Tuesday, August 12, 2008

The Robinsons


It's been a while. But the reasons are legit. Had I been able to either halt time or add a few hours on to each day, blogging might have fit into the schedule, but even with those kind of super powers it would have still been a struggle.

Since I returned from Italy things have been insanely, nightmarishly busy. I am working Mon, Wed, Fri at my old ad agency, Tues and Thurs at the clinic, and I had 3 tough classes that I only had time to study for after a 9 or 10 hour workday. By the beginning of August I was running on fumes. Everything was suffering--my advertising work, my therapy sessions with clients, and classwork. But 3 finals later I've finished the semester from hell, while still managing to keep a 3.95 GPA. Hell yeah. I mention this not to brag or toot my own horn, but because I'm pretty freakin' proud of myself. I got divorced, travelled around the world, lived in Italy...and still got straight A's. Genius, anyone?? ;)

No, really, it is pretty astounding because had you known me in undergrad...a straight A student I was not. I majored in having fun and minored in procrastination, both of which I was summa cum laude. I still managed to get decent grades, but it certainly wasn't because of the enormous amount of time I spent studying. So this is a big deal for me, so much so that I've hung my transcripts on my parents refrigerator, proudly displaying my A's like a first grader.

To treat myself after 3.5 months of non-stop brain functioning, I spent the last 10 days in Italy visiting Paolo. I have a break between semesters, so I jumped on my only chance until Christmas to make the trip across the pond and relax in beautiful Salento.

Getting there was an ordeal (I'll write my anti-Alitalia blog next...those living in Italy can comiserate without even knowing the story yet). But once I finally arrived, things were wonderful. Again, more details and photos to come, because we went to some really cool places. But this blog is dedicated to yet another conversation with Paolo that is definitely worth documenting.

So, this conversation took place as we were laying in bed one night. We were so happy to see each other again...it had been two months. We were snuggled up, basically forehead to forehead, having a groggy, just before you drift off conversation, when he said:

"One day, can we have a family like the Robinsons?"

The Robinsons? Huh? What is he talking about? So I said:

"The Robinsons? Huh? What are you talking about?"

And the rest of the conversation proceeded like this:

Paolo: "Yeah, you know from the TV show?"
Me (racking my brain for TV Robinsons): "You mean Swiss Family Robinson?"
Paolo: "Noooo...it was a black family..."
Me: You mean the Jeffersons!?!"
Paolo: "No, remember, it was the family where the dad was a doctor and the mom was a lawyer, and they had a lot of kids...Rudy..."
Me: (lightbulb) "YOU MEAN THE COSBY SHOW??"
Paolo: "Yes, with Bill Cosby!"
Me: "Why do you call it the Robinsons?"
Paolo: "Because that is their surname."
Me: "Robinson?"
Paolo: "Yes. And the show was called 'I Robinson' "(which means 'The Robinsons' in Italian)
Me: (a bit confused) "But their last name was Huxtable..."
Paolo: "Hugsable? Huctable? Wait, what did you say?"
Me: "Ahhhh...now I see why they were the Robinsons in Italy..."

So our beloved Huxtables were the Robinsons in Italy because the Italians have a very difficult time pronouncing Huxtable. Plus,to them Robinson is about as American as Smith or Jones. And apparently the Robinsons in Italy were equally as popular as their aliases in the States. Paolo said it was one of his all time favorite shows growing up. I can just imagine Bill Cosby's voice dubbed by an Italian actor...

As for having a family like the Huxtable/Robinson clan...the thought was sweet. But 5 kids? Ha! Uh, no thank you. We might have to subtract from that number by about 3 or 4. (He did clarify later that he wasn't not insinuating that he wanted 5 children...he just wants a "happy life like they had" ...WHEW.)

You know, a happy life Robinson-style doesn't sound too bad. Sign me up.

Sunday, June 22, 2008

365 days later...

One year ago today I was in an airport in Qatar, by myself, looking for sunglasses in the duty-free shop. I did not find the sunglasses...but what I found instead was almost enough to make up for the fruitless search... ;)

What I found instead was something I certainly was not looking for, nor even knew if I wanted it at the time. What I found was destined by something much bigger than me; and no matter what happens, it's something that was, still is, and hopefully always will be, a bright shining light in my life. What I found instead has shown me that I can trust again when I had just about written it off as a lost cause...

What I found instead goes by the name of Paolo (or Paldo J. Fox). And today I'd like to thank him for joining me on this journey. When Paolo and I met, I was in a place where I couldn't talk about my past without breaking down. We'd be sitting in a romantic outdoor cafe in Rome or walking through the streets of Casablanca and if the topic of my marriage came up, it was still so raw that I had a hard time keeping the tears back. For most men, I would imagine this would be a major red flag, like, "call me when you've lost the baggage". But not for Paolo. He would listen, ask questions, and allow me to show myself--my real self--open wounds and all. I never felt judged because I was getting a divorce and he always told me how amazing he thought I was for deciding to handle this intensely difficult period the way I did. At that point in time, it was exactly what I needed to hear. It had been a long time since I had a man tell me that he admired me for just being me. I had spent a lot of time by myself on that trip and personally I felt good about what I was doing. I felt stronger each day. But no one can argue with some positive reinforcement--especially when it's coming with a cute Italian accent!

He understood that initially part of me was closed off and that even if I wanted to open myself to this relationship fully, I couldn't, because subconsciously I was still protecting myself. Anyone that has been through a traumatic break-up knows how terrifying it can be to allow yourself to feel again. The pain is so vivid that sometimes it's easier to just avoid altogether. Instead of pressuring me he just held space for me in his heart--wide open--for the day that I was ready to crawl inside.

He was with me the day I got divorced and the day I found out Leslie was having a baby. Both days I could barely look at him, I could barely move. But he never allowed me to feel guilty for not being able to give to him or our relationship at that time. Again, he just waited, heart wide open, waiting for me to crawl back in. He has shown me what it means to be completely accepting and his patience is unmatched by anyone I know. He just has an innate understading of human nature and is able to be completely unselfish because of it. When he knew that I was going to need time he never took it personally and he never pushed me for more. It takes a strong man to be able to do that. It takes someone who knows himself and his own worth to be able to trust that I will indeed comeback and no coersion is needed.

His stability, consistancy and eternal optimism kept me going when I didn't know if I could. Sometimes it's easier to do things for other people than it is to do for yourself, but he would never allow that. No decision I made could be for him. They could take him into consideration and ultimately benefit him, but they always had to be for me.

I have never met a man like Paolo before. The personal qualities that so many of us strive to achieve, he's been blessed with from the beginning. And somehow, in the Middle East, in a duty-free sunglass shop I was also blessed.

So amore mio, this one is for you. Thank you for making me smile every single one of the past 365 days. You've been my rock. I love you. Happy Anniversary.

Tuesday, June 10, 2008

Who decides?

I've been at my clinic for a few weeks now and am just starting to work with my own clients. For the first few weeks I was observing my supervisor and other therapists while they worked so I could see different techniques and become more comfortable with the process. It has been an intense month of learning, not only about the clients but what I am feeling myself. And there is one thing in particular that has been keeping me awake at night...

Who decides?

Who decides which one of us is sitting on either side of the desk? Who decides which one of us needs the help and who gives it? Who decides which one of us had the blessings in life to have an education, a family that cares, and opportunites galore? Who decides which one is sexually abused by a family member? Who decides which one of us has no running water because her father is a crack addict? Who decides which one will cut her arm so deeply just to numb the pain that is life?

How was I born with all of this privilidge? What did I do to deserve it? What did she do to deserve the life she has?

And... how in the hell can I possibly help?

We study in school how to process what we see and hear, we talk about self-care and avoiding "compassion fatigue" and burnout. But until I began to see these things on a regular basis I didn't realize how important taking care of myself really is. There is no way for me to be effective if I can't work through these things.

So, how did I answer these questions? What did I do to work them out? Honestly, for the first time in my life, I've taken true solace in my faith. And although that is still somewhat undetermined (raised Catholic, but by no means practicing) I HAVE to believe that there is something bigger than me out there that knows how this will all play out. Because I can't do this job if I believe that this is the only shot these people get. I've discovered that my belief in a higher power has helped me to hold on to the idea that this isn't it for them. This thing they are calling life--living in horrific circumstances, being told constantly that they are nothing and having that reaffirmed day after day--this is not it--this is not their only chance. I believe that their struggles will be rewarded, either in a beautiful afterlife or another go-round here on Earth where they keep improving on the previous life, until they too reach the beautiful afterlife. Either way, it's totally cool with me...as long as this is not it.

Talk about gaining perspective. This month has been a crash course in perspective. Everyone's struggles are real, we all have a certain capacity for pain. But what some of these people have endured in lifetimes shorter than mine has been mindblowing.

So sure, I've learned all the skills in school to be able to do this. I know all the theories, strategies and processes proven to help. But, really... who's helping who?

Wednesday, May 14, 2008

Times are a changin'

Guess who's back...back again...

Ok, 'slim shady' lyrics...this might be a sign of early onset severe seperation anxiety. I'm back in Ohio, and this time it's for more than 4 months.


And, not only that. Things in blogland have to change a bit. I start my internship at a mental health clinic tomorrow. Given the confidential nature of what I will be doing and the client population I will be working with, it's probably best to remove all personal pictures and references to my name on my blog. So, take one last look at my ugly mug, cause I'll be re-doing the photos to only be travel shots without people included. I googled myself and since I have changed my name back to my maiden name the blog doesn't come up. Anyone who meets me will be meeting me with my maiden name. Now, and forever.

