Reality Bites

Yesterday, my entire world shifted as the ground fell from beneath my feet. Suddenly the reality of my decision to move overseas was all too real. Pride would not let me admit that I was petrified. Tears filled my eyes as I sudden saw my friends as irreplaceable. Even more shocking is what can only be described as a moment of insanity; I collapsed into a blubbering mess at the thought of leaving my biologically family behind.  In the moment they seemed for a lack of a better word “perfect”. The fact that for that brief moment I actually consider my overly dramatic family; who can be a source of annoyance to the point that I have questioned my belief in a  higher power, as the most perfect family in the world was trippy. This feeling of familial love was enough for me to realize that my life is changing for real.

Sure growing up I idolized Hemingway. I longed to sit al fresco at a cafe in some foreign country observing life will sipping wine. Naturally, this Brooklyn girl figured that if I could survive a ride on the NYC subway at night how dangerous can any country be? Now on the heel of my next big adventure a nocturnal subway ride seems like a cake walk compared to walking the streets of Europe. At least I know the language of Brooklyn a simple F-word followed by a “one figure salute” is the equivalent of saying, “I love you too buddy!”

How do you curse in Italian? I’m serious. What’s the equivalent of the F-word in Italian? Like most Americans I think everything sounds slightly sexy when said in a foreign language.

I know exactly one person in Italy and well he’s a pain in the ass. So, my current status at the moment is that once I reach Italy I will be homeless, lonely and scared but I am a New Yorker to the heart and that has to count for something.

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Next Steps

Cove in Sicily

Cove in Sicily

Ciao ferragosto. Benvenuto Septembre.  Now is the time to get down to business. After living outside the U.S. for the last two years life as an expat is not easy.  Things that use to be a given such as pension, insurance, investments become increasingly important.  At this moment adulthood is knocking right now increasing my monthly salary while still maintaining a work-life balance is the goal right now.

There is no point living in one of the most stunning cities in the world if I cannot enjoy where I live.  To continue to live in Italy, being an adult and doing what is necessary to be successful is non-negotiable.  The genesis for this epiphany comes from a night out with friends.  We went to a vegetarian restaurant called, “Quinoa”.  Funny enough when I first moved here I couldn’t find quinoa is the supermarket. Finding quinoa is still an issue except at the health food store which means higher cost.  What’s the connection between quinoa, drinks with friends and life as an expat?

Church clock in Palermo

Church clock in Palermo

In a word the correlation is ‘everything’. It has taken this long for me to start becoming more settled here.  Not settled in the sense that there are no more surprises left.  Settled in terms of feeling a sense of belonging.  Streets, people, sounds have a familiarity to them.  I haven’t felt this way since Los Angeles.  Getting use to West Coast took some time so it is no surprise that only now does Florence feels comfortable.  When I move around town I do so with a confidence of belonging. I belong to Florence and Florence belongs to me.  To do this expat life means having to be build a foundation.

Strada di Firenze

Strada di Firenze

 Normally I would be nervous regarding facing such a daunting task. My not be able to say that I am 100% confident is not a problem because I can say that I am 100% excited. Viva Firenze!

 

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The Accidental Photog

Portovenere

Portovenere

This weekend I traveled to Portovenere a stunning coastal city considered by many to be a part of the Italian Riviera.  This Sunday was the Festivia’della Madonna Bianca (The festival of the White Madonna) in Portovenere.  I started my journey as I always do checking the best ways to get to my destination. Depending on the where this could mean a bus, train, plan or a combination of all the above. Fortunately, my journey only required a train and a bus.  Travel always requires flexibility.   I have a portable charger for my cell phone, my camera, an extra pair of shoes in the event that I go to a restaurant that doesn’t allow sneakers.  I have a make-up zip-lock bag that contain a very little make-up, a tooth brush, toothpaste and mouth wash.  I am ready to go.

The view from Le Bocce resturant

The view from Le Bocce resturant

To be an expat means you have to let go of the idea that life is predictable. Case and point I had arranged to teach a student for two hours before setting off for Portvenere. Upon arrival at the train station I discover no trains are heading to Pisa directly which is the train I need to meet my student.  I take a train that is heading in Pisa’s direction.  As my train zips past the train station where I am supposed to get off, I have to call my student and push my lesson to another day.  So, bonus for me I will arrive at my destination earlier than I thought. A train switch, a bus ride after a quick stop at my hotel, three and half hours later I am in Portovenere.  Portovenere is gorgeous.  The boats, the people  and the festive atmosphere is priceless.  Snapping a few quick picks as I make a straight beeline for lunch.  I am starving but I have a strategy.  Eat a heavier than usual lunch because I am here for the Festivia’della Madonna Bianca and I want to stakeout my spot.  After attending last year’s Palio in Siena I learned my lesson to arrive early sightsee then pick the best spot for taking picture and stay put.

