Tuesday, February 23, 2010

These Boots Were NOT Made For Walkin'.

It's official: Italian women are made of stronger stuff. I have a sneaking suspicion that it's grappa that flows through their veins, and not blood.

I just spent a day walking in their shoes (109 Euro, black leather biker chic heels by Letizia Ferrari, from Stefano e Sabrina on Via Nazionale), and let me tell you-- these dogs, they are a-barkin'.

Thankfully, I know the age-old secret remedy: a glass of good, bright, lively pinot grigio. Or two glasses. And putting your feet up on the nearest elevated flat surface.
Beauty is pain, right? Suffer for fashion, and all that? I really, really would like to see how men here walk in those insanely pointy-toed loafers. Thank an un-masochistic god that I have no men over here to dress.


P.S-- I call this picture, "Still Life Of A Girl's Vices." Expensive shoes, cigarettes, a glass of wine, and, in the back, leather bags. I am going to die alone and destitute. But well-shod. And with lung disease.

Saturday, February 20, 2010

"Of Course It Is."

I fall in little love here every day. It's a good lesson for a girl who's never said Those Three Words. Some days it's with a passer-by on the sidewalk. Others, someone I actually talk to-- a vendor, a waiter, or another student.

A different man every day-- that is my plan. Not as in, 'a different man every day' in the Biblical sense. No, thank you. As I once said, I really wish I were having as much sex as people assume I do. Because, let me tell you, when eating heavenly pear and cheese ravioli is the closest to a purely physical experience you have had in the past month, life is pretty sad, my friends, and you are NOT a-knockin' boots on the regular. 'A different man every day' as in, I would like to meet, talk to, and potentially flirt with, a different man every day. My own special way of getting to know the locals. I am an incorrigible flirt, and part of my self-designed work-plan is to get better at opening up and actually talking to people, so, why not keep myself occupied doing something I can't help as much as I can't help breathing, and also stretch my solo-emotion-zone comfort boundaries? That's my debatable (dateable?) goal here. Breaking hearts, taking names, and integrating myself with the culture.

Last night, it was my waiter at Coquinarius. (Coquinarius-- possibly the best meal I have eaten here, even better than the Bon Appetit restaurant in Venice. Mixed salad with Gorgonzola, pear, celery [which was not ingested-- can't stand the stuff. It's food that takes more eating it than it puts in you. I mean, what sort of wickedness is that?!] and walnuts paired excellently with a crisp, bright, and lively Pinot Grigo and the infamous pear and cheese stuffed ravioli.) It took me half the meal, but I eventually realized I had taken an instant comfortable liking to him because he looked like the Italian version of The Small Man, one of my favorite young professors from last semester. (He also chain-smoked Camel Lights out front of the restaurant's front stoop, too, so that bumped him up a few 'general likability' points.) He was attentive and possibly the most brilliant speaker of the English language I have met while here, and by the time I went up to the front of the restaurant to pay, we struck up a conversation. He asked me if I wanted an aperitif, on the house. You never, ever need to ask me if I want free liquor twice.

"Si! Grazie!"

"Do you like anise?" he asked, and I was nodding before I even processed, because, my adorable little waiter could have asked me if fresh lamb's blood was ok, and I would have "si"-d him to death and happily guzzled it down. A minute later, as he tipped the bottle toward me, the scent of something came riding over to me on the air currents like an ungodly chariot of death. Liquorice. Anise is liquorice, you dumbfuck. As in, that liquor that after an unfortunate experience in London junior year of high school, you swore to never drink again. As in, I don't even eat liquorice candy. As in, I think it is the black tar of plague, pestilence, and the putrid.

And yet, I reached forward, grabbed the first shot, and downed it. For you, adorable Italian waiter-friend, I will drink liquorice flavored demon water. The second one quickly followed. The room tilted a little bit.

“What is your name?” he asks.

“Carissa.” We shake. His hand is very, very warm, and I feel tiny hairs on the back of it, where the pad of my forefinger is pressing. “And what’s yours?”


“Of course it is.” It’s out of my mouth before I can even filter it. Two glasses of pinot grig and anise, you’re a bitch. He gives me a quizzical looks. It didn’t translate, but he knows enough to be confused.

“It’s a good name,” I tell him quickly, trying to cover.

“Yes,” he agrees. “The best name. No…” He gives a little laugh and shrugs. “Will you be back?”

“I’ll be back a lot,” I tell him, no lies there. “The ravioli were molto bene. Very, very good.”

Si. My friend says that they are like little bundles from heaven. Come back again, very soon.” I watch as he bangs the register keys, and suddenly, my total of 29 Euro is somehow, magically, 24 Euro. He winks at me.

You, sir, are a little bundle from heaven. Hello, waiter—check, please? I’d love to take you home in a doggy-bag.

"I think you are very brave," he tells me as he hands me back my change.

I push 2 Euro back at him, and he pockets it. "Pourquoi?" I ask, out of habit, not meaning to mix my French and Italian, as I inevitably do at least once a day. I have always heavily favored "pourquoi-- for why?" over just a simple "why?"

"You are here alone," he says. "Not many girls do this."

If you only knew the half of it, Nicolai. If you only knew the half of it.


Hindsight of this experience?

Do not ever, ever let me drink liquorice flavored liquor again. I hate it, and no matter how cute you are or how free it is, I still shouldn't have it.

Date your waiters. Seriously. They know good food and where to find it. If nothing more, you'll get a few good meals and some table-side conversation from it.


Friday, February 19, 2010

Il Giorno Degli Ragazzi

A Writer's Love Story:

I met the new love of my life yesterday when I wandered into a cartoleria shop. I picked out a funky embossed journal that looks like alligator hide with tints of bronze and teal while he gave me piccola lessons in Italian, told me where he could be found in San Lorenzo, and asked me about where I was from and what I was doing in Florence. Because of my evidently writerly lot in life, words, using them (most of the time) properly, and good communication are of the utmost importance to me. For this fact, I am loathe to engage in any sort of Italian-heavy conversation that may render me with a fish-inspired “O” shaped mouth and puzzled eyebrows. But he spoke little English, and I was willing to absolutely mangle all of the few words and phrases in Italian I do know for him.