So...I am going to be living with my parents for the next 4 months (I'm still trying to hold on to the 4 month thing) and then I will be taking over a friend's lease when she moves away (which I am terribly sad about...but at the same time excited to watch her kick ass and take names all over LA). It will be the first time ever that I've lived alone (unless you count the months on end that Leslie would be gone for soccer). I am really looking forward to it.

Paolo and I are trying to figure out our long distance schedule right now, and I'm hoping he can come for a quick visit at the beginning of June. I am going back to Italy for a week at the beginning of August for a friend's wedding, and hopefully he (Paolo) can return with me for an extended period of time. Leaving him was really hard this time around. Last September when I left the first time I was really ready to get home. I had a lot to process from the trip around the world and from meeting him. Plus, there was still a lot of messy stuff to deal with in regards to my marriage. But this time was different. After almost 6 months together non stop, I feel like I've lost an apendage. We talk numerous times a day and at least once on the computer so we can see each other. I love technology.

It will be interesting to kind of "put down roots" again. My life has literally been in constant transition since 2004, that I don't know what it feels like to NOT be in an 'adjustment period.' I am going to keep writing, but since I'm not going to be doing much traveling, it's just going to be more about the thoughts swirling in my brain and what's going on with life. My new job will give me much to think about but not much I can write about. I'm so excited to start, but terrified at the same time. How in the hell am I really going to help someone? I have no idea if I am prepared for it. I know all the strategies, theories, research methods--the book stuff. But when it comes down to someone sitting in front of me asking for my help. Eek. Scary shit.

I am also going to be freelancing for my old advertising agency that I worked for before we made the first soccer move. I gotta pay the bills somehow, and the internship is unpaid. For a year. Ugh. Two jobs and three classes should keep me occupied this summer...

I'm missing Italy a bit. When I left it was absolutely perfect. I spent my last week at the beach almost everyday. But it's really nice to be back to a place where I can have normal conversations without sounding like a slow 2-yr old.

So that's it for now. I have a 4 o'clock meeting on the computer to see Mr. P before he goes to bed.

Anyone up for weekend road trips?????

Saturday, May 3, 2008

Italy: That Guy

Ladies, we all know that guy. The one you are supposed to avoid at all costs but cannot seem to keep yourself away from? The one your dad prays you will never date. The one that stirs up emotions you never knew you have, that causes you to do things you'd never thought you do, that makes you obsessive, neurotic, all around pazzo (crazy). The one that you can hate with your whole being one minute and cannot live without the next...

Well, for me, that man is Italy.

Now let me be clear that I am not talking about Italian men, in fact most of the Italian men I know are not much like their reputations portray. I think Italian men have earned a lot of their reputations simply because they live in Italy. Because it's Italy, not the men, that can leave your heart racing, dumbfounded, on the verge of tears and completely elated all at the same time.

Italy is untamed, spontaneous, and romantic. He's everything you look for in romance-novel man. He's also often unreliable, unfair, and relentless. He can be brash and dirty, yet for some reason you keep coming back for more. Just as you would with that guy. You can't figure him out and it becomes an addiction. Are you trying to change him, fix him, better him, like we females so often do? Are you obsessed with the unexpected? If that's the case, you're in trouble because Italy is the master of the unexpected for stranieri (foreigners), and you'll never be able to really figure him out. Each time you think you're close, he'll catch you completely off guard and send your head spinning all over again. Everything you do in Italy, even the mundane, becomes an adventure. An average trip to the grocery store will likely evoke immensely strong emotions and make you wonder why you continue this torrid affair...

You drive to the store with 4 things on your list. You are prepared, you have a purpose and you are determined to get in and out of the store as quickly as possible. (In my experience, this is how an American mind generally works). You pull up to find that the 7 parking spots around the store are taken up by 17 cars, who have not only managed to somehow squeeze into unimaginably tight spaces, but many of whom are parked perpendicularly (the Smart cars length is about the same as an average car's width), and a few are half on the sidewalk. So you proceed to drive around for 10 minutes and squeeze into a spot that is closer to home than the store, all the while wishing you had just walked. And it never fails, when you approach the store the parking area has magically cleared and you think to yourself for the first time that day "I hate Italy."

You are on the verge of spewing all of the Italian obscenities you know as you walk into the store when you are greeted at the cheese counter with a familiar, friendly smile and an offer to sample the fresh mozzarella, the olives that they just got that day, and a couple hunks of salumi piccante (pepperoni). In an instant, you demeanor changes as you are comforted by the warmth of the commessa (shop worker) and you think to yourself "I love Italy."

You proceed to look for the four things on your list to discover they only have one of the four. It's close to one o'clock, which means the stores will be closing for the next 3 hours and you will not be able to go to another shop to find what you wanted for lunch that day. You quickly concoct something new to prepare with what the tiny mercado (market) has to offer and you sulk up to the counter to pay, all the while thinking "This country drives me crazy." And, because you had to change your menu on the fly you come up two euro short. This is when the checkout lady tells you "No ti preoccupare" (don't worry) and waves you away with a smile and a "ci vediamo domani!" (see you tomorrow). And you think to yourself, "I love this country."

This is the emotional rollercoaster that I call Italian living. Each day offers something new that send your emotions reeling from one end of the spectrum to the other instantaniously. You can be walking the coast, completely in love with your surroundings--breathing in each step--the flowers, the sea, the rocks...the trash, the graffiti. And the love quickly turns to disdain for a country that has more natural beauty than one can imagine but it never seems like much is done to enforce the preservation of it. As an American you think "why don't they have higher fines for littering...and why aren't they enforced??" And you want to march straight to the municipal building and tell them what they need to do, and how to do it. How we do it.

As an American you might never be satisfied with Italy and how it works. But, also like with that guy, Italy is not asking for your approval. He is who he is; and that's a major part of his appeal. He marches to the beat of his own drum and he makes no aplogies. He's been doing it for so long that there is no changing him now despite the most valiant of efforts.

All you can do is learn to love him for him. It's the only way to truly receive all that he has to offer.

Thursday, May 1, 2008

The Magical Olive Trees of Salento

Otranto is located in Salento (or Salentu, if you want to speak like the locals), which truly is the heel of the boot. It is the south eastern part of Puglia, which is one of the 20 regions of Italy. For those of you, who like me a year ago, are clueless as to Italy's make-up, here's a quick rundown:

Italy is subdivided into 20 regions (regioni=plural, regione=singular). It is further divided into 109 provinces (province) and 8,101 municipalities (comuni). So I've been living in the region of Puglia (or Apuglia for us foreigners), the province of Salento, and the municipality of Otranto.

Puglia, like many of the southern regions of Italy (Calabria, Basilicata, Campagnia and Sicily) is know for it's production of olive oil. It seems as though each family owns their own batch of olive trees and produces their own oil. And if they aren't direct producers then they have a cousin of an uncle, or a sister of a godmother's nephew that is a producer, so of course, it's still considered family. And it's hands down the best olive oil I've ever tasted. Which is a good thing, considering they put it on their cereal in the morning (sto scherzando- I'm joking- but really, they do use it to cook virtually everything).

Paolo's uncle produces THE BEST (yes, I am biased, but it's won awards in both Italy and the US) olive oil in the world. His secrets: he does not use olives that have fallen off the tree and hit the ground. Apparently, if the olive skin breaks, it loses some of it's natural properties and becomes "less pure." He also uses a process in which he does not heat the olives to extract the oil. His process is more time consuming and retracts less oil from the olives, but again it keeps the oil in its purest form. Seriously, I could drink it straight from the bottle it's that good. Oh, and it's almost florescent green in color.

But as fascinating as the olive oil making process is, the place where it all begins--the olive tree--is far more fascinating.

I could use so many metaphors to describe these trees: knobby old men, bent and weathered from a long life of hard work; graceful dancers intertwined as though they are one (and in the case of the trees, they are one); or ghostly characters from Disney's Fantasia waiting for nightfall to uproot and prey on unsuspecting visitors. Each tree has it's own story, it's own character, and the one's I've taken photos of, have had a long, long life (usually between 100-400 years).

Let's have a look:

This old guy with his calloused trunk and arthritic branches reminds me of the old men sitting on the benches throughout Paolo's town. If you sat with him for a while, I bet he'd have some stories to tell...

This is one tree, but like many of them it's split at the base and comes together in the middle. Much like two dancers whose feet cannot touch but whose bodies never seperate. It's rare to see an olive tree grow completely vertically, and like this "couple" many appear to be midway through a sweeping dip in a ballroom dance series.

This younger guy is giving the old folks a run for their money. The twists of his trunk at such a young age (he's probably under 100) shows that he is on his way to trunk greatness. But watch out, because if you are a child playing hide and seek in the dark olive groves, his youthfulness might get the best of him and he'll untwist, rise up to his full greatness, pull his giant roots from the ground and try to play along. Spooooky.

And then there are some that are just plain welcoming. Like their human counterparts here in the south, they are always ready with their arms wide open, waiting for you to crawl in, pose, and smile.

Wednesday, April 30, 2008


This blog is dedicated to the wildflowers that I see each day, unlike any I've ever seen before. I don't think we have these kinds of wildflowers in Ohio...

Italy is truly one of the most beautiful countries I've ever seen. And one of the best things about it is that the Italians appreciate its beauty. Actually, Italians appreciate beauty in general. Beautiful people, beautiful scenery, beautiful clothes, even beautiful food. You could consider it a culture that is too easily stimulated by aesthetics, but it's understandable since they are surrounded by it.

