Friday, August 31, 2007


I have been wanting to write this blog for a while now. Everyday that I spend in Italy, and spend with Paolo makes me focus more and more on language. In all of the other countries that I went to, although none spoke English as a first language except in London, I was never immersed in the culture enough to start to really try to understand the language. Here it is different, especially being in the south. In Rome, Florence or even Viareggio, I could get by with English relatively easily because they are all popular tourist destinations. In Salento, it is a different story. Although this region is probably one of the most beautiful in all of Italy, it is not a big tourist destination for people outside of Italy. Mainly because the towns are spread apart, and there is no public transportation. So you really need a car to get around here, unless you plan on staying in one little town (or Lecce--which has a population of about 100,000) the entire time.

Sometimes I feel bad, because we are staying at his parents house (they are living at their house near the sea right now) and we spend very little time with them. And the main reason for this is because I can't talk to them. It's really uncomfortable in this particular situation, when you really want to make a good impression, and you cannot have a conversation. So, I can see his mom making assumptions about me--the crazy American girl who takes off around the world by herself...and me about her--the typical Italian mom who wants a woman who will treat her son exactly the same way she does...when in reality, neither is probably the case. But since we can't talk to each other, we will continue to conjure up our own ideas about one least until I learn to speak Italian. I do my best to smile a lot, to help clear the dishes from the table, to offer to help with anything. And Paolo does as much translating as he can, but, until we speak the same language it will be difficult.

The same goes for social interactions. Paolo has a ton of friends, so often we are in a group of people where there might be one other person who speaks English, or a few with limited (very limited) English. I do my best to try to understand the conversations, but they talk so quickly(or at a normal pace, which to me seems like lightening speed.) Slowly I am learning more and more words and phrases, but for the most part, I am completely lost. Again, Paolo does his best to translate...but it's hard for him sometimes because it stops the normal flow of a conversation, and I don't want him to always have to stop what he's talking about to explain it to me.

What's weird is the physical toll it takes on you. By the end of each day, I am exhausted. And I often have a headache. I think it is because my brain never has any quiet time. I am always trying to understand--Paolo, his friends, the radio in the car, billboards, street signs, the TV...even when I zone out, I am still subconsciously taking it all in. Anyone that has lived in another country and learned another language can probably understand what I am talking about--it is a really strange sensation.

When we first got to Morocco, Paolo was having a lot of headaches too, and it was likely because he was only speaking in English, all day every day. And it took a few days for his brain to adjust to it. He's so cute, he tries really hard...and sometimes it is so funny. There are many words in Italian that are very similar to English, so if Paolo doesn't know the word in English, he will say the Italian word but try to Americanize it, in hopes that it's close. We call these "Paolo words" and I could probably write a dictionary of them. And sometimes he learns a new words, but can't recall them perfectly the next time, but he still tries...these are my favorite, and usually I can't help but laugh. A couple that I am particularly fond of are "nerb" (nerd) and "groge" (gross). He sometimes uses "is" and "are" the wrong way, and still has a major problem with "him/her and he/she". But what is interesting is most Italians that speak English have the same problem (at least the ones I have spoken to). He often leaves out the little words (important little words) like "to" and "of" and forgetting the "n't" that turns "can" into "can't". So a normal Paolo sentence might sound like this..."You say me that you can go in the sea because your finger hurts." What he means is "You told me that you can't go in the sea because your toe hurts." (toes in Italian translate directly to "fingers of the feet", so this is why he forgets and calls them fingers). The words "say, told, call, talk" are all synonymous to him. And the can/can't thing can pose a problem, because it changes the sentence to have the exact opposite I always make sure to clarify.

There are things about our language that I've also never thought we use the phrase "take a shower". To Paolo, this makes no sense..."but Maggie, WHERE are you going to take the shower?" The same goes for "taking a walk." In Italian, the direct translation would be "to do a shower." Which to us, sounds really weird. We also say "It drives me crazy" and as you can imagine, it makes no sense to someone who knows the word "drive" to mean either driving a car, or to have determination. And, I've learned that in English we have a word to describe EVERYTHING. In Italian they have a zillion more verb tenses than we do, but we have more adjectives than all other languages combined. For instance--cute, pretty, beautiful, stunning, georgous, nice looking, hot--all basically mean the same thing. In Italian they keep it simple...Bellisimo!

