Losing your Senses

I woke up all throughout the night last night. I had many strange dreams involving pasta and dogs. I guess this isn’t so strange since I spent yesterday evening enjoying 6 different kinds of pasta with an Italian lady I’ve recently met who brought her new puppy to the dinner- it sat on her lap the entire evening. Also in our company was a Jesuit priest, my friend Kimmie (the American Airlines flight attendant), her boyfriend the pilot, and another lady from New York who was somehow connected to Kimmie, although I’m still not sure how exactly. We ate a place where the Italian lady knew the chef, so we were given copious amounts of carbohydrates and several pitchers of the vino della casa. The dinner was fun, and surprisingly comfortable given the hodgepodge of guests. I’ve mentioned this before, but I think it’s worth mentioning again: I have been on high alert for the past nine months. Every encounter, walk, conversation, purchase, and happening has been an experience, and one I’ve felt. This is what everyone adores so much about traveling. Your senses become insanely hightened for the entire duration of your trip, and you get to see things with such new eyes. I think, though, the reason why I got writer’s block and stopped posting on here as frequently, is because my ‘trip’ became less of a trip, and started becoming more like life. Though I will never feel like living in someone else’s home with 3 children is any kind of version of normal,  I’ve felt some semblance of normalcy in my day to day life in almost every other way. That snuck up on me. If I’d had the same dinner I had last night; the same food, company, and conversation, during my first week here, I can assure you it would be followed by a rambling 10 paragraph explanation to you all about every last detail. I would have soaked it up like a piece of fresh bread in the proverbial left over pasta sauce and walked around today feeling like the luckiest girl around. Instead, I ate my dinner and talked to people. I left and walked home through the streets, across my bridge, up to my house, and into my bed without another thought. It was a normal night out. My senses have relaxed. And while I’m always going to be the person who notices, feels and sees things with an obnoxious amount of acute awareness, it suddenly dawned on me that I’d kind of gotten slack in the observance of my comings and goings, and I didn’t really like it. 

And then I woke up this morning. Before going to bed last night, I couldn’t remember if I had breakfast/kid duty, so I set my alarm for 6:45am just in case. I went to the kitchen before anyone woke up and got everything ready. Everyone gets a place mat, cup and saucer, little spoon, napkin and yogurt. I took the liter of latte intero (whole milk) and latte parzialmente scremato (2%) out of the fridge…I got Nonna from Calabria’s (maternal grandmother) apricot preserves out of the cabinet, and the chocolate biscuits and wheat toast things out of the pantry. I carefully loaded the illy coffee espresso grounds in the Moka pot, and turned on the gas stove- hearing the click click click click click (for days) until the flicker finally make the fire start. I think the clicking sound of the gas stove turning on in the mornings will forever be associated with Italy. It takes at least 2 full minutes for the damn thing to light in the mornings. Sabrina got up shortly after me and informed me I didn’t have breakfast/kid duty and could go back to bed. I poured my hot espresso and came back to my room with it. The weather called for rain today, so I’d decided I wouldn’t go for a run. I started working on my cover letter for a job I’m going after, and intermittently added a few pics to Steedly Harlow. The screaming from the rest of the house ensued shortly thereafter- another sound I’ll forever associate with Italy, so I put on my headphones and listened to The National’s new album in its entirety. It’s good, and appropriate for an overcast day. Feeling a bit of anxiety about the cover letter and life, I decided I would go for a run since the rain hadn’t started. I ran all the way to Castle San’t Angelo and then turned around and came back by way of the river. For several months there, I thought the Tiber river was the most grotesque body of water I’d ever seen. I think this is because I accidently saw an article about these weird rat-like creatures that crawled onto the banks one day during the winter- I never quite got over it. Until today. It was looking so gorgeous and green/blue, not at all mucky and brown. The banks were clear of filth, and runners and bikers were taking advantage. I ran down the steps, and found myself at an almost sprint until Ponte Sisto, and it felt so good. 
 
I haven’t yet written about my newest and dearest friends: Amy, Carol, and Melissa. On another day, I’ll describe each of them, but for now I’ll just say that they’re all American and Carol is INSANE. She works in Trastevere, and she’d told me to stop by her office today to chat about ways I could make some money as she’s fully aware of my plight. I showered and headed her way. We went to grab a coffee and within 3 minutes I walked away with a new job. I’m going to start showing and renting out apartments in Rome. She’s the manager of a rental company and needs help. I get a commission off of each one I ‘sell’ and she said there’s a lot of money to be had if I’m aggressive enough. Clearly, I’ll only be available in the mornings and for about another month (the family and I will be spending all of July in Tuscany), but a month’s worth of any sort of extra euros will be welcomed. 
 