Growing up in the Midwest there was plenty of nature all around. Flat nature, but pretty nature nonetheless. When I was young my mom would always point out different flowers, trees, farmlands, etc. and explain what they were. It pretty much went in one ear and out the other. I had more important things to think about, like Scooby Doo, My Little Pony and Rainbow Brite. I mean really, who cared about Oak trees or tulips? Certainly not me. Well, Italian children must have listened to their moms, because they all seem to know every type of fauna growing along road, in their gardens, and around the coast. Paolo probably even more than most because of his biology degree. Taking a walk with Paolo is like going to a class--a very interactive class in which the teacher says, as he's taking a bite of a leaf he just picked from the tree, "And Maggie, you can eat this one, try it." Yes, we eat berries, fruits and leaves straight off the trees. Most are actually pretty good, but some I think he just has us try simply because we can, not necessarily because they are tasty...

As an adult, I'm totally digging learning about the trees, flowers and plants that surround me. And in Italy I find myself paying so much more attention to it. I wondered if it was just because I've become so accustomed to what nature looks like at home so I don't see it as much? Or if it's because the culture as a whole places so much emphasis on nature that I can't help but notice. Other Americans living here have said the same thing, so I guess it's not just me.

Anyway, to give you an idea of what I am talking about when I say wildflowers here are a few photos I've taken in the last couple of weeks. They really are everywhere.

A mix of poppies and yellow wildflowers

Some purple flowers along the coast (this is in Otranto, where we walk a lot)

A poppy field and a traditional stone wall near Paolo's town, Sternatia (this photo does not do justice to the reds of the poppies, it is such a deep, deep brilliant red, like really ripe strawberries)

Close-up of a purple flower with poppies and grasses blowing in the wind

Beautiful isn't it? Can you see why I'm more enthralled by them? They are everywhere you turn. I could not imagine a more beautiful primavera (spring) if I tried.

Monday, April 28, 2008


Hello! It's been a while since I've written a 'realtime' post. I do have some legitimate excuses. My parents came to visit from March 30-April 14. Before their arrival I had to finish two huge papers and was still in school every morning from 9 till 1 for Italian. While my parents were here we packed everyday so full of Italian wonders that there was very little time to write. We had such a good time. We also had some nasty colds. Mine persisted after they left (this thing lasted about 3 weeks) until I finally caved and went to the doctor. I decided I needed some drugs to help me through my finals. They worked, and I finished my finals on April 23rd. Whoo-hoo! That night two of my friends from home arrived. They stayed until Saturday evening. Again, so much fun! I love being able to show other people all of the beautiful things I've been seeing everyday. So, these are my reasons for the writing drought. But have no fear. I'm back with a vengence.

I've decided since I no longer have Italian school or regular school and I don't have a job, for this last week I will write a blog each day to pay hommage to this country I've called home for the last 4 months. There are so many things that I've seen and done over the past month that are worth writing about, and since the only other things I plan on doing are laying in the sun on the roof studying Italian, hanging with Mr. Paolo as much as I possibly can, walking the coast everyday, and eating at all of my favorite places one last time, I figured that I can fit a blog in each day. I'm even going to attempt to post pictures directly into the blog so you can see what I am talking about.

So the first of my Italian series is about a town called Alberobello (which means "pretty tree"). I have never seen anything like this town before in my life. It was like you step straight into a fantasy novel as you begin to travel toward the town.

We drove down a narrow, narrow road and on both sides there were fields of wildflowers, olive trees, fruit trees, old stone walls and trulli. Now what is a trullo you ask? (trullo=singular, trulli=plural)

These are trulli.

In the middle of the fields there would be these little houses, that couldn't possibly be real...but they were. It was like leprechaun land or something. The were so cute, set in the most picturesque background and it made you feel like little men were about to pop out singing "we represent the lollipop guild..."

When driving the trulli were few and far between and we got excited when there would be a "spotting" but when we reached the actual town of Alberobello, the entire city was trulli-land. Some factoids about trulli themselves:

The trulli are limestone dwellings found only in the southern region of Puglia, and are examples of drywall (mortarless) construction, which is a prehistoric building technique still used in this region today. (Can you imagine prehistoric techniques still being used in the US? We are lucky to see techniques from the 70's...or, maybe not so lucky. The 70's were a bit strange architecturally). The trulli are made of roughly worked limestone boulders collected from neighboring fields. Characteristically, they feature pyramidal, domed or conical roofs built up of corbelled limestone slabs. The slabs in the roof are not held together by any type of adhesive, instead the way they are stacked allows the rain to flow right down the sides.


Italian cavemen knew what they were doing...

Women outside a shop

On the roofs of the trulli there were often magical, religious or primitive symbols, and in each symbol you can discover origins tied to pre-Christian, solar, Jewish or pagan cults.

Alberobello is part of the World Heritage List, which was created by UNESCO (United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization). And, not suprising, Italy has the most sights of any country on the list.

Even the church is a trullo.

Alberobello is becoming more of a tourist area, but unlike the big cities, it's still rather unknown to foreign travellers. Puglia in general has remained a treasure to foreign travellers because it's still relatively cheap, it's beyond beautiful, the people are more friendly than you can imagine. It's only slightly more difficult to move around this region because you have to rent a car. But if you are adventurous enough to drive with the Italians, then taking a trip to Puglia should be a major consideration if you are planning a trip to Italy. And if you need a travel guide, you know who to call...

We'd be happy to help!

Thursday, April 17, 2008

The Me's

Authors Note: I wrote this post over almost 2 months and published it, to find out later that day that it really wasn't yet public knowledge. Although the news had a major effect on me, I did not feel like it was my news to share. So I removed the post and waited for a more appropriate time to post it. I've since talked to Leslie and he told me that he was planning on telling me the news himself, but did not want to do it through email. So I've made some additional edits, and looking back now, I think this news has helped me to continue closing the door of my past and opening more and more to the life that is in front of me. Which certainly isn't half bad! I am also posting this because I truly do not have time to write about my parent's visit, my mugging, and the beautiful town of Alberobello that I am planning because I have two finals due by April 24th. So I thought in the meantime, I could use this post which was one of my hardest to write, and meant so much to me...

Last Thursday I got some shocking news. My ex-husband is going to be a father. Upon hearing this, my hands started shaking and I kept thinking "what do I do? what do I do??" Lucky for me Jenn was online and I told her what I had just found out. Her calmer head prevailed and she said "Don't react right now Maggie, just sit with it for a bit." And really, what could I do anyway? She knows me well enough to know that my mind had already reacted in a thousand different ways in a matter of a few seconds and she was warning me about acting on any of those initial reactions. She was right of course. Nothing good would come of acting on any of my feelings. But no matter how hard I tried, I couldn't get a hold of them. Here's a breakdown of my mental functioning at that time and over the course of that week:

Shocked Me was thinking: "What? This can't be right. Did I understand him correctly? (And by him, I do not mean Leslie). I found out by accident from a friend of a friend over instant messenger. This friend assumed I already knew. I didn't.

Sad Me was thinking: "Why her? Why now? We were together for almost 6 year. Married for 4. Why not me?"

Angry Me was thinking: "Jesus man, couldn't you at least let the f*cking ink dry on the divorce papers?"

Indifferent Me was thinking: "Not my problem anymore."

Ex-wife Me was thinking: "How is he going to support a child? Is he going to marry her? What about soccer?"

Mature Me was thinking: "I wish him all the best. He's great with kids."

And for the following few days the different "Me's" fought with each other about which feeling was the "right" one--the justified one. Sad Me would replay our times together and think about how we had our favorite name picked out for a girl. We did for a boy too, but our friends had a baby first and got to it before us. So we were still thinking about a boy. At the beginning of our marriage he used to joke that we had to start soon because he wanted 11 kids so he could have his very own soccer team. I'd remind him that it might not be the greatest team seeing that there would be a pretty big age disparity between the oldest and youngest. He said he could work around it. Sad Me would then envision him with a new family, new little soccer players, and a life where I am nothing but a distant memory.

Then out of the blue Angry Me would come in, slap Sad Me silly and start thinking "He couldn't even tell you himself? You had to hear it from someone twice removed? Has nothing changed?? (this was before Leslie and I spoke. He has since told me that he wanted to tell me over the phone or in person...which would be difficult, considering we haven't seen each other in a year and a half). But, I know the thought of telling me was really hard for him. Angry Me was also ranting: "The baby is due in June. Our divorce was final in December. I can do the math..." (this shouldn't have bothered me seeing that I had clearly moved on too, but it did). Leslie and I have not talked about "us" or what happened between us for a long time. He's told me that he doesn't think about the breakdown of our marriage much because it's too hard. Sometimes I wish could do that more; have the ability to compartmentalize. But I guess at some point you have to deal with it. Otherwise I suspect it will keep coming back in one form or another until you do, as though your life is on 'repeat.' When Angry Me would get fired up she would start to drudge up all of the unpleasant memories of the past, namely the last 2 years of our marriage and get pissed about history all over again. Angry Me can be pretty vocal. But I've been careful not to air anything but the laundry "blowing-in-the-Italian-wind-on-a-clothespin" on this blog. I've done my best to keep it about me and what I am experiencing. But, for the record, Angry Me could be a super-mega bitch. I needed that from her, or else Sad Me would have been a soppy mess all too often.

