Tag Archives: learning

Buongiorno Milano!

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Shopping Center

Milan’s cobblestone streets are flooded with Italian women wrapped tightly in fur coats and men in designer jeans and studded belts. Nodding heads on subway cars look more like Ralph Lauren billboards than tired passengers heading home from a day of work. This city has a pulse and it beats rapidly, deeply through the night and early into the morning. Where I can pass as a local in some places, Italy knows better. My pale skin, pale hair and blue eyes cause long stares and incoherent words under soft breath. Men whistle as they pass by, staring too long with eager lust in their eyes. But even the greatest offense sounds beautiful when it is muttered in Italian.

This language shakes and breathes and dives in and out and up and down. Every word sounds like a call to action, a battle cry, a plea to join a cause. And the people lift their arms high, and put their hands close to your face and speak with a passion I’ve not experienced in my most heated moments. Hymns sung to Beethoven’s Fifth in an intense and frightening way to an ear that knows no better. The metro hums with chatter and booming laughter and a sense of famiglia encapsulates the city and all of the people inside it.

Duomo di Milano

Duomo di Milano

We visit the Duomo, a beautiful, skyscraping cathedral, if there ever was such a thing. Never have I seen so much art in one place. Every inch is ornate and ironic in the most beautiful way: the walls, covered in sculptures up to the ceilings, which you can barely see with human eyes; stained glass windows stretch beyond my grip of sight; the floor, a maze of complicated patterns and colors; paintings hang, two-up all the way down the church on either side. We try to make sense of everything our body is trying to absorb, but we fail and become overwhelmed, groggy from the dim lights and evaporating holy water. We leave the church, letting ourselves get lost, wandering narrow streets; every turn a new discovery, a new way to get lost again and again. We are asked for change, harassed by people on the streets collecting money for ‘Africa’ or to feed their hungry babies. We push past, pretending not to understand, and stop at a tobacco shop to enjoy a freshly rolled cigarette on a cold patio, surrounded by like-minded  locals.

And on a Thursday night, we walk into a small bar, where we are greeted by a group of men, laughing and eating cichete and drinking the local birra. Ciao! Ciao! Ciao!! echoes around us in a room with walls covered in old newspapers, slot machines lining the back perimeter. We swiftly and quietly order “due birre” from the bar and take our place at a small table in the corner. We quickly learn that’s not how Italians make friends. We are stoned to death with questions, and brought endless plates of formaggio and freshly sliced prosciutto,  deviled eggs, cheeses, salami, bread and  chips and dips. Every time we finish one plate, another one comes to replace it. Arthur works on a computer in the corner, ridden with unnecessary programs and a long history of user error. He tries to navigate Windows in Italian, and the men joke, calling him Bill Gates, gesturing to his over-sized head. They string together sentences in Italian and broken English, furrowing their brows when we don’t understand, then burning paper and building charades with toothpicks to help us along. They laugh because we don’t understand much; Armando, who knows the most English translates what he cans, and makes inappropriate gestures to either party in between his translations. The men tease each other with gay jokes and pepper their sentences with ‘fuck’ as often as possible. They apologize because I’m a girl, and immediately joke that they will take me home with them; their wives will forgive them tomorrow, they say.

IMG_0786Then a free round of beers come before the bar closes, but we stay inside, laughing and eating, filling the room with the sweet, choking smell of competing tobaccos. The owner pulls out his camera, points to his wall of photos, and we spend the next 15 minutes posing for pictures we’ll never see. We part ways, but not before receiving an invitation for the next night, which we know we will accept. And we will come back the next night, but it won’t be quite the same. These fleeting moments are never able to be repeated, and so we cherish them even more.

Day 52: The Art of Knowing

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Today, I had a meeting with one of my service line reps in the Laboratory. We scheduled an hour to go over a newsletter and some tactics to change the way that doctors order tests. Basically, because the standards of lab testing change so often, and certain tests not only have to be taken by the correct method (blood, urine, saliva, etc.) but also have to be stored/labeled correctly (different color vials actually contain different types of plastics that can alter the test results) there is a lot of room for error, which means a lot of error occurs. So learning about that was all interesting enough, but we didn’t even make it to this part of the meeting until an hour after we were scheduled to because we got caught up talking on the Lab tour.

I was with my manager as well, and we started out the meeting by taking a tour of the lab which includes several departments. There is the area that works does dissections, then microbiology, pharmacology, molecular biology and a few others that I don’t even remember. Once we got into the molecular area of the hospital – the department where my service line works – we not only got a tour, but a lot of in-depth information about what type of virus/bacteria are processed in her lab. Most of it was for STDs. There were separate machines for herpes, gonorrhea, and chlamydia, along with machines that test for the flu and some basic genetic mutations.