Since it had been all of 5 minutes since I’d consumed an Italian specialty, I decided I wanted a gelato. Fortunately or unfortunately, depending on how you look at it, I live one block away from the best gelato place in Rome. My daily flavor is Basilico con Miele e Noci (Basil with Honey and Walnuts), but Amy and I made the mistake of tasting the Menta e Ciocolatto on Saturday, and I’m afraid I’ll never go back. They use real mint leaves and dark chocolate pieces- it’s white, not dyed green. There are no words. I sat to eat my piccola cona and started reading my book. 5 seconds later I found myself helping an American lady ask in Italian if they sold any ice cream without milk. 2 hours later I walked out of the gelato place with a new friend. She ate her mango sorbet (wrong choice, so sad she was lactose intolerant) while I finished my mint chocolate chip, and somehow we ended up sharing both of our life stories. She cried at one point and told me to never move to San Francisco- long story, but who has ever said that? I found her to be quite interesting. She was an older lady traveling with her male ‘friend’ who she was very annoyed with because he left her for the day to walk around alone. I guess she thought it a good idea to go for a gelato before lunch to drown her sorrows. I understood completely.
 
I walked her to Piazza Santa Maria, gave her a day’s worth of things to do, hugged her, and we wished each other well. As I walked up my street on the way home, I saw tons of people crowded around my building. I recognized all the faces as those who lived in my building and, of course, concluded that the fire alarm must have gone off. I immediately remembered the click click click click and thought, “OMG, I’VE BURNED THE PLACE DOWN- Sabrina’s going to sue me for sure!” To my great relief, I soon realized I hadn’t. Thank you, Lord. And in fact, it wasn’t a fire alarm. As I got closer, I saw many, many sad faces. I walked up to Sabrina first who told me that one of the ladies who lives in our building’s son had passed away last night. She pointed to the weeping old lady standing by the street and I got all teary-eyed myself. While Katie and Mom were here, I specifically told them about an ornery old lady I see every single day. I’m certain she’s been smoking since she was 12 because of her scratchy, scruffy voice. She has this dog that she clearly adores and takes out at least 20 times per day. When she sees me, she says ‘buona seeeerrrra’ (good afternoon/evening) with the most long, drawn out smoky drawl to it you’ve ever heard, and that’s it. I say buona sera back and smile. She scowls. We’ve never exchanged more words than that because it’s always very obvious that’s all she ever wants to say to me. She’s such a movie character extra…but one that makes the scene. It was her son, and her heart was torn to shreds- you could just tell. I don’t know why or how in the world everyone knew to come downstairs- it’s the strangest thing ever. Maybe this is an Italian custom? We watched the hearse pull up and everything, and she got in the front seat with the help of all my neighbors. There was no casket, though. Many of the other tenants were crying too. It was a full on scene – almost like a graveside funeral in America- right there on the sidewalk of Goffredo Mameli. I was so confused, but almost felt fortunate to be witnessing this snippet of Italian culture. I had so many questions, but didn’t feel it was appropriate to bombard Sabrina with them as we took the elevator upstairs in silence. 
 
So that was just the first part of my day. It’s only 2:30pm at this point. Again, had this day happened the first month I was here, it probably would have been imprinted on my memory forever. But since I’ve gotten so used to it, I stopped remembering that things are really exciting, really sad, really beautiful and important because we project that on them. Our whole lives should be lived as a trip to a foreign country, shouldn’t it? Life became life here, which isn’t at all bad, but allows a lot of room for complacency. Things can lose their thrill- even Italy. But, I think that if we make a really conscious decision to be an observer of life- and to really let it penetrate us, it doesn’t have to lose its thrill. Just writing this rehash of my day has made it come alive, and has reminded me that I am still on an adventure, and that I do still get to run past St. Peter’s Basilica everyday, learn about Italian culture, and let strangers cry to me over a cone of gelato. I must remember this when I come home. Must, must, must. 

Nothing Really

I don’t have anything special to write today. I just wanted to document that I’m sitting at my computer looking for jobs back home. I’m realizing how fast and slow this time here has passed, and how relieved I am that I’ve done it. I still don’t know the language all that well, and I’ve been beating myself up over that quite a bit. But, I know thousands of new Italian words, and I know a thousand new things about myself. This must count for something. I knew I’d be changed by this experience, and I have been, in more ways than I could have ever expected. I still have time left, of course, and I plan to continue eating my way through Italy until the bitter end. I also plan to continue my daily walks to nowhere, and my dating-in-Italy research (for the book I plan to write on the subject). I’m going to really cherish this time because I have a feeling I have a lot of hard work ahead of me. I’m ready to roll up my sleeves and get my hands dirty in order to bring the next vision to fruition.  I’m trying to log lots of hours visualizing what that is, and praying about what it should be, because I think I can do it if I muster up the guts to take some risks. Apparently, I’m okay with risk-taking, so I’m encouraged. I was secretly hoping this experience would make me crave corporate America and a 401k. Unfortunately, I’m stuck on the thought of buying a huge moving truck and taking a road trip through America collecting awesome things from flea markets and antique stores so I can stop wherever I see the right storefront for lease and set up shop. I mean, I probably won’t do this, so everyone can stop panicking, but this is why I’m praying. I need a middle ground. Would appreciate your prayers, too. Lots of love from Rome.

