For the Single Folk, Part 2

Last night, after being woken up at 3am by some girl screaming drunk on the street outside, I was thinking about yesterday’s post again.

And I decided this: it’s really about hope. Not knowing what destiny holds for you means you continue to hope. This can be a beautiful or painful thing. I am proud that despite many disappointments I am able to keep hope alive and remain optimistic (most of the time). However, that in and of itself is a challenge. I don’t want to become embittered and angry. It takes work to keep one’s spirits up when faced with type of frustrations that I have been plagued with most recently.

I think I am just tired of being optimistic. Of hoping that I can get this right. It just sounds easier to know for sure. Or maybe I am just tired because a girl on the street woke me up screaming at 3am.

For the record, I’d want to know if I was terminally ill too. Not that these two things are necessarily related.

I am off to NY tomorrow to visit Steph. I am sure I’ll have plenty of fun Stephanie stories when I get back!

For the Single Folk

When Erin and I were at the game last weekend she posed this question to me:

Would you want to know if getting married (or the like) was not your destiny and if so, how would you live your life differently?

I have been thinking a lot about it. What would I do? Would I stop dating completely and find deeper contentment in my solitude? Would I date or have casual relations just for fun and temporary companionship? Would I adopt a child on my own, if I decided I had the means and resources to do so? Would I mourn the knowledge or celebrate it?

I know this: I would want to know. I don’t know how my daily choices or my lifestyle would change, but I definitely would like to know. Also, how great would it be to have an answer ready and waiting the next time someone asks you, “…and when are you planning to settle down?” “Oh, sorry, destiny told me it’s not going to happen… But thanks for asking”

I am still pondering this. Would you want to know?

That’s Amore!

Today is a glorious spring day, one of our first after what felt like an eternity of winter. I cannot wait to change the clocks back this weekend. For some reason, last night I had very vivid dreams of my first love: Franco Falcone. Though it has been 16 years since we first met, when I was a young girl of 16, he still remains not just my first love, but my best love. Sure, there were other times I thought I was in love, but it was more like love-ish. Charlie in college who broke my heart with infidelity. Matthijs in Amsterdam who took me on an emotional rollercoaster. Even Chris, as bland as we were, there was love there.But Franco was different. It was full-hearted and almost completely unconditonal.

Saying Goodbye at the Train Station in Salerno

The summer of my 16th year, I flew to Italy where I would live until the following summer. I remember getting on the airplane, my first of many trans-Atlantic flights, thinking, “what the fuck am I doing?” I didn’t speak any Italian and knew nothing of my host family waiting for me in Naples. Thankfully, my first stop was to spend a month in the teeny-tiny town of Valva, in the mountains outside of Salerno. Here, I lived in an elementary school, sleeping in bunk beds, with the other exhange students in my program. In the day we would take language and culture lessons and in the evenings we would sit in the local cafe` and drink beers and orange flavored Fanta. I was there only a few days when Franco and I first met. Almost immediately we were joined at the hip… despite the fact that we could barely speak the same language. Thankfully, my spanish got me farther than I would have imagined and I was able to pick up Italian rather quickly.

Streets of Valva, Italy

Valva was an interesting town, and about as different from Potomac, Maryland as one could get. The above picture I took from a moving car, and was a common scene in this town that had more goats than people, and where things like telephones and televisions were available only to the most wealthy of inhabitants.

Looking back at these old photos, taken when we first met, cracks me up! I could not be any more American (in my Nike’s and cut off jean shorts) and he could not be any more Italian (in his loafers and striped t-shirts). In the picture below we are with Noora and Luigi, who also had a bit of a love connection if I remember correctly. Noora is from Finland and is married now, we just got back in touch after a long absence. The car in the picture, an old Citroën 2CV, was the first car I ever drove.

After the month in Valva, I was moved to my host family in the heart of Neapolitan chaos. It was tough, I missed Franco terribly and could only see him on Sundays, the only day I didn’t have to go to the local high school. But every Sunday, like clockwork, he would come up to Naples, a 2 hr trainride from Battibaglia and a 30 minute drive from Battibaglia to Valva, to spend the day with me. Every 2 months or so I would get permission to spend the weekend down in Valva with a girlfriend I had there, Maria Luisa.

