.  Italian men screaming things and banging things together to get to you to go to their stand.  "Armani!  Gucci!  Prada!"  The thing is, almost all of this stuff was gained illegally, I'm pretty sure.  I bought a peacoat in navy blue for 14 Euro, so that's a pretty good deal!  However, I tried on 3 sizes of Puma shoes and all of them were the same size, despite saying they were getting larger.  I mean, no joke!  They look identical to the ones that have been sitting in my cart on Zappos.  Wandering about, we felt both overwhelmed and a bit uncomfortable but slowly gained confidence in asking for larger sizes ("piu grande" - more large.  The coat I got was a XXL.  I'm a medium in the US.  Talk about disappointing.  No wonder my online shopping habits have spiked.  I'd rather not see "You're enormous" on all of the labels in my closet).  

In the end, we made it to the market, we bought knock-off goods for embarassingly low prices and even got back onto the metro and back to our apartment!  To top off our trip, we ate at Rossopomodoro, a chain ristorante which was very crowded, though not particularly delicious.  However, to really push the envelope and determine if our three versions of Italian would be enough to figure out the menu, we played menu roulette. 

I must admit that I foresaw our lives in Italy a bit differently than they've actually been thus far.  For some reason in my head, I imagined more berets and rain coats, probably about the same number of machiattos, and an Italian mama who would cook for us and whom I'd gain a great deal of insight and affection.  Alas, no luck there.  I also always thought that I'd be a bit more composed and confident.  Here, alas, there is also no luck.  Awkward seems to pervade just about every interaction with people who are not my Italian co-workers and even there, I'm afraid to admit, the awkward seems to sneak in.  I'm hoping with time, with practice and more confidence in myself that Tom and I can pull through and become those composed travelers who stroll about in a casual, elegant manner.  One can dream...

Love and hugs to all of our faithful reader!
Lynne (and Tom)

Monday, November 28, 2011

Has It Really Only Been a Week?

Time seems to be playing games with me right now.  I think the past week has slowed time down significantly because we have 1) gotten our third cat to Italy 2) had an ex-pats Thanksgiving 3) Taken a trip to Venice!

The Cat
Neville, our "first born", has been hanging out at my mom's house in Virginia Beach since May and she was politely wondering when the heck we were going to take him back.  Julie, our beloved friend, agreed to take Neville as her baggage during a flight from Colorado to Naples, with an extended lay-over in DC.  The moving pieces of this plan were crazy!  Lauri, my sister, picked up Neville from my mom, drove him to DC for two days, then drove him to Dulles to meet Julie outside of security to deposit the cat.  If this seems like a whole lot of work to get a cat to a foreign country, you're absolutely right!  Julie and Neville arrived in Naples after the shortest connection in Munich and both seemed a bit frazzled.  Neville spent the evening locked in our room, hissing at everything that moved and with big, "what the hell is happening" eyes.  Tom and I have since laced his water and food with "Rescue Remedy" which acts as a prozac for our overly boisterous and emotional kitty.

Tom and I met on Thanksgiving 5 years ago when I flew out to San Diego to spend the holiday with Lauri, (aforementioned cat-trafficing sister) who lived there.  It now holds a dear place in all of our hearts and I was overjoyed when Lauri and her BF, John, decided to come out to Bella Italia for a visit.  I drove up to meet them in Rome, the trip taking 3.5 hours instead of the 2 promised on my GPS, and met them with the classic "Oh My Gosh! I'm so sorry I'm late!  Ahhh! Give me a hug!"  They might have been a bit overwhelmed. 

At some point, after the Piazza Navona, the Pantheon, the Spanish Steps and another lunch at Palatium, we all hopped into my CRV and drove back to Napoli, some of us saying our Hail Mary's a bit more than others.  On Thursday, we made food for the masses and sent the boys out to the local enoteca to procure wine.  They returned, with significant pride, hoisting 2 5-Liter jugs of some random wine.  It was 26 Euro for 10 liters.  Holler!  Half way through the night and down 1 jug, we sent Deacon and our friend Nathan out again to procure more wine.  The enoteca owner was aghast that we had managed to drink 5 liters, while Deacon assured him it was both a major American festival and there were about 30 people in our house.  (In reality, there were 10 of us, one of whom being the DD and not drinking... Shamefully, nearly 15 liters of wine were consumed in addition to the ones we drank earlier during our "little sit.")

We all took turns skyping our families, in various levels of sobriety.  From turducken to bourbon-laced cranberries and no less than 3 bacon-enhanced side dishes, we had an absolutely amazing meal!  And probably washed the same pot (thank you, Tom) about 57 times.

And then we went to Venice!!
I found our tickets to Venice on Easy Jet for 19 Euro in August.  It seemed like a brilliant idea!  Who wants to spend 6 days in Naples when you can spend 3 in Venice??  So off to Venice we went all together too early on Friday morning.  Megan elbowed and shoulder checked her way through the Easy Jet boarding process and we procured 6 seats in a group.  While in Venice, we absolutely LOVED the museum above St. Mark's Basillica.  It was 5 Euro but worth every penny!  We got to see the frescos up close, pieces of the amazingly ornate ceiling mosaics and walked along the ledge outside to get a great view of the Piazza.  It was such a great way to spend the morning! 

From there, we meandered by boat to Murano and strolled the glass blowing shops in search of the perfect ornament, necklace and gift to send back for Christmas.  The days past in a dreamy, slow motion style that mixed together and can only be told one from the next by the time stamp on my photos.  There was a blur of wine and cheese and warm pasta dishes that we haven't had down here in Southern Italy.  It past in a dreamlike state of brisk days with many sighs at the beauty of that strange little island which Rick Steves says is kept alive by the pulse of tourism. 

At one point, after walking and walking and walking, the need to find a chair drove us to also search for a drink to help stem the pain in our feet.  Megan suggestioned we stop in at the Hard Rock Cafe and I openly judged.  "We don't even go there in America.  Why would we go there abroad?"  Well, I am now publically stating that Megan was right.  We actually had a wonderful time at the ol' Hard Rock.  We sat at the bar, watching old Elton John and Tina Turner videos and laughed at my inherent lack of knowledge of Van Halen.  What can I say?  It wasn't really my generation??  I realized how much I've missed things that feel American being over here for nearly 6 months.  The comfort of things that make sense to me is something I've missed so much.  For that short little hour in the Hard Rock, I felt like I could have been back in the States and that was oddly, a really great feeling.

And just like that, the strangely long week was over.  Megan and Scott flew back to Dallas.  Lauri and John took the train back to Rome before heading back to the US.  And Tom and I spent the evening putting up our newly purchased Albero di Natale (Christmas Tree)!  We cannot thank our American travelers enough for coming out to spend Thanksgiving with us!  We had a wonderful time visiting with you all and look forward to seeing you all again very soon!

Love and hugs and Season's Greetings!

Sunday, November 20, 2011

Paris Is Always A Good Idea

A life long dream of mine has been to go to Paris.  So when our friends, Scott and Megan, planned a trip to the City of Lights, I was all too happy to join them!  Flights out of Naples are few and far between, so our time in Paris went by in a flash!

After touching down at Charles de Gaulle Airport, we hopped on the metro towards our hotel.  During our 45 minute ride, a gentleman in a lumberjack hat was yelling about the car.  At one point, Monsieur Lumberjack must have caught the inquisitive eye of a 16 year old passenger and proceeded to scream at said boy for a minute or so, until the kid turned bright red and stared out the window.  Monsieur Lumberjack spent the remainder of the trip spitting on the floor of the metro car no less than 100 times.  And the French are said to be so civilized!