When Angry Me was about to explode was usually when Indifferent Me would come strolling in. "Hey Angry Me, relax. That is your past. None of this is your concern anymore. It's no longer something you have to worry about. Focus on today instead. No point in killing yourself over something you have absolutely no control. Plus, are you being fair? You've certainly moved on too..."

And over Indifferent Me's shoulder Ex-Wife Me would be chirping "How is this possible? Where are they going to live? What if he makes a team in the US? Is he still going to keep trying with soccer? Doesn't she have another child? Is he going to be a dad to TWO kids? Maybe I know someone who could help him to....I hope he's ready for this.... "

Indifferent Me would look at Ex-Wife me with a mixture of sympathy and annoyance and say "Can't you hear me? This is no longer your problem. He is not your husband, and it's not your responsibility to make sure he is ok. In fact, back when you were Wife Me, instead of Ex-Wife Me maybe that was part of your problem. You can't fix everything. Other people have to figure things out for themselves. Just like you have."

And then just for a second Mature Me would grace everyone with her presence. "Me's, listen to ME. Remember, despite all you've been through you love this man. You don't want to see him struggle, you want to see him happy. But Indifferent Me is right, if he is to struggle, his struggles are now his own. All you can do is pray that he is learning as much as you are by going through this."

Usually about this time is when Shocked Me would come rolling in loud and unexpected "WHAT? He's having a BABY???" And the cycle begins all over again.

This is all part of the beauty of divorce--you find yourself with temporary Multiple Personality Disorder. You question all you feel. You aren't sure if your feelings are justified anymore. You don't know what you are "allowed" to say. Your feelings change at such a rapid fire pace that sometimes you think "Am I happy? I know I was a second ago..."

And, to be completely honest, I'm not totally shocked by the news. I can recall a conversation that Leslie and I had about a year ago, shortly after we split. He was in the airport having just arrived back in the US after being on a tryout in China. I could tell he was in a rough place emotionally by the dullness in his voice. He said something along these lines: "I felt so alone when I was in China. It was the first time I realized that I really want a child. A child loves you no matter what. You never have to worry about them not being in your life, because they will be in your life forever. The relationship never ends, no matter what." I was shocked, and for once, had very little to say. I could have pulled out the "that would have been nice for you to decide WHEN WE WERE TOGETHER." But it wasn't the time for sarcasm. He was serious. And it was at that moment that I first thought to myself, "He's going to have a baby soon." I also had a dream a few months ago that he was pregnant (yeah, like he, himself had a baby growing in him). The feelings were so real that I asked his sister if it was true (not him being pregnant...you know what I mean). At that time it wasn't. But, I knew it was coming. (It's not the first time I've had a 'real' dream, right Amy?) But despite being a little bit prepared, it still knocked the wind out of me. It's like knowing your dog is eventually going to die, but when it happens that knowledge doesn't make it any easier.

What I've learned from this situation is: 1) Maybe I wasn't as far along as I thought. I felt like I was moving forward pretty well and... WHAM! this hit like a Mack truck. 2) I'd been holding on to Leslie. Not in a way in which I want to be with him. I don't. At all. Let me give an example to hopefully explain better. I'd been really hesitant about writing this blog out of fear it might upset him (I know, I KNOW). I had to ask myself why I cared so much if he was upset. He's no longer a part of my everyday life; I don't have to worry about coming home to him being pissed at me. It's as though this way of thinking has been so programmed in me-- trying NOT to upset him (in fear of losing him) that I still function in that way, forgetting that it's no longer possible for me to lose him. The relationship still had a hold on part of me, and by extension, part of my life. After being with someone for so long, I would imagine it is pretty normal to still feel a connection. But, for my own sake, I had to work on letting go of that because somehow, subconsciously, I've allowed that hold to continue. 3) There is no way I would want to trade places with Leslie or the mother of his child. 4) Paolo is most understanding man I've ever met. The day after I found out, I was about ready to crawl out of my skin. I needed to be alone, to sort out "The Me's." My brain was functioning on all circuits and nothing was making sense. Trying to think about the current relationship in front of me was damn near impossible. Instead of that hurting him and him taking it personally, he asks me if I needed to take a weekend away, if I needed some space from him and some time to myself. He gets it. I don't know how, but he does.

That day I went for a long walk on the beach by myself. I climbed up a large sand dune and sat down. I leaned back on my elbows and tried to force myself to think. "Ok, you are alone now, think. THINK! Figure this out. Land on a feeling. Make sense of it." But my mind was blank. All I could see was the vast turquoise sea and the never ending sky.

It was then I began to realize it was all ok. All I felt. All of it was ok, justified. My feelings were my feelings. I don't have to apologize for them, I don't have to stifle or hide them, and I don't have to act on them. I just have to accept them, and keep plugging away at my new life. It's all any of us can do. As I sat there in the setting Italian sun I realized there was really nothing left for me to figure out.

Sunday, April 6, 2008


Don't have a lot of time because my parents are here. Yes, here in Italy. Hence my being MIA. Anyway a quick rundown, and I'll write a proper blog when they leave (on the 13th).

Went to Rome, Florence, Venice. Loved all of them (I've been to Rome and Florence before, but my parents have never been to Italy. And I will never tire of these cities). Got my wallet stolen out of my purse on the subway in Rome. Drivers license, credit cards, SS card (dummie, I know, I never carry it) but no cash. That escapade will get a blog all to itself.

We are now back in Otranto, all nursing colds, but are still having a great time. Had the official meeting of the parents today, and aside from them not being able to speak to each other it seemed to go very well. Any six course homemade meal would be able to win my dad over. So it was pretty easy. Going to spend the next week exploring the beautiful area I've made home for the past few months. And Tuesday is my mom's birthday, so we'll be celebrating Puglian style.

So that's the scoop. More to come...

a dopo. (later).

Tuesday, March 25, 2008

International "Kiss an Italian" Day

According to one of my most trusted sources for news (Facebook), today is International Kiss an Italian Day.

So ladies, if you happen to be with an Irishman, African, German or Canadian, today you are absolved. You have a get-out-of-jail-free card. You can place all the blame on me. It's a holiday afterall...

Go find yourself un uomo italiano and plant a big one on him. You won't regret it.

Or, if you are a good girl, you can do as they do here-- one on each cheek.

(but, trust me, as I speak from experience, the "each cheek" thing isn't half as much fun...)

Happy Kiss an Italian Day!

Tuesday, March 18, 2008

Can someone remind me what decade this is?

What? It's 2008, you say? Huh, that's strange. Based on the conversation I had with my Italian teacher, I would have guessed it to be at least 50 years ago...

Much like America, the southern part of Italy moves at it's own pace. The weather is warmer, the people are friendlier, the food is better, so people tend to enjoy life and move a little slower. But not until I had the conversation with my Italian teacher did I realize just how slow they really are moving.

We were studying a southern phenomenon called "Mammismo," where men live at home until their mid-thirties and are waited on hand and foot by their mothers. In turn, when these big boys finally decide they are mature enough to be out of their mother's daily care, they find a wife they feel is as similar to their mom as possible, and fall into the exact same pattern with her. Now, obviously, this is not the case with many Italian men. But, it's prevalent enough that a term has been coined and it's been studied and documented.

So Bernard (my new classmate...another blog about him another day) and I were asking our teacher, about her husband. She is 33 and got married last year. After dating the man for fifteen years. They now live in an apartment above her mother-in-law's house. All of which is very, very normal here, in the heel of the boot.

One day last week she was yawning a lot in class so Bernard said "Sei stanca?" (Are you tired?) To which the teacher replied that yes, she was tired because she had to wake up early to start preparing lunch. Lunch is an important meal here in the south, and is often the biggest meal of the day. She then went on to explain that her husband does no cooking, cleaning, niente around the house. So she get's up early to prepare his food, then she goes to work, after which she rushes home to see that it's all ready for him on his lunch break. She said he has never done the dishes, and he doesn't even bring his dishes to the kitchen when he is finished. Instead he waits for her to bring him his coffee, and watches TV until it's time to go back to work.

Now, I've seen this same scenario with Paolo's parents, but could justify it in my mind as "well, they are of a different generation, that's how things were back then." And Paolo's mom doesn't work and she absolutely loves to cook. So when Paolo's dad would eat lunch, then leave the table without lifiting a finger and go pass out in the armchair for a bit, I did all I could to suspend my judgement. Afterall, he has worked really hard to give his family a good life, and Paolo's mom obviously doesn't have a problem with it...so why should I?

But when she told me this about her, I could feel my blood pressure rising. She's MY age! It was obvious that Stefania doesn't necessarily like this way of life, and she's tired and frustrated. But she said "I am a traditional southern woman" as if that excuses everything. I asked her if she ever says anything to him about it. She said, yes, everyday. But, she said she can ask him a hundred times help with the dishes or clean the house, but eventually the dishes pile up and the house gets dirty so she always gives in and does it herself.

Just like he knows she will.

This is one of the hardest parts about adjusting to another culture. Because with situations like this there are so many things that I find fundamentally wrong. First, are you kidding??? We are in 2008. Aside from a few of our very conservative friends (Dr. Laura) this mentality went out in the US around the same time as poodle skirts. Second, it frustrates me because who's to blame in scenarios like this? The guy because he's been a child for his entire life? My teacher because she allows this behavior to continue? Society because this is acceptable?

It's hard to remind myself that I am choosing to be in their country, and this is how things work in some cases. If I want to see a man doing the ironing, I can go back home and say hi to my dad. But seriously, living at home and having your mom cook you dinner until you are 33? It's one part of Italian culture that I'll never adjust to. But I guess what I have to learn to do, even if I don't agree with it, is accept it. This is how things are here, I am not going to change them, and there are benefits and downsides to all situations (for instance, I don't know a stronger family system than the one in Italy...)