Buona Festa Della Mamma

I’ve recently started a Tumblr blog entitled Steedly Harlow. For those of you who aren’t familiar with Tumblr, it’s an online blogging space oriented more around imagery than words- a refined Pinterest page, if you will. You can insert quotes and links to music, but it’s not meant for long, verbose entries like the ones I’ve been doing on here. Rather, it’s a place to post pictures that speak of your style and what inspires you. I apologize for being so slack in my updates on this blog…for whatever reason I’ve just had a bad case of writer’s block, and simply got so far behind in catching up that any attempt to do so seemed too daunting. Posting pictures of beautiful things seemed far easier than writing about beautiful things. Life in Rome has continued to teach me something new every 5 minutes, and I remain constantly amazed by this fact.  I have been having more and more moments of awe as I continue to get acclimated with this city, and still take pictures of the view from Gianicolo hill every day even though I’ve been walking past it for 9 months. But since I simply need to begin somewhere, and since today is Mother’s Day in the United States, I would like to continue neglecting my reflections on Rome for a minute, and do an ode to the mothers in my life instead. 

 
As I mentioned, this new blog has been titled Steedly Harlow. Katie and I constantly brainstorm ideas for names for the shop we want to open one of these days, but felt magic a while back when we combined our grandmother’s maiden names. Steedly is Granbobbie’s maiden name, and Harlow is Mimi’s. We didn’t settle on their maiden names because we don’t care for our grandfathers..it’s just that Wright Pela didn’t have the same ring to it. These names have profound weight to them because if it weren’t for these two women, Katie and I wouldn’t be the women we are, and perhaps wouldn’t be so inspired to be the women we long to be.  My best friend, Holly, a new mother, recently sent me an email that has made me think a lot. Here’s an excerpt:
 
“…had an epiphany writing thank you notes to your mom and Mimi last night….Katie and I talked about it this morning…two wonderful grandmothers makes for a strong line of women…the power of the matriarchal grandmothers is unbelievable and evident in your family. I’m so thankful Mae will have two strong grandmothers, completely different, like Mimi and Granbobbie. Ti amo!”
 
A strong line of women. My gosh, she was so right, and while I’ve always appreciated these women, it hit me hard at that moment  that I’m a product of three of the most incredible women on Earth. The woman who gave birth to me, and the women who gave birth to my parents are mine to claim- a fact that makes me overwhelmed with pride to be the woman I am. Sure, these women are the sweetest and most humble people you could ever meet, but they’re strong- so very strong. And I haven’t really ever thought about about that strength until I started writing this a couple of hours ago. 
 
I started thinking about how my mom battled and fought cancer for three years without complaining even once. I thought about how she threw a hair cutting ‘party’ when they shaved her head for chemo. I thought about how Mimi has had open heart surgery, and several other health issues that I don’t even KNOW about it because she never felt the need to talk about it, much less act like they hindered her for one split second. I thought about how my Granbobbie has been fighting alzheimers for the past 8 years, and how she can still recite passages of scripture like she’s reading straight from the Bible. I thought about how she still has the most precious smile in existence, even without teeth, and still calls my grandfather ‘her man’ when he walks into the nursing home cafeteria to meet her for lunch. I thought about how she hasn’t lost her joy in spite of her circumstances- a weaker soul would have by now. I thought about how my mom lost her sister to cancer three years ago and how Mimi lost her daughter. I thought about this aunt, my aunt Christie, another amazing mother in my life- and one who raised 5 beautiful children. She served them and her husband until she drew her last breath. I thought about how Mom and Mimi walked with her through that and continue to keep walking in spite of having lost her. The strength in that is something I can’t fathom. I thought about how my Mom responded when I told her I was offered a raise to stay at my job in Charlotte when I was considering this move to Italy: “Sally, it was never about money anyway. You have to go.” And how Mimi reacted when Mom told her I was going: “AHHHHHHHHH!!!!!!!!!” If Grandbobbie could have understood what was happening, I am certain her reaction would have been the same. They wanted me to stay, but would have never encouraged me to do so. I thought about how both of my grandmothers are artists, and how Granbobbie used to fill her kitchen table with pastels, watercolors, and crayons and let us go crazy painting and drawing things, and how she would always praise our new creations as if we Vincent VanGogh. I thought about how Granbobbie never failed to have dinner on the table in 5 seconds flat. I thought about how Mimi always had a beer and appetizer waiting on Bop bop when he came home from work. I thought about how Mom never seemed to get sick of us. I thought about how my mom loves my father.  I thought about how Granbobbie loves my grandfather. I thought about how Mimi loves my grandfather. I thought about how these women, while being full of a ridiculous amount of strength, are also full of the most precious softness. They pair power and grace perfectly, and I’m learning that this is something that is very, very, very rare. I thought about how Mimi danced more than any of us at her 80th birthday party. I thought about how all these women know how to make a house comfortable and beautiful. I thought about how these women never, ever dwelled on beauty or implied that it was important that we look a certain way. I thought about how gorgeous each of them are. I thought about how my mom used to let me paint my room whatever color I wanted, whenever I wanted, and allowed me go through every annoying and awkward phase a child and teenager can go through without criticism. I thought about how easy she is….how comfortable she is…how she is so easily excited about simple things. I thought about how these women have never cared about money- how they could make life luxurious with very little, or how they never took advantage when they’ve had plenty. I thought about how these women somehow found that balance of mother/friend. How they disciplined, and how they ruled with a silent power that was powerful enough to keep their children in line, and not so powerful to make us fear confessions any kind. I could go on and on and on. I know I’m leaving so much out, but I need to wrap this up… 
 
I’ve had so many moments here when I’ve been certain I’ll be the worst mom ever. But upon reflection today, I was filled with all this hope. When I remind myself that the gene pool for perfect mothering is ever more in my favor, I have a bit more trust in my ability to one day be this kind of woman, wife, and mother. You can’t not love Terry Wright, Bobbie Lou Wright, and Jean Pela. I’m so thankful for them every day. So, Happy Mother’s Day you three. Ti amo!  