At last we made it to our hotel!  We met up wtih Scott and Megan and strolled around the streets with them, grabbed some Greek food (my only requirement was that it not be Italian) and onward to the Eiffel Tower.   I squealed like a school girl at the sight I had on my wall in college.  "Are you going to study in Paris?"  Was the common question.  "No, I just really want to go there some day."  When standing beside, around or even in the distance, I couldn't help but sigh, squeal or grab Tom's arm to say "I am SO glad we're in Paris!"  Way to play it cool, Keenan.  What would Rick Steves say?

On Saturday, we walked and we walked and we walked.  From our accomodations near the Hotel des Invalides onward to the Seine (where we recalled the line from "Sabrina" about finding a bridge and listening to the river.  Though we didn't have coffee or a journal, we all spent a moment with intent ears on the river, hoping to gain some wisdom or inspiration) and then on to a cafe for breakfast.  My favorite meal in Paris was a ham, herb and cheese omlette.  It was so fluffy and delicious!  Mmmm! 

If the language barrier from English --> Italiano was difficult, the English --> Italiano --> Francese (French in Italian) was impossibly difficult!  'Oui' not 'si.'  'Bonjour' not 'Buon Giorno.'  What do you say when you want to pass someone?  To get the check?  To apologize for being an American?  I have spent 6 months getting used to being an idiot in Italy, it would take more than a few days to do the same in France!  Plus French is way less phonetic than Italian!  Auber, one of the metro stops, is actually pronounced "Aw-bear."  I felt my Americana showing...

On Saturday afternoon, after Notre Dame, hot baguettes on the street, the slightly overhyped hot chocolate at Angelina's, we happened upon a Christmas fair somewhere between the Lourve and Arc de Triomphe.  Stall after stall of vendor sold everything from cheese and hats to chocolate and Christmas Decor (two ornaments of which I almost accidentally stole when I was distracted by three Italian men struggling to ask for the white ornament.  "Bianca!"  "Italiano!" I called!  We were instant friends.  They were from Parma and just up for the weekend.  I was so proud that I could ask them how the weather was and how they liked Paris and told them that I live in Naples, blah blah blah.  Somewhere along the way, we said our goodbyes and I strolled off, completely forgetting about the French lady waiting for me to pay her!  She chased me down the street, where I was all too proudly relaying my tale of Italian friends to the group and politely asked me to either pay her or give the ornaments back.  "Oh my gosh!  I'm SO sorry!  What a spaz I am!"  [See earlier comments about both keeping cool and Rick Steves' judgement]).  A cup of "hot wine" helped to ease the complete shame of my near felony and Scott/Megan told me stories about "Locked Up: Abroad" as a cautionary tale to future theft.

And somehow, just like that, our time in Paris was over.  I cannot wait to go back, which I think we say after we leave every city, for a longer amount of time.  To see inside the Lourve, go up the Eiffel Tower, eat some more food... Add it to the list!  But for now, we've got our third cat arriving (fingers crossed) tomorrow from the States followed 24 hours later by my sister and her boyfriend for Thanksgiving.  Venice awaits our groups as does another day in Rome!  Things to do, things to see, wine to drink!  Onward and upward!


Wednesday, November 9, 2011

Working Girl Does Rome

Let's be clear what kind of "working girl" I am... the Melanie Griffith 1980's kind, you know, before the reconstructive surgeries and tattoos.  Definitely not the Julia Roberts kind.  So, in my business suit (remember, Melania Griffith) with my boss and our Italian co-worker, we hopped into our Ford Mondeo station wagon at 0600 yesterday to head up to Rome for a meeting with the Italian military.  To say I was intimidated at the thought of this meeting understates intimidation.  "They speak English, but if there are questions, I'm going to jump in and explain it better in Italian" my co-worker assured me.  Our meeting started at 10, so the idea of leaving at 6 seemed both foolish and overly cautious.  As it turned out, it did take exactly 2 hours to get to the highway outside of Rome and 2 hours and 15 minutes to go the last 21km to the meeting location.  Expletives were flying around the Mondeo.  I wished that I had remembered to add more money to my Vodafone, which was sadly without internet or phone calling capabilities.  Drat!

Then we did work stuff.  (I'll save you all the boredom of reading about my job.  It's government wonk stuff and hardly worth mentioning, aside from the fact that it allows me to live overseas and go to meetings in Rome once in a while)  Fast forward about 5 hours, we were done!  Wandering around Rome with two men who could both be my father was significantly different from wandering around with my husband, whose hand I normally grab and whom I also normally hug and squeal "Tommy!  Aren't you having SUCH a good time in ROME!"  Doing this to my boss, whose name is not even Tommy, would undoubtedly be awkward.

Post meeting (which was supposed to be in English but was about 95% in Italiano, thus allowing me time to do some reading for my grad school), we wandered through the Piazza del Popolo, down the Via del Corso and towards the Spanish Steps to find this ristorante that our co-worker had been to before.  On the way, we wandered and we wandered and we looked at things we couldn't afford and then we began the search for this amazing ristorante. 

At long last, we found it!  Oh my heck, it was totally worth it!!  Palatium (Trip Advisor link included for anyone coming to Rome any time soon.  Go here, seriously!) is a ristorante that is sponsored by the agricultural society (or something like that) of Lazio, the region which Rome is part of.  Everything sold or on the menu at Palatium is grown, produced, sold or typical of the Lazio region.  We began with a delicious bottle of wine (I bought a second to take home and it was only 7 Euro!) and antipasti.  I got zucchini parmigiana to start and then pasta alla carbonara for my primi.  It must be noted that yesterday, Italy's prime minister announced that he would step down and my co-worker and our waiter quickly bonded over how they would celebrate the end of their prime minister's reign.  They immediately were besties.  And he was the most attentive waiter I've had since arriving in Italy.  He laughed and made jokes and dropped of bread and more bread and even heckled my boss for being the only one to not clean his plate with the bread.  It's called "scarpetta" and means "little shoe."  You use your bread like a little shoe to mop up the remaining sauce on your plate when it's so delicious that you can't bare to miss any of it! 

Everything was delicious and to finish off, we got a caffe on the way back to the car.  Even my caffe was laced with Roman deliciousness!  The 3.5 hour drive home did, I grant you, suck a lot.  And upon returning to my office, I then had another 30 minute drive back to my apartment.  Alas, I was quickly asleep, dreaming of pasta alla carbonara and the machiatto that I'll order the next time I get the chance.  Bella Roma was just as lovely as ever, even if we were only there for a few hours.  Ciao for now!

Monday, November 7, 2011

A Quick Update on Life Over Here

Here we are, nearly five months into our Italian experience.  We've slowly made friends in the area, mostly our American co-workers here on the base, but a few Italians from my office who love to talk about food and culture, the craziness of driving and the weather.  And ever so slowly, the days of locking myself away in my apartment are seeming more and more like a memory than the norm.  We've traveled around the Amalfi Coast and around Rome, up to Ireland and Le Cinque Terre.  We've gone to the grocery store out in town and pondering which of the 200 types of cheese we really want to buy.  I've found out that mussels in Italy have little tufts of "hair" that you have to rip out before you cook them, else it's a gritty experience later.  Also, that Leroy Merlin, the European (or at least Italian) version of Home Depot, has a freakish love of Disney's Aladdin and decorations in the front of the store to celebrate it.  I guess it's really popular out here, some 15 years after the original release.

Things here are becoming more familiar to us.  It's nice to finally understand how to drive here and to find myself a bit more at ease with the craziness of my daily commute.  The small of things of home still seem far away, like a trip to Target or calling my mom on the way home from work.  As it is, Skype is our best and worst friend, working sporadically and sometimes coming through in the robotic "Darth Vadar" voice that terrifies my sister.  Regardless of what works and what doesn't, I am thankful at the very least, to be here at this point in time, when we have GPS units and Skype and flat rate boxes to deliver stuffing from my college roommate or Trader Joe's pumpkin muffin mix from my sister.  We truly are blessed to have the people that we love keeping us in their hearts back home.  And as for me, I am more blessed than anything to have my wonderful, patient and handy husband with me to share each day.  Our anniversary is next Monday and when I look back on the two years we've been married, I could not think of a better friend to have shared the laughter, tears, many injuries or a trans-continental move with. 