Lucky for me, Paolo is in no way a "mammismo" (needless to say, we wouldn't be together). He cooks, he cleans, we split everything 50/50 (well, he might cook more, seeing that I can only make toast). But I'm starting to think he's an acception here in the south. His brothers (both older) still take their laundry home for mom to wash. Many of his friends have left the south for better career opportunities in the north and the vast majority of them are nothing like the "mammismo" types. The north and the south, I'm beginning to learn, are two very different places.

I've yet to tell my teacher that I'm divorced, because when she was talking to Bernard about his divorce, she said "you only get married once" when he mentioned his new girlfriend (mind you, Bernard has been divorced for 7 years) . I think I am nervous to tell her because I guess I'm a little scared of her judgement. Which is unfair since I'm totally judging her lifestyle.

After talking to her about this a bit more (and now remeber, this entire conversation was in Italian, so I could have thought I was hearing "He has never done the dishes" and really she said "My dog has fleas") I said ,"what do you say when he refuses to help?" To which she replied while making a slap-upside-the-head motion:

"Vaffanculo" (f-off)

Italians are so romantic.

Wednesday, March 5, 2008

Paldo J. Fox

I haven't written about any of the funny conversations that I've had with Paolo in a while. I could write a blog a day with the material I've accumulated, but that doesn't make for exciting blog reading, and really, I gotta give the guy credit. His English is getting better each day. I am still in the phase where he can't even make fun of the things I say in Italian because, really, it's not Italian. It's more like a random string of nouns and verbs, all in the present tense, thrown together in hopes that MAYBE the point will come across. In time I might say something funny, but now it's more painful than humorous. Anyway, there are 2 conversations that I've had with Paolo that still make me laugh out loud when I think about them. I'll try to recapture them as best I can:
Conversation #1: "J. Fox"

Where: At my parent's house before we went to the family Christmas at my aunt's house. It continued later during the festivities.

Why: It started because I was fake-scolding him about something (probably not putting the toilet seat down...he's bad).

Me: "Paolo ______ Johnson!! (obviously, not his real last name) You forgot the toilet seat again! Hey, wait, what's your middle name?"
Paolo: "I don't have a middle name. I'm just Paolo Johnson."
Me: "Huh. But that doesn't work as well in this situation. When I'm trying to be mother-like and scold you, I need a full name. Like Paolo David Johson, for instance. We gotta give you a middle name. "
Paolo: "Ok"
Me: "And should be 2 syllables, because that flows the best"
Paolo: "Ok"
Me: "And it has to be American, because you already have 2 Italian names"
Paolo: "Ok" (you have to love that he's so willing to go along with this)
Me: "How about Joseph?"
Paolo: "No, that is your daddy's name. How about Justin?" (I knew he threw this one out because he feels that he and one Mr. Timberlake have much in common)
Me: "uh, no. "
Me: "Michael?"
Paolo: "No... Thomas?"
Me: "Paolo Thomas Johnson? Nah...."

We proceeded to come up with 2-syllable, American names for a few more minutes, but couldn't decide on one. Eventually we gave up. Fast-forward to a couple of hours later. We were at my aunt's house and I'd totally forgotten about the middle name conversation.

Paolo (out of the blue): "I've got it! How about 'J. Fox'??"
Me: "huh?" (no clue what he's talking about)
Paolo: "For my American middle name. I like J. Fox"
Me: "Paolo J. Fox Johnson?" (trying very unsuccessfully to stifle my laughter).
Paolo: "Yes. I like it."
Me: "Well, ok, Paolo J. Fox Johnson it is."

To this day, I'm still not sure if he thinks "J. Fox" is one word--"jayfox" or if he realizes that "J. Fox" is actually a middle initial and a last name. But either way, on that day "Paolo J. Fox Johnson" was christened, and is still used quite frequently.

Conversation #2 "Where's Paldo"

Where: At our apartment in Otranto, two nights ago.

Why: His sister had bought him a new sweater. It has red and blue horizontal stripes. We both liked it when we saw it, but when he actually put it on...not so much. The following conversation ensued:

Paolo (looking at himself in the mirror): "Do you like it?"
Me: Ummm, it reminds me a little of "Where's Waldo?"
Paolo: "Who's Maldo?"
Me (starting to laugh): "Not Maldo...!"
Paolo: "Oh, scusa, sorry--who is Paldo?"
Me (erupting with laughter): Paldo!!?! YOU'RE PALDO!"

It took me 20 minutes to explain what this meant, who "Waldo" is, and why it all struck me so funny. He exhorts this kind of goofy humor without knowing it, and it kills me. When I try to explain it, it becomes funnier and funnier to me and more confusing to him. Which in turn makes me laugh even harder. And in this case, even though it's not truly all that funny, it was one of those things when I thought about it an hour later I would start laughing all over again. I would just envision him standing there in his "Paldo" sweater looking confused asking "Who's Paldo?" Awww. He has no idea how cute he is.

I'll have to take a picture of him in the sweater.

So, now he's officially become Paldo J. Fox.

Oh, and speaking of pictures. I've posted the pictures of our redecorated apartment and our Valentine's party. Enjoy!

Thursday, February 28, 2008

What makes a woman, a woman?

Now that I am in control over my life in regards to where I will be living and what I want to do, I've been doing some thinking. (Being married to an athlete was a tough lifestyle, we lived in 3 cities in 3 years, and from year to year we were never certain where we'd be next. I never felt like I had much control over my future.) I've begun entertaining the idea of getting my PhD--especially if I find myself living in Italy after I finish up my degrees, internships, and licensure (which is at least a year long process from when I return home in May).

I've been thinking, if I do live in Italy (and this is a HUGE "if"), what would I do? I certainly don't speak the language well enough to be giving advice to strangers. Well, lucky for me the University in Lecce has a "doctoratto" program in "psicologia." Doing something like that would accomplish a few things at once. First, and most obvious, it would further my education. Second, it would be a crash course in Italian. And third, it would give me something that was 'mine' when I got here. I would have my own friends and classmates, my own reserach and work. My life would not be reliant on Paolo--and I need that.

This line of thinking got me kind of excited, and I thought..."hmm, what would my thesis/dissertation be about? What am I interested in? What do I wonder about human nature?"

Something I've been thinking about lately is: In a female's mind, what does she believe makes her "a woman?" Aside from the normal, "I can have a baby" or "I have boobs and long hair and wear dresses and uncomfortable pointy shoes" what else defines her as a woman?

Had this question been asked 50 years ago the answers might have been more simple, "being a mother makes me a woman" or "being a wife" or "taking care of the house." And for some, those things are still true today. But for many others, they aren't. So what is it now that defines us as women? Are there any commonalities anymore?

We are a confused species these days, us women. We are plagued with guilt from every angle. If you chose to be a stay-at-home mom, should you be working? If you are a working mom, should you be at home? If you have no desire to ever be a mom, is something wrong with you? If you have no desire to be a wife, are you a lesbian? If you want time to yourself, are you neglectful? If you have a meltdown, are you crazy? If you have a high-powered career, are you a bitch? If you want a man in your life, are you needy? If you don't, are you frigid? If you expect others to pitch in as much as you do, are your expectations waaay to high???

I came up with those examples in as long as it took me to type them. The list goes on and on. We are all so very different, our desires range from one extreme to the other. But there is one common denominator. We've all experienced the feeling of guilt about what we want, or what we choose to do. As humans, we are defined (and judged) by the choices we make, and women today are all making very different choices. So, in regards to my (imaginary) thesis, I started to wonder if there were any underlying themes about what we believe defines us as women.

I thought about myself--how do I define a woman? It me took a lot longer to come up with these answers than it did to come up with the "guilt list." Here are my top three defining qualities: 1) Her complexity 2) Her intuition 3) Her ability to comfort.

Her complexity--I'll use myself as an example. I want to be a wife and a mother. I also want to be a therapist and a world-traveler. I want to be a woman with hobbies, friends and time to herself. I want to write, to learn. I want to be independant, yet I want a partner to take care of me. I want to be able to cry one minute and laugh the next. I don't want to have to sacrifice any of those things while at the same time have the time to enjoy all of them. Is that possible?

Her intution--I believe that many women turn off the little voice inside their heads because what it's telling them is true. They don't want to believe it, so instead they go with what is at face value only to find out later (often the hard way) that their gut/voice/heart was correct. I've learned to trust that voice. It's there for a reason.

Her ability to comfort--This one is kind of more by default. Women inherently know the right thing to say in a difficult situation over a man any day. We are more comfortable dealing with other's pain (according to my studies, both men and women prefer working with female therapists, and this is one of the various reasons why). Whether we are the nurturing type, the tell-it-like-it-is type, or the sympathetic, "let's go shopping and get a drink" type we often know just the right thing to do to help a family member or friend feel better.

I could ask 100 women this same question, and get 100 different answers. Or, quite possibly, I could see some themes emerging. And, if this were a real thesis then I would have to hypothesize about those potential themes and do real research and stuff (blech). I would also have to take cultural differences into consideration (it would be really interesting to see if Italian women would answer differently than American women--my guess, YES.) But since this is just one of the many things that swirls around in my brain as I put off studying Italian a little bit longer, I'm not going to do any of that for the sake of a blog. If this actually comes to fruition, I'll let ya know the findings. In the meantime...