Paradigm Shifting

Yesterday, I went to my first new language course.  I first heard about the class from this guy Sam at church. He passed along the name of the contact, Aldo, at the ASCE who’d told him about it, and told me to call him. Aldo was very kind on the phone and told me I simply needed to drop by the office on Thursday to register so that I’d be ready to join the 11:15 class on Friday. Well, Thursday was a bit of a fiasco, of course, but in the end I left with the permission to come the following day. The following day came, and I made my way over to the colosseum as the class is only about a 5 minute walk from there.
 
Imagine the DMV on the last day of the month at 4:30pm, except in Italy. Rain was falling with a vengeance when I walked up to find hoards of African refugees crowded around the front door waiting to get in.  I tried my best to fit in, but the fact that I was red head made my attempt a feeble one, at best. Everyone was exceptionally friendly with their smiles, though, even in spite of the rain and locked door (that was obviously supposed to be open….Italy)… When the door did finally open, we all piled in and found seats in the one large classroom in the old church-like building. The ASCE is a non profit that helps refugees look for jobs, get health assistance, find housing, and obviously, learn Italian! The building houses a little room for a doctor’s office, another room for counseling/consultations, and then an office upstairs for the nun who runs the place. The main room is nothing special at all, and feels very non-profit-no-funding-like in its ambiance. But, there are pictures of saints and the dear virgin Mary all over the place, which is the part that reminds you that you’re not actually at the DMV, and still in Italy after all. While about 40 of us (me being the only white person, and definitely the only American) tried to get settled in, good ol’ Aldo showed up. He’s one of the few fat Italians I’ve seen, and… he wears a fanny pack – a big chunky off-black one that hangs just underneath his gut. What could this thing possibly hold that he could justify wearing it on a normal day while he goes to teach an Italian language course? He’s old’ish and is probably not a fan of bathing every day…maybe every other. But he’s kind, and oh so hilarious. He immediately called the class to order and insisted that everyone switch off their mobiles. The guy beside me didn’t obey, which he’d later come to regret. I have no idea how to explain Aldo’s personality because it’s not a typically Italian one at all. He’s just an odd mix, but of what, I’m not quite sure yet. He is very passionate about this program, though, and he is a very good teacher, indeed.
 
Ps. I’m currently writing on my laptop while sitting on the stairs in piazza Trilussa- it’s 6pm, so the sun is setting and the sky is beautifully pink. Young people are buying beers and bringing them to the steps with their friends so they can mingle and mix before starting their crazy Saturday night out on the town. I’ve been out all day with some of my new friends who have internships at the American embassy. We all parted ways a couple of hours ago so they could go shopping, but we’re meeting again for an appertivo in an hour. Since I don’t dare go home unless required to do so, I’m sitting here looking like a tortured souled hipster typing away on my mac with my earbuds in. I’m such an American girl in Italy cliche most of the time…
 
Back to language class. SO, we began and Aldo was patient with us- I was very thankful. I swear, I still can’t speak a full correct sentence, and it drives me insane. I still tell people I’ve been here for three months when they ask because I’m too embarrassed to say 6. As we sat there going over verb endings and multiple other things I wasn’t understanding, I thought back to those first three weeks I spent in my other language class. The juxtaposition was amazing. I thought about the group I sat with there: all white, all women, all lovers of Italy because of the romance of it all…the history of it all…the luxury of it all. We were all there because we thought it’d be incredibly fun and interesting to be there. We all dressed cutely, and spoiled ourselves with cappuccinos and cornettos at break time. We went for proseccos after class, and talked about when our families were coming to visit or how we couldn’t wait to go to Barcelona for a weekend. The Leonardo DaVinci school was ridiculously picturesque….it was a gorgeous building right in the center of town and each classroom was small with a big window in it that was always left open so the breeze and smell of espresso would float in while we laughed and conjucated verbs.  I couldn’t help but sit in that room with Aldo and my 39 other refugee classmates and feel like the luckiest girl in the world. I don’t know any of their stories yet, but I can assure you that they aren’t planning weekend trips to Barcelona or meeting their cute friends for proseccos in an hour. They were learning Italian out of necessity. They needed jobs. They needed to set up their lives. They needed to feed their families… It’s likely that many of them had escaped from situations I couldn’t handle for one day. 
 