After school was out we had a month to travel together. I was 17 and felt very grown up. We first went to Rome and stayed at the empty apartment of a friend of his just outside the city. To get into downtown Rome we had to hitchhike– funny I would never do that now but thought nothing of it then. It felt like we were married, I would cook dinner each night, and then he would kick me out of the kitchen since I didn’t know what I was doing. While sitting in Piazza Republica a passerby asked us if we were on our honeymoon.

We also went camping in Sicily together, along with some of the other exchange students. First we were in Agrigento on the Southern coast of the island, then we moved to a small town called Patti on the northern side (the picture above was taken there). I think we lived out of the tent for two or three weeks, each day becoming more stressful than the last as it became closer to the time to return back to the US.

I remember calling my dad from one of the campsites in a fit of anxiety about coming home and leaving Franco behind. He told me if it was meant to be, we would find a way to work out the distance. I believed him. Before I returned home, I promised I would come back to Italy and that I would marry Franco. He gave me a small gold ring.

For the next five years we called, wrote and I went over twice to visit him. I begged and begged him to come to the US to meet my family and see where I come from, but it was like asking him to go to the moon for this gentle man who spoke no english and had never been further than Sicily. In a stubborn fit, I issued an ultimatum to come to America or lose me, and as quickly as it began the relationship was over. He refused to speak to me ever again because he said it was just too painful.

I often wonder where he is now and what he is doing. I wonder what my life would have been like if I had followed my heart instead of running off to see the world in an attempt to satiate my incurable wanderlust, which to this day still requires a remedy. I wonder if I will ever fall as blindly and blissfully in love as I could when I was 16 years old.

Happy Singles Awareness Day!

I have been cursed for Valentines day, did you know that? I blame this person:

Yes, my adorable and talented big sister. Sure, she looks innocent, but it’s all her fault that I am cursed on Valentine’s Day.

This is how it went down:

When I was in the 6th grade Erin worked for a Hallmark store called the Curiosity Shop. I had the BIGGEST CRUSH EVER on a boy named Brian Eisert*. Erin thought it would be just so much fun if I prepared a secret admirer present for Brian for Valentine’s Day. The Curiosity Shop, ehm, donated, a few items for my gift including a card, little white stuffed teddybear, and some candy. Erin and I devised a very solid plan, Bond worthy in fact, for me to sneak into the cloak room during lunch and put the gifts of love into Brian’s backpack. Easy, right?

Well, I guess as a 6th grader I wasn’t so stealth-savvy and I got caught. Worse than that, I got caught by my arch-nemisis Jon Soloman**. Jon just loved loved loved to tease me and did so at every opportunity. Nothing was sacred. He roasted me on this. He may have well tied me to a stake in the middle of the playground and pelted me with rancid cheese.

I was ashamed.
I was mortified.
I was 12.
I blamed Erin for putting me up to it, and still do to this day.

Since then I can’t really remember a happy-go-lucky-in-love Valentine’s Day. It just never works out like I plan.

The last time I attempted to celebrate it properly was in Amsterdam with Matthijs. I was giddy in love and wanted to celebrate it, even though I knew that he was very against the whole notion of Valentine’s and had absolutely no intention of recognizing the holiday in any way. I tried to make the evening special. At first I tried to play it off like it was just another day. I came over to his house after work and cooked a normal dinner. Unbeknownst to him, I had purchased a beautiful chocolate creation for dessert. Yes, it was in the shape of a heart. Yes, I think there was some silly professions of love and heart-ness on it. I admit to you, yes, I am a big sap. A big romantic sap.

The thing was, I had purchased the chocolate creation at lunch time and left it in my office for the duration of the afternoon until I biked over to his house that evening. Silly me… my office was a disaster and I just put it down where it would go…not even thinking that putting a chocolate creation on top of a radiator was a bad idea. Let me tell you now, putting a beautiful hearty chocolate creation on top of a radiator is a bad idea. Just in case you didn’t know.