Despite all of the things Paolo still has to learn, he is obviously leaps and bounds ahead of me. And I try to tell him everyday how much I appreciate him talking in my language because I know it is equally exhausting for him. And for all the times I have laughed at a "Paolo word" I know he is waiting patiently for me to start learning Italian...

Which is what I am going to try to do. There is a class at Upper Arlington High School on Thursday nights, that I am going to take (and maybe try to get my parents to take it with me). And in January, I am thinking about coming back to Italy for a few months and living in a small town called Otranto where there is an Italian school that has very intensive courses. I don't think you can truly learn a language unless you are living in a country in which it is spoken--because if you aren't around people who speak it, how will you practice?

Paolo's family has a condo on the sea in Otranto, which will not be occupied throughout the winter, so it would make my living expenses really cheap. And being in the south for an extended period of time would leave me no choice but to speak Italian. The school I am look into into is

Paolo is also going to try to spend some time in the US in the fall, to hopefully pick up some more English...and to meet my friends and parents, and see how I live...

My trip is almost over, but I feel like I have more to look forward to now. I have some hard things to take care of when I get home...but I am really looking forward to seeing my parents, friends (and their new babies!)...and thundercat!

I don't think I can write a reflections blog until I get home, and it sinks in that I am finished with this life altering trip...but I will try to squeeze out a couple more before that.

But, now I must "take a boat ride" with Paolo and his friends for the afternoon...

Sunday, August 26, 2007

My big fat Italian wedding

Not MY big fat wedding, but the first Italian wedding that I attended...

It was yesterday, and it began at 10AM. It ended at 9PM. Yes, 11 hours of wedding bliss. Paolo's cousin Lulu warned me that it was going to be that long, but I thought she was joking. The wedding was beautiful, the bride was beautiful and she and the groom were so happy. (Incidentally, in Italy they do not have words for "Bride" and Groom"--they use "Sposa and Sposo--or plural, Sposi") therefor they do not know what the significance of "Here comes the bride" is, which might be why they played it at the end of the wedding...

Before the wedding, everyone gathered outside the bride's house, and the groom is already at the church. (It was in a really little town) The bride walks out of her house, everyone cheers, and then follows her to the church. The townspeople were gathered on the street to see the bride. The people invited to the wedding enter the church before the bride and from there it is pretty similar to wedding ceremonies in the US.

Anyway, the wedding was Catholic, and what I would consider standard for a Catholic wedding. Actually, maybe shorter than Catholic weddings in the US, because only the bride, groom, wedding party and parents received communion instead of all of the people at the church. After the wedding, everyone waits outside for them and throws rice, and in this case, the bride, groom and wedding party (two men and two women) ride away from the church on white Vespas with balloons on them--very cute.

The wedding started at about 10:45 (Italian time is pretty relaxed...) and ended close to noon. We went straight to the reception place, and arrived there about 12:30...and sat there, in the sun, with no food until the bride and groom showed up at 2:30. The good thing was that Paolo got to see a lot of his high school friends that he had not seen for a while, so it wasn't just him and I waiting by ourselves. The couple that got married were in his class in high school-- and when I say "class" I mean it literally, like classroom. In Italy, in high school, you stay in one classroom with the same people all day, for all 5 years, and the teachers move from room to room, so needless to say, you become pretty close the the people in your class.

We were starving by that time because we had only had tea and some cookies for breakfast. But need not fear, this is an Italian wedding, and there is never a shortage of food, in fact, the food is the reason I decided to write this blog.

We began with antipasti, or what we consider appetizers. This was not a buffet, it was all served to the tables. The first round of antipasti consisted of: little fried crab puff things, another fried ball of meat and olives, two types of ham, sausages in little croissants, some type of potato quiche thing, and cheese plates. Then we took a break. The next round of antipasti was all seafood. Calamari salad (raw), octopus (raw), octopus in tomato sauce, baby fried squid, and clams with some type of cheese and breadcrumbs. Then we took a break. (And by this time I was full) then came the "first plate" which is generally pasta. The pasta was a pasta that is specific to this region (kind of in the shape of ears) with some type of meat, and tomato sauce. Then we took a break. Then came the salad, and the first of TWO "second plates". This was the seafood second plate and had some kind of whitefish in a sauce and giant prawns. Then we took a break. We were then served lemon sorbet to clean our pallets to prepare for the second, second plate, which was beef and french fries. After the beef and french fries we took another break, and returned to find that the fruit had been served--pineapple, grapes and melon.

