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 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 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 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 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: 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.