His name is Antonio (of course), and he makes handmade leather journals, which is an impossibly perfect fit for someone who goes through journals like tissues. I think it’s perfectly poetic—the leather journal man and the writer.

Though it may have just been a journal-needing incensed crush on a vendor, seduced by the intoxicating smell of leather permeating the air and my senses, it brought up a valid moral to this tiny, unserious love story: You should want to push your boundaries for someone, potentially make a fool of yourself, and not be afraid of it. Be better. Try.


Short Skirt, and A Leather Jacket:

I have discovered the beauty of people falling in love with you. I have also discovered that my naturally blonde hair and big blue eyes get me even further here than at home. (Dear Mom and Dad: Thanks for having those dominant genes and getting together. It's getting me far in life. Or, at least, discounts.)

So I may or may not have used someone else’s feelings and my fleeting yet called-upon considerable charm at my disposal to buy a leather jacket today for a price that was nearly robbery.

“You have boyfriend?” the store owner asked me, as he pounded calculator buttons to show me what he was willing to give me the coat for.

Si.” (It is always easier to say yes.) The number on the calculator stayed low. I handed him the cash.

“And if you want change boys, then you come back, si?”

Moral of this buttery, smooth, silk-lined encounter? Be generous in love. Not just Love love, but in any sort of love: platonic, familial, beast-ly, co-workery, child-friendly, waiterly, etc.


Young, Foolish Love:

Two twenty-something...

...(all of Italy seems to consist of twenty-something, attractive men. It is a Single Girl’s Paradise, if you’re in the market for that sort of thing. If you are down on your man luck and feel as if you have wined, dined, rejected and been rejected your way through your entire dating pool, I cordially invite you to Italy and will guarantee you a handsome, semi-sane, well-dressed, disgustingly romantic date by the end of your third week here,)...
...men are rough-housing in the middle of the San Lorenzo market. One jumps on another’s back, and the packhorse stumbles toward me, a hand outstretched. “She is my girlfriend, come to save me,” he says with a roguish grin. Love should be just a little bit outrageous, and not too serious about itself.


The Hottie Barista (little to no English, adorable crush, amazing jeans,) at the corner bar has started giving me discounts. Thank god, because his cappuccinos heavy on the whipped cream and sugar are pretty much the only thing keeping me alive right now.

Italy is a million and one (and I have finally discovered the adjective for them--) beautiful men. I like them as long as I can get away from them.

Story of my life.

Conversely, however, I am learning a lot from them.


American Girls, or Why I Evidently Should Have Studied Abroad In Switzerland

Do you know that internet access is a human right in some countries? Not only does Switzerland consider it a human right, they also have some of the fastest broadband internet speeds in the world. Estonia, Greece, and France all consider internet access an inalienable human right.

So why, then, did I choose to come to Italy, land of the "Yeah, we'll get around to it...someday," public services and apparent lack of affection for making sure students studying abroad can like, I don't know-- actually keep up with their loved ones, do homework for online classes, and run blogs?

Monday night, I was laying in bed, streaming The Nanny (no judging), being generally happy, when it crapped out. I called the internet company the next day, and they told us it was a problem in the telephone lines (I believe it-- the entire neighborhood is holed up in the corner bar, the only place with functioning Wi-Fi in apparently, a 2 block radius,) and that they were leaning on the phone company to get it fixed. Great. The next day, I called back to check progress on the strong-arming. "A technician will be coming tomorrow, probably in the morning," I was told. Awesome. Thanks. Next morning, no show. Next-next morning, still no tech. An apartment full of 8 angry women. 6 angry guys above us. Peeved American students all up and down the block. And the only thing I can think the phone company is doing is sitting and rotating on their thumbs.

I'm sorry. I'm a little steamed. It wasn't so much of a big deal when I KNEW I didn't have internet, but now that I'm paying a REDICKULUS amount of money for it per month, I would really, really like to exploit it as much as possible. I would really like to be able to talk to the people at home that I miss. Like, reassure my parents that I'm ok and to ignore and not open my monthly bank statements, or to be able to make Spring Break plans with my roommates in Dublin. Potentially, even-- TRY TO FIND AN APARTMENT TO LIVE IN WHEN I COME BACK SO I AM NOT HOMELESS IN BURLINGTON.

Because do you know what internet-less American girls resort to for entertainment? It's nasty, nasty stuff, my friends. Retail therapy. Chainsmoking. Consuming entire bottles of wine, and starting to drink just after the sun reaches the zenith. Unsafe behavior. Risky road-crossing. Gelato addictions. Baked good and chocolate abuse. Spending horrific (HORRIFIC) amounts of money on new books to keep one's self occupied in lacking electronic pages. Talking to the local men. Taking far, far too much time to gaze at Michelangelo's David. (By far the hottest man in Florence. Those abs. Those buns. That...ball-sack. That's carved out of marble? Seriously? Seriously?)

While I am whining, let's insert a few other general complaints:
- I absolutely despise sleeping alone.
- The guy above me blasts “You are my everything, everything, everything, everything,” while having bed-post banging sex. This is why I do not sleep with bros. If I heard that song, I would be out of there before the end of the first chorus.

- I live in a madhouse. Please save me. Except for Alli, I never want to live with women again.
- I want a good beer like I want a fucking hard-on inside of me. And then, I think I want the beer more. Something tall, dark, full-bodied, with great head. And we’re still talking about the beer, here. Italy-- not a place for internet, or good beer.

- After seeing Avatar and beautifully joined-up alien/alien animal relationships, I really, really, miss Saph. This is the longest I have ever gone without seeing her. I am missing my other half, people.