In between each course, we would usually go outside because the reception place was pretty hot (it is August in the south of Italy, after all). So you add the heat to the amount of food, and people were basically ready to sleep on the tables. In between each course, there would also be some wedding-y type of thing, like thank yous to all of the people who helped, a poem, pictures with the bride and groom, etc. After the fruit, came the bouquet and garter toss. I of course, had to go and stand in the group for the bouquet toss, and you can bet I was in the very back making zero effort to fight for that thing...a tall girl in the front caught it. The guys were funny about the garter--the first time she (the bride) went to throw it they all ducked. The second time, they all jumped to the sides away from it...but, it still happened to touch one guy. Can you guess who that was? Yeah, Paolo. Of course.

There was a little dancing (some traditional dancing called "pizzica" and then a few slow songs) Then it was time for the cake--which was HUGE. So they cut the cake, we had one more thing to eat that night (you HAVE to eat at least a bite of cake at a wedding, or its bad luck, right?) And it was time to give gifts to the couple and say goodbye. 11 hours later. We literally ate for 6 hours straight.

Paolo's friends were all so sweet to me, even though most of them do not speak any English. His really close friend, Daniela, can speak English perfectly, so it was great to have her around. My brain hurt by the time we were getting ready to leave from taking in some much Italian--language and culture. And I was exhausted. Everyone was. It was a very long day...but no one left hungry, and the newlyweds were very, very happy...which is the most important part.

Monday, August 20, 2007

Spagna, Italia, e NO Ghana

For some reason lately I haven't been in much of a blogging mood. I think truthfully, it has to do with the fact that there is not a lot going on--travel wise...personally, that is another story.

Paolo and I left Asilah for Tangier on August 8, and then went to Barcelona on the 9th. Our last day in Asilah we took a horse ride (the horse pulled us on a flat wooden cart) to a beach called Paradise Beach. It took about a hour to get to, and by the time we arrived we could barely walk because our butts hurt so badly, but it was definitely an experience and that is what its all about, right? The beach was beautiful--huge, with cliffs and caves and waves to play in. We took the horse back to town, and during our stay at the beach apparently the horse ate something that did not agree with it's stomach. This was very unfortunate for me because I was sitting directly behind it all the way back. Every few minutes I would get a major toxic blast straight to my face. I couldn't move because the cart was full of people. I was green and ready to pass out, Paolo on the other hand thought this was hysterical...

We took a taxi to Tangier (only cost us 20 euro) and got extremely lost trying to find out hotel (the taxi dropped us off outside the medina, because some of it is only foot traffic). Finally an un-official "guide" led us there, after about an hour of different (wrong) directions from all kinds of people. The guide tried to demand 10 euro for his services, we gave him 2, and the hotel manager shooed him away. The hotel in Tangier was hands down the nicest hotel I have stayed in on this trip. It was located in the medina (the old part of the city) and was decorated with beautiful authentic Moroccan motif. I'll post pictures soon, so you can see this place. It was wonderful. We met a nice Canadian couple and had mint tea with them on the rooftop that night. From one side of the roof you could look over the port to Spain, and from the other side you could see the entire medina which was lit up beautifully at night. We did not eat dinner there but we heard the food was great, and the man that ran the place was super nice. If you ever find yourself in Tangier for any reason, I highly recommend Hotel Dar Jameel.

We had to get up at 3am for our flight to Barcelona. We arrived to our hotel at about 11am and slept for a few hours. It was nice because the place had a kitchen, so we could cook, keep water/drinks cold, have snacks, etc. It saved us some money to not have to eat out ever night. And, Paolo discovered an American delicacy that he is now addicted to--grilled ham and cheese sandwiches. He thought I was quite the chef and wants me to teach his mom and sister how to make this fancy foreign dish...