Well, after dinner came and I opened the box of the chocolate creation with great anticipation and glee only to find it one brown blobby mess resembling more a pile of poo than anything else. Oh, the let down! Oh, the sorrow! He thought it was hysterical.

*Hi Brian! I still love you after all these years! (Just in case you google yourself and find this story)
**Screw You Jon, I’ll never forgive you for being such a jerk growing up (Just in case you google yourself and find this story)

La Serenissima: Parte Due

So as I mentioned yesterday, I kissed Diego goodbye, got on the train and presumed that was the end of it. Ahh, but life is funny sometimes…

Fast Forward 3 years…

Since I meeting Diego I have graduated from university, sailed around the world, moved to Boston and then transfered to Amsterdam for work. It was a blustery Valentines day, and a group of us girls went out to dinner together. Most of us were either single or had boyfriends who were far away (I was in the first category). We went to this terrible Chinese restaurant, near Dam Square. We had been in Amsterdam only a matter of weeks, so figuring out where the good restaurants were was still kind of tricky. We didn’t have any Dutch friends yet, so it was mostly co-workers clinging to each other for friendship while we navigated the relocation process. It would be another full month before my furniture was released from Dutch Customs. I was sleeping on the floor of my empty apartment.

We had a lot to drink that night. We were entitled. The transition was not going smoothly.

Towards the end of the sloppy evening we started talking about romance. Inevitably we went around the table and each shared the story of our most romantic night ever. I had not forgotten the chilly night walking around Venice with Diego and the poem he recited to me by memory. This is how the conversation went:

Me: …And so, I got on the train and said goodbye.
Random Office Friend1: Did you get his number?
Me: No.
ROF1: Why?
Me: It just didn’t occur to me to do so.
ROF2: Aren’t you and Meghan going to Venice in a few weeks to for a negotiations trip?
Me: Yes…
ROF2: You should go see him!
ROF1: Why not? You know where to find him, he’s probably still at the Caffe` Aurora!
Me: It was a perfect memory. Why go back now and find out he’s a jerk, or ugly, or doesn’t even remember who I am? It’s better just to keep the memory perfect as is.
ROF1,2: That’s boring and unromantic. You should be banned from celebrating Valentines day (fine with me, I thought).

So, yes, Meghan and I trotted off to Venice a few weeks later to visit our suppliers. She was responsible for hotels, I was responsible for guides and restaurants. Business was booming and we needed to find new vendors to support our growing tourism volume. Venice is always tricky, since the local mafia essentially prevents new businesses (like hotels) from taking hold by controlling the companies that transport cargo down the canals. And since there is no other way to transport cargo in Venice, getting “unapproved” businesses off the ground is nearly impossible. There weren’t enough hotels to support the tourist boom which meant prices were being jacked up from the skyrocketing demand from all the tour operators like ours.

The only thing to do was cash in on every favor, follow every lead in our network and try to charm the pants off (not literally) every hotel manager in the city. This was our mission. I was 25 at the time, my manager traveling with me, Meghan, was a year or two older than me.

We went to see one of our agents, Roberto, who sent us to see his wife’s friend’s daughter’s boyfriend’s fifth-cousin-once-removed (you get the point) who was the hotel manager at the Hotel Savoia. He called ahead for us and put in a good word. We were skeptical but excited since the Hotel Savoia is in a great location just off San Marco and is simply gorgeous.

We arrived at the hotel and asked to speak to the manager, let’s call him Giuseppe. I noticed, in my quest to find new restaurants, that the hotel also has a restaurant set a little bit apart from the hotel structure which also has a great outdoor patio seating facing the canal. Giuseppe offered to show us the hotel, and I asked him to show us the restaurant too. He started the tour in the restaurant. While walking through the beautiful dining area, Giuseppe said, “Let me introduce you to our Food & Beverage Manager.”

Yes. You know what’s coming next.

Out came the F&B manager and of course it is Diego. The one and only Diego. We were introduced, we cordially shook hands and I gave him my card. He said he would be happy to prepare some sample menus while Meghan and I went on a tour of the rest of the hotel. I smiled and said “that would be great”. I gave him a second look, but didn’t see a flash of recognition in his eyes. Granted, it had been 3 years and I now had long blonde hair, not the short red hair I had when we first met.