If I make it back home alive, you have Robin to thank for the majority of this. He tried, really hard, to find me functional internet without the cost of a pint-and-a-half beer or banana and Nutella milkshake. He makes sure I am properly entertained and don't walk alone at night. He hears speeding mopeds before I do. And last night, he cooked dinner and got my Avatar ticket in advance. Along with the general fond company and lack of interest in each other, I think this is what an old marriage is like.


Monday, February 15, 2010

Italian Escapades: My 18th Night of Mayhem in Italy, Gone Native in Carnevale, And Other Assorted Excitements

For my 18th night in Italy, I went to see The Wailers in concert, smoked Italian doobies, got caught up in a front-row mosh pit, touched 3 of The Wailers and got an autograph, ran across a 7 lane highway on the way home and was almost hit by a speeding moped, jumped some Jersey (Sicily? Do you think they would be called Sicily barriers over here? Is Sicily the Italian equivalent of New Jersey?) barriers, and coined the term "Unholy Cannoli." Just another day.

Robin and I got to Flog Auditorium (quite roughly the Italian version of Higher Ground-- same size, same atmosphere, but much more relaxed, in fact, non-acting, security,) an hour early, and stood in possibly the most miserable weather conditions I have ever waited for doors to open. And I waited outside for Busta to start in just a t-shirt last April in Vermont.) It was damp and drizzling. The trees dripped down on us. I went to go find a beer to find to improve my general disposition, and was greatly relieved when I got back to find that whelp, this being a Wailers concert, it was incredibly easy to score some weed. So score away. Also, once inside, our early arrival resulted in center-stage spots 1 person back from the stage. And this put us right inside the center of the cloud of smoke as the audience proceeded to hot-box the auditorium.

Second-hand smoke at concerts has got to be one of my favorite things. I love getting high on other people's time and money. So sue me.

If I had questioned it previously, I now know where I can find every Italian man I find attractive: At a Wailers concert. From dreadlocked, to hipster, to the young Italian Johnny Depp look-alike who was tripping on E and loved everyone and everything with a sort of infectious child-like humor that reminded me of the bastardized lovechild of Devendra Banhart and Russel Brand, who I spent the 3 hours of the concert pressed up against (3 hours well spent), it was a collectively attractive and fun crew. Until some of the drunk soccer boys and tripped-out electro-scene girls thought it would be a cute idea to start a mosh pit.

Now, there is a place and a time for a mosh pit. At an alternative or punk or metal show, yes. If you're seeing ICP or Sick Puppies or MOP. If you're under the age of 18. If you're a 185 pound man over six feet. But if you are a 125 pound woman under five-foot-four, mosh pits are not fun scenes. Losing my Gianni Depp in the melee, I locked myself to the jersey-clad back of the soccer boy in front of me, and shoved elbows back into the bodies that crushed up against me, fighting to keep standing. (First rule of mosh pits: DON'T FALL DOWN. Unless getting trampled seems like a good time to you.)

However, this mosh pit succeeded in pushing me even closer to the stage (literally back-humping this poor boy,) so that I was able to A.) touch the lead guitar, B.) Shake hands with the keyboardist, and C.) Get an autograph. So. I can't say that it wasn't a huge pain in the ass, overall.
Cabs were nonexistent from the concert, so Robin and I hiked the 2 miles back to our apartments. Thanks to the weed and the drinks, I couldn't feel my knees (long story short: years of horseback riding and jumping is not conducive to good cartilage in your knees, which is not conducive to all the walking I've been doing here, which results in massive amounts of pain and me hobbling like some of the black-clothed bubbies here), which came in handy for the sprint across the 7 lane highway in which a speeding moped nearly mowed me down, and again when we had to jump two lanes of concrete barriers to get across said highway to our street. Robin nearly drank from a dog's water fountain in the park. I had massive munchies and was trying to convince him that it was a good idea to go to the Secret Bakery to get "Unholy Cannoli" and "Debonair Eclairs." I thought it was HEE-LAR-IOUS at the time. The next morning when I woke up, very slowly and fuzzily and in lots of pain, I was really glad he put his foot down and said no.
Saturday morning found me waking up at the ass-crack of dawn at 5:15 (after going to sleep at 3:30 AM) to pack, have a quick wake n' bake session, and get on a bus at 6 AM for a weekend in Venice. I was able to buy gummybears, my favorite munchie food ever, at the rest stop, took pictures of the sunrise, and slept some more before walking up and stumbling onto a boat to Venice. It was also a good thing I slept through most of it because I have realized something: If I die while over here, it will not be from a kidnapping/rape/murder. It will be because of Italian drivers. Take a Boston driver. Make him snort copious amounts of speed. Perform a partial lobotomy. And then put him behind the wheel of a BUS. That, my friends, is terrifying. And I am living in a country full of them. Crossing streets and getting in cabs and buses and the such. I am literally playing Bussian Roulette.

