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.