Monday, January 30, 2012

Mistaken for Kate Middleton

When I wear nylons, I spend about an hour all day wiping my behind to make sure that my skirt didn't get stuck in my nylons.  I don't know if this is a common fear but I had a bad incident with my skirt in college and have since had panic attacks about potential indecent exposure.  Though Kate Middleton has brought nylons back into the fashionably acceptable realm, vice designated solely for old women, I seem to have a bit less natural charm, style and beauty than she does when I try to pull off this look.

Let's back track: One time in college, after visiting my sister in San Diego and getting a skirt made from saris, I wore it around grounds (this was at UVA where we never called it "campus" it was "grounds."  You were taught to openly judge anyone who mistakenly called your school "campus" and mutter something about being unbred miscreants.  It's UVA.  We know we're snobs.).  I was in the School of Architecture and compared to the girl who had tutu's for certain days of the week, I felt kind of too preppy to be taken seriously.  Armed with my sari skirt and my velvet Gap bag, I felt like I was fitting in to that "I'm sort of anti-establishment but I still bathe regularly" group, who are socially acceptable and not so smelly that the frat boys wouldn't dare touch you with a nine foot pole.  

This was also right after I won an iPod in a raffle.  Elated with my new skirt and my new technology, I strolled back to my sorority house blasting some version of 1990 chick music (read: Spice Girls if memory serves).  At some point, a gust of wind, likely from the train passing, blew my skirt up and tucked a piece of it into my Gap bag.  I was, I'm not ashamed to say, wearing Care Bear underwear that I found both hysterical and adorable.   Jamming out to the Spice Girls, I walked across grounds showing my Care Bear undies off to just about everyone I passed, thinking that their looks were of approval of my new, cute skirt.  Upon returning home, my room mate kindly pointing out that Care Bears were a good call and that the coverage of my behind was laudable.  "Oh my God.  I've flashed about 5,000 people just now."  

Armed with this horrific memory and the knowledge that I am an awkward person by nature, when today was unexpectedly gusty, I feared for the worst.  It doesn't help that certain Italian men in my office are somewhat creepy in their office comments (like that they'll marry me when my husband dies.  Not if, when) and I fear would never tell me that my skirt was tucked into my panty hose.  Instead, they'd likely break out camera phones and discuss the matter in Italian as I stood there, smiling.  "What are y'all talking about??"  

I did, inadvertently, tuck my skirt liner into my panty hose just before lunch and didn't realized this fact until I found it sticking out the back of my skirt.  "Oh balls," I muttered to myself as I made sure that I had not indecently exposed myself in my office.  My mom used to tell me to "act like a lady" and then I cursed myself for saying "balls."  For all of these reasons, it should make sense that when Tom and I started dating, I lied and told him that my middle name was Grace, because my mom thought it would fit my personality so accurately.  I've decided that should we ever procreate, we'll name our daughter Grace and hope that the name can overcome her mother's poor genes. And I'll only buy her full coverage underwear, don't want her to be mistaken for a hussy!

Thursday, January 26, 2012

Occupy Autostrada

Recently, Italy's new Prime Minister, Monti, and his cabinet passed some laws which deregulated the trucking industry in Italy as well as imposed a new tax on gasoline and diesel.  The tax on diesel is 11.2 centi ($0.148) per liter is equal to about $0.60 per gallon!  I mean, that is a really crazy tax, in Italy's defense.  To show their disapproval, the independent truckers of Italy went on strike and blocked the toll booths up and down the Autostrada, from Milan to Sicily.  I'm sure my information is slightly skewed, as I'm reading the news in somewhat broken Italian to English translation on Google, but that's the gist of it.

Photo Credit:
Occupy Wall Street has nothing on Italian truckers.  They take protesting up a notch. 

