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!