I have to say, I’ve been feeling like I’ve been in ‘survival mode’ for most of my time here…I’m in a constant state of figuring things out: figuring out how to handle the kids, live with this weird family, find my way around this foreign city, make friends, etc. But it’s all so relative. I’m assuming that my point of reference is quite different from the point of reference my fellow classmates have. I called this blog ‘Leaving Easy’ for a reason. Even my incredibly charmed existence in Italy has felt difficult for me because I came from an even more charmed existence at home. I left a position of comfort, and had not a care or worry in the world. I came to Italy to switch things up, challenge myself, and to integrate myself into a new culture for culture’s sake. And while my classmates came to Italy for all manner of reasons, I think it’s safe to assume they didn’t come to make their lives more challenging or to blog on the steps in a pretty piazza. It was strange to be the only one sitting in that room for pleasure, by choice, simply because I wanted to learn to roll my ‘r’s and sound sexy while doing it. I’m ashamed to say that’s it’s been several months since I’ve hung out with people who put everything into perspective. It was such a wonderful reminder for me. 
 
One of the things I love most about my family is that I feel I’ve been raised to have a heart for these opposing worlds, and been taught to greatly appreciate both- equally. My sister, Katie, is the poster child for living with this heart. The Ivy League educated and the West Meck gang members inspire her equally, and she fits in like a charm among them all. I don’t need to feel guilty for adoring my time at the Leonardo DaVinci school, and for appreciating the cappuccinos and educated friends. But, I simultaneously need not forget about the room full of people who don’t smell so great and come from broken pasts and perhaps even more broken presents. I hope to always be completely comfortable, and yet somewhat out of place in both. Comfortable to the degree that I can understand both, relate, and sit in their midst without any hint of judgement; and out of place enough because of my awareness of the calling and grand challenge I have to be a servant and light to both. It makes the challenge of moving to a new country seem minuscule in comparison. Anyway, I felt like I learned a lot in those two hours, and hardly any new Italian.  

Un Elenco

  1. It’s official: I don’t have a knack for languages. So, I just signed up for a language course offered to refugees- it’s free! 2 hour classes / 3 days a week 
  2. Many highs and lows still, but the highs are higher and far more often, so the Gioia post doesn’t feel ridiculous yet.
  3. Relationships of all kinds are so incredibly complicated.  Being a single girl at the age of 29 is so incredibly complicated. I fear that it won’t get easier. Does this ever get easier? 
  4. I’ve been on the move: I’ve skied down mountains in the Swiss Alps, riden by horseback through some of the prettiest villas in Rome, riden on the back of a really fancy Ducati to the coast of Italy for a day by sea with a new boy, and riden bikes with some girlfriends down one of the prettiest streets in Rome on one of the most beautiful days in memory. 
  5. I thought being dropped off by the ski lift at the top of Mt. Titlus in Switzerland was the most scared I’ve ever been in my life. Then, I rode down the highway on a souped up Ducati with an Italian guy. There is no comparison. My adrenaline is still jacked and it was three days ago.
  6. I’ve continued to see vast improvements in little Anna. It’s like she’s a new little girl, and one I adore. We laugh constantly, and she asks me relationship advice on a daily basis (yes, she’s 7, but is madly crushing on Nicola, the hot skater boy from school). Blind leading the blind. Poor little thing, she’ll be single forever.
  7. THINGS TAKE TIME. It’s really annoying.
  8. I feel like I’m in this strange holding pattern….I can’t start looking for jobs back home yet because who wants to hire someone who can’t start until August. But, I feel really lazy and strange not looking for jobs. 
  9. If I’m serious about changing careers, this move was SO necessary, and here’s why: anything I feel I really need to do next (open my own shop, be a missionary in a 3rd world country, become a full time travel blogger, insert any outlandish dream-world- and seemingly unrealistic job here), doesn’t actually seem so ridiculous any more. See, if I would have left my safe job in Charlotte to get an unpaid internship in New York to get my foot in the door in a creative field while waiting tables or doing admin work to pay the bills, I would have been thought to be crazy. Instead, I decided to move to Italy to be a babysitter and get paid virtually nothing for no purpose at all except to see beautiful things. Now, the upaid internship idea in NY seems not so crazy at all! I feel like I have no where to go but up…it’s a wretched and wonderful place to be. 
  10. I once thought Rome to be so huge, but it’s feeling much smaller as of late. 
  11. I love this quote by Leonardo DaVinci: “It had long since come to my attention that people of accomplishment rarely sat back and let things happen to them. They went out and happened to things.”
  12. I finally went to the Borghese Gallery and understand why people rave about it so much. Bernini and his contemporaries can’t possibly be human- the mastery of their skill just doesn’t seem possible. I was so tempted to squeeze the marble ‘mattress’ of the reclining statue of Antonio Canova’s “Sleeping Hermaphrodite” because I just knew it had to be a squishy as it looked. And I’m sure that if I were a man, I would have been equally as tempted to grab Proserpina’s thigh the way Pluto was, as it was even more enticing than the mattress. 
  13. I never even really liked cheese. Pasta wasn’t ever even a temptation for me before. Now, I can’t imagine a day, or even a meal, without both. I remember thinking 3 espressos a day was this outlandish concept…soooo crazy. Three is tame. New normals.
  14. Holly and Jake had Mae. She is a gift from the Lord and I can say that even before meeting her because if you have ever had the pleasure of meeting Holly and Jake, then you know that the combination of these two of the people together in the form a little newborn baby is something that can’t be fathomed. She must be too good to be true. 
  15. Katie, Mom and Mom’s best friend, Linda, are going to be joining me in Italy in just a few short weeks. I just keep thinking about seeing them at the airport and I can’t contain myself!!!!!!  We’ve rented a cute little flat in Trastevere for the week. I’m going to start planning our days from sunup to sundown. Given what I now know about Rome, any planning will be pointless, but at least it will give me something to do while I’m not looking for jobs at home. 