The protest began on Monday, Jan 23rd and involved pretty much everyone that doesn't live directly on or off the Tangenziale, the private toll highway that runs through Naples, to be delayed for hours in traffic.  Reports started to trickle in.  "Did you hear about the strike?"  "They say it's supposed to last 5 days."  "They are shutting down the mail because it can't get here from Rome."  "Gas is starting to run out."  "There's no fresh fruit or veggies getting into Naples."  As the week progressed, all of these rumors started to move from rumor to reality.  On Tuesday, trying to get into our gas station parking lot was nearly impossible.  Cars lined the streets, wrapping up and down our street.  We finally just put the car in park and the guys said they would move it when they could.  The next morning, our car was moved but signs were up at the AGIP letting people know that they were out of gas.

Signs like these popped up at gas stations all over Italy.  Two days of strikes and gas stations were bone dry.  Ours has not reopened yet.  While a deal was reached and the protest has apparently been called off, the repercussions are still being felt here.  Gas stations, when they are open, have long lines and are limiting how much you can get.  We spent 45 minutes last night getting 20 liters in our little Civic. 

The importance of fuel has never been more apparent to me than now.  The fact that gas in Italy is now close to $9/gallon makes me realize how lucky America is and then makes me feel guilty when I complained about the $4.32/gallon cost in San Diego.  Compared to the rest of the world, we're living on easy street! 

At dinner last night, we tried to order the mixed appetizer platter only to discover that they only had prosciutto and "pseudo-mozzarella."  It turns out, pseudo-mozzarella is smoked mozzarella and not quite as delicious.  However, we don't have any fresh fruits or veggies in our house and these is nary a carton of milk to be found.  I'm taking my vitamins to help prevent the scurvy. 

The other annoyance is that our new driver's side window is sitting somewhere between Norfolk, VA, Rome and here.  Because mail couldn't get in or out of Rome, we've also not received mail this week.  Some day we'll have all of our car windows again.  And when we do, my co-worker, Diego, has offered to write me a note that I am to stick in the back of the car which will reading in Italian "The door's open.  Take what you want, but please don't break my window."  Diego is also the one who noted, "We were out of gas for 3 days, it just makes you wonder, if something really bad happens, like a war, what are we ever going to do?"  Non lo so...

Monday, January 23, 2012

Make New Friends, But Keep the Old

Somewhere between stirrup pants and tie dye, I was in Girl Scouts.  There was a song that was always very popular and I find myself humming it now, "Make New Friends." 

"Make new friends, but keep the old
One is silver and the other's gold."

Nevermind that the perpetual wondering of which was silver and which was supposed to be gold that has, to this day, bugged me.  It's like Auld Lang Syne [see When Harry Met Sally].  Why do we sing that song every year?  Aside from being the tune for the UVA Fight Song, "The Good Ol' Song," it's just confusing.  But I digress....

So there's this song that you sing in Girl Scouts about making new friends but not forgetting your old friends.  I've found myself remembering my old friends a lot.  College friends, sorrority sisters, co-worker at my first job, my wonderful Supper Club girls in San Diego, the "basketball team" intern co-workers at NAVFAC, the list goes on.  Moving across the country and across the globe makes it really hard to keep in touch with those people and when you are 6-9 hours ahead even more difficult to ever be able to speak to them when you are both concious and/or sober.  While my group of friends here has been growing, I find myself always wishing to have more people to call for coffee, invite over for dinner or to become travel buddies.  It doesn't help that a lot of my current pool of friends travel all the time and the lonely lunches seem to be increasing rather than decreasing.  "Seriously?!  You are ALL leaving AGAIN!?!"  Annoying.

This weekend, I accepted 2 invitations to parties, a housewarming and a baby shower.  You know what?  I met lovely people at both parties and thought, "My friends have really great friends!"  Being a bit creepy, I added new friends on Facebook moments after meeting them (too soon?  too desperate?  whatever, va bene!).  Mostly everyone has been here about 6 months, if not less, and we're all in that new/lost/lonely stage of life here.  We're in Italy!  It's too beautiful for us all to be lonely! 

I'm hoping that with time and nurturing, some of these new acquaintences will become bosom friends [see Anne of Green Gables] and we'll have more and more people to explore all of the beauty, crazy and awkward that Italy has to offer.  Maybe they know what Auld Lang Syne and that Girl Scout song mean....