This is what you need to know about Venice: It is easily one of the most beautiful, unique, and creepily romantic places in the world. It is so old and seeped in popular lore that at night, when lights reflect on the moving water in the canals, you will believe without a doubt that you are in a Poe story. Especially if it happens to be Carnevale, and all of humanity is running around in masks and costumes in Italy's mashed-up version of Halloween, April Fool's Day, and prom. I bought a mask, and my roommate Raquel, Robin and I took to the streets at night to find a restaurant featured in Bon Appetit and get in on the fun. We ran into a desk of cards, a set of bowling pins, an army of walking garbage bags, sperm that I ran away from, and some attractive young Ghostbusters that had it all over Bill Murray and Dan Aykroyd. As soon as I heard the theme music coming from the boombox one of them was carrying, I was off and running toward them, camera flying behind me. They were young, charming, funny, friendly, sweet, and tolerated our photo shoot with them. In short, they are my new best friends. Almost everyone we met, excluding only the really drunk twenty-something men who only approached Raquel and I to ask if we were with Robin, as in, if he was our boyfriend, and walked away when we quickly repeated "Si" a few times (Robin was big pimpin' that night, fo' sho'-- male friends make the best joint bodyguards/decoys), was incredibly nice and friendly. More English is spoken there; less cigarettes smoked. Carnevale is basically one big, deliciously decadent and light-hearted romp. I was so glad I got to be there, and am definitely going back again at some point in my life. Actually, I would live in Venice for about a year, easily. I fell in love with it, even more than Florence.
My un-Valentine's Day was perfect. I tried to remember what I did last year-- I think a Girl's Dinner and then I went home, smoked straight to my face, and passed out early-- but it is one of those many Lost Memories. (This hints very strongly that smoking copious amounts of greenery was involved, even if dinner out was not.) This year, we were on tour boats to Murano and Burano and Venice for most of the day, and once we got to Venice, Robin, Raquel, Brian and I ran off to find calamari and a gondola ride. The gondola ride around sunset was easily one of the most un-romantic romantic things I have ever done in my life, (squeezing my gondolier's biceps included,) and as we took the tour boat back to the bus station (after almost missing it and being stranded in Venezia-- not the worst thing that could happen, in my opinion,) the sun set in rainbow hues with a blood-red, huge sun setting on the horizon. Blissful couples were unapparent. We took the bus back to Florence, and I crawled into bed with Pineapple Express, Baci chocolates, and more gummybears before passing out. In other words, unadulterated, Single Girl bliss.

Looking back, I find that I've been surprising myself numerous times. Probably one of my favorite things-- surprising myself. Usually, I am exceedingly hard to surprise. (See: Jaded. Cynical. Guarded.) Usually, I would die to be actually (positively) surprised. It just doesn't really happen for me. But there I was, finding myself surprised as I watched a hand-- my own hand-- reaching for the door of a cab last Thursday night. And like an out-of-body experience, leaning in, and asking the cabby in pidgeon English/Italian if he could take us to Flog Auditorium, and for how much. There I was, forefinger and thumb pinching a tight little jay as I inhaled while listening to "Everything's Gonna Be Alright." There I was, dancing with a room full of totally chill strangers and listening to the late, great Bob's songs in a cloud of haze. There I was, drunk on wine and life by 2:15 PM. There I was, in a gondola, looking up at the golden light on marble palazzos. There I was, flirting with a Ghostbuster holding a leafblower. There I was, eating some of the most delicious ravioli in a butternut squash sauce with sugared black truffle in a restaurant that Bon Appetit called "the best in Venice." There I was, flying by the seat of my pants, running from cars and mopeds and for trains and boats and buses, asking absolute Italian strangers for directions and tickets and ganja and photographs and phone numbers and recommendations. I'm living a charmed life, I know it, and I'm grateful for every moment of it.

I am finding that I am doing nearly everything I said I wouldn't do in Italy. And it's thrilling. The moment I stopped sweating it was the moment the world opened itself right up to me.

Friday, February 12, 2010

Of Men, Women, And Italian Escapades, Part 4:

Italian Escapades:
Vespa Man, or Why Am I Such A Fuck-Up?

The dog is cute. It looks kind of like my best friend’s Australian shepherd, and it’s waiting patiently outside the small grocer’s down the block from my apartment for its master to return. It grins up at me, panting slightly, and, a sucker always for the canines, particularly good-looking ones, such as this one (just like with men and green-eyed people, or green-eyed men especially,) I smile back.

As I am smiling like a special type of fool at the dog, someone slides out of the door in front of me. I look up and see a youngish, stocky man in fashionable black leather-gear with sandy hair tucked under a helmet standing in front of me. “Hi,” he says, and thrown at the English with or without the accent behind it, I actually look back at him, catching his twinkling light eyes.

He reminds me, in the instant I really take him in, of the geeky Australian transfer student turned Eevil Keenival who was the hero of Grease 2. (Not such a great movie. That dreamboat and a young and always fabulous Michelle Phieffer were the only things that saved it.)

I take another pensive drag from the end of my cigarette, and he tries again. “Hello.” He’s careful to keep his body language open and friendly as I breeze by, not threatening or insinuating anything more than a greeting—maybe I’ll say something as I get closer? Maybe his magnetic attraction will just do the job and pull me right in to that black Italian-leathered muscular chest? I appreciate it—I appreciate all off it—though I don’t say anything back.

I walk another ten strides before it hits me. If Vespa man can see me like this, in a plaid men’s flannel shirt and bulky winter coat and my kicked-to-shit Uggs, desperately sucking on the end of a cigarette like it is my lifeline, hair tossed into a hot mess by the wind, and still think enough to want to say hi—what the fuck am I doing, walking away? If he is seeing me at one of my emotional lows, of which you conveniently get to miss out on the tempest that you’ve stirred up, and he wants to actually do something about it, even just greet me and chat with me on the sidewalk—why the fuck am I running away? Is that really the only mode I know how to operate on?

I look back. He’s still there, standing beside his Vespa, a vision in leather and nice hand-made shoes. I watch him swing a leg over the seat and settle in, turning the tiny engine over. He then motions to the dog, who rises from his watch by the shop’s stoop and jumps up into his master’s lap, riding in front of him. A man, his Vespa, and his dog. It’s such a picture of domestic Italian bachelordom bliss that it pulls at my ovaries somewhere in the same vicinity that really cute toddlers do. It doesn’t mean that I necessarily want one, but just for a moment, I think about what it could have been like if I actually said hi back. If we traded names. If I asked to pet his grinning dog and he told me it’s name. If I accepted an invitation for a ride on the back of the Vespa, something I want to check off the list of Thing To Do Before I Die or Before I Leave.

I think about it for a moment, watching his taillights fade. And then for another moment. And I find that somewhere in the space of these two moments, I’m less angry at you, and more angry at myself. I’m letting these moments go. These moments that I may never find again, great adventures, new acquaintances, and smiling European dogs. And for what? You’re having your moments at home, no explanations needed. I should be having mine. What I do here will mean just as little as what I didn’t do here when I get back, if not even less. Tit for tat. Vespa for Virginia.