For the future that awaits, cheers!

Sunday, October 30, 2011

Truffle Festival in Bagnoli Irpino - Sadly, no pigs involved

A few weeks ago, my friend Molly mentioned how much she wanted to go to a Truffle Festival in October.  I found on online in Assisi but we figured that the trip would be too far for just one day, as Assisi is some four hours north of Napoli, and chalked the idea up to something to do next year.  On Friday, Molly found another truffle festival in Bagnoli Irpino, about an hour away.  We all hopped into their Alfa Romeo and off we went, making sure to note that this fesitval would, in no way, be as awesome as the one in Assisi.  I find that keeping expectations unusually low helps the end product seem significantly more awesome.

We finally arrived in Bagnoli Irpino after constantly reminding Molly that this festival was likely not even in the same town.  Alas, she was correct.  A long line of cars slowly formed into a line and wound its way through the town, around dozens of blocked off streets and up, up, up to a hill where Deacon parked the Alfa in a somewhat muddy patch of grass.  I thought it would be really smart to take pictures of the surroundings in case we had a hard time (read: too drunk to remember where the car was) later in the evening. 

Down the huge hill, into the town we went.  It was so cute and full of 124 numbered stands selling anything from truffle salad with olives to truffle beer (seriously, it happened) to lemons and raw pork.  Yeah, we didn't get anything from that last one and Tom feared that the lemon/pork truck would show up in his dreams at some point.  Truffles were the star of the event but apparently it was also a Sacred Chestnut Festival as well, as chestnut desserts were in a number of stands.  Tom declared that Chestnuts Roasting on an Open fire tasted decidedly less like Christmas and more like sand, sorry Nat King Cole fans for ruining the illusion of the holiday spirit!

To eat, we had provolone and truffle toast, a huge plate of meat and the poorly chosen truffle salad.  The latter taught us one thing, too many truffles can definitely turn into a bad thing.  We also enjoyed, WAY too much, the 50 centi glass of wine.  Each vendor had their own house blend and so no two tasted the same.  Some were excessively sweet, some excessively strong, some, well we stopped really tasting the wine after the first three or four. 

Towards the end of the evening, we met a couple wine tasting with their three kids.  It turns out that they used to live in San Diego and now work at Capodichino, where all of us work!  Enzo, the husband, even works in my building!  On the same floor!  Mamma mia!  This delighted the wine maker, Carlo, who invited us to come back to his winery near Avellino, next weekend.  Carlo showed me a secret bathroom and while there, we met a group of Italian students who are getting their master's degrees here in Napoli!  We made a drunken date to meet up with them and hopefully fulfill my goal of finding a friend who speaks Italian and wants someone to hang out with to teach her English.  "Your English is amazing!"  Well, I hope it is, it's pretty much my only language.  Allora!  Mario and Sonja, his fiance, who I'm fairly certain we told Mario he was lucky to have about 20 times ("Seriously, marrying her is a big upgrade for you, dude.  Do it!"  Tom, he's ever so supportive!), introduced us to Laura and Roberto who also agreed to meet us for dinner next Saturday.  I gave the whole group my email and told them to look me up on Facebook, so we'll keep expectations managed for our Italian native friends.

Molly, Amanda and I fell asleep on the long, scary drive back to Napoli.  Thank goodness for Tom, Deacon and the TomTom which got us back home safely.  Also, Deacon was so amazing for being our D.D.  It was like herding cats at the end of the night, so double thanks for patience!!!

Tuesday, October 25, 2011

Alarmingly Advanced Charades

My miming career has sadly not taken off the way that I had hoped.  Instead, I hope to launch "Charades: The Game Show" and hope that my active use of charades as a means of bridging the language gap in Italy will be good practice for sculpting the future charades savants of the world.  What brought about this life altering revelation, you may or may not be asking yourself right now?  Well, friend, sit right down and I'll tell you a little story about my 5 hour evening with three alarm technicians.  Not quite as kinky as it sounds, I promise.

Yesterday was my day off.  I spent the morning at the gym, getting a pedicure, buying things I don't really need (read Christmas cards.  Yeah, I know it's October) and getting groceries.  Our landlord had called us on Sunday night to ask if one of us could be there to let the alarm guys in on Monday at 2 (showing up at 3 was a big improvement for these guys who are normally 2-4 hours late).  I'm also pretty sure that our landlord's wife thought that we didn't understand him, as she was yelling English words in the background to help with the translating process, and encouraged him to send us a text saying exactly the same thing.  Regardless!  There I was, wrapping Tom's birthday presents (his birthday is at the end of November but he always seems to find his presents so if I wrap them early, all he finds is a box in pretty paper!  The old girl is learning!) when the group of alarm techs rocked up.  Each time they come, Paolo, the original alarm guy, brings one extra person with him.  They were up to 3 this time.  Paolo, his unnamed friend and a new guy, who was obviously the youngest, least intelligent and most "fluent" in English.  "Ok, let's go!" was his favorite by far.

We played the "How the hell do we say your name" game for a bit.  We settled on "Leeeen" as a sufficient pronunciation and they fiddled about in the other room, moving furniture and occasionally asking for a ladder (which I now know is 'scala' in Italian) or if the fierce allergic reaction they are having is because I have cats.  "Si, due..."  Whoops!  There is something about my house and my cats that seems to involve near death for workmen and my 4 year old nephew...

Five hours and endless games of "guess what I'm trying to ask you to do" charades later, the alarm was working, I had recorded my voice saying "Someone has broken into my house, please help" about 20 times and taught our technicians that "sand" is not the same word as "listen" in English.  They kept pointing to my phone and saying "sand. sand."  The guys finally left, after I gave them pumpkin bread, water, they watched me make dinner and moved my furniture all around the apartment.  I've not been so exhausted from charades in years!  Just you wait until my game show, people will leave there covered in sweat!  You'll be sure that you were watching an episode of "The Biggest Loser."  Count on It.

Tuesday, October 18, 2011

Italian Living: Lessons I've Learned after 4 Months in Italy

The lessons I've learned while living abroad are so many and so vast that I feel compelled to share them on a monthly basis until they become too mundane.

1. There is no 'y' in the Italian alphabet.  I work with half Americans and half Italians and started my job during August when all of the Italians were on vacation.  When they came back, I'd been here for a month already and was starting to get involved on projects and sneak into meetings and things and they all couldn't figure out where I came from.  "There's a girl in the office!  Have you seen her?"  I put my own name tag outside of my office door to help explain who I am and what I do and tried, though I wasn't entirely successful, to introduce myself to as many people in my office as possible.  So flash forward to mid-October.  I've been here just over 2 months and have daily conversations with my office mates about their love of Speedos, how I dress really fancy at work and most importantly, the art of Italian food.  (We'll get to that in a minute)  At this point, I know most of their names because I have a diagram of the office layout on my cork board and check each person's name before I wander about.  Diego, Silvio, Pamela, Silvanna, etc.  Yesterday, I sent a document to the printer and heard a great deal of buzz from that side of the office when I went to retrieve it.  "Miss, who is this person 'Linnay Kaenan?"  (I spelled that phonetically so you can see that my name is 'Linnay' here).  "Seriously?  I'm Lynne.  Lynne is me.  Mia chiama e Lynne."  I guess we aren't as close as I thought we were....  sigh....