“Mi Dispiace”

When I was home for Christmas, our family spent the most precious several days up in our new mountain cabin. I got the flu on the drive up (day before Christmas Eve), which was tragic, but if ever there is a time and place to be sick with the flu, it’s at Nottingham with my mother, a fire in the fireplace, and loads of quilts and tea. Since hiking or going into town for shopping was out of the question given my fevered state, we resorted to watching every episode of 24 and Downton Abbey. After those were finished, we skimmed the channels and found The Sound of Music. My family adores this movie. If you’re a human being with a soul, you’ve seen it and obviously appreciate it. If not, stop reading this post as we’re probably not really friends anyway and you won’t understand the rest of my references anyway.

Maria had it tough in the beginning with the kids…the frog in her jacket, and the pinecone in her chair etc. etc. But if you recall, those kids were bad for about a week, and maybe not even that long, and they really weren’t even ‘bad’ in the way that I have come to understand bad. When the children just magically and immediately fell in love with her the night the oldest daughter (forgetting her name at the moment) came in from the rain and they all started singing ‘my favorite things’ together, I was lying on the couch at Nottingham with a horrible fever screaming to my family “this is so ridiculous…!” I was rolling my eyes, and even wanting to cry. Julie Andrews was making it look so simple and it was pissing me off, if I’m honest. I hate the word piss, but it’s the only one that will work here.

You know how new moms these days talk about mom envy? Like, how a new mom will see another new mom hand knitting her babies’ clothes and feeding it all organic baby food, which inevitably makes the observing mom feel she’s completely inadequate because she’s such a terrible mother? I feel like I’ve heard about this. Anyway, there’s a similar thing with nanny envy. I’ll see nannies at a cafe or at the school who are just so annoyingly perfect. They have games planned for the kids and they never scream at them. Their kids laugh at them and think they’re so great. I so thought I’d be that nanny. I thought I’d have these kids wrapped around my little finger within a week. HA!!!!!!!! The pinecones in my chair and frogs in my pocket just kept coming. They just wouldn’t let me in. The tests kept coming. And I kept failing.

Tonight, as I write this, I am feeling a little emotionally overwhelmed. Go figure. The kids are still bad so often, but something has happened since I came home from Christmas. I think they’re starting to let me in. We still fight like cats and dogs, and I still sometimes lose my temper (and they still always lose theirs…crazy passionate Italians), but now I feel like they’re my brothers and sister. There’s this new thing about our relationship that makes the arguments just arguments that happen with the understanding that there’s love behind them. You know how all the people in our lives who we really, really love are the ones we have the worst fights with? You know when you get to that level with rare friends and family where you can have a knock down drag out argument with them without even fearing for one second that they’ll leave you? The commitment is understood. The love is a non-negotiable. You know you’ll make up and you know they’ll love you in spite of your temper or the horrible things you say. I think they’ve finally learned that while I may not be the game-planning, perfect snack packing, english word flash-card making nanny, I’m a non-negotiable. We’re in this thing together, whether we like it or not, and it’s about damn time we started accepting each other and loving each other even when we hate each other. I’m going to love them whether they like it or not….and I think they’re finally starting to understand that.

It’s Friday night and I’m home with them because Sabrina and Antonio went out. Anna’s sick with a fever. She and I have been curled up on the couch together for most of the afternoon watching The Disney Channel in Italian. After dinner, and while I was cleaning up, the boys started watching TV too…this is usually not okay, but since Anna was sick, and since it was a Friday night, I let them get away with it. When it was time for bed, I walked over to the couch where the three of them were lounging, told them they had 30 more minutes until bedtime, and asked if they understood me (it’s always an epic battle about what time they’re going to go to bed, so I like to give them warnings in 10 minute intervals, starting at 30 minutes). They all ignored me, of course, and kept their eyes glued to the tv. I called each of them by name. Nothing. I tried again. Nothing- not even an acknowledgment of my existence. And then? I lost it. I yanked the remote out of Ema’s hand, turned off the tv, and screamed at them….they all ‘talked back’ to me and rolled their eyes. I was livid and proceeded to throw Anna’s socks as hard as I could at their faces (it was the only thing I had at the moment, thank God), and then I stomped off to my room. Really mature. This is pretty standard. The other nannies would never do this. And I’m sure you’re now thinking, but wait, I thought you’d made progress?