Leaving the restaurant, I sharply elbowed Meghan and mouthed to her (as not to draw the attention of the hotel manageer), “THAT IS DIEGO. YOU KNOW. THE DIEGO!”. She mouthed back, “NO WAY!”. I mouthed back again, “I SHIT YOU NOT!”

I am certain the Hotel Savoia is lovely. Filled with Antiques, facing the intersection of St. Mark’s and the Giudecca Canals. I hear the walls are covered with beautiful brocade and the bathrooms are all marble. I don’t remember any of this. I have not a clue what those rooms looked like. They could have had orange shag carpet for all I knew. When we were on the tour of the hotel all I could think was, “H0-LY CRAP”. I was sweating. Profusely.

We finished the tour and Giuseppe took us to the office so I could talk menus and prices with Diego. Yes. I have to negotiate with him. I was nervous, for obvious reasons plus it is actually the first time I was negotiating with a vendor in person. Sure, I had done it on the phone from Boston various times. But face to face is a whole different issue. As we walked into the office, Meghan whispered to me, “This one is alllll up to youuuuu” and gives me a wink. That doesn’t help my nerves.

He presented a menu. It was too expensive.
We made a few changes to the menu. The price came down, but still too expensive. I could not pay more than 30,000 Lira. He would not budge below 33,000 Lira. I sold him all the reasons he should work with my company. He still would not budge and we came to a stand still. A few quiet moments passed and I said…

Me: Didn’t you use to manage the Caffe` Aurora in Piazza San Marco?

Suddenly, I see the recognition in his face. He remembers me.

Diego: Ah, yes. I thought you looked familiar.
Me: Can’t you give me a good price…you know… for a friend?
Diego: Fine. We’ll do the menu for 30,000.

And then Diego became my supplier.

We worked closely together for another year and I saw him a few more times, most memorably when I arrived in Venice on the Orient Express (what an incredible experience– and once again all in the name of “work”). Diego sweetly met me at the train station with a beautiful bouquet of flowers. We dated for a while. But the distance wasn’t ideal for either of us, and one day he called to tell me that he was going to be a father of another woman’s baby and, well, that was the end of the affair. Not long afterwards I changed divisions and Venice was no longer my territory. I’ve never spoken to him since.

But you never know when you might cross paths with someone unexpectedly. Again.

La Serenissima

I have an obsession with Venice.

Yes, I admit Venice is crowded and over-run with tourists (at least in the summer) and the prices are insane. But still… there is something about the floating city that touches the pit of my soul. In a good way. I frequently dream of impulsively jetting over to Venice just to get pleasantly lost in the quiet alleys for hours on end, poking into the little grocery stores, boutiques, and hidden gardens. In Venice, you never know what you’ll find around the next corner.

I have been to Venice on a number of occasions, usually on my own, having formerly worked with various hotels, restaurants and guides in the city. But the first time I really went to explore the city was the most memorable.

It was March 1995 and I was nursing a badly broken heart. My boyfriend of a few years cheated on me and I had recently found out in a most horrible and unexpected fashion (a story for another day). I was 21 and broke, but threw caution to the wind and put a plane ticket I couldn’t afford on my brand new shiny Visa for Spring Break (oh, some things never change). I convinced my best friend Sue to come with me. She had never been to Europe before and I wanted to show her around.

I learned quickly that Sue is not a Traveler. She was frequently frustrated and rude with “the locals”. When she wasn’t happy, comfortable or satisfied, she made sure that everyone else within earshot was aware of it. I was frequently annoyed. She was perpetually oblivious.

We met a nice guy on the train on the way to Venice, Alan from Canada, who ended up tagging along with us for several days. We even let him share our room (just as friends, of course) in the preciously cheap Hotel Caneva. All three of us were on a pretty tight budget and sharing a triple made sense– plus I was glad for the extra company. Alan was kind and easy going and broke some of the tension already building between me and Sue. The Caneva is a little pensione which has several rooms overlooking the canals situated in the perfect location between San Marco and the Rialto Bridge.