2. Italian Perceptions of Global Food.  Diego is by far my biggest fan in my office.  He's super sweet and LOVES to talk about Italian food.  Tomatoes, pasta, bruschetta, different cuts of meat.  He makes me maps of the best places to go out in our neighborhood and a map of where to drive in Tuscany and a map of where to go outside of Rome to "feel the open road."  In our discussions, breakfast came up.  Here is our breakfast discussion: 

Diego: "What do you eat for breakfast in America?  You don't eat cornettos, so what do you eat?"
Me: Cereal or bagels or eggs.  We have bigger breakfast on the weekends with pancakes and sausage and eggs and things.  But, before work, just something small and fast.
Diego:  And this coffee cup of yours.  It's huge!  Do you know that your coffee has more caffeine in it than our espresso?  Because it goes through the grounds more than one time.

This fact has been repeated to me by just about every Italian in my office.  When I don't join them for their thrice-daily caffe break, because "I already had my coffee today" they remind me that if I had a caffe (read espresso), I would not get the jitters because the water only passes through the grounds once when making espresso.  "Si, si, si."

3. Mistakes I've made with Italian phrases.  I took an Italian class when we first got here and really thought that when you are leaving, when you want to say something like "Have a good day tomorrow" it was "buona giornale."  That actually means "good newspaper."  No wonder I got so many looks of "what the hell are you talking about?"  So here I've been, telling people about good newspapers for a few months, looking like a complete fool.  The correct phrase is "buona giornata."  Which means "have a good tomorrow." 

Gianni, not our gas station attendant but a guy at the front desk of my building, always yells "CiaoLin!" when I walk by.  He is actually saying "Ciao, Lynne" but he says it so fast and with such fervor that it always comes out like one word.  "Ciao, Gianni!"  So, after the pleasantries of "CiaoLin!", Gianni yelled something after me as I was leaving.  I thought he was saying "tra poco" which means "shortly" or "up next."  I didn't understand.  In reality, he was saying "tutto posto" which means "is everything ok?"  The answer is always "si" but I sometimes still make the mistake of responding with "va bene" which means "It's good."  I guess that works too..

4. My head has gotten unnaturally large.  Now, let's not confuse this with the jokes about my freakishly large head as a child.  To this day, "Big Head" is a name I fear I won't live down, but I digress.  My Italian office mates have been way too friendly with their compliments and I fear that I may have a hard time going back to America and realizing that I'm not actually as beautiful as Heidi Klum.  For example, Mena is the receptionist in my office and asked me yesterday if I was in beauty pageants in America.  Haha, no...  Franco and Diego in my office started clapping on Friday when I walked into the office in my fancy Zara blazer from Germany and my new Michael Kors loafers.  "Brava, Linnay, you look Italian today!" 

5. My American curling iron will work on a converter.  This is perhaps the least exciting news, but it was a valuable lesson as my hair continues to look atrocious most days of the week and will likely be snatched up by birds soon to make their nest out of.  By adding both heat and product, I hope to improve the situation but have obviously not met positive results.  On the plus side, I found out that my beloved American curling iron will in fact not fry to bits when plugged into a converter.  Great success.

Also, it is with great sadness that I learned today that Ella, the adorable dog who lives at our gas station/parking lot, was hit by a car this morning.  When I came home, she had a cast on her hind paw and was being lead over to our car by one of the gas station attendants because they know that we keep treats in the glove box.  I gave her about 10 of them, as my heart melted for the poor girl and the elder gas station attendant played "Oh Susannah" on his harmonica.  And then I thought, this is really strange that we're having a little Oh Sussanah party in the parking lot....  He told me, I think, that he learned it for the Americans (read Tom and I).  It made me smile and I gave them all a big air kiss.  "Buona giornale!"  I'm just kidding!  I said the right thing... I think!

Sunday, October 9, 2011

American Holidays = Roman Holidays

For some reason which defies logic, Tom and I have taken to using American federal holidays as an excuse to go to Rome.  This time, we used our good friend, Chris Columbus, as an excuse.  So off we went from Capodichino to the Napoli Centrale train station via the Alibus on Saturday morning.  The fast train, which is 45 Euro and takes an hour, was leaving at 9 am and Tom decided with all included means of transport, it would take us an hour to reach the train station from our apartment.  Oh Tom...  When we got to the Capodichino Airport to catch the 3 Euro Alibus downtown, we realized that we had just missed that last bus by 2 minutes.  The next one would arrive in 20 minutes and if it took 15 minutes, would get us downtown in time.  Alas, it did not.  We did, however, stand in line, at length, with the angriest Italian man of all time.  He wore a "Veni Vedi Vici" shirt and jorts and screamed on his phone and at his wife for the full 30 minutes that we waited, though he broke up the monotony by punching and/or kicking a nearby wall.  When Italians give you the "woah, dude, calm down" face, you know you're bad!

So 30 minutes and one missed train later, we were on the cheaper, slower train to Rome.  Our car was shared by a family of three with perhaps the most adorable and intelligent little girl.  Her mom was checking her homework and she was staring at Tom and I with such intense awe and confusion that made me giggle.  When Tom broke out the Italian flashcards that I made him, she stared even more, to the point that Tom put them away out of sheer intimidation. 

We arrived in Rome and set off for the Vatican with a stop for lunch first.  Frommer's had recommended this hole in the wall place near the Pantheon and upon arrival we saw about 50 Americans with either Frommer's or Rick Steves' clutched like the bible and very few Italians.  We quickly noted that if your establishment makes it into one of these books, you are both guaranteed a great fiscal year and probably going to lose a significant number of your locals.  Also, your English or your patience with foreigners would have to greatly improve.  Listening to two Japense girls order lasagna and a bottle of wine was humorous, though understandably frustrating for all parties.

On Sunday, we met up with a fellow Gamma Phi and UVA Alum, Megan, who lives with her husband in London.  The two were in town for their anniversary (which Tom and I apologetically crashed.  After also accidentally crashing a wedding and mass while we tried to pop in to visit a churches.  Whoops!)  Telling stories of living abroad, their quest for Cheez-Its and the ever-difficult task of figuring out bathrooms in a foreign country (insert judgement for my epic shower failure this morning in our hotel.  It turns out, when there are three different shower heads, it's really difficult to figure out which nob goes to which and can result in covering the entire bathroom in water.  Whoops, again!).  I keep hoping to one day become that confident traveler that Rick Steves' wants me to be.  One day, Rick, one day...

Our trip back, on the fast train, was uneventful but speedy.  We had such a great time in the Eternal City and enjoyed getting to spend more time learning about Roman culture.  Also, Tom discovered that most times when he asks me what the Latin says on a building, that I normally am lying.  "Really?  That says 'Glory to God' too???" 

I'm heading back in November to pick up my sister, Lauri, from the airport and simply cannot wait!!!!!  Think of all of the useless knowledge that I can impart on her!  You're welcome in advance, sister!

Tuesday, October 4, 2011

Irish Eyes Are Smiling

Onward our travels through Europe have taken us!  In an attempt to live up to Tom's very Irish heritage, we decided to travel to his homeland and see what all the fuss is about.  Being both Irish and from Jersey, Tom's level of Irish pride is very high and being from Virginia and not at all Irish, my level of understanding of the matter was very low.  But for some reason, I felt like I needed more of an excuse to go there so I found a half marathon in Valentia Island, about 4 hours west of Dublin, for an added level of fun! 

Flights to Dublin from Naples were few and expensive between, so Tom, Julie and I opted for the Rome departure option.  Like most things in Italy, airline travel is in serious need of a systems engineer to iron out the many kinks in their system.  We waited in three different lines trying to check into our flight and only did so 7 minutes before they closed it!  We then rushed through the least secure security check then passport checks then waited in a long line to a catch a bus from the gate to the plane.  When all was said and done our plane was nearly an hour late departing, which is about on time in Italian.  Ryan Air, like Easy Jet, has no assigned seating and the mass pandemoneum of boarding was made even worse by 5 Italian guys who thought that the Jersey Shore is the end all be all of both fashion and behavior.  They pretended to not understand English when their bag wouldn't fit in the overhead compartment but miraculously understood and spoke it well enough to get drinks and food later in the flight.  Thankfully we lost them after getting our passports stamped in Dublin and ran into only the sweetest, most adorable Irish folks for the duration of our time out of the country.