Ladies, what makes you a woman?

Monday, February 25, 2008

Picture time

I spent the good majority of today adding photos of Otranto, Camerino, and Assisi to my website, so feel free to check them out if you are interested in where I am living and what I'm seeing on a daily basis. It's the link to the right that says "Italy 2008" (sorry, that probably didn't need an explanation).

It's mostly landscapes and town/city scenes, so I hope they aren't boring. I still have to download pictures from our Valentine's party and the "after" pictures of the condo now that it looks totally different. But, I left my cord that takes the pictures off my camera and puts them onto the computer at home, so it's a process (actually, Paolo takes my camera somewhere and comes back with a USB full of my pictures). But he hasn't done it since the "festa." Soon, I hope!


Wednesday, February 20, 2008

Train of thought...

Paolo had to work at their soccer club tonight, so I was by myself for dinner. I didn't even bother to turn on the TV--it's more stress than it's worth. And Italian TV easily deserves a blog of it's own...at another time. I'm not good at reading and eating (I have a hard time not wearing my food when I am focusing on it, let alone when reading.) So during my dinner for one, I just let my mind run away with itself, and this is the twisted road it took me down...

First. Jenn got a call from her ex-husband when we were on IM today, so made me think of Leslie. And, for some reason this scene popped into my head: One average day in Columbus, we were at a gas station filling up the car, and the man at the pump next to us had struck up a conversation with Leslie (I was in the car). The man was a black guy (relavant in a second) and he asked Les where he was from (Leslie is also black, with dreadlocks and a Caribbean accent, so this was a common question). Leslie tells the guy that he's from Trinidad. The guys response: "Really?? I'm from Africa too!!" And...get this...he then handed Leslie his pump and offered to pay for our gas. Les, being the thrifty Trini that he is, played along with the dude and allowed him to buy our gas. Apparently he has no sympathy for the stupid. He gets in the car cracking up, and explains what just happened. We decide that with the money we saved on gas the only good and kind thing we could do was to buy the guy a map...so he could see for himself that Trinidad is absolutely nowhere near Africa.

So, that line of thinking lead me to "there really aren't that many black people in Italy" and it's sad, the only ones I see are African immigrants selling fake Gucci bags on the street. In fact, there really isn't any culture in Italy aside from Italian. Granted, the regions are all pretty different from each other-the food, the dialect, the architecture. But, I miss seeing people that look different. No matter what the region, the people all look very Italian. I guess this is normal for countries other than the US...the big "melting pot" but I really appreciate our cultural smorgasboard.

Thinking about black people in Italy led me to thinking about how Paolo and I watched "Stomp the Yard" or a similar movie (can't remember), about some black colleges competing in a "stepping" battle. We both love dance movies (and yes, Paolo is straight). When we watch movies we usually try to see them in Italian with English subtitles, so I can hear the Italian being spoken while reading in English. I just couldn't handle it with this movie. You can't have Italians doing voice overs for Southern Black Americans-- they take 100% of the cool out of it. And there is no way to translate "That's whack" or "crunk" into Italian and still have the same effect.

Then I started thinking about how Paolo and I are probably the only people in the world that watch American movies that are dubbed in Italian with English subtitles. Then I started thinking about how somethings are just really "American" and no matter how close the translation is, it still doesn't capture it. When I was thinking about ultra American things, I thought about my Italian class today, in which I had a 2 hour lesson about coffee (no joke, it's a religion here). My teacher asked me about famous coffee in the US. I told her that Starbucks was easily the most famous. She just stared at me kinda blankly "Non so"...I don't know...what??? My Italian teacher had NEVER HEARD OF STARBUCKS.

I'll leave it at that folks. I know, it's a hard pill to swallow.

Sunday, February 17, 2008

Change in plans...

I've got my mind set on learning a new language, but I'm beginning to think Italian isn't for me. Instead, I'm thinking about studying British. For some reason it just flows, and my comprehension level is already at about 75%, I'd say.

So from now on instead of writing about my ragazze, I'm going to write about my mates...and their favourite colours and flavours. And, from now on, I will refer to eggplants as aubergines.


Monday, February 11, 2008

I'm living in a dryer-less nation

I just came downstairs from retrieving the laundry that was drying on the clothesline on the roof. Sure, sounds soooo Italian and kinda cool. But, really, it's not. At first I was also taken by the smell of air dried clothes, but after a few times of hanging each sock by a clothespin, the novelty wears off. And everything is kinda stiff--sure, you can add fabric softener, but until you wear it or use it (i.e. a towel) a few times it's a little like cardboard.

This is one of the many very Italian nuances that I am adjusting to. Each day, I become more used to how things work here, but some things are just so totally different than in the US. Not better or worse necessarily, just different. In some cases, I'd take the US's version and others Italia...here are a few of my favorite examples (and other random observations):
  • There are no dryers and the washers are TINY. The supersized, wash 33 pairs of jeans at a time, monstrosities that we have in the US would never fit into the normal place where a wash machine is kept in Italy...il bagno (the bathroom). Yes, they are cute and tiny and can maybe hold 33 socks, but really, you do a lot less laundry a lot more frequently. Actually, that's not true. Italians have no qualms about wearing clothes over and over until they are dirty. In fact, my teacher wore the same thing 3 days in a row last week, and that's pretty normal. We are a little more paranoid about that in the US. As if wearing the same thing twice makes us either dirty or poor. I can do it with jeans, but I usually have to switch my sweaters (even if they are not dirty), I'm working on it though. It's one of the easier Italianism to adjust to.
  • Nothing is open, ever. Ok, that's not really true either. But, shops are open from around 9am until 12:30 and then they close until 4, and then stay open from 4-8pm. And a lot of them are closed on Sunday. Oh, and Monday (from the difficult weekend??). There are some Target-type stores that are open normal hours everyday, but nothing is 24 hours. I'm sure in the larger cities the hours are a lot different, but I'm living in a small town in the very south. Things are still pretty old school down here...
  • Speaking of old school, there are old men everywhere. This is true. My mom told me the other day that the Italian population is becoming much older. This is due to family sizes shrinking and the economy not being so hot that young professionals are looking outside of their beloved country for work. So the old guys gather on the street corners or in front of the market and just stand around and talk. You can find them there at any point in the day. I often wonder where the old women are and if they ever leave the house?
  • Their government is a bigger mess than ours! Yes, I know, hard to believe. They are having an election for a new Prime Minister on April 13th. The current PM was recently voted out of office. This is the 61st time since World War II that power has changed hands in Italy (another factoid from la mia mamma...she's been reading all about Italy since her and my dad are coming to visit for two weeks in April!!! Yay!!) .
  • There are a lot of stray dogs. And nice ones at that. In Thailand or India, you wanted to avoid the strays at all costs. But here, there is a little problem with people getting dogs and then realizing for whatever reason they cannot take care of them, (going on vacation for a month and can't take the dog--just let it go, and hope it's there when you return!) so the strays are often very sweet, good-natured and clean. Sometimes I ask Paolo if we can take them home (this goes for dogs, cats, and cute old men...I love 'em all). He's yet to cave.
  • There is a couple that meets outside of our condo a few times a week for what is apparently some kind of secret rendezvous. They look to be in their 20's and they arrive in separate cars. They proceed to stand outside and smoke cigarettes and make-out passionately for a half and hour or so, and then leave separately. Sometimes I wanna yell out my window "is she your AMANTE????" But, I restrain myself.
  • You go grocery shopping virtually everyday. I actually really like this. I thought it would be a hassle, but buying bread that was baked that morning, fruit straight off the truck, and watching the butcher slice the perfectly thin bresaola makes the trips worthwhile.
  • Italy does not have notecards. Just an FYI, in case you ever find yourself here in search of notecards. I'm talking about the kind that you use to study--you know, when you make flashcards with a word or phrase on one side and the definition on the other (or for recipes, etc). Anyway, I thought these would be a great way for me to practice my Italian vocabulary. Until I found out the hard way that they apparently don't make flash cards here. We looked for days, one day for 2 hours in 4 different towns. I finally got some blank business cards.
  • In school, they don't have spelling tests. Every word is spelled exactly how it sounds. So if you can understand the phonetics of the word, then you know how to spell it. Almost all words in Italian end in vowels. In fact, Italians really enjoy vowels. It's not unusual for a 7 letter word to have 5 vowels in it. A fun example: "Miei" is one of 4 ways to say "my" depending on if it’s masculine or feminine, singular or plural. And it's pronounced Mee-ay-ee. Not easy for us consonant lovers.
  • Italians LOVE graffiti. So much so, that they often sign their names. Like if a lovesick boy writes "Emma, ti amo (Emma, I love you) he'll write "by Marco"--we can't have Emma thinking that Giuseppe wrote it now can we? Rome has more graffiti than I've ever seen in one place. This made the city so much more real to me. There is the Coliseum, and then the walls across the street are covered top to bottom in colorful street art.

So how’s that for some "you'll never need to know this information" information? But, it's stuff that I find interesting. I've had to dig deep some days to find patience and remind myself that I am in their country, and things run their way. Not mine. So the inefficiencies (and there are many, by American standards), I just have to get used to (don't get me started on the layout of large stores and where you are allowed to enter and exit...whoever designed them should maybe take up cooking or something).