This part of the trip included a TON of touristy things. I think Paolo and I walked 100 miles while we were in Barcelona. And I think Paolo ate 100 lbs of Paella and drank 100 gallons of Sangria...the city probably went on a Paella shortage after we left. The first night we went to a nice (kinda expensive) restaurant and walked around Placa de Cataluna and La Rambla. The next day we decided to start with a bus tour. I recommend doing this in most large European cities. You get an idea of how the city is laid out, and you go by a lot of the important sites. You can decide from the bus where you would like to spend time. And with most of them, you can get of at any stop, walk around, take a tour, whatever, and another bus will be there for you to hop on when you are done and you can finish your bus tour. That day we took a tour of FC Barcelona's enormous soccer stadium and museum. It was really cool, it was about the size of OSU's football stadium and equally as impressive. We walked through the locker rooms, the press seats, and down on to the field. I handled it better than I thought I would, but it did stir up some tough emotions. But, I think putting myself in situations like that and learning to detach the past from things I experience now is good for me. (For those of you who haven't figured it out, Leslie played soccer professionally so that is why being in a soccer stadium was strange...same with going to the soccer match in Stockholm...). Paolo loved it. Italy and Spain have arguably the best soccer leagues in the world, so naturally he is a huge soccer fan. We were hoping there was going to be an exhibition game of some sort while we were there (The European season has not yet started) but no such luck. Had we been there this week, Barcelona is playing Inter Milan--which would have been a great game. After that, we walked down by the port, and through La Ramblas, stopping to watch some of the best breakdancers I've ever seen. It was a group of about 10 guys, all from different countries. 4 or 5 of them introduced themselves and the other dancers, and none of them spoke in their native languages to do so. It was really impressive. And they weren't just from Europe--there were 2 Americans, a Russian guy and an African guy. Very cool. We at dinner on La Ramblas that night and it was pretty bad. Over priced and not good food. Disappointing. The next few days are all jumbled in my head, but they consist of lots of walking, lots of Paella, a tram ride over the port, a couple of tours, lots of Gaudi and a Flamenco show.

I really knew nothing about Antoni Gaudi until I got to Barcelona and now I cannot get enough. He is probably the most famous artist of the modernistic movement. We went into one of the houses he designed, and I felt like I was in a real live Dr. Seuss book. It was amazing. He was a brilliant architect and artist, and he has left his mark all over Barcelona. La Sagrada Familia, Park Guell, and Casa Batlló were three of his most famous works and Paolo and I took tours of all of them. Hi most famous structure, the church--La Sagrada Familia, is still not complete. It is being constructed only on money through donations and is expected to be finished around 2020. It was started in 1882.

Barcelona is located on the coast, so there is a large beach, a lot of great food (seafood) and a TON of tourists. It was almost like New York. Each restaurant has their menu in about 6 different languages. There is a great night life, a lot of Catalunyan culture (the native language in Barcelona is not Spanish, it is actually Catalunyan) good shopping and a lot of history. It is easy to travel in because everyone speaks English, and the city is relatively easy to navigate (even if you are like me and have no sense of direction). The last night we were there we went to see Tablao de Carmen, an authentic Flamenco show. I love all kinds of dance, and I remember watching flamenco in my Spanish classes, but wow. The TV does not even begin to capture the passion of these dancers. And their feet move so fast I don't know how they do not catch on fire...

Our last day in Spain we went to visit one of Paolo's cousins in Girona. A beautiful coastal town about an hour train ride from Barcelona. Erica, his cousin is married to a Spanish man that she met in London. The two of them speak Italian, Spanish, Catalunyan and does their 2 year old daughter. It was really humbling to ask a toddler a question in English, have her understand me and answer me in either Spanish or Italian and have to have someone else translate it for me. I REALLY need to learn another language...