Ireland is one of the most picturesque places that I've been to thus far.  While the Amalfi Coast has staggering views and dramatic island formations, the Irish countryside was so subtley scenic that I longed for a flock of sheep, a bit of Earth to tend (or to pay someone to tend for me) and a B&B of my very own.  From the Hertz agent to the girl who we asked for directions to the salty fisherman who we asked for more directions, each person on our journey was friendly, cheerful and accomodating.  I think they may breath cleaner, friendlier air up there.  Or there's valium in their water supply, along with whatever is in there that made my hair return to it's silky pre-Italian state.  I really can't be sure but I loved every minute of it!

Mary, the owner of the Shealane Inn, a B&B in Valentia Island, was a warm, adorable little Irish woman who could likely talk to a log and make it feel both important and welcome in her home.  She giggled and smiled through our conversation and filled our bellies with French Toast and full Irish breakfast each morning.  She recommended that we go into Portmagee, a small fishing village about 1/2 a mile from her establishment to see their Shanty Festival and have dinner at the Bridge Bar.  Once inside, we listened to several groups of Irish singers sharing stories and songs about the ocean, boats, fishing and women and the drinking that occured in conjunction with all of the above.    It was all in support of a new Life Boat that was being unveiled that weekend by the Coast Guard.  Also included in this festival was a scavenger hunt, parade, photography contest and a Coast Guard fly-over, though that was cancelled due to weather concerns.  I couldn't believe how much the community came together over a Life Boat!

On Saturday Julie and I picked up our race packets and toured around the Island before the noon start.  At the start line, we were highly intimidated by the number of very serious looking runners.  I was dropped off with a car full of 4 Irish women at the half way mark, as Julie and I were doing the race as a two man relay team because we hadn't trained quite as well as our ambitions had lead us to believe.  So there I stood, in the wind, looking out at the skellig islands off the coast and hoping that the race would start on time.  The other ladies were just as positive about their childhood experiences in Ireland and described just about everything as "quite lovely, really."  The race was, a race!  Having both finished more than one half marathon and a marathon, Julie and I didn't feel like our pride would get in the way of strolling or taking pictures along the race course when the desire came over us.  I got pictures of cows and mile markers, hills and bushes, depending on my skill with my iPhone at the time. 

On our way back to Dublin on Sunday, we stopped in at an old castle, the name of which I won't even try to remember.  Tom climbed the staircase to the highest tower and took about 30,000 pictures in the drizzle while Julie and I smiled from below reminding him that our rental car was due back at 3 and the battery wouldn't last forever in the camera.  Sorry, honey!  Tom, it must be noted, is the biggest lover of a roadside attraction, and can find a photo opportunity in just about any county the world over.  "Look at that!  It's a shaggy pony!  Picture!"  Alas, the "shaggy pony" photo was never realized and I think the point of some consternation.

We did, in the end, arrive back in Dublin, dropped of our rental car, took a bus from the airport to the City Center, walked 12 blocks with our bags (which was much further than the cheery girl on the bus lead us to believe) and then strolled the streets before stopping for Thai food for dinner.  We all agreed that Irish food (and their Thai for that matter) was much better than we had anticipated and loved eating such hearty, comforting meals, though we did eat quite a bit more than we'd been eating in Italy!  On Monday, we toured the grounds of the Dublin Castle and then the Guinness Storehouse before we caught the friendliest cab to the airport and headed home.  Both the Dublin Castle and the Guinness Storehouse were very impressive, very well maintained sites and we would have loved to have spent more time in both. 

It was a "lovely" trip and on the tarmac heading back to Rome, I turned to Tom and said "I wish we didn't have to leave."  "It's ok, we'll be back."  Indeed, we'll have to!  But make sure to head to the Blarney Castle and Co. Cork next time as well!

Monday, September 12, 2011

Another Blog Post About Driving

While talking to my sister last night, I made a comment about how I've become a more fearless driver since living here and it got me to thinking about my driving progression.  [Enter that dreamy music for a montage of my past driving experiences]  I remember in college when people from Northern Virginia would boast about how they learned to drive in the "mixing bowl" of the DC metro area.  Me?  I learned in Virginia Beach.  Among residential streets and strip malls, a 55 MPH highway and loads of open roads.  Sure there is traffic, but I was 16!  I was never driving in rush hour or trying to parallel park my 1990 Ford Taurus Station wagon.  From this driver haven, I then drove in Raleigh, NC, where rules hardly apply and the speed is so casually slow that if you were going with the flow of traffic it was sometimes under the speed limit.  Like one guy with a pick up truck didn't realize that he was going slow so we all slowed down to fit in with him.  And then I moved to San Diego.

My first driving experiences in San Diego literally, not the Kardashian version of literally, gave me hives.  I couldn't figure out why there were so many freeways and always seemed to end up in the Ikea parking lot in Mission Valley.  Was I ever headed there?  Well sure, like 2 times but every time I'd end up there and think "seriously??  again??"  In time, the late mergers, the Mexican trucks hauling 14 mattresses back across the border and the Coronado bridge became something that I was more comfortable with and seemed significantly less intimidating.

With this renewed confidence in my driving abilities, which Tom will always remind me are sub-par at best, I came to Italy thinking "I can do this!"  And during August, I was awesome!  I dodged the 4 Vespas left on the road and maneuvered around the 14 cars parked on our street and gave myself a reassuring pat on the back regularly.  And then everyone came back from vacation and the "Oh Shit, this actually IS hard" realization hit me.  I've said before that Italians are crazy drivers and it's SO true!  Turn signals are a sign of weakness.  I presume the theory is "I don't need to tell you that I'm coming in, just expect it!"  So when I would cut people off or get let into traffic and gave that little American "thanks!" wave, I got a look of "Put your hand down and drive, Idiot!"  One finger, the pointer preferably, is all that you use, if ever, to show gratitude and/or yielding of right of way.  The latter happens so incredibly rarely that I think I've only seen it twice in 3 months.

The sign to the right means "No Passing."  When Kristine came out to visit and drove around the Panda (further reading available in previous blog post Up and Down the Amalfi Coast), my warning for her was "Be the black car.  Whatever the black car is doing is what you want to be doing.  Don't be the red car."  The exit ramp to Vomero, our neighborhood, off the Tangenziale, the major highway that runs east to west through Naples, is this long, skinny S-shaped bridge.  During August, it was nearly always empty and the merge from the ramp to the street was pretty simple.  Now, all that has changed!  Rounding the corner one day, I saw two lines of cars dead stopped.  "What??  Look at all of these people being the red car!  Don't they know that you are supposed to always be the black car!??!"  The black car rule is dead now.  Yesterday, as I was being the black car, the line of cars beside me growing ever longer, an ambulance came screaming up from behind.  "I'm interested to see how this goes," I thought to myself.  He went down the middle.  Oh my God!  The bridge to my house, which is decidely one lane wide, was three cars of traffic deep.  I was driving the CRV to keep the battery from dying again, and the sideview mirror was hanging over the guard rail, about 500 feet above the ground below.  "Mamma mia..." escaped my lips before I decided to cowboy up and not let something little like this bridge collapsing turn me into a coward!