But, as I am sure you can imagine, for all of the things that are difficult to get used to, there are so many wonderful things about living here. Um, waking up as looking at the sea each morning overrides 99.9% of the problems. We walk and walk and walk. There are miles of big beaches and a ton of quaint little towns to explore. And still so much about Otranto I have to see/learn. When we went to the north for Paolo's exam (which he passed btw!! YAY!!) we drove through the most beautiful landscapes I've ever seen--along the coast, through the countryside, into the mountains. We were in the car for almost 7 hours and I didn't pick up a book (for study or pleasure), I looked out the window the entire time. Italy is so, so, so, so, beautiful. It's no wonder it's one of America's favorite places to visit because it's absolutely breathtaking. Each area brought something new and so very Italian--the architecture, the vineyards, the olive trees...

Sometimes it's a love/hate relationship. But, I guess it's normal during an adjustment period. The best part about this period is I still see it all. I don't drive by it and no longer take it in. I enjoy and appreciate all of the beauty, and do my best to find humor in the hard parts.

Oh, and Paolo and I are having a party for San Valentino (Valentine's Day)...really just an excuse to show off all of the work we've done on the condo and get all of his friends and family together. My mom sent a bunch of cute V-day decor, and we are planning the menu and preparing this week so I'll be sure to write about hosting my first festa in Italia.


Sunday, February 3, 2008

Super Tuesday

Tuesday is a big day for us. Us as in us--the US, and us as in us-- Paolo and I (really, more Paolo).

First, and most obvious, is that Tuesday is the day in which 24 states vote in the US Primaries, likely deciding who will be our next Democratic and Republican presidential candidates. I've found it hilariously fascinating to watch the Italian news coverage of the US campaigns. You mean, there are actually Republican candidates? And who, by the way, is John Edwards? As far as Italy is concerned, there are 2 people running for president--Hillary and Obama. There is going to be some major disappointment over here when they find out that only one of them can actually run. Every night as I struggle to understand the news, I take absolute delight in the segments that cover US politics. It wasn't until Rudy Guliani dropped out of the race that I even saw a Republican candidate mentioned. Even on talk shows, the hosts ask their famous guests "Who do you support Hillary or Obama?" as though they are the only two choices. When I asked Paolo about it, he explained that there was extra attention paid to this election because of the significance of a woman or a black man becoming arguably the most powerful person in the world. Also, the Italian public as a whole, are not big fans of Geroge W. (or "Boosh," as they say. No pun inteneded, that's seriously how they pronounce it) so they are ready for the US to have a new leader.

Second, and almost as important as the fate of the next 4 years of the USA, Paolo has a HUGE Anatomy exam on Tuesday that he has been studying for forever. So tomorrow we are packing our bags and driving north to a small town called Camarino where his university is located. College is really different in Italy than in the US, and I think the format here is a lot more difficult. I'll explain by using Paolo's degrees as examples. So, he got his first degree in Biology, and like us he had to complete course work and labs to earn his degree. But, unlike us, it was determined if he passed a course based on one exam alone, which were always cumulative, covering an entire text book. Oh, and usually these exams were both written and oral. I don't think I've ever taken an oral exam in my entire life...unless spelling bee's count. So basically, when you decide what you want to major in, they say ok, to get that degree you have to take 32 (or however many) exams, and then it's kinda up to you when you take them, and if you attend classes or not. After Paolo got his bachelors in Biology, he was not considered a "Biologist" until took the equilivant of the bar exam for biology, which was almost an additional full year of school because it consisted of another lab, written exam, and oral exam covering all you've learned in the 5 year program. Yuck. Now he's doing a second degree n Pharmacy and because so many of the classes overlap with his biology degree he *only* has to take 12 exams. Anatony is #1. And it's a killer. I'm really hoping that he passes, because we both study so much, but we cannot study together, because Paolo is an "out loud studier." Yes. He reads out loud, repeats it all out loud, and asks himself questions out loud. I can barely say hello in Italian, but I can just about tell you how the lymphatic system works--fluently.

So please send some good vibes his way. If you'd like you can say a silent "In bocca al lupo!" which is an Italian version of "good luck" but literally means "In the mouth of the wolf" (???) and the response: "Crepie il lupo!" or just "Crepie!" (which apparently means "I hope the wolf dies.") Seems strange? Try explaning why we say "Break a leg" to a preformer before a performance...

And, in my absence (I am not bringing my computer to force myself to study my Italian flashcards) you can checkout my cousin's new blog at: http://www.hindsightis20-20.blogspot.com/ I'm diggin' the fact that more and more people that I know with the ability to write and something interesting/funny/worthwhile to say are jumping on the blog bandwagon. Maren, my cousin is 18 days older than me. And, this year, that was the sweetest gift I recieved. Up till now, she had all the good birthday's first--16, 21...and now, it's my turn to gloat. Mare, you were 30 before me...and you'll be 40 before me! Love ya!

Saturday, February 2, 2008

I'm happy

It's weird, I almost am hesitant to write about my current state of happiness, because I feel like readers get bored with happy. I get more response to my painful, major life lesson, ephiphany-type blogs than I do to my "life is good" kinda blogs...

Maybe that's why as humans we seem to be addicted to pain...because happiness is boring? Contentment = lack of excitement? I dunno, but, after a couple years of serious struggles, pain, and ephiphanies, I'm tired of them. C'mon happiness, bring it on in it's full boring force...

Each day, I laugh more and more. And it's real laughing. The kind you can't stop even if you try. (Which can be unfortunate, if you are in a public area and the laughing has just caused your drink to spew out of your mouth (or nose) or you accidentally let out an inadvertant snort). And I am really beginning to I enjoy where I am, both physically and in life in general. I think about the past less and less, and the future less and less, and enjoy now--a lot.

Maybe it's being in Italy, or maybe it's being with Paolo. I'm sure both of those factors play a huge part in it. But, more than anything, it's being me. I'm beginning to like the scars I've accumulated, and the person I've become because of where my life has gone, and the decisions I've made. I've never felt brave before, but I do now. I don't feel scared anymore. I am not sure what to attribute that to other than living through my worst nightmare, and coming out better than I ever could have imagined. I am proud of myself.

And sure, I still have bad days. But that's life. You have to have the bad ones to be able to appreciate the good ones. I have no idea what the future holds, and you know, I'm ok with that, because knowing that would make life really boring.

Tuesday, January 29, 2008


I just read Jenn's blog about the movie 27 Dresses, and how it basically teaches all of the female audience members that they will not be truly happy until they are "the better half" of a happy couple. I was planning on writing my blog about a typical day for me in Otranto, but after reading that, I thought I should put a big damper on the "a woman's not happy without a man" topic and instead, I've decided to write about a much more light and happy subject--divorce. A woman's not always happy with a man...

In talking to my counselor and also from what I have learned in my classes, divorce is one of the hardest events that someone can go though, only second to the death of a spouse or child. I can't imagine ever having to go through either of those things, and my heart breaks for those that have had to live through it. But I do think there is the possibility for there to be a bit more peace in death, because your love for them is pure, your missing and hurting is true and clear, and there was absolutely nothing you could do about it. It was out of your control. With divorce it is different, it's messy and confusing--and hardest of all, it is a choice. It's either choosing to no longer be with the person you thought you were going to spend your life with, or that person choosing to no longer spend their life with you. Whatever side you wind up on, it's hard as hell. You know that the person that you were once closest to, is still walking on this earth, continuing on with his/her life, and you are no longer a major part of it. You are no longer part of it at all.

On December 3rd, I went to court by myself to finalize everything. Leslie was in Trinidad, so it was considered an uncontested divorce, and was scarily simple. We split everything on our own terms (we didn't have a ton of stuff, just our bank accounts, the condo, and what was in it), signed some papers, he waived his right to be there, and I went with my mom (because you have to have a witness). We got to the couthouse early, in hopes that we could get in and out of there, and ended up waiting for almost 2 hours. As we were waiting I watched the other soon-to-be-uncoupled couples interact--it was so bizarre. One couple, who looked to be about the same age as me, were also there without lawyers. She arrived first, looking at her watch and rolling her eyes. He showed up 20 minutes later and they sat next to each other and started reviewing their paperwork. The dynamic was such a odd mixture--the familiarity was obviously one of two people who were once very close, they sat so close that their legs were touching. Yet, at the same time the hostility between them was also very apparent. I kept thinking to myself, "Right now they are married. When they walk out of that room they no longer will be. Huh. And, right now I am married. When I walk out of that room I no longer will be." Even though I kept telling myself that, I could not wrap my brain around it...

I finally got called into the courtroom, where we had to wait some more, for another proceeding that involved lawyers and custody discussions. I happend to be sitting next to the husband before they got called up and I heard him lean over to his lawyer and say "I can't believe this is really happening. It's so surreal." I hadn't cried all morning, but that nearly did it to me. He was right. It is surreal. How does that happen to 2 people? How can you stand across the courtroom from the person you are married to as though they are a total stranger?

The judge then called my name--my married name. I went up and stood in front of him with my mom at my side. He asked some questions--I don't really remember what they were, but one stuck in my mind "You've cited irreconsilable differences, so this means you've done everything in your power and the marriage can no longer work?" "Yes." I gulped, as the tears formed in my eyes. I think he saw that I was on the verge of losing it, took pity, and signed the papers.

I walked out of the courtroom in a daze. We got in the car and I turned on my cell phone. There was a message from Leslie. It wasn't until that minute that I broke down. The man on that message was no longer my husband. He was just Leslie. I was just Maggie, and he was just Leslie. No longer "The Fitzpatrick's", "Mags and Les," no longer a "we" or an "us." Just Maggie. And just Leslie. Ugh.