Firori del madonna bianca

Firori del madonna bianca

Walking along the streets of Portvenere is like escaping to another place and time when things where more rustic in the very best way. Camera in hand I start snapping away not sure what story my pictures will tell until I arrive home some 35+ hours later. While sightseeing I discover my spot for snapping pictures of the festivals procession. A full tummy means I won’t be distracted by hunger.  A stop to the restroom speaks for itself. All that is left is to wait. Now Italy in August is like living in a oven with the lights on.  The sun is beating down with afury.  A hat is necessary if I am going to last long enough to get my pictures. I head back downhill which is very steep. May I add that I am terrified of heights. I buy a hat while I pondering if I should get something to eat or drink. Deciding against this idea as a bathroom break is a logistical nightmare as I am somewhat high on a hill and the walk to a bathroom would necessitate navigating a crowd of thousands and losing my precious spot. So I wait.

Bakery in Portovenere

Bakery in Portovenere

As the sun begins to set the crowd begins to gather as do other photogs all with fair more serious cameras than my Fuji camera. Not one for intimidation I side-eye a photog eyeing my spot.  Folding my arms across my chest I give the international symbol for back off buddy this spot’s taken.  Reminiscent of a sentinel I stay glued to my spot not to be swayed by hyper active children and their over indulgent parents.  Impassive I stay put as I am asked to snap a picture of French tourists who complain that I did not do a good enough job. The French. What can you do?

The sun has gone down and I snap away. I play with the setting on my camera.  Flash on then flash off continuing to snap away not know what I will have at the end of the night. This is Italy so nothing starts on time so long stretches of nothing. Tired and wanting a cool glass of wine I am tempted to call it a night and head back to the hotel and get my wine. But like Karl Rove’s election prediction I double down that the best is yet to come. Snapping away I try to look serious while my fellow photogs adjust their light meters and tripods of which I have none. Finally the end has come the festival procession is over.  I can go back and get my wine.  The return to the hotel was nothing short of hysterical.  It involves a human traffic jam to get to the bus stop. Being thrown off the first bus along with everyone else. Joining a human cue that was organized by Elmer Fudd. Jumping on the next  bus and being packed in like a sardine hoping that whatever is touching my bum is something inanimate like a bag and not a dudes crotch. Yes that is a thing here. By means of my GPS I navigate the 2 minute walk back to my hotel only to crash from complete exhaustion.  But, all in all I got my pics. 

Procession by torch light

Procession by torch light

On to the next journey, La dolce vita, “The sweet life”, I am the accidental photog.

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Being A Hustling Expat Gets You Everywhere

Every day I hear horror stories from fellow expats about what wrong with Italy.  If I had a euro for every time someone complained that things here are backwards I could stop working.  To be fair Italy has its problems.  The bureaucracy here is the stuff of legends which most if not every Italian complain on the subject of how nothing is ever clear when it comes to government.  Show me a country that is perfect and I will show you a dictatorship.  Success no matter the geographic location is determined by your perfection of the art of the hustle.

lesson time

Business lesson at Mercedes Benz

Let’s first define “hustle” which means doing what is necessary to make money. If you are a native New Yorker akin to myself then you understand that ‘hustle’ is the very air we breathe and is required for life sustaining purposes.   Having lived in six states in the US and three different countries the most common thread for success has been focused hustle.  Scouting out a new location is a luxury but researching a new location is mandatory.  Before any move I hit up the internet, friends, family and anyone who is willing to share information.

Summer class Ostia

Summer Program Ostia

The next step is making a plan of action.  I plan out as much detail as possible for example, housing cost, transportation options, employment, and food cost etc.  Once the plan is laid out then step is taking action.  Taking action can be tricky in that it may call for learning a new skill or refreshing an old one.  Once I decided to leave the US for Italy my research told me that teaching English was going to be my best bet for steady employment.  What’s more my research said that having a TEFL certification is required.  So I made the best economic investment I could afford at the time. Despite having a B.A. and an M.B. A I paid to get a TEFL certification.  May I say it was the best investment in the long term that I made.  While most school do not have need of or care in relation to this certification my certification still sets me apart from my competition and keeps me increasingly employed.