To help myself cope with the insanity, I took the longer way home to avoid the blind turn of death that I normally take.  It was significantly more enjoyable to take the longer route.  Yes, there's an unyielding traffic circle, about 10 blind curves around which there's normally a pack of Vespas in the middle of both lanes, and cars parked in both directions of the same side of the street with mirrors just waiting to be taken off, but, now I'm the unyielding jerk for those people making the blind turn and that is much better than being the timid car trying to sneak across two lanes of traffic.  Cut somebody else off, buddy!  I'm not making eye contact or even beginning to move my foot off the gas.

In the future, I'll know I'm more Neopolitan when I remove the break completely from my car.  For now, I still use it.  Though, the other Neopolitan trick is to use your breaks in conjunction with your hazard lights, that's how infrequently they are used...

More tales of crazy to come soon!

Wednesday, September 7, 2011

Italian Living: Lessons Learned in the first 3 months

Before we left the States for our great Italian adventure, I had a lot of perceptions about Italy, having never lived here before.  After three months, I have come to understand some of the Italian customs a BIT better than I did before.  Here are a few lessons that I've learned for other inquiring minds!

1. Italians are crazy drivers.   Italians are crazy but Neopolitans are WAY crazier!  There are two situations in which I am normally terrified when driving around town. 
  1. The traffic circle leaving my office.  It's the entrance to the airport and the exit of everyone who works for the US.  The general rule when entering the circle (and this is just my understanding of the rule) is that you sneak your nose in and then when someone else is trying to get in, drive with wreckless abandon, don't make eye contact and don't even think of touching the break.  This defies every instinct that I have about driving in traffic circles, especially considering that I took a week long seminar in design traffic circles before I came out here.  [Insert jealously over the level of awesome of my coursework here] 
  2. Turning onto my street.  Two weeks ago, our street was completely empty.  I drove with the leisurely joy of being back in the States in a normal, cobblestone street.  I looked at the boats, the relative smog and my ability to see Capri and sang along to my 1997 Dance Party mix with joy.  Oh what a difference two weeks make!  Now cars line both side of the street, all of those on the left, illegally.  But it's also a two way street.  So, we are now up to 4 lanes of traffic in what would typically be one way with parking on one side in the US.  I just keep hoping to not take off someone's side view mirror!!
2. Always carry travel sized Kleenex tissues - I was told this early on, with the note that Italian bathrooms rarely have toilet paper and pushed it aside as mere guidance.  Oh Lynne, that was foolish.  Street vendors sell them for 1 Euro in super touristy places, though the guys that stand in the street to wash your windshield will give you a wash AND tissues for less than a Euro.  Bargain!  The same theory applies to hand sanitizer...

3. Window Washers - At busy stoplights, there are window washers that will race up to your car, plop a psuedo-clean squeegy on your windshield and start washing.  It's not dissimilar from TJ, if you've crossed the border in the last 15 years.  I've heard that you can give them somewhere between 30-50 centi (the Euro change) for this service OR to avoid it, you turn on your windshield wipers when they are approaching.  If you turn them on WHILE they are actively plopping the squeegy on your windshield, they get pretty pissed!   

 4. Italians clothing is... different.  I haven't been overly impressed by the styling habits of most of the Italians I've seen on our street.  Granted, I see some people and think "Wow, they look really nice."  But, I have noticed a lot of:  monochromatic styling (purple shirt?  Purple pants go perfectly!!!), strange combinations (lilac shirt?  red pants go perfectly!!), muffin tops (oh the humanity!!  muffin tops everywhere!), affinity for spandex leggings, affinity for those clear plastic bra straps that were really popular in like 1996 and of course, things being about 2 sizes too small.

5. PDA - it's not just the old term for SmartPhone.  Public displays of affection among angsty teenagers in the US always annoyed me.  Really?  You had to make out here?  But Italian PDA puts American PDA to SHAME!  SHAME, I say!  The level of making out is so advanced, so unabashed, so unapologetic that I often want to break the make-out session up to provide both parties with a piece of gum and some Blistex.  "You'll thank me later."  Or provide them with a helpful lecture about the time I got mono after making out on a band field trip when I was 16.  I'm a cautionary tale, really... 

6. Italian Phrases that I didn't know but now love and use frequently:
  • Mamma Mia! - It's amazing.  I use it SO often!  Something tastes good?  "Mamma mia..."  Something's not going your way?  "Mamma mia...."
  • "Basta!"  - This means "that's enough" and like "prego" can be used in multiple situations.  Ordering food, when you're done ordering = basta.  Getting food heaped onto your plate, when you're done = basta.  When the waiter tries to bring you MORE food, "No, no, no... basta!!" [pats belly to show fullness].  And my favorite: A baby crying on the train, the dad looked at him and yelled "BASTA!"  I wanted to start crying for the child, though I've tried this technique on my cats to see if it's more effective than saying "stop it!"
  • Buona Sera or just "sera" - This means good evening and covers pretty much any greeting from 4 pm until you leave at night.  I love it!  I say it to random old people on my street, hoping that they will think I'm adorable and make me food.  Still keeping my fingers crossed that this plan will pan out, but for now, I'm hopeful.
  • Not so much a phrase, but if you take your index finger and kind of wiggle it into where a dimple would be on your cheek, this means "It's SO delicious!"  When words fail and delicious has overcome my ability to speak, or my mouth is so full of said delicious food, or if the mere memory of something delicious comes to mind, this comes in incredibly handy. 
  • "Aspetta" - Silvana in my office ALWAYS says this!  She's adorable and laughs at me all the time and is just super sweet.  But when people start talking too fast or bug her, she'll just say "aspetta!" 
  • I don't use this, but it's been very helpful: "sciopero."  It means: strike.  I hear this word on the radio ALL the time to let people know who's striking and when.  The strikes are very well organized and pretty well publicized, if you can understand more than zero Italiano.  Mostly it's gas stations, buses or the maintenance people who started a picket line that wouldn't allow vehicles into the base for a few days.  That was fun...
  • "Allora" - this is one of those filler words and means anything from "so..." to "well" to "ok"  My Italian TA in college used to sigh and say "allora" whenever he was ready to change the subject and I find that it's probably because he spent any serious amount of time here that he learned it.
7. The Camorra is no joke.  People warned me that the mob is pretty prevalent in Naples and I laughed it off thinking "Yeah and the Godfather was based on truth."  But, being married to a guy from Jersey, my southern naivety seems to shield me from the fact that there is very much a mob above the Mason-Dixon line and that the Italian mafia is pretty legit.  They control the trash which is the biggest reason why Naples has trash everywhere!   While it isn't quite as bad right now as this picture would lead one to believe, there is a lot of trash on the side of just about every road, with the exception of our neighborhood, which is apparently rich enough to have the trash taken out regularly.  I think we've had the only empty trash can in a few mile radius...  Or maybe we live in the mob town.  I'm not really sure, but I do like that my trash goes away on regular intervals.

8. Surefire signs that you're American: You're wearing running shoes.  You're wearing un-decorated flip flops.  You think Ashlee Simpson is a style icon. Hats, fringe, Pat Benatar inspired shirts, pockets hanging out the bottom of jorts.  All of these are no-go's.  You look foolish.  This may be my general feelings about apparel, but it's doubly true in Italy! 

9. Italian water makes my hair feel like straw.  That's just a fact.  I don't know why.  In multiple parts of Italy the water has not improved my hair situation.

10.  Buying a device with a European outlet does not insure that it will fit in a European plug.  My hair dryer is the prime example, it has the two weird plugs but I have to plug it into an adapter to have it fit into the wall.  Our refigerator, microwave, and my cell phone charger all have adapters to fit into the correct plugs.  And they are all EU specs!  It's weird.  I think there may be a side-post that discusses the importance of reading power maximums on every electrical component, but that's for another time...