To my old friends, I cherish you all, the memories that we made and the laughter that we shared.  Looking forward to planting roots at some point and being close enough to see you all more frequently.  Until then, Kasa de Keenan is open for business.  Please consider us when you travel next.

Wednesday, January 18, 2012

Leaving the Continent - Marrakech, Morocco

I'll admit it: before going on this trip to Marrakech, Morocco, my knowledge about that city was based entirely on my favorite restaurant in San Diego, Kous Kous, and the Real Housewives of New York's trip to Marrakech last year.  Their trip ended in Eddie Munster comments, a fight at a riad and cropping people out of pictures with camels.  Naturally, I was a bit anxious about our trip.

Much like my trip to Berlin, I am walking away from Marrakech with lessons learned.  They are as follows: 1. Moroccan food is amazing (kind of already knew that one, but still) 2.  You can barter for anything but food 3. Hamams are not quite the spas I thought they’d be.

1. Moroccan Food:  Oh my heavens.  The food.  My love for lamb tagine was so strong before we even left and after eating there, my love for lamb tagine is so much stronger!  Why oh why do Italians not eat more lamb?!?!  The lamb sausage, called merguez, is gamey and delicious and the best place we had it, bar none, was in this dive restaurant called Oscar Progres.  Far from progressive, this place had long communal tables with plastic table covers.  Each plate cost about 38 Dirham, the Moroccan currency, which equated to about €3 (or $4.50).  The conversion of money was tricky, when going from dirham to Euro to USD.  Mamma mia!  Molly and I dined on lamb tagine, beef cous cous, Moroccan salad (made of tomatoes, cilantro and onion, among other things) and these delicious marinated olives.  Compared to the simplicity of Italian food, Moroccan food was all full of so much flavor and cumin, my favorite of all of the spices!!  I could honestly go on about every meal we ate, but to sum up: everything was amazing!

2. Bartering:  I suck at it.  Here I was, arguing with these vendors and caving after 2 counter offers and Molly would just shake her head and mutter “Sally” under her breath, the ultimate Molly insult.  So I let her bargain for our scarves and oh my gosh!  Sure, it took about 45 minutes, but we walked away with 7 silk scarves for about €6 each!  I mean, that’s amazing!  Molly was my agent for the rest of the trip, ignoring the stories of the vendor’s starving children and crumbling home.  “Listen, Ali, I like you, but don’t lie to my friend here.”  To be fair, about every offer started with “Is not tourist price” and ended with “I make no profit if I sell at that price.  That is crazy price.” 

3. Hamams:  Well I just wasn’t prepared mentally for the hamam experience.  I went in thinking it would be similar to my previous massages.  I was wrong.  The hamam had this beautiful pool in the center with decorative tiles running all the way up the floor to ceiling walls.  Couches with beautiful pillows lined the walls with platters of fruit in the center on a small table.  Music of lutes made me wonder if nymphs would soon appear to dangle grapes into my mouth.  With this image of nymphs and waterfalls and delicate music, we walked into the changing room and spied a pair of "shorts," slippers and a sarong.  The shorts were little more than two pieces of string and what could only be assimilated with O.R. shoe cover material.   Our backs turned to one another, Molly and I changed into our little outfit, tightly tied our sarongs and wandered into the nymph wonderland. 

Step one of our massage included a full body scrub down in a domed room with two Thai women and aggressive hand mits.  This part was decidedly unrelaxing for me.  Molly and I sat on benches directly across from each other, very nearly nude, sweating our asses off as the women rubbed sandy soap on our bodies and then scrubbed it off with brilo pads.  I left the little room bright red and probably down 2 pounds of skin.  

Step two was the Thai massage, involving mostly gentle rubbing but some level of bending me in positions that made me even more embarassed to be in those little shorts.  In America when I've gotten massages, it seems like they pretend like you are a Ken doll and ignore any areas that would be blurred out on TV.  Not in Morocco.  They rub your butt, they massage your boobs.  It was all together a bit strange to be so openly touched and to have paid for it!  I'm a lady!  I've not had a stomach massage before but it involved a lot of poking and pushing and made me recall each morsel of lamb (see Lesson 1) with shame.  "This 90 pound Thai woman is judging me."  I immediately turned red, again.