A few nights into our trip we went to The Devil’s Forest Pub for a few drinks where apparently half the English Navy had gathered to watch a football (soccer) match. There aren’t a whole lot of choices when it comes to Venetian nightlife, and this seemed as good as anything else we had found on previous nights. At first it was all fun and merriment, but then things got a little crazy. Some drunken bastard kept alternately rubbing himself up against Sue and running loops around the pub screaming at the top of his lungs, “SPACEMAN! SPACEMAN!” Before Sue punched him out (she would have for sure), I pushed her out of the crowd into one of the booths to get her to calm down. Sitting on the other side of the booth was a quiet Italian man. I introduced Sue and asked if she might share his booth for a moment. He said he didn’t care; he was watching the game and didn’t mind at all.

His name was Diego. We started talking (for those of you who don’t know, I speak la bella lingua Italiana). We talked for a while about what the US is really like, politics, and the best places to visit in Italy. We talked about my studies, since I was an Italian major and doing a lot of work in Italian literature that semester. He asked about my favorite Italian author, and I told him it was poet Giacomo Leopardi. Now this is going to sound super cheesy, I mean MOLTO FORMAGGIO, but at that moment dear Diego recited by memory, in that stupid bar filled with obnoxious brits, my favorite Leopardi poem, L’Infinito:

Sempre caro mi fu quest’ermo colle,
E questa siepe, che da tanta parte
Del’ultimo orizzonte il guardo esclude.

Ma sedendo e mirando, interminato
Spazio di là da quella, e sovrumani
Silenzi, e profondissima quiete
Io nel pensier mi fingo, ove per poco
Il cor non si spaura. E come il vento
Odo stormir tra queste piante, io quello
Infinito silenzio a questa voce
Vo comparando: e mi sovvien l’eterno,
E le morte stagioni, e la presente

E viva, e ‘l suon di lei. Così tra questa
Infinità s’annega il pensier mio:
E ‘l naufragar m’è dolce in questo mare.

It’s so typical. So stupidly stereotypical. I know, you don’t have to remind me. But naturally I was hooked. How could I not have been? The only thing my recent ex could have recited by memory was the latest basketball stats. Diego invited me to ditch Sue and go for a walk. It took me about 3 seconds to find my purse, put on my coat and place Sue in the care of Alan the Canadian.

It was cold that night; it must have been mid-March or so. Venice, like Amsterdam, feels colder than it is, I think because of all the water. The dampness of the cold gets into your bones and it chills you deep down. We walked for a long time. He pointed out parts of the city I never knew existed, the parts that you could only know if you grew up there. There are very very few people who live in Venice who actually were born and raised in Venice.

Finally, as I am sure you would have guessed, he kissed me, on top of a picturesque little bridge over a solitary canal that was perfectly lit. I could just make out the operatic voices of the Gondoliers echoing down the canal. No, really I could. It was very well planned and executed. It was perfection. Maybe even too much so; there is something to be said for a little spontaneity. He then graciously walked me back to the Caneva, holding my hand of course, and invited me and Sue to come see him the following day at the caffe` he managed in the Piazza San Marco, the Caffe` Aurora.

The following afternoon Sue and I went to the Caffe Aurora to see Diego after exploring the islands of Torcello and Burano (Burano is pictured above). He set us up in a gorgeous private salon overlooking the piazza and brought us whatever we wanted. After we could not eat another biscotti or drink one more shot of espresso he sent us away but told us both to come back and he would take us to grab a bite to eat before we had to board the overnight train to Rome.

I remember I had pizza and Baywatch was on the TV in the restaurant. The conversation was easy and fun. Sue was in a good mood. He walked us all the way to the train station where Sue graciously disappeared into a shop for a few moments (see, she’s not all bad) so we could say our goodbyes.