Of Men, Women, And Italian Escapades, Part 3:

The Feminine Mystique:

In my Women in 20th Century Fiction class, we've recently been assigned reading material with a common theme: the idea of the central female character being "witchy" or "otherworldly" in some aspect.

As a woman, I can tell you that there is nothing that I hold more dear at my core than the idea that there lies within me something that even thousands of years into our being, has not yet been figured out or fully understood.

It can be the tangible that changes us: a new pair of boots, sexy underwear, a different haircut. It can be the intangible: love. Feelings and emotions and someone special in our lives, the novelty still there, the phone calls and butterflies still frequent. These things put a spring in our step and a sparkle in our eye, a feeling that we are not quite who we were yesterday, or even just a few hours ago. Women are constantly in flux. We are fluid and mercurial and we never quite feel the same way about something twice. We are made of leather and lace and contrasting actions and opinions. That’s the beauty to us: we are always new, always fresh, and ever exciting.

According to ancient philosophers, it worked something like this: "You see a woman. (Or a man.) You love her (or his) beauty. What you really love is the reflection of the beauty given to her (him) from above." But what does it mean to love beautiful things like this? Is it shallow? To what extent does my love of "pretty, smart things" reflect on me? Pausanias speaks of "vulgar love" in demeaning tones. Ficino speaks of "vulgar love" very matter-of-factly; as a way of life and natural human action that is to be accepted, or even applauded (i.e-- I see; I like; I get). Renaissance philosophers thought that one could achieve sanctity by their love for beautiful (i.e-- beauty given from above) things. If this is the case, if there is a higher level of being after death, I am all up in there. Often I have been known to say that if someone wasn't so beautiful, I wouldn't let them get away with half the shit I dismiss and decide not to pick a fight about.

The Audacity of Doing Nothing:

Speaking of not picking fights...one of my really good friends here in Florence has been with her boyfriend for two years. He's an active member of the Air Force, and was deployed for eight months to Afghanistan last year. They got to spend three weeks together, and then she left for Italy for 3 months. They're planning on staying together, and he's considering joining active duty, which means that she'll be following him around the world, moving every three years. As she said, "If he goes active duty, it means I go active duty, too." Over dinner after our Women in 20th Century Fiction class the other night, I asked her how she dealt with the distance and the fear and the worry and the missing him. She slowly pushed her penne around her plate before answering. "It's really hard, it is. I don't tell him a lot of what I think or what bothers me, because if he only has one 15 minute phone call to me a week, I don't want to spend it fighting with him, you know? So I try to be as supportive as I can be."

This is something that I have been struggling with lately. As women, we are taught that the best possible thing that we can do is ride a situation or argument out. But women operate on emotions more than men do. It’s true. While I shut down, close down quickly, I do feel harder than I’m sure most do. I hope for more. I want more. Things affect me deeper than I’d like to admit to. But even in cases such as these, I fall back on the same logic that my friend does: if you have limited time, you don’t want to rock the boat. It’s better to smooth things over, look the other way, or not bring it up in the first place. She just wants her boyfriend to not multitask doing his homework when he gets time to Skype with her. But will she make that demand? No. I want to say “I don’t like it.” But I won’t. I want to say “Stop,” but I don’t. Making demands appears to be something that we just are comfortable with. Being able to see things from both sides of the equation, as women can be good at, tends to make making ultimatums harder, or, in some cases, a moot point.

Women tend to be inherently self-less. We want to do more for others, especially those we love, than we would do for ourselves. And so we find ourselves avoiding the hard subjects; not asking the questions; not demanding the answers or courtesies. I was almost ready to give this trip up. I was ready to leave it up to Fate to decide if I was staying, or if I was going. I ended up going. For myself, I know it’s the best possible outcome. Already, I am discovering aspects of myself that I never knew existed. I can be fearless, opening cab doors and talking to strangers, not sure if I’ll be able to receive the outcome I engaged in the conversation for in the first place. I can walk into a store or market or classroom, and fight it out with finesse until I get through what I want, English or not. I will walk home alone at night, and feel confident enough in myself that I am not scared totally shitless. I am traveling to expand what I know, and how sure I am that I know it. I cannot hold on to who I was, because for that, I will always remain in the same place and be emotionally stunted. I should be feeling everything.

Not for myself, I worry about the repercussions that leaving had. I reached the conclusion last night that as far as I know, I am now the Other Woman. I am not dumb. I am not blind. And while I may not want to rock the boat and ask those questions, I can reach my own conclusions. Strangely, I felt better about this then I did when the roles in my mind were reversed. Perverse.

How horrendous is it that women will not stand up for what they want when they feel as if they’re stepping on someone else’s toes, or if we’re afraid of losing what we do have? Men, certainly, do not display this same characteristic. As I have noted, there seems to be a lot of having cake and eating it, too, in the men’s camp. And what are the women doing? Making those cakes.

Fucking stop baking and enabling. There is a place and a time to do nothing. You can play cool and wait it out, but only to a certain extent.

Doing nothing can be both good and bad. At home, doing nothing is no big deal. Burlington is Burlington. I’ve been there for awhile; I’m going to continue being there for awhile. I know what it is I like to do, and for the most part, I’ve done it all. I’ve settled into the sort of ambiguously lethargic relationship with the place that you have with something that you know will always be there. I can sleep the day away, wake up and sit in front of the TV or computer for the rest of the day, smoke myself silly, go back to bed, and rinse and repeat for days before I feel like I need to actually accomplish something. Here in Florence, temporarily (hopefully!) laid up by my knees that after years of cartilage wear from thousands of hours spent riding and galloping in two-point position and jumping decided to go on strike, limiting my amount of walking per day allowed, doing nothing is like wearing a hair shirt. It itches and irks me, knowing that there is a city out there that that Robin and I have already mapped out, but not yet explored, and it is only mine for a short amount of time. And I am sleeping until after noon so that my knees will hopefully let me get around Ultrarno before giving out again.