I was fully prepared to put on my pajamas, let them fend for themselves in getting to bed, and just hoped they would actually have the tv off before midnight when their parents came home. And then I heard a little knock on my door. Still fuming, I said ‘not now, I’m changing!’ I expected Anna to come barging in anyway, per the usje…she’s seen me unclothed far more than is probably acceptable. And then there was another little knock. I went to the door and opened it to find her standing there with snot running down her nose. “I’m sorry, Sally.” I tried to act like this wasn’t a huge deal, but those words have never before been uttered out of this child’s mouth. I wanted to cry I was so happy, but I feared if I made too grand a gesture for her gesture that she might retaliate and realize what she’d done. I remained calm, told her it was okay and apologized for getting angry. Then, I told her to go brush her teeth…………………..and she did. A couple of seconds later, Leo came to my room…”I’m sorry, Sally.” I hugged him and told him it was okay. Ema, the oldest, was left, and I was certain I wouldn’t be getting a thing out of him. He’s going through this whole “I’m a cool middle-schooler” phase where he can’t be bothered to do anything but play soccer, watch soccer, or talk about soccer. But as I walked past his room on the way to put Anna in bed, he called my name. When I got to his door, I found him in bed: “Sorry, Sally.” I told him it wasn’t a big deal, winked at him, and we both smiled as I closed his door. When I tucked Anna in, I told her to come get me if she started feeling sick again. She said “really sally? I can wake you up?” …I said of course she could, and meant it with all my heart. Oh gosh, what is it like to have children of your own? I can’t even imagine. I wanted to squeeze her and never let her go. I came back to my room, closed the door and had one of those movie or theater moments where I just rested my hand on my heart and sighed really dramatically while shaking my head and holding back tears. It was our Julie Andrews moment the night of the thunderstorm and ‘favorite things’….It’s taken 5 months, but we’re getting somewhere. We won’t be making puppet shows anytime soon, but we have coordinated some dance party moves to Shakira’s Waka Waka that I can’t wait to tape and post on here. I taught Anna the slinky…watch out. We’re just finally getting to know each other. They’re beginning to trust me, and even, dare I say it, have a little respect for me. Thanks for your prayers.

Buona Domenica

Sundays are my only full day off. In order to feel like I get my full day’s worth, I have established a rule that I’ve been very good about obeying: I must spend the entire day without seeing the kids, family, or flat. Things have gotten so much better with them, but having a day without seeing their faces is still key to my sanity. Last Sunday, as I hopped into my friend Bruno’s car on Viale di Trastevere with an umbrella, two enormous bags full of the day’s essentials, and a plan to go with him to a wedding expo on the outskirts of Rome in the rain, I realized that my Sundays have always left me acting like a total vagabond…or in the words of my dear Mumford boys- a hopeless wanderer. When you make it your mission to stay out all day, no matter what the circumstances may be, you set yourself up for encounters of all kinds, whether they be getting drenched in Roman street water, playing cards in a hotel room with a bunch of British men you met at an Irish bar, attending a bible study comprised of girls and guys all under the age of 21, visiting every sanctuary that crosses your path over the course of 12 hours, drinking a little too much wine with a guy you barely know at his apartment (under the name of ‘language exchange’), becoming a regular haggler at the vintage bag stand at Porta Portese flea market, or something like attending a wedding expo and pretenting to be engaged with your friend Bruno while planning your reception, band, caterer, dress, champagne flutes, and honeymoon.