We didn’t exchange numbers or addresses. It wasn’t an emotional goodbye in the least. But, I knew that I would regard that time in Venice as a perfect memory. What was the point of keeping in touch? In the back of my head I knew that I conformed, and not for the first time, to the silly stereotype of the naive American being schmoozed by the dashing Italian. Surely what I regarded as the most romantic thing that had ever happened to me to date was just another Saturday night, another gullible American girl, for him. But really, I didn’t care. A jolt of sugary romance was exactly what I needed.

So Sue and I boarded the train to Rome and I assumed that was the end of the Diego story.

But I was wrong.

To be continued…

So THAT’S Where I Put It!

I had looked high and low.
Searched everywhere I could think of.
The typical places where things like this are found.
But for the past few months, just no luck.
I was about to staple MIA signs to the telephone polls in my neighborhood that look something like this:

Let there be celebrations in the streets!
Raise your glasses!
Kiss your neighbor!
Visit Hot Bartenders!
Duct tape your husband and friends to a bed!

It has been found. This calls for a party.

I’ll bring the vodka if you bring the tape.

Let’s Go Fishing!

A friend of mine is one of the founders for the charity group Stock the Pond. How they describe themselves:

It only takes two degrees of separation to make a connection. Stock the Pond connects people by hosting parties where our friends and your friends create the guest list and we all support a worthy cause. There is no best place to meet someone. But in our experience the best way to meet someone is through friends. We know some great people, you know some great people, let’s bring them all together.

Their next event is on Wednesday at:
312 Stuart Street
Boston, MA

Wednesday 6:00pm – 9:30pm

If you want to be included on the evite, click HERE.
I haven’t been to other events of theirs, but the buzz says this one will be lots of fun! Did you know I have a direct line to the Buzz? I bet you didn’t.

The first few days of the trip…

I got on the plane feeling very alone and sad. I was calling friends until the very moment they shut the doors looking for a little support. I have been so fortunate to visit so many amazing places, yet more often than not seem to be seeing these magnificent place on my own. I used to prefer to travel alone, as I can be a bit selfish. I hate to be slowed down by someone else’s interests. And slow walkers. When you travel on your own you and you alone are the boss and you get to do everything you want to do even if that means sitting in Piazza Navona eating ice-cream and people watching all day long. I kind of like that part of it. Except eating alone, I never did like that part, so when I travel by myself I often end up eating from street-vendors, local markets (picnic style) or furtively in my room. I think it’s a good goal to make– to feel comfortable in a restaurant on my own.

More and more I wish there was someone next to me I could nudge when I see something really spectacular like the G-string wearing roller-blader frequently seen zooming his way around Amsterdam with his ass cheeks exposed–even in the dead of winter. I knew this trip was going to be amazing, which it truly was, and I am sad that once again there won’t be someone I can ring up in 10 years and say, “Hey, remember that time in St. Petersburg…”. You know what I mean?


I arrived in London happy as a clam to be back in my favorite city. Our hotel was right next to the Tower Bridge, the one everyone thinks is London Bridge:

This was a great area to stay in, as the warf along the Thames has been recently rennovated and full of fun bars and restaurants. Time was short in London… just enough for me to get a UK SIM card for my cell phone, have dinner, and a good night sleep before heading with our group to meet the ship in Harwich the next morning.

Seeing the Jewel of the Seas for the first time takes your breath away– it is so HUGE! Check in was quick and before I knew it I was checking out my little inside cabin on the 3rd deck. Just enough space for a double bed, small couch, a closet, mini-bar, desk/dresser, and private bathroom. I’ve mentioned before the proportions of the ship and some of the amenities. But knowing there is a miniature golf course on the ship and actually SEEING it are two totally different things.

Here is a shot of the big white behemouth parked in Tallinn:

I never thought I would like taking a cruise (after working on a small cruise ship for a year). But it really wasn’t as tasteless and tacky as I thought it would be. Except for all the casio piano light jazz renditions of “The Greatest Love of All” and “My Endless Love”. I could have done without that. I didn’t go into any of the shows, and spent minimal amounts of time in the casino, so I guess my exposure to the truely tasteless was rather limited. In retrospect, that was probably a mistake.

Well, that’s all for today. Tomorrow I will talk about the first port of call: OSLO!