But there is a little-known side to the Audacity of Doing Nothing. It is the Beauty of Doing Nothing. Even just doing nothing here in Florence, making their strong café and going out onto the balcony to read and smoke a cigarette or two is better than doing nothing at home. Every night, I go out there and look over the city and clear sky at night, floodlights on main attractions, ancient chapels, churches, towers, and fortresses, full moon and familiar constellations, and am hit with the same overwhelming feeling: I am here. Even just doing nothing, I am existing here. And that alone makes it special.


Of Men, Women, And Italian Escapades, Part 2:

Sex and the Whole Wide World:

The difference between men here and at home is apparent immediately. They look different—more put together and fashionable, no plaid flannel. They smell different—cologne in scents so exotic and captivating I will find I am following, nose-first, a 50-something man down the sidewalk for another whiff of that—what is it? Armani? Dolce?—musky smell. Italians also look pointedly. If one is checking you out, you know it. There are no last-minute turns so you don’t see them doing it. They speak up. They are not afraid to be shot down, because to them, that is just a fact of life—shit happens. Sometimes pretty women aren’t interested. Sometimes they even tell you to go fuck yourself for the “Ciao, bella” you gave them. If this was a common practice in the U.S, I think men would be so eternally crushed from all the turn-downs that we would not really have men anymore. There is something to be said for machismo. I think I could fall for one of these dashing figures quite easily, but Italians seems to exhibit the same sort of “I love you today; tomorrow I forget about you and replace you” mentality that I can’t stand.

And here I was, thinking sex ruled my life. I am a neophyte compared to Italian men. It’s all about getting it, doing it, doing it again, and onto the next. Personal space does not exist. Your ass is public property. A concert or packed club is a great way to try to procreate with you through clothing. Condoms are sold right alongside the Band-Aids. Sex, it seems, goes hand-in-hand with the mundane moments in life, like scraped knees or paper-cuts.

The implications of sex here are also different. A look means an opening for conversation. Conversation usually leads to a phone number. Giving a man your phone number means to be prepared for numerous calls or text, or calls AND texts, a day. “I see you later?” “Where are you tonight?” “What are you doing, cara?” Italian men are as needy as neurotic American women. Bringing them home means third base, at least. Go home with them, and your roommates may be calling the carabinieri, reporting you missing, because they are an enchanting and captivating people. You may not want to leave. And when you do finally break free from the love nest, try getting rid of them. It takes WEEKS.

And yes, Italian is a romance language. One of the most beautiful phrases that I have found to say is downright explicit—“Voglio vederti venire.” “I want to see you come.”


Of Men, Women, And Italian Escapades: Part 1

Of Men and Women:
Battle of the Sexes:

For me, literature and love are similar. One can take the lessons of one and apply it to the other. When I am single, I turn to novels as companions and comforts, often while in bed. (Where is a better place to read, I ask you?) In my Fiction class last Wednesday, my professor was discussing how critics lose their ability to enjoy novels once they make them their occupation. “They forget what it means to become a passionate reader. They lose the sensuality of every word.”

We then compared and contrasted the views of two writers from the same time period: the ever-fresh Virginia Woolf, and Ezra Pound, who I will admit, is one of my favorite literary “manly men.”

Virginia Woolf champions the self, as I am struggling with in Florence. She sees literature as if it were the language of a lover, and instructs readers to take from it what they will, like in any relationship: “The only advice, indeed, that once person can give another…is to take no advice, to follow your own instincts, use your own reason, to come to your own conclusions. …After all, what laws can be laid down? The battle of Waterloo was certainly fought on a certain day; but is Hamlet a better play than Lear? Nobody can say. Each must decide that question for himself. …Everywhere else we may be bound by laws and conventions—there we have none. …An influence is created which tells upon them even if it never finds its way into print.”

Ezra Pound’s monologue could be applied almost word-for-word with men’s thoughts on lovers: “Until the reader knows the first two categories he will never be able ‘to see the wood for the trees’. He may know what he ‘likes’. He may be a complete ‘book-lover’…but he will never be able to sort out what he knows or to estimate the value of one in relation to others, and he will be more confused and even less able to make up his mind about [a new one].”

Pound’s observation in regards to Virginia’s showcases what I think is the classic battle between the sexes: women always assume we’ll know when something is right and real, where as men have to cancel out all their options until they’re left with the last one standing. It doesn’t bode well for romance.


Monday, February 8, 2010

Daughters, Students, Friends, Lovers.

All the men in my life are inordinately worried about me being over here. My father keeps telling me to “have fun” like I’m not already eating the best food of my life or working my way through a bottle of wine that I buy completely legally, free and clear, every other night. A favorite professor sent me a very comforting email about how the initial “initiation” phase in Italy can be very tough, but I’ll get through it, fine. Geoff, if he had had the time before I left, wanted to string together all the empty .38 shells from our afternoon at the shooting range and make a necklace for me so no one would fuck with me when I was out and about. Twanthony writes me wordy and hilariously, disturbingly violent weekly emails from home about what’s going on at work, who he wants to lay waste to and why, and to keep up with my adventures in his native land. Robin and the boys upstairs walk with me, even in broad daylight, right up to the front door, as if I could be whisked away somewhere in the 100 feet between the corner and front stoop. And after the first night I almost called you as I did it to have someone to walk me home over the phone from across the Atlantic, I re-thought it and realized I won’t dare tell you that I do the 20 minute walk home from my late-night class in the south end of the city to my apartment in the north end alone, because after the multitude of “be safe”s and “come back soon”s and the rest of the unspoken worry that nested somewhere between your guarded eyes and furrowed eyebrows, I would not put it past you to pitch an unholy fit and start developing the beginnings of an ulcer.

“Be safe” seems to be the rallying cry of all the important men in my life right now.