Which I think I am going to have to do. I am back in Italy, and have a feeling this will not be my last time. Ghana fell though, and I have been having a really hard time with that. I feel like I am letting myself down by not going to West Africa, because it has been something I wanted to do for years. Tiff and I had a minor problem about it too, because since she decided not to go, I am out about $900 for plane tickets. It is just not some place I feel comfortable traveling to alone--at least without a plan--which is why I attempted to go through the volunteer organization. I had been sending email after email to the place, and not getting any response. When I finally did get a response, my last day in Morocco, they told me they had lost all of my application info and asked me to resend it. Which I did, along with a note saying I HAD to know by the next day if there was a placement for me because I had to get a visa right when I got to Spain. The next day--nothing. I emailed them one last time...and nothing. Until August 13th. When they told me they did NOT have a placement for me. Thank God I did not pay for the visa or book a ticket back to Casablanca (which is where I was flying to Accra from). So I am back in Southern Italy now, with Paolo. Tiffany and I have talked about the moneysituation...because had she not changed her mind we would be in Ghana right now (it was Tiff who originally wanted to go to Ghana so badly--to study drumming...I had been looking into going to Tanzania.) And she is going to reimburse me when she has the money. Which unfortunately could be a while because she has just enrolled in a Masters program in Italy in Tibetan Buddhism ( I know, Tibetan Buddhism in Italy??) so she is a broke college student again.

This blog is beginning to get long...and there is more to write. About Paolo, my thoughts about coming home, what the next steps are, and a sad conversation I had with a Pakistani guy that was staying in my hostel in Rome a couple of nights ago.

But, now that I am here, I have more access to a computer and more time to write, so I promise I will be better. Only 2 more weeks of this adventure...

I have to make the most of it.

Wednesday, August 8, 2007


I tried to write this blog my last day in Asilah but apparently it did not post correctly. I wanted to mention 3 things that I had forgot in my last blog...

First, in Casablanca we went to the Hassan II mosque. Wow. Of all of the religous sites I have seen on this trip, this was by far the most impressive. It is huge...25,000 can pray at one time. It cost 1 billion dollars to build, and it was paid for stictly through donations from the Moroccan people. 30,000 artisans contributed to the handiwork and 10,000 workers built it. It took 6 years. I will try to post pictures soon.

Next, Paolo and I saw Kofi Annan, the last president of the UN, while we were in Asilah. He stopped to watch the drummers from Ghana for a bit.

And finally, when Tiff and I were in Florence, we sat a few tables away from Sean Lennon, the sone of John Lennon and Yoko Ono at a restaurant one night.

Thats it for now. We are in Barcelona and it is wonderful. We have done/seen a lot. More on that later...and more on the rest of my trip. Plans changed again and I am not going to Ghana (the organization kinda dropped the ball...)

So when I get back to Italy I will fill you in. Now we are going to seem some of Gaudi's amazing art and architecture...


Tuesday, August 7, 2007

Asilah...and more

I have to try and write quickly because Paolo is sitting next to me, bored out of his head...but it is hard since the keyboard I am using is French and the letters are all in different places. We are in the beautiful town of Asilah, and have been here for the past 5 days. We flew into Casablanca, and spent 2 nights there. I dont really know what to say about Casablanca. It really isn't much of a tourist place, it is more of a real Moroccan city. It is quite dirty, but nothing like Delhi. The first night we walked through the market, Paolo bought a pair of sandals, we went to dinner, and Paolo left his shoes at the restaraunt...he did not realize this until we walked all the way back to our hotel--Hotel Central (which was so cute...very traditional Moroccan decor, and a terrace on the roof with a nice view) we decided to wait until the next day to go back to see if they were still there. In my mind I was quite certain they would be gone, but when we went back the next morning, the restaurant owner happily retrieved the shoes from behind the counter--and this confirmed what I had been suspecting since I had arrived...Moroccans are really lovely people. They have been so hospitable, both in Casablanca and here in Asilah. They are friendly, funny, and very helpful--especially for the two of us. You see, in Morocco they speak Aribic and French. This is a bit difficult for the English and Italian speaking couple...however, its amazing how we can always communicate what we want or need, and can understand their responses. This was one of my biggest fears before leaving on this trip, but I have come to realize that there are so many more ways of communicating than speaking alone.

In Asilah they also speak Spanish because it's so close to the border of Spain, so with my limited Spanish, Paolo's limited French, his Italian and my English we usually have most conversations in 4 languages, where we can greet people in Spanish or French, talk about the weather, or ask for the bill, but everything else is mostly in English or bits of Italiano. It is actually kinda fun.