I know that we did the right thing. And with time, that is becoming more and more clear. I'm ok with being "just Maggie"...and, like the girl in 27 dresses, I too feel happy when I am part of a couple. But, I am learning how to also feel happy in those times when I am not part of one. And oddly, as I figure that out, the happiness I've found within "coupledom" has been much more fulfilling.

Saturday, January 26, 2008

Introducing...A Little Girl's Large Life

In numerous blogs I've mentioned a very good friend of mine, and how without her I don't know if I would have made it through 2007. We've been friends since we were 10, but became much closer in our post-college years...our husbands got along famously. Well, now we are even closer in our post-husband years, and I've finally talked her into joining the blog community.

You see, she thinks I'm really interesting, funny, and extremely wise. And I think the same of her. So, we can each write our respective blogs, read what the other wrote, praise one another for our wit and perspective, and continue thinking we are funny, interesting and wise.

Hey, whatever works, right?

So anyway, with no futher adu (??)...Here's she is. A little girl (literally) with a big, BIG, life...


Tuesday, January 22, 2008


The city in which I am living is called Otranto, and it's the easternmost city in all of Italy. It is in the Puglia region of Italy, and it's where the Adriatic and Ionian seas meet. Although it does attract a fair amount of tourists in the spring/summer I'd still consider it a diamond in the rough. The population is about 6,000. The city which used to be one of largest political centers in Puglia has a rather sad history--this is what I've read:

"In 1480, without warning, an Ottoman Turkish fleet invaded, landing nearby the city and capturing it along with its fort. The Pope called for a crusade, with a massive force built up by Ferdinand I of Naples. The Neapolitan force met with the Turks in 1481, thoroughly annihilating them and recapturing Otranto. However, in the two battles, the city was utterly destroyed, and has never since recovered its importance since the sack of Otranto by the Turks, in which 12,000 men are said to have perished — among them, Bishop Stephen Pendinelli, who was sawn in half. A large percentage of these captured were given the choice of converting to Islam or death - none would convert, so 800 men were beheaded outside the city. The "valley of the martyrs" still recalls this dreadful event."

I haven't made it to the valley of the martys yet, but I've spent quite a bit of time in the "centro storic" or "old town" which is situated inside the walls protecting the castle (yes, the Argonese Castle still stands, and Paolo just told me that inside the castle are all of the remains of the men that were beheaded). From our condo we have a view of the castle and the sea and it looks different everytime you look at it, depending on where the sun is in the sky. It's so beautiful.

Inside the centro there are a ton of little shops selling clothes, art, food, crafts, etc. There are restraunts, bars (the Italian kind-- which means you go in, order an espresso, drink it while standing at the bar, pay 73 cents for it, and be on your way) and also the American kind where you can actually sit down and have a drink (not coffee) and watch the people as they stroll through the town. It's pretty quiet here now, since it's winter, but the days are getting nicer and nicer (I'd say the average tempature now is about 55 degrees), and the town is starting to come alive.

Since the weather has started to get warmer, vendors selling fresh fruit, vegetables and flowers off carts have started to line the street along the sea. People are making day trips on the weekend to walk through the town, have lunch or dinner, and spend time shopping or walking along the water. There are also stores opened year round selling fresh fish (pescheria), fresh bread (pannetteria), fruit and vegetables, and sweets and coffee galore. There is scuba diving, and a ferry boat to Albania in the summer, and there are numberous festivals that take place once the weather gets warm. There is a small park in the middle of town with rides for kids, and stands selling fresh nuts, cotton candy, and other handmade sweets.

There is a small beach, and a marina, and lots of cliffs and rocky areas in which people also set up camp for days at the sea. Apparently sand isn't as important to them. I'm going to try to post some pictures directly into the blog--these aren't my own, I've taken some but not enough to post yet. And next time I'll write about a typical day here. It's really different than the US. Both good and bad. But, the one thing I can say for sure is, I have never lived in a place as beautiful as this. Even the mountains surrounding Salt Lake City don't come close.

It's Italy afterall...

The Cathedral

A house in the Old Town

A View of the Sea from the Castle

Another view from the castle

Thursday, January 17, 2008

The Other Woman...

I wasn't planning on writing today, but this is just too good...

Today I had my 3rd Italian lesson, and we began by reviewing masculine and feminine nouns, singular and plural. It's tough for English speakers to remember that every object is feminine or masculine--so a car--la macchina, is female.

Anyway, my exercise was to take this list of objects and put them into the right categories based on their preceeding article. The exercise was actually in my Italian workbook, and it was about a very rich man, and the objects were a list of everything he has. So one by one, I put each object into it's correct section, while discussing with my teacher what each word meant. He has a wife, a yacht, an island in the pacific, a private jet, a personal trainer, and an AMANTE.

When we got to that word, I didn't know what it meant so I asked my teacher (who tries to only speak in Italian with me). She said, "amante = seconda donna" (second woman). Huh? She couldn't possibly mean what I think she was saying. So she repeated "amante= fidanzata" (girlfriend). Ok, so wait a second, this rich dude in exercise #4 has a MOGLIE (wife!!!) and an AMANTE (lover??!?).

Only in Italy.

Only in Italy, in the very beginning stages of your Italian lessons, would you learn the word for "mistress"...

Wednesday, January 16, 2008

La Casa Mia (e di Paolo...)

For those of you that know me, and for those of you that have had the good fortune of being my roommate over the years, know that I am pretty much a freak about where I live. My mom is a decorator by trade, and apparently it's in the genes. I can be a little fanatical, I'm learning (sorry, Erin--you lived with me and "I want my dorm room/apartment/house THIS way" for six years...the agony...). Basically, I don't stop until it's exactly the way I want it, given the restraints I have to work with (space, money, time, etc).

So, when I walked into the condo that Paolo and I are living in for the next 4 months, I saw a georgous blank canvas. Nevermind the green tile floor, old beat-up royal blue futon, green wicker furniture with a floral pattern that at one time could have been ivory but were now a dullish grey or the completely sterile white walls. Forget that the kitchen is so tiny the refrigerator is in the dining room area, and who cares that the bathroom has 4 different types of tile-they are all some shade of blue, right? What I saw was a beautiful fireplace, FIVE floor to (almost) ceiling doors with a view overlooking the city and the sea, a huge great room with a great shape, and two good sized bedrooms. Bellissima!!!

After watching much TLC (not only do I learn loads from Stacy and Clinton) I've taken a lot of helpful tips on how to decorate on a shoestring budget from "Trading Spaces" and "While You Were Out." And much to Paolo's delight, have decided that some paint, and a few pieces of furniture...and rugs...and flowers...and more paint...and art....and the place will be in top shape in no time.

Now, normally, I wouldn't barge into someone elses house and decide to redecorate it (unless asked), but, this is one of a few rental houses that Paolo's family owns, and the nicer it looks the more they can rent it for. And we've been careful about what we've chosen. The new couch is a micro-suede that folds down into a bed, so the place can accomodate more than just the bedrooms, the chairs we bought for in front of the fireplace are papasan-like (smaller, with arms), so the cushions can be easily washed or replaced. The rugs are great--all seasons, big, and were only 40 euro each. (We spent a total of 550 on furniture--couch, 2 chairs, 2 footstools, coffee table, baskets to hold wood for the fire)--not to shabby.

There was some furniture already here, that is very, uh, circa 1973. The armoir that the TV sits on is wood with the cupboard doors covered in orange felt. Yeah. But, we've managed to work them into the color scheme, and now it *almost looks like we bought the piece on purpose. We've painted the large main room in a really pale orange, and the hallway, entryway and bedroom in a sandy color (best to go light, since it's mostly a summer home). It is amazing what a coat of paint can do for a place! Slowly it's transforming from a mish-mosh of forgotten furniture, to a cohesive, fucntional, warm space. I love it. And so does Paolo--now we can only hope his mamma feels the same way.

We took down her curtains, which were very pretty, green linen with panels of sheer floral patterns. I could tell they were very expensive and good quality. We are replacing them with simple off-white ones with a embroidered pattern along the top in a neutral color. The green was pretty, but with the orange walls it kinda had an easter egg effect. It's been the only thing she seemed a little adverse to...but, Paolo said when we leave she can put her green ones back up if she wants. (Hopefully when they see the place completed, they will love it...no one except his brother Vincenzo has seen what we've done to it so far).

So, basically, most of my time so far in Italy has been working my ass off in the condo. I could write about it as though it's a romantic comedy--young couple has a dream house that is a fixer- upper, and they turn it into a masterpiece. However, this is reality, there is no music montage of paint and construction and 5 minutes later--viola! it's done. Good Lord, don't I wish. My whole body hurts from painting, sanding, moving furniture, hauling things up two flights of stairs. But it's well worth it, because I can see Paolo falling more and more in love with it (mind you, this is his first "home" outside of his parents house--yep. It's Italy, that's how they do it. Mamma's house to wife's house) He's trying to break from that mold slowly, and when I leave, I think he will continue to live away from home. Which, in my mind (and in general in America) is a good thing.

Because of the work at home, I haven't been doing much exploring yet. I've had 2 Italian lessons, and it's overwhelming. I feel like I will never be able to learn it. I'm taking private lessons 3 days a week until classes start in mid-February. Hopefully, I will have a good handle on the basics by the time classes start. My classes for my Master's program start tomorrow, and I don't have my books yet (as usual), but my parents got them yesterday and so I should have them early next week.

Next blog, I will write about Otranto, and our life in this little town. But, for now, Paolo just got home from work and we are going to make lunch, do a bit more painting, and study.

Ciao a tutti!