This is all I can say to you: I am fine. Stop worrying—not all the way, but enough to just know that I am enjoying myself here, and being as safe as I can be, and I will do all that I can to return myself back state-side in one piece, save for some liver damage from all the good vino and home-made liquor and about half a lung less than I started out with—both self-damaged and from the unavoidable second-hand smoke. The women here like me because I am up-front and assured while still being polite. The men, so far, are a little mystified at an American girl who looks them straight in the face and doesn’t play coy or seem to overly want their attention. Eh. They’re pretty, alright, a collectively beautiful people, but too clingy and a little too poetic for my tastes. “We be together tonight?” is not in my registered vocabulary at the moment. This is not to say I mind the occasional familiar heavy lean against me while seated, or hand on my hip or arm around my waist. These things are as reassuring and informally intimate as hearing an old friend’s voice, or a firm handshake. But I don’t have time for broken English or flowery Italian. Give me my American boys and an intelligent and fully comprehendible conversation, and call me a happy girl.

So. I’m being safe. I’m having fun. Short of saying “I would live here,” I hope it gets the point across. And rest assured, I worry just as much about you all being there, and me being here. I can’t wait to see you again.

There. Properly satisfied? Are we clear? Are you a little less nervous? A little more soothed that I am not running off with random Italian counts to their villas in Tuscany? (Though, I have not yet actually met a count. If I do, the game might change.)


Thursday, February 4, 2010

Lessons In And Out Of Foreign Classrooms

Love is an eternal theme. Everyone wants it. If you told me today that I would never find love, today is the day that I would stop eating and start smoking every waking hour until I died. The idea of love and of being in love is so all-encompassing that we find we still question it as much, I believe, as they did centuries ago, from the age of the great philosophers who raised the intelligent questions, to the Renaissance, to the Romantic era, to today. Still, we find ourselves questioning—what is love? How do we know, either what it is, or when you find it?

It is often said that women tend to be more preoccupied with these questions and concepts then men, but men are, after all, still human. In a study-abroad program predominantly populated by young women (90% female, to 10% male participants), I was amused and interested to see that my Renaissance Theory of Love class has four men in it, a tremendously large and concentrated number for our small classes (they make up a third of that particular class). It makes me wonder—to what extent are men preoccupied with these questions?

The mere fact that so many signed up and showed up for a class such as this points to the fact that we are quick, as the female population, to assume that men aren’t as interested in these ideas as we are, when in fact, we know jack shit about how they really feel. I would feel safe in hypothesizing that although women are the ones doing the actual talking and external and internal agonizing and gossiping about it, men are just as invested in the subject as we are. After all, it takes two to make a pair, doesn’t it? And if we go back to that central idea what “everyone wants it,” that “everyone” includes men, too.

I need to start thinking and investigating how men approach the concepts of love. I’m exceedingly excited to see where in this class the similarities and differences in thinking lie.

In Plato’s “Symposium,” he discusses, through dialogue (a clever trick to contrast conflicting or agreeing arguments), how three philosophers of his time approached the idea of Love. Phaedrus, apparently an eternal optimist, points out that Love tends to bring out the best in people. He argues (in more words) that if someone is close to their lover or the object of their love and affection, they tend to feel as if they must act to a higher standard because of the proximity of someone whom they want to impress.

I think we can all agree this tends to true. Acting deplorably is usually the quickest way to turn someone off and drive them away, whereas we try to be as charming and winning and generally lovable as we can be, at least in the beginning stages of any relationship, platonic or otherwise. However, when distance is introduced between two people, static between who we really are and who we are trying to be often occurs. There are two popular contrasting phrases about this—“Distance makes the heart grow fonder,” and “Out of sight; out of mind.”

I am hesitant to jump onboard of either of these. Thousands of miles away from everything and everyone I know, I am fearful of the change that one of these phrases suggests, and skeptical of the other, seemingly too romantic, one. If the idea that being near to someone means that you try your hardest to inspire to someone else’s expectations and desires while still remaining true to yourself, but as soon as distance or other blocks are introduced, you return to your base instincts and engage in all sorts of less desirable and different behavior, what does this mean for the hopes or desires of both parties? What does it mean, in essence, for your relationship with the other person?

I have seen and lived this idea in action, both on the offended and offending sides. It’s not pretty, but it’s human. People are people. We are not infallible; we all make mistakes. We all give in to temptation and what is easy and settle for something at one point or another. I realize this. It’s natural. It’s millions of years of evolution and survival of the fittest. It’s something we should have figured out by now and reached some sort of conclusion on.

This being said, I still struggle with the idea. Having been there, I can only tell you this for logic—though I may not have followed through in physical action every time does not make me any less guilty. In my mind, I had already committed the crime. In my weakness and loneliness and sheer boredom, I was willing to do the same in that same situation. Is it the same? Is that how you justified it? Can you justify it? Can we ever justify what we do by who we are, or who we are by what we do, or is there someone, like a companion or lover or friend, we have to hold ourselves accountable to? Do we need someone to strive for, or should we be able to do it on our own, for ourselves and for the idea of being someone better? Though I am supposedly in Italy to figure out who I really am in the first place and how to relate myself and my desires and emotions to others, I shy at this idea of having to justify myself to anyone else. I remember, clearly, vividly, going back to that specific moment, considering carefully my two options, wondering if I would have to explain myself. Wondering if I would have to confess; if I could be able to confess. In a world where we are so used to only thinking about ourselves, I realized my shortcomings at this moment in which I realized that I wanted to be accountable only to myself, the gentlest audience, and not anyone else who I might want to be better for. From this, I realized I am weaker than you may be. I realized that where I was willing to sweep my indisgressions under the carpet and ignore them and pretend they did not exist, that I was as normal and flawed as I really am, it is the bigger person who acknowledges these causalities and faces them and explains them.

As we explored this idea in class, I realized that though I should only be worrying about me right now, in this strange city full of strange strangers, grappling with the strangeness that is getting to know the me inside of me, instead, I am worried about other people.