Asilah is wonderful. It is quaint, authentic, and calm (compared to Casablanca). It is on the Atlantic Ocean, and has a huge beach. Right now there is an international arts festival going on, so there are a lot of tourists in town (mostly Moroccan, Spanish or French). We spend most days relaxing--eatich a late breakfast, having some traditional Moroccan mint tea (which is fabulous), going to the beach, reading, playing paddle ball, talking, resting, watching amazing sunsets, and looking at the new art that is being painted on the white walls of the city buildings each day. In Morocco, there is a section of each city called the Medina, which is usually the older part of town with a giant wall around it. Inside the Medina you will find all of the craft work, which is unbelievable--I could fill 2 suitcases full of art, shoes (they make leather sandals by hand along the streets of the Medina) hand painted dishes, and the coolest lamps in the world. I am trying to figure out how to get one home...I think maybe I will send it home with Paolo and have him deliver it to me in the US... ;)

I did not even think about Morocco being a muslim country and how different going to the beach would be. Many women are still completely covered, and even swim in all of their clothes. I have yet to figure out how it is decided how covered a muslim woman is. There are some that you only see their eyes, others who you see their entire faces, others who are wearing jeans but have their hair covered...and young girls and teenagers dress very western. Some even more provocatively than girls in the US. It is really interesting to see a family, the dad and children in clothes like ours, and the mother in traditinal Islamic clothing. It is like the family is living in 2 different centuries.

But, like every other country I have been to, you just have to watch the interaction amongst families or friends to see that we really are all the same. And here in Asilah, it is even easier to see with so many children around. Children do not see differences...its like they look straight into your heart, or your character, to decide if you are someone they like. It has nothing to do with religion, dress, etc. And by watching families with kids it is really easy to see that they do exactly what we do...and kids will be kids everywhere you go.

Since we have been here, I got a henna tattoo on my hand and talked Paolo into getting one on his arm (which he was not thrilled about). We also watched a drum troup from Ghana perform the other night. Wow, wow, wow. It was six guys, probably in thier early 20s, and they we so much fun to watch, it made me want to go to Ghana even more.

...But, I don't know if that is going to happen anymore. I have not heard from the volunteer organization for over 2 weeks despite numerous attempts to contact them. They have not sent me any info about where I will be staying, working, etc. If I do not hear from them by the time I get to Barcelona I will likemy not be able to go. I have to get a visa for Ghana, which I can do from Spain, but it will have to be expidited...and will cost a couple hundred dollars. I also have to book a ticket from Barcelona to Casablanca (which is where I will be flying to Accra from), but I hesitqte to do any of this if the volunteer organization does not have space for me or cannot organize things in time. So I guess I will know in the next 2 or 3 days. My other option is to go back to Southern Italy with Paolo, and meet Tiffany there. Not a bad second choice...but going to Ghana is really important to me, so I hope everything can work out. dirt.

Despite the fact that poor Paolo has been visited by our friend Montazuma (I think I have enough bacteria in my stomach from India and Thailand that foreign food/water does not affect me as much), we have been having such a great time together. It is so strange how easy and natural it is...and for me, it is scary as hell. It has stirred up a lot of unexpected emotions, and has actually caused me to think about Leslie more than I have in a long time. It is clear that the feelings I am having tell me that that chapter in my life is officially ending, and a new one is beginning. So, it is somewhat bittersweet...I am saying goodbye at the same time as I discover this amazing man that is here with me. Lucky for me, Paolo is so understanding, and I can tell him exactly what I am going through. He understands that a 6 year relationship is not going to be forgotten overnight, and that there will be residule emotions that arise.

The feelings that I feel now, I have only ever felt once before, but this time I know (hopefully) how to do things differently. Paolo and I do not know what the future holds, and we know that no matter what it is it won't be easy. So we can only go step by step (which he tells me on a daily basis) and see where it takes us. All I know is, I feel the happiest and most peaceful that I have in a long time. We laugh a lot, we can have quiet moments, we talk a lot--we make a good team. We will see where this leads, but I think I should probably start to learn to speak Italian...

Sorry....Paolo writing, ok now i 'm tired to wait here ........( I'm waiting for, maybe, 2 hours) i' m really apologise for you ( i know that you wanna know bunches and bunches things about us) but we'll see next days........
ciao ciao

Paolo took over the computer...and Lisa, he learned "bunches" from you thank you very much...

So I guess this is my cue to end the blog. See ya en Espana...

Saturday, August 4, 2007

Never a dull moment...