11.  There may not be room for dessert, but there is ALWAYS room for limoncello!  I remember having limoncello back in the US and actively thinking "why would you drink that after a meal??"  We even went out with a group of Americans who had not been here long and they took their limoncello as a shot and then did the "ooooo it burns face" that you do did after taking a shot of Aristocrat in college.  Limoncello is so delicious and sweet, though, that it's MUCH better to just sip it while it's still cold.  Even as it warms up.  Just sip it, silly!  This is one instances where "basta" should only be used sparingly. 

12.  Everyone is best friends with or is related to someone with one or more of the following:  Gianni, Gino, Ciro, Guiseppe, Mario, Maria and Lucca. 

Tuesday, September 6, 2011

Naples Underground

We have decided that we've gone on one of our last USO tours after doing the Underground Naples tour.  Now, don't get me wrong, the USO can be great and gets you to and from the location with relative ease and provides you with a tour guide.  But this tour also had the 10 most annoying people that have been put on this planet.  I think the loudest woman alive was on our trip and I really fought to not tell her to shut the F up about 20 times.  Alas, ladies don't do that and while I wasn't wearing pearls at the time, I did think "If I were in pearls, I'd do something classy and just shrug off this most annoying woman." 

Anywho, Naples has an entire underground section that used to be the cistern for the city under the Roman empire and had individual family cisterns under the Greeks.  Thus, there are all of these underground rooms that have tunnels that lead between them and used to provide drinking water.  In the mid-1800's, some bacteria got into the touffa (which I'm sure I'm mispelling but is basically the volcanic rock left over from Vesuvius exploding and is found just about everywhere here) and made everyone sick.  SO!  They kind of stopped using it.  Then in World War II, when Naples was getting bombed til Kingdom Come basically everyone (can you even imagine why Italians wouldn't LOVE us??!  Weird...), people actually moved down into the cisterns and lived there!  There were children's toys and type writers, beds and luggage all over the place.  We only saw a small portion, but our tour guide said something like 1,000 people lived inside each cistern during the bombing and some stayed down there as long as five years while they rebuilt the city!  Also, Julia Roberts went down there in Eat, Pray, Love and it's pretty famous for that, too.  I think Naples has like 4 total references in American pop culture, so they are all pretty well marked.  Anything Julia Roberts did for a total of 7 minutes in that movie is documented and now a tour of some kind.

Afterwards, we followed our tour guide to an old apartment under which archaeologists found the ruins of a Roman theater.  Someone's cellar was the back stage and a carpenter's shop was the seating area.  A Vespa parking lot or dealership was some other part....  I'm not sure.  At this point, I kind of spaced out and thought "aren't we eating pizza soon?" 

We did eat pizza, not the best we've had, though the tour guide claimed it was where the Margherita pizza was invented.  But, like 1,000 pizzeria's in Naples claim to have invented the Margherita pizza, so you take that for what it's worth!

Fearing that we might have to sit and listen to more asinine conversation, Tom and I snuck out of the dining area and went to buy cool looking pasta, orange flavored cookies and other Neopolitan things.  For dinner tonight: truffle spaghetti!  Mmmm!  Can't wait!

Labor Day Getaway: Cinque Terre and Pisa!

With the holiday weekend approaching and the knowledge that we had a pack of Virgo birthdays to celebrate in our group of friends, Team Keenan, Team Jacobsen and Team Julie Holland decided to take a trip up north to Cinque Terre! 

For clarification, and my personal hatred of reading about places which I know nothing about, the Cinque Terre are five little villages that are located in the northern portion of the Italian Riviera.  I've included the Wiki Link for further information and inquiring minds.  Anywho!  The five of us piled into Gabby, our Honda Civic, and off we went!  Well it turns out that a 5 person road trip in a Civic is probably more fun when we were all in college and not accustomed to leg room or packing our own wine keys and that kind of stuff.  Needless to say, poor Gabby was loaded to the gills and on the bumpy Italian roads our tires rubbed against the car every time we hit any significant dip.  I cringed and foresaw the five of us taking everything out of the trunk to get the spare, put it on and pop it again within 5 KM.  But, positive thinking prevailed and 7 hours later, we made it! 

We stayed at the Hotel Al Terra di Mare in Levanto, not *quite* inside the Cinque Terre but deceivingly close on a map.  We all decided to take the train to Riomaggiore, the southern most town.  There are hiking trails that connect the towns, though one had been washed out by a landslide this spring.  Following the herd, we walked along the Via Dell'Amore from Riomaggiore to Manarola, the second town.  All along the way, there were locks on fences, hand rails, even the erosion netting, which are meant to signify young lovers "locking their love in."  We weren't sure at the time, but there were two men who were trying every combination lock.  I guess that love didn't work out and they didn't want it locked up anymore??  Non lo so...

For lunch,  we followed Rick Steves' recommendation and stopped in at Il Porticciolo in town #2, Manarola.  The place was packed and deservedly so!  I got the local fare, the squid ink pasta with clams.  Mamma mia!  It was so good!  Mmmmmm......

Onward we went to Corniglia and then hiked for two hours to get to Vernazza.  Oh my goodness.  That hike was tough!  It was up the face of a mountain and pretty challenging at times.  Julie, the gazelle that she is, sped off ahead of the four of us slow pokes, who took pictures and strolled a bit more casually.  Once in Vernazza, we decided that hiking further would be far too masochistic, even by Julie's standards, and enjoyed some pesto and gnocchi and my ill-fated carrot salad, which turned out to be a large bowl of carrot shavings.  I mean, if ordering something completely different from what you thought you were getting only happens once on a trip, that's pretty good in my book!

Day three, it poured.  Poured and poured and poured!  The place was a ghost town!  We stupidly wandered about, getting more and more drenched, before deciding that a large meal and waiting out the clouds was the best bet.  Onward to Monterosso, the northern-most town.  Ol' Rick Steves had HIGHLY recommended Miky Ristorante and after his first suggestion was so delicious, we couldn't skip it!  Miky's was by far our fanciest meal in Cinque Terre and every dish came out better than the last.  The most exciting was the local pesto which came lit on fire!  What?!?!  Each pasta dish comes "pizza style" which means that the dish is wrapped in pizza dough and then lit on fire!  Then the waiter very carefully peeled back the dough and with more care than I've ever seen and personally dished the portions of pesto out in perfect little twists of the fork.  It was magical! 

We left with full bellies and the sun in our hearts to see that the sun had peaked out from behind the clouds as well!  Our group went into one of the private beaches, which turned out to be much cheaper and cleaner than the ones here in Napoli, and swam for a few hours. 

On the long ride back to Napoli, we decided to stop in Pisa to check out the Leaning Tower and stretch our legs for a short stop.  Julie had recently been there with a tour group and said it was worth seeing but maybe not worth a completely seperate trip.  The Field of Miracles, where the Leaning Tower is located, was packed!  We took the obligatory pictures of either holding up or knocking over the tower and strolled around laughing at other people's attempts.  The best, in my book, was the most dedicated German woman stretching and straining in her picture.  Muscles were flexed for like 3 full minutes!  She was really determined to push that sucker up in her picture!  We all marveled at how beautiful the whole town was.  It was so bright and clean compared to the sites of Napoli and so amazingly maintained.  The detail work around the Leaning Tower was phenomenal!  Truly breath taking! 

At length, we arrived back at home and fed our affection-starved cats with an evening snuggle.  It was definitely a great birthday celebration for Nathan, Julie and I to share.  A special thanks to Tom and Kim for getting us all the most amazing birthday meal at Miky's!  And to the entire group, you are fabulous travel companions!  It was a great time for sure and especially so with such wonderful friends to share the experience!

Monday, September 5, 2011

Amy Lynne Robinson

While the past few days have been exciting for us, they are nothing compared to the blessing and joy that my sister, Christy, and brother-in-law, Todd, have experienced. On September 2nd at 12:42 AM little Amy Lynne Robinson came into this world!!