Castle San Angelo

Castle San Angelo

 Flexibility is the make or break element of the hustle game.  This was something I had to learn by falling on my ass repeatedly.  Nothing in life goes faithfully to the way you plan and if it does then some type of variation of major force majeure is on the way.  When I moved here in August two years ago, I had no idea that the entire country shuts down for entirety of August.   I fully expect to hit the pavement and have a job within two weeks of my arrival.  I had done it in every city I had ever moved to in the past.  Determined I keep sending out my resume only to be told “mi dispiace…chiamata in Septembre” (I’m sorry…call in September).  After my arrhythmia subsided I had to refocus on finding a place to live long term that I could afford on non budget.  Furthermore I had an opportunity to learn my new hood which is how I discovered that August is the best time to explore and learn the environment.

Be bold.  Making any change in your life necessitate the kind of courage that make mice of men and kings of paupers.  Be fearless.  The worst that can happen is that you have a great drink story to tell with reference to that time.  May I offer one humble suggestion which is to have fun.  Laughter and smiles can cure just about everything. Despite the challenges and the constant hustle I have had fun.

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Ferragosto

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Mueso

It is officially holiday season in Italy. The entire of Italy has escape to the seaside and only the tourists are running around the cities. For me at present now is the best time of the year for me to explore the city. This is the time of the year I can move around the city and find the best restaurants, shops and neighborhoods. Let me be unambiguous every single one these places are closed but during my hectic work schedule I have zero time to explore.

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Tower of Pisa

So for the past two weeks I have been searching, googling, walking and explore Florence. Now I have a laundry list of places to shop, relax, see, eat, enjoy during the normal months when everyone is back and things are back to normal. During this time I am sans schedule. I get up whenever I even manage to get a nap in during the middle of the day. For me this inspiration is what the Italians call living ‘La Vida Dolce’ (‘the sweet life’). Each day is about trips to Pisa, the seaside, wine country and everywhere in between is how I will be spending the rest of ferragosto.

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Pranzo

There is something magical about exploring a city such as Firenze (Florence) during this time of year. Gone are the families with the screaming kids. During the day my neighbors are not around playing loud music. The streets are empty beyond the center. Sitting in the park you can enjoy the smell of fresh cut grass. Possibly read a book that has been sitting on the shelf collecting dust.   Time is measured differently. Hell even talking to my mother via skype is a tad less painful. This is a gorgeous time to let my inner adventurer out to play.   In September it back to reality but until then now is my time to live life under the Tuscan sun.

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Love Is A Splendid Thing

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Ponte Vechccio

It’s before noon on a Sunday and Firenze is quiet. This is my favorite time to explore my new home. The tourists are sleeping off whatever they were doing the night before. Italians don’t venture out this early so I have the city to myself. I love Firenze when it’s like this…peaceful.

My Sunday stroll has no purpose or direction. The goal is to first get lost then discover all that I can see. Firenze is a beautiful city. The river is always busy with birds or rowers. The ancient buildings remind me of a time long ago in the days of Alexander Dumas. The Count of Monte Cristo tDSCF1226akes place in Venice but look at these pictures. Can’t you see the Count running after Danglar seeking revenge.

When I watch movies I often laugh at the way they depict New York City or Los Angeles. The scenery is too clean. Very seldom do filmmakers capture the gritty essence of the cities. It’s the imperfections that make NYC the city that never sleeps. You walk through the Village or Hell’s Kitchen or the Meat Packing district and right away you understand what attracts people to NYC. You can stand anywhere in NYC and see the world pass you by. Rich, poor, young, old, freaks and the fashionable all in one place. NYC is physically a small city but living there you feel that NYC is larger than the biggest city in the world.