Tom and I may return to Marrakech during our remaining 2.5 years in Italy and if we do, we’d certainly stay at the same Riad, as it was amazing and owned by the two nicest people on the face of this planet, Giorgina and Massimo.  The snake charmers, which terrified me to the point of having nightmares each night, were a bit overwhelming.  My fear of snakes has previously left me throwing Tom at a python (read: garden snake) and sprinting back to our home in San Diego, momentarily hoping that he made it out alive.  Suffice it to say, a square full of snakes was not my cup of tea.  But the colors and smells of Morocco were so vivid and so memorable that I’ll carry them with me for always and hopefully lose the 3 extra pounds that I gained around my midsection.

Wednesday, January 11, 2012

Blonde Moment

Last week at Kim and Nathan's house, we decided that we needed to see more of each other and would thus begin having weekly dinners together.  Armed with my new, amazing cookbook, Williams-Sonoma's Essentials of Italian Cooking which I have pledged to cook my way through in a less annoying way (and with far less tears about cooking) than Amy Adams in "Julie and Julia," I invited everyone over to Kasa di Keenan (I'm going Kardashian and spelling everything with K's...) for a three course, entirely Italian meal.  The day before dinner, Tom and I walked all over Vomero, our 'hood, to get the ingredients from local vendors.  Tomatoes, eggplant, zucchini, mozzarella di bufala, etc.  I was just missing clams to make my linguine dish.  So I raced home and speed-walked over to the pescheria, or fish shop, to get some.  But it was closed!  So I walked REALLY fast over to the other pescheria.  But it was closed too!  There I was, standing on the street outside of a really expensive shoe store searching on Williams-Sonoma's website to find a new recipe from my cookbook so I wouldn't be a liar.  Well, I couldn't find anything...

I wandered into the little fruit stand and started ordering things that I figured I could make something with.  The trick to Italian produce stands is this: you don't touch anything.  It's kind of strange and makes me feel like a spoiled princess that I'm just telling some old man to get my fruits and veggies, but that's the way of it!  Confident in my purchases, I decided to make my highly un-Italian version of wine braised sausage spaghetti.  With this thought bubble, I paid my produce man, "buona serata!" and smiled to myself as I walked to the meat stand.  And then it happened...

Approaching the meat store, I was deep in thought about how Italian I was becoming, how nice my coat looked in the wind, how I should buy gloves, blah blah blah.  Blonde moment thoughts echoed my blonde moment: I walked forehead first into the glass door of the butcher shop.  Upon later recounting this story to my mom, through wickedly honest laughter, she stated "I bet they thought a bird flew into the door."  Thanks, mom!  The two butchers, entirely alarmed by my stupidity, looked at me in wonder and fear.  The elder gentleman opened the door for me and began rattling off in Italian something about my head and if I felt ok, and I just started awkwardly laughing in this really high, completely ashamed level of loud.  "Surely she's crazed..." they thought.  Overwhelmed and still reeling from my encounter with a glass door, I ordered 5 links of sausage and tried to get out of there as quickly as possible.  After paying, the butcher kindly pointed to the blue sticker above the handle which read "spingere" (push).  "Si, grazie."  Yeah, yeah, open the door next time, idiot!

Nothing makes moments of complete shame, like walking into doors completely sober, more bearable than retelling it over a 5 liter bottle of wine to friends.  The meal was definitely not my best and finishing 5 liters of wine among 6 people is always a bad idea for a Wednesday night, but at least we all had several hearty laughs at my expense. 

Tuesday, January 3, 2012

Home for the Holidays

It was in September, when I was probably the most homesick that Tom decided going home for Christmas this year was probably something he couldn't get out of.  The past 2 Christmases we spent in San Diego, away from our family and with a fair number of tears.  With "Happy Wife, Happy Life" sentiment in his heart, Tom ponied up the leave and substantial cost of airfare and before we knew it, we were on a plane heading to Charlotte, NC. 