We have only gotten to talk to the new parents for a few minutes, as life with a new-born surely changes ones free time, but mother and baby are doing well. Christy admitted that the whole "motherhood thing" was trickier than she had anticipated and that labor was indeed as painful as everyone said it was. Regardless, I cannot imagine her being anything other than a compassionate, patient and loving mother and this picture of Amy melted my heart the second I saw it!

It's times like these, seeing only a picture and hearing stories, that I feel the farthest away. For all of these times, Amy, when I could not hold you and help your momma out, I'll promise to be there for you ten-fold in the future. And to my sister, my dear friend, I am so proud of you. You and Todd have brought the most darling little angel into this world and will shower her with you love and affection, your knowledge and humor. She is the luckiest girl in the world to have you both and maybe is just normal levels of lucky to have the rest of us crazies for her extended family!!

Overjoyed out here in Napoli for Momma and Papa Robinson and cannot wait to meet our niece, Amy Lynne Robinson!!!

Friday, August 26, 2011

Missing Home...

Living in Italy truly is a gift.  At times, like when we were swimming in the waters off Capri, I pinch myself to see if it's real.  And then there are weeks like this one.  Tom has been in Germany all week for work and I've been here alone, in a house with no AC, no phone line and 158 boxes from our move sitting on our balcony, waiting for the moving company to come take them away. 

While our neighborhood has been filling up, ever so slowly, the fact still remains that exploring everything by yourself can sometimes make you feel even more alone than you did locked up in your house.  I find myself wishing that I had the courage to go boldly out into the Italian neighborhood around me, ordering cornettos and whatever else I please without fear of sounding stupid.  Without practicing first what I'd say about 1,000 times in my head and then not completely destroying the Italian language when I actually say it.  This week feels like a roller coaster ride of emotions, the low on Monday when I left work early to meet the phone repair guy only to have them ask me "Why don't you have any Italian friends who can help you?"  Trying not to cry in front on a random Italian man and having him acknowledge how lonely I feel was yet another terribly humbling experience. 

Tuesday felt like a high as I effectively asked Gianni, the gas attendant, to change the oil in my car.  Gianni thinks I'm kind of tragically lost in his Italian world and is always SO nice to me!  I find myself smiling every time that I see him, even when he's checking out my butt as I walk away.  That's cool, Gianni, it helped my self-esteem that day! 

The cause of most of my frustration is the sheer oddity of my surroundings.  I was reading a book this week, because I blew the fuse box to my apartment so many times trying to turn on our TV that I figured it was a sign from above that I should pick up a book, in which an American woman goes to live in Ireland on a home exchange deal.  There was one line, near the end, when she too felt alone and lost in the other land, noting how strange it was hearing little kids cry out to one another with Irish accents.  It's very much the same here.  Living practically on top of one another, with courtyards that face courtyards of open windows, dinner conversations, yowling dogs and crying children in the evenings.  Listening to a 2 year old child speak better Italian than I do and hearing the soothing voice of mothers telling them it will be alright.  Cars that honk their horns or drive past far too fast at 1 AM or the fireworks that go off at the oddest times of day.  I feel like a bratty kid during these times, when I come home and hide away from the world in my cocoon of the hottest apartment alive with my cats and a bottle of wine.  I think about how much easier it would be with Tom home and also how annoyed I'd be at him for those times when he laughs at me when I do something dumb, though he always diguises it with the term "adorable." 

I suppose I am just feeling both lonely and sorry for myself, annoyed that my European dreams are not quite what I thought them to be all the time.  For the trash in the road to those first few months where you'd be friends with a shoebox, so long as it was a friend.  For those times that you just want to scream out "Speak ENGLISH!  PLEASE!" but then realize that YOU are the foreigner and in their home country, they have every right to speak their language.  For those times and for the comforts of home, of my mother and my sisters, my dad and the long days in their pool, of a good trip to Target, the ease of knowing how to drive on American streets and the long lost art of Sunday Brunch, I'm going to just be a little homesick for a while.  In time, I'll stop acting like a 5 year old and pull myself back together, hide my tear streamed face behind a coat of fresh make up and convince myself that I'm strong enough to make the most of this.  I'm just waiting for that day right now.

Sunday, August 21, 2011

Daytripper: I'm on a Boat!

Yesterday we went on a Mini-Cruise along the Amalfi Coast.  To start off the day, we met the tour bus near the airport at 7:30 AM and drove off to the port near Sorrento.  During the 40 minute bus ride, the tour guide discovered that there were more people on the bus than had paid.  She read off names but it was hard to hear and we were sitting in the back a bit confused.  Then she came down the aisle checking everybody's name.  When she got to our group of 5, she discovered who wasn't on the list.  All of us!  I showed her my receipt and she wrote all of the names down and came back about 5 minutes later to point out the problem.  The girl at the USO booked us on the trip the following weekend.  I turned bright red, embarassed that I had taken on this simple task of booking our group and began to fear that this bubbly Italian girl would turn deadly and leave us stranded at the super sketchy Port of Naples to find our own way home!  Instead, ever the sweetheart that she was, she giggled and referred to us as "the illegals" all day. 

The boat had three levels: one with a dining area and half covered/half open deck at the stern (did you like that?  Nautical speak!  "I'm on a boat!")  The top two decks were covered in beach chairs and immediately upon opening the ropes to let us in, Italians in tiny swim suits.  At this point, it was quarter of 9 and almost every Italian on the boat was in a string bikini or Speedo.  We saw a very common fashion trend of Italian swim suits: men LOVE red speedos and women changed their suits hourly right where they sat.  We saw quite our fair share of lady bits onboard yesterday!

We eventually got to Capri and were given 30 minutes to swim around the boat.  An "Italian line" formed at the stairs on either side of the boat and we all were pushed and shoved by sweaty, nearly nude Italians in line.  I don't mind a normal Italian line, which is to say a mass of people in no particular order or even linear form, under normal circumstances all THAT much but when everyone is clad only in tiny bits of spandex, it makes me a bit uncomfortable!  Alas, we all, minus Tom, who hates the sun and avoids it at all costs, hopped into the water and swam around, making continued note of our good fortune for living in Italy.  The water was super salty but so clear that you could see to the bottom, some 40-50 meters, according to Nathan's guestimations.

Back on board, our hair started to dry in the salty, crusty manner that is highly attractive.  We cruised another 40 minutes until we reached Positano where we piled off of our larger boat onto a very small boat.  The fare was 3 Euro roundtrip and I think to save money on gas, the boat driver and his very pushy wife, decided to cram as many of us onto the boat as possible.  We assumed that  two trips would be made and when I was numbered "trentuno" (31) I began to worry that all five of us wouldn't fit on the tiny boat!  How wrong I was!   At least 50 of us got on the tiny boat!  It rolled so strongly in the wake of other boats that we were obliged to go very very slowly into port. 

Once on dry land in Positano, our group stopped into La Pergola for lunch.  The food was pretty good, though expensive.  As always, I voted Tom's provalone stuffed gnocchi with zucchini the best dish.  From our lazy lunch, we wandered the streets of Positano for a few minutes and looked at artwork, shoes and a cute, 580 EURO top.  Wow, Fendi really is that expensive.  "No, no, just looking!"

We all got some gelato, though I've decided that Kinder is my favorite flavor, and sat in the shade/sun (level of burnt depending) before getting back on our boat to the bigger boat.  Kim and I tried our hand at underwater photography with my Stylus Tough camera (which can be dropped from 6.6 ft and can go 33 feet under water!).  The salt water made this task incredibly difficult and we ended up getting a lot of pictures of my armpit or bubbles.

All in all, we had a lovely day on our cruise!  We finished up with burgers at Blackwood, the Irish style pub by Kim and Nathan's house, and a huge beer each.  Upon arriving home, I remembered the previously agreed upon rule that "no one can touch their sheets before showering first."