Inevitably, my Sundays are comprised of new people, new terrain, new food, and always a new story. There are very few things I enjoy more than being involved in a good story, and so it seems that Sundays- the day I become a wandering vagabond from sun up to sun down- have become my very favorite day of the week by far. As I said, I try to wake up early…I dress with the assumption that it could rain, sleet, hail, be freezing, burning hot, or beautifully sunny and perfect. I pack a Mary Poppins bag full of anything the day might require: a book, my bible, my ipod, my map, my umbrella, my scarf, my journal, a clementine or 3, and sometimes even my laptop. I make a quiet escape out of the flat and consider myself a free woman for the next 15 – 18 hours. Sometimes, when it rains, I walk and walk, with my earbuds in, umbrella up, and make random stops at any place that tempts me in – be it for a coffee, pizza, gelato, time of prayer, prosecco, etc. etc. For a while there, these days were often spent alone, or with various strangers I’d meet along my way; or of course, with any friends who happened to be in town or available for an hour here and there. I’m telling you, the energy a lonely traveller puts off is magnetic. People just smell it on you- they know you’re a interesting soul- and interesing souls just find each other. Lately, though, I’ve become quite popular. I can say this without conceit since all I’ve talked about thus far has been how I’m alone all the time. I have quite a few friends now, and so many fun Sunday options. Still, I find myself making sure to reserve part of my day for serendipity. And without fail, I’m never disappointed. I’ve gotten so comfortable going into a cafe or bar and acting like I’m someone special- like or a world renowed American writer or something. I pull out my journal (or, as I’m doing right at this moment….writing on a paper napkin) and begin writing with intention…as if I’m actually writing something very important. And then, I just wait. Someone begins a conversation, and before I know it, I am no longer alone. And, if I’m especially lucky, I end up sharing a lunch, coffee, or even a card game with the person. It’s a fun challenge. Yesterday was Sunday, and per the norm, I escaped early and went to grab a caffe at my local spot. Then, I went to church. I’ve finally found a protestant church here to attend. It’s a funny little church, but it’s a community of Christians who have welcomed me, and so I’ve decided that it will be my church home while I’m here. Finding a protestant church at all was a feat unto itself and has often occupied the first several hours of Sundays past. This Sunday, I sat with a Dutch guy and Asian lady. After church, I saw a girl I met last Sunday who’s from LA. She’s doing an internship at the US embassy and she’s super fun and cute. She had a friend visiting from London, so we decided to make trek back to Trastevere to give him his first, and oh so important, ‘Pizza in Italy’ experience. On the way, we met a random guy on the street from Portland, Oregon. Naturally, we invited him to join us for his first ‘Pizza in Italy’ experience. We all ordered our own at Dar Poeta and shared our slices and stories. He’s a musician trying to make it big. He’d been in Israel for the past two weeks, will be in Rome for a week, and has no plan after that except to explore more of Europe. He was such a Portlandia character. It was awesome. I left the group after lunch and decided to walk for a bit since it was so stunningly gorgeous out. I ended up back at Piazza Santa Maria and decided to go into one of the restaurants, for the first time ever, that lines the piazza. These are always tourist traps and charge far too much for an espresso, but I was feeling it and decided to indulge. Plus, the thing I’m adoring most about Rome right now is the emptiness of it. The tourists are gone for the most part, and places that are typically packed with fanny packs are now free for real Italians. And though I’m still light years away from being a real Italian, I don’t wear a fanny pack and have gotten good enough at ordering my coffee to make myself blend in just enough to be accepted as one. I sat for a while. When my iphone died, I stepped inside to find an outlet, and found instead an older Italian man who struck up a conversation with me. He was an interesting soul indeed and one who, within five minutes, had somehow dissected my entire life and drawn many accurate conclusions about the kind of woman I am. When I almost began crying over how spot on some of his speculations were, I shifted the conversation to him. He’d recently fallen madly in love for the first time in his 55+ years. He’s a film director, artist, musician and a million other things- including the owner of the restuarant we were sitting in and two other famous places in Trastevere. He’s from Napoli, which means he’s likely in the mob, and he’s as Italian as they come. I had to leave our conversation to walk 30 feet to the fountain to meet up with some friends for an impromptu coffee date I’d made thirty seconds before my phone died, so we exchanged facebook friend info and I left. My friends arrived at the fountain soon thereafter and we walked around the corner to have yet another coffee. These friends were all Italian and I really only knew one of them (language exchange partner I drank the wine with that time). We were all introduced and proceeded to have a 10 minute conversation before I had to leave to go meet Bruno at Piazza San Cosimato. Too many details about piazzas and coffees in this post, I realize, but I’m just trying to paint a picture of how random these days are for me. I walked a block or two over to meet him and we proceeded to walk around town looking for a place to sit in the sun. We found one in Campo dei Fiori. After lingering for just long enough, we meandered back over to Trastevere in search of a place we’d heard about – a book store that is known for having a little bar off to the side where they make wonderfully delicious shots- usually involving chocolate. Too intriguing to neglect, we each had a shot of Bailey’s in a chocolate cup. You take the whole thing in one fail schwoop, and as you would probably imagine, it’s quite tasty. After our little dessert drink, I caught a glance of someone playing in the tiny room next to the room with the ‘bar’. The music was just incredible and as I walked over to get a better look, I realized that the man playing was the Napolitano man from earlier- the man from the other cafe in Trastevere. This was one of his other places. He must have sensed someone was watching him, because he looked up and caught my eye while continuing to play this magical music. Bruno and I waited for him to finish. He stepped away from his piano bench and gave Bruno the once over, trying desperately to sum up our situation, before telling us that Trastevere was a village…and that he wasn’t at all suprised to be seeing me again just hours later. After that encounter, Bruno and I took our time walking around the village. He was leaving to meet someone for dinner, so we parted ways at Piazza Trilussa. I’d remembered my friend from church saying that she and her friend would be having an appertivo at a place close by, so I sent her a quick text asking where they’d be and then forged on to find a place to drop my bags for an hour. I found a perfect spot, perched myself in the corner of a bar with some olives, and started writing this blog entry on a napkin. Since I’m certainly boring everyone to tears with the play by play of my Sunday, I’ll do my best to summarize the evening that continued to be all over the place: met up with Gili, who’s Irsraeli but lives in San Fran (the one I met in the cab ride home from the airport this last time) for an appertivo at a place, and also an Italian guy I’d been on several dates with who I hadn’t seen in a while. The appertivo bar was hosting an International night, so we were bombarded by all sorts of type A expats wanting to get our information so we could get connected in Rome and find jobs for each other etc. etc. Very nice, but a bit overwhelming. After escaping, Gili and I went for a hot tea and anitpasto platter (not a very typical combo, I realize, but I was done with alcohol for the night) so we could talk about her date from the night before with the guy from the cafe she’s been frequenting. We laughed, as usual. I was home at midnight. The kids had gone to sleep, and I had another successful Sunday of freedom under my belt. I’m finding myself loving almost all moments. The happiness has continued, and I’m reminded in almost each of these moments how glad I am to be doing this.

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