Normally confident, Italy has already chipped away at one hastily-plastered over façade of mine, and I find myself facing the first challenge to grapple with: I am not as sure of anything as I think I am.

In the same dialogue, Plato introduces through Aristophanes an old myth—once, there were three genders: male, female, and man-woman. These creatures were made of two distinct people, joined together at the back—four arms, four legs upon which they walked upright, one head on one neck with two symmetrical faces, separate sex organs, but all similar characteristics. These creatures were, as people tend to be, rather power-hungry, and because of their extreme strength and joint cunning, the gods grew worried that they would try to overthrow them, as the giants and Titans did. So after much consideration, Zeus came up with what seemed to him to be a reasonable solution: to cleave them in two, down the middle, severing their strength and capabilities by half. If they were still too much to handle after this, he was prepared to again sever them, rendering them to hopping beings with one leg and one arm.

The gods were shocked to find that after the cleaving, the formerly joined pairs clung together, and refused to eat or sleep or do anything of use, so grieved they were to be separated from each other, until one of them or both of them eventually died. If one of a pair died, the other would then go wandering, searching for a like half—if the creature had been originally man/man, they searched for another man. Women/women halves searched for another woman, and man/woman survivors searched for their other opposite gender half until they found that lost half that they then joined with, as closely as they could without being one entity anymore—two people, retaining their autonomy and independence, while still being part of a fully-functional couple. The ideal relationship.

Not only does this myth quite neatly sum up the idea that no matter what shape or form it comes in (heterosexual or homosexual or anything in between), Love is the same idea, it also brings us another popular phrase, explained. Your “other half.” The idea that someone, somewhere, will fit you as surely as if you were split down the middle from the same original form and sent on your separate ways until you find one another. That, I believe, is what Love really is. As a friend of mine once said, it is finding someone “who fills a part of you you never knew was empty before.”

“What’s it like to find someone who you can be comfortable with?” another friend of mine once asked.

“It’s using their same toothpaste and smoking their cigarettes,” I told her before even stopping to think about formulating an answer that actually makes sense. “It’s how one person can say to you, ‘We need to do this,’ and when you ask why, they give you 15 different answers, and not a single one makes sense, but when the right person says ‘We need to do this,’ and you ask them why, they give you one answer, and that’s the answer that makes sense to you, too. It’s finding someone who says out-loud to you what that little voice in your head is always telling you, but you don’t actually believe until you hear them say it.”

And that, also, it what makes us human, and makes up for out inherent weaknesses—the idea that we can, and would want to, somehow actually change and become a more solid person, for someone other than ourself.


I’m finding my Pairing Food and Wine class to be an allegory for life: To be good at tasting, you have to have to have done lots of other eating and drinking and smelling and exploring. It’s important to have lived a full and diverse life before you try to put any of it to practical use. You must be wildly impractical and experimental and daring before you can start to build any sort of solid foundation that you would stake any sort of basis on. You must, through trial and error, find what works, and what does not. You must have someone first show you clearly what you are looking for or working to find, and then you must go after it with nearly suicidal tenacity until you find that you can realize it for yourself, by yourself. As my professor in this class, Giancarlo Russo, said, “Drinking is to do without thinking. To truly taste, you need to concentrate fully for at least one or two minutes on nothing else.”

This is what I am doing in Italy. I am eating and drinking and smelling and exploring, and concentrating fully on myself for three months. Like the wine we drink in that class, I am aging. I am tasting, and learning to trust my instincts and speak my mind, even if I am afraid that I am confusing the smell of white berries for that of pineapple, like I am finding the subtle nuances that I never knew existed within myself in the hopes that by the time I return to what it is I do know, I will know more about myself and where and how I fit in, or how I want or need to fit.


The lines between reality and fiction are easily blended, especially for a writer. The fine point between the two was raised in my first Women in 20th Century Fiction class, and how we define “reality.”

It’s a tricky little question. One is tempted to say that reality is the action and experiences that one goes through in daily life; the world we live in. However, reality is different for every single person. You may share the same experience with someone, but the reality of the situation is interpreted differently by all involved. The interpretation tends to become the reality for someone, itself, which, I can tell you, is a Gemini’s curse. To a greater or lesser extent, we all tend to believe what we want out of a situation, and rely heavily on that belief to guide our thoughts or actions in regards to it. Reality, then, becomes the extents of what we think is possible.

Without the concept of “reality” like a rigid framework or cage around us, so much more would be possible—you would not have the previous concept or opinion that something is not “feasible”—that it is up to you to bend and stretch the frame of reality for yourself and see what you can actually accomplish if you don’t worry about where other people have failed before and staked the signpost of “impossible—it can’t or shouldn’t be done.” No one is an exception or a rule—we are all blissfully individual and unique, with different strengths, talents, fortes, and ambitions. Someone with less perseverance may have not been able to accomplish something, but if you have more fortitude, tenacity, cunning craftiness, or just sheer bull-headed stubbornness, you may blow away all previous expectations. As my professor said, “Words change the meaning of the world.” Your own definition of reality may shatter someone else’s.


“Sex” and the “College Girl”:

Oxford Dictionary’s definition of “sex”: “Condition of being male or female; gender. // Sexual intercourse.”

As you may have noted by now, the title of this blog is “Sex and the College Girl.” Not only is this a titillating marketing mechanism, as I’m sure some of you characters who stumbled your way here typing like-minded words into a search engine in aims of finding something quite different, but it also is almost stupidly apparent in its meaning of what the purpose of this blog is. On one hand, yes, I am a college girl, and yes, I do occasionally discuss sex and similar themes. But the other point to this blog is that I am exploring topics from the point of view of a specific gender—the condition of being a female college student and how my gender and station in life affects the situations I find myself in or explore. It’s an interesting little double-edged sword—cerebral one minute, smutty the next. I love the duality of it.