Our flight from Munich to Newark, NJ was 10 hours and I felt every slow second pass.  Continental Airlines only had 9 channels with 4 movies on loops.  It was painful and generally, without much sleep.  We arrived, bleary eyed and cranky in Charlotte, 2 hours late and with considerable stench.  My sister, her husband and my dad were waiting at the airport with a sign that read "Keean Party Flash Mob" and noted how many people were murmuring "I think there's going to be a flash mob!"  This all started when I posted a T-mobile Flash Mob Video from Heathrow Airport and told my mom that we expected no less upon our return.  Haha! 

North Carolina has the nicest people on Earth.  There, I said it.  After being shoulder checked and nearly run off the road for 6 months in Naples, I felt like every person in Winston Salem was a long lost friend and had to suppress the urge to hug random people that we met in line.  Meeting my new niece, Amy Lynne, was probably the highlight of our entire trip.  She is that perfect little baby that will stare at you and giggle in such a way that convinces nearly every woman alive that she should immediately make a replica of this child and that parenthood is surely a breeze.  Both of my sisters were pros at getting her to quiet down on the all-too rare occasions when she cried.  It was such a thing to behold!  We played Hand and Foot, my favorite card game, did a puzzle and helped out the Winston-Salem economy with a LOT of shopping!  My closet will be so happy to greet the newest members of my wardrobe.  Make room, guys!

With yet another teary goodbye, I swear I'm more emotionally sound than this blog post will lead most to believe, we packed up our overflowing bags and headed to Newark, NJ to visit Tom's family.  For me, the best part was the evening that we spent near Lambertville, NJ at Peddler's Village.  It's kind of like stepping into a mini-Williamsburg, VA with shops and antiques but most importantly, tons of beautiful Christmas lights!  It made me smile and we had such a good time with our nephews, Gavin and Braden, and Tom's sister, Eileen.  We spent New Year's Eve at Eileen's house with almost all of the Keenan family, sharing tales of my near felony in Paris, the difficulties of Italian communication and teaching everyone the good, the bad and the strange of Italian hand gestures.  They are sure to be pros when they come visit us!

Before we knew it, we were back on a plane and across the ocean.  Despite lots of time in an airplane, we had such a great time being back in America and it helped me to regain my confidence.  To my family, both Nesselrodes and Keenans, I miss you terribly but cannot wait to show you all around Italy and explore more of Europe with you!  All are welcome to come visit us!! 

Love and hugs and a Happy and Healthy New Year to all y'all!


Monday, January 2, 2012


I normally ignore the idea of New Year's Resolutions.  Eat less, work out more, be kind to people.  I tend to keep these resolutions until I have a glass of wine in my hand and it becomes a slipper slope from there.  "Did you see what she's wearing??"  "We should TOTALLY order pizza!"  "I'm just going to skip the gym tonight."  With that in mind, I made a resolution this year that I hope I can keep: Get Out More in Naples.  When we first got here, I went on a tour every week to get acquainted with the area and since I started working, my "around town" tours have subsided.

I know, based on this blog, it seems like we get out a lot but Tom and I have found a great deal of comfort in American shopping on the base and the walls of "Little America."  I'm making this plan now, the morning that we discovered the broken window of our Honda Civic in our parking lot.  At times like that, when I'm close to tears and cursing Neopolitan street kids at 6:30 AM, it's hard to think the best of Bella Italia.  Alas, despite this minor setback, I'm hoping to keep an open mind and childlike wonder in discovering the adventures around the next corner.  It helps that Molly and Deacon are our newest set of neighbors and have a great desire to live the Neopolitan life.  It is with them as our inspiration that we are going to shop out in town more (once our window is fixed), explore the hidden jewels of Napoli and work harder on my Italian. 

So, for the short term, I am going to start making big weekend goals.  This weekend, it's Pompeii.  I'll keep you all posted, you keep me honest!

Auguri and Happy 2012!