Last time I wrote I was in Viareggio finishing my last day there, Tiff and I went to the beach, got massages (on the beach for only 15 euro), and had a nice dinner. The entire day, I had a strange pain in my back, which I attributed to my backpack--a pinched nerve or something. The next evening we headed to Florence, to meet up with Paolo the following day. We checked into our hotel in Florence, went to dinner and crashed early. My back was still hurting, but I had been carrying my heavy pack, so I assumed thats what it was...

The next morning I woke up, still in pain. I tried to tell myself it was all in my head, but it was getting worse by the minute, and it had moved from my right lower back to my right lower abdomen. Finally it got so bad that I told Tiff I needed to go to a doctor. We looked up english speaking doctors on the internet...and both that we found were on holiday--till September! By this time it was so bad, and it was a Saturday, that we decided to go to the nearest hospital. On the way there Tiffany called Paolo to tell him we would not be able to meet him at the train station, instead, we would meet him at the hospital. He knew immediately that it was bad when I did not get on the phone (I hurt too bad to talk). We got to the hospital and did our best to explain the problem to a nurse (thank God Tiffany speaks Italian). They checked me in, and put me in a waiting room with an old woman who was sobbing. Apparently she fell and hurt her arm. And, apparently she is a regular at the hospital...the nurses all knew her by name, and everyone kinda gently ignored her. I think more than medical attention, she just needed some attention in I held her hand for a minute, and Tiffany spoke to her about the US.

After about an hour of waiting I finally saw a doctor. I (through Tiff) explained my symptoms, and the doc did some karate chops to my back and stomach. She then told Tiff to leave, that I would be getting an ultrasound and some x-rays. In the meantime they stuck an IV in my arm and started pumping some really good pain medicine into me, that made me nice and loopy--in moments I became fluent in Italian...even if I was the only one who could understand.

The hospital was not as nice as hospitals in the US, but Italy is known for its great healthcare, and the doctor seemed to know what she was doing. The weird part was waiting to be taken to get my tests done. I was put in a room with about 5 other people with various ailments, and there were no curtains between us, like in an American emergency room. So I could see the old man filling his bedpan, the woman talking to God as though he was right there in front of her, and another man, who was in so much pain that he paced back ands forth and groaned nonstop. Seeing sick people does two things to me...makes me more scared and makes me feel more sick. So I tried to not let my mind run away with itself as I waited for the nurse to call me (the pain medicine helped keep me calm).

I finally went for the ultrasound and x-ray. The woman who preformed the ultrasound saw some interesting things in my kidney, which she told me the doctor would explain. So after 2 hours of testing, the doctor, Tiffany and PAOLO come back to explain to me what was wrong. You can imagine my mortification, Paolo seeing me for the first time in weeks, in a wheelchair with an IV in my arm, practically drooling (not really), but definitely a little out of it. He translated that I had passed a kidney stone (not sure when, either earlier that day, or the day before), and my kidney, bladder and everything in that general vicinity was really inflammed; I was shocked, because I had not felt the stone when it came out, and I have always heard that they are excruciating when they pass. But the doc said it was likely a couple of really tiny ones that wreaked havoc as they made their way through me. She gave me some more really strong pain medicine, an anti-inflammatory and an antibiotic. She also said that when I was sick in Lecce (throwing up) was likely when it started.

The next two days I didnt do much except sleep and drink a ton of water...and Paolo, the angel that he is, did not leave my side. He kicked into doctor mode, and made sure I took my medicine on time, drank lots of water, rested, etc. He made me lunch, rubbed my back...was an absolute saint. We debated changing the Morocco plans, but I did not want to change my trip again, and I felt better each day, so despite not seeing much of Florence except the hospital and Paolos friends house, I was ready for Morocco 2 days later.

We are now in Asilah, and the town is amazing. It deserves a blog all of its own, so I will try to write again tomorrow--about Casablanca, Asilah, traveling with Paolo, the emotional rollercoaster of starting to fall in love again, and the closing of one chapter in my life and the beginning of a new one...its terrifying, wonderful, sad, exciting...all at the same time. But Paolo is so understanding, he allows me to feel all that I am feeling without being nervous, overbearing or jealous.

Is this really happening?

Oh! And I will also write about the muslim beaches. It is fascinating to see women swim in the ocean completely covered, even their faces...