LA my second home or my brother from another mother is a different beast all together. LA is pure fantasy. Living in LA is like living as if you are bipolar. Life in LA is living in a constant state of extremes. By day you are hustling at whatever day gig gets the bills paid. At night you’re doing a quick costume change while speeding down the I-10 freeway just so you can walk the red carpet. Inside the hotDSCF1215 spot of the moment you’re listening to whatever celebrity of the moment talk nonsense. Meanwhile you are sipping your martini bobbing your head to the beat of the music thinking wow this guy is way shorter than he looks in the movies. I won’t even get into the time I went to an industry party in the Hollywood Hills where my friend steps outside to talk to some actor, director or someone.  Inside someone’s mansion I am on the dance floor shaking my money maker when my friend walks up to me soaking wet and starts dancing. So I say, “dude?!” He explains that he just fell into the pool ruining his brand new $600 cell phone.   Then he explains the beat is hot so let’s dance. He wasn’t wrong the music was good, so we continued dancing till dawn.

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Ajisai

Firenze is something different. Here I am inspired to be creative in everything I do. I am always at the market shopping for fresh food for new recipes for www.Gastronomer.co. At this point the local wine shop knows me well enough. I say what I am cooking and they make suggestions. Finding a Giaponese (Japanese) shop I have my name written in hiragana. Choosing my walking direction is based on which street seems the most peaceful. Living here means trading the parking hassles of NYC and LA for a place that defines parking hassles in a different way. Even doors in Firenze have an artisanal touch. Here my happiness is defined by the simple beauty of a city that sleeps. I love my new city….DSCF1220

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Dawn of Something New

Every now and again you have to say what the hell and see what’s to come around the corner.  As with all things I am fine-tuning my life to make things better and arrange myself for the long game.  I recently reorganized my apartment room by room.  This is not my strong suit as I have no decorative sensibilities.   Arts & crafts are not my thing I’m a William and Sonoma girl.  The changes that I made give to my apartment makes the space seem less cluttered which is important to me as I like space.   A minimalist at heart, the idea of too many things irritates me.

But this aimless ramble is getting us nowhere so let me get to the point.  Change makes me nervous for one reason and one reason alone. I lack any control over the end result.  I am long past the time in my life where I believe that life is reasonable.  Working hard which includes seizing opportunities when possible is how I live.  As long as I can reside with myself by not harming others I am okay with the life’s  up and downs.  Change throws a monkey wrench into the mix of things.  It is like going to Vegas and expecting to beat the house. It could happen, but it’s more likely you will end broke and homeless wondering how it all went wrong.  Am I being dramatic, in a word “Yes.”

Drama is good sometimes it a way to take yourself sincerely enough that when you repeat the story to friends they will laugh at you and bring you back down to earth.  This summer is my moment of change when I switch from the short game of purely existing to the long game of building a foundation.  It means that I am prepared to want it.  To want is to put your heart and soul into something.  You risk getting hurt when you want.  ‘Hurt’ whether physical or emotion is never pleasurable.  ‘Hurt’ makes everything that I am doing more authentic.  At this moment I have something to lose and I don’t like to lose.

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Florentine Summer

In a little more than a week I will be on vacation till September.  I am in fact looking forward to the time off.  My other blog Gastronomer.co needs more love.  My time spent in the kitchen cooking as well manning the grill will be fun.  Again and again my inner nerd manifests its self.  Cooking is my nerd pursuit.  

More to the point in a little over a week I can turn off every single one my alarms and reminders for a while and just take life moment to moment.  No schedules, agendas, meetings or clients it will be just me recipes, farmer markets, gardens and wineries.  Long flowing dress and sandals will be my daily uniform.  Jogs through the park along the river will be how I get my days started in the right way. No plans just living.

The idea for blogging was given to me by a colleague to whom I will be forever appreciative.   Through ‘In the footsteps of Hemingway’ and ‘Gastronomer.co’  my voice has been found and with my voice my true self.  These are outlets to be imaginative and an outlet to be honest in short to be my true self without fear, shame or doubt.  Once is something is out there you are out there and you cannot retreat backwards.  Twitter has long since been a no man’s land for me.  Oft I’ve said that I have nothing to say worth 140 characters.  While I still believe that to be true.  Cooking elegant food on a modest teacher’s budget is worth 140 characters.  Me, myself and I are not 140 characters worthy but food and wine is wholly worth speaking about.  I am even thinking of starting a Pineterest.

The rain has started. As you can see from the picture above the clouds have gathered and akin to the people of Italy here when the heavens open up to unleash its worse.  The tempest lasts for no more than for a moment when in an instant the sun is shining as if it were there the entire time.   The lone evidence of the passing tempest is your soggy clothes drying in haste under the Tuscan sun. But I digress. Back to the kitchen I go….

Thumbtack

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