So naturally, we launched into a discussion about STDs, the growth and spread of each, and especially of herpes. I was surprised how much knowledge I have locked away about STDs. I’ve been lucky to never had to deal with anything like that in my life, but I apparently have done enough reading and research to know a fair amount about them. Even information about symptoms and spread that the molecular biologist didn’t know. I did learn that Symplex 1 and 2 can now be found on either area of the body where walking in I thought Symplex 1 was only found on the mouth and face. We were told that both Symplexes attach to the base of the spine; I corrected the doctor and told her that Symplex 1 actually attached behind the jaw. She said that wan’t the case. Me, being the egoist that I am, looked it up when I got home, and found that Symplex 1, does in fact, attach behind the cheek bone.

So I’m not trying to brag that I know anything about anything because I know I don’t. I just surprise myself every once in a while by pulling out some old files that I have stored away in my brain, brushing them off, and still being able to make out the handwriting. Even if it is something that most humans are equipped with, the ability to store and recall information is pretty outstanding.

Day 35: Soulsong: Music that Moves Us

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Music has the power to transcend a murky soul or damn it further into submission. It takes us to a place where heartache heals, love prevails, passion ignites – where pain has a repeat button, and snotty tears break a shaking voice. And it’s so intimate in that way. We wallow with our favorite singer/songwriter when we need someone to understand that we haven’t moved on yet, but are too afraid to say it out loud, to admit to ourselves. We scream the lyrics to an empty room, wishing we had the courage to say those words aloud to someone… wishing those words were our own. We bob our heads at our steering wheels. We turn the volume up when we get ready on a Friday night, soaking in the energy of every pop!beat!ye-ah! We sing happily and freely with our friends at the bar, words uniting us, subtle reminders how similar we are. We cha cha slide, we macarena, we show how low we can go.

We associate songs to our experiences; those cries of pain to our own, or a distant joy that fuels us. We relate them to people; when we are in love, when we stop loving. They make us sick to our stomach – a reminder of a life you thought was yours, now mocking. And even though we shouldn’t listen to those songs – the ones that make us remember a time that now seems a million miles away – sometimes we do. And sometimes our hearts are broken all over again for it. But we are able to find another, and speak through a voice that’s not our own. We find strength through a streaming courage.

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Every time I hear the Spin Doctors I am reminded of driving to my brother’s t-ball practice in my mom’s minivan. Whenever my Format album is playing, I am transported to my 16-year-old self, the back seat of an old Civic, windows down, a car full of giggling girls. Lynyrd Skynyrd’s We Ain’t Much Different will remind me of my father until the end of time. I Want it that Way was my first couple-skate song in the fifth grade. I belted Lady Gaga’s Speechless to my steering wheel in a mellow dramatic frenzy for weeks on end when stitching up my heart. It still gives me the same feeling of empowerment, even more perhaps, now that I’m on the other side.

And, I know it almost seems too obvious, but Modest Mouse puts a smile on my face on the worst of days with “Float On.”

I’ve had Fun.’s Aim and Ignite album in my car for weeks (yes I’m still living in the age of CDs…) and every time I hear The Gambler, nearly without fail, I start sobbing uncontrollably. I’m not sure why- it’s not intended to be sad, nor do I feel sad when listening to it. It’s a love song. A life-long, old on the porch, sort of love song about falling in deep and having babies and growing old. There is something so beautiful about it to me that I just can’t hold back. I don’t imagine anyone else could really feel the same way toward it. And, that’s the beautiful thing about the music. It’s one of my soulsongs.

What are some of yours?

I swear when I grow up, I won’t just buy you a rose.
I will buy the flower shop, and you will never be lonely.
Even if the sun stops waking up over the fields
I will not leave, I will not leave ’till it’s our time.
So just take my hand, you know that I will never leave your side.

Day 19: Katie

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This project to find something every day to be thankful for has made me realize how many little things happen in my life that I enjoy so much. Some of them are small, like a good nail polish color or getting a free drink at Starbucks, and some are a lot bigger, like being healthy, having a good family and having everything I need. Because of 140 days of Prague, I remind myself all day, multiple times a day, how many great little things are happening all around me. And the funny thing is, they always have been. Now, I just have my eyes open because I know, at the end of the day, I get to pick the thing that tickled me most and talk about it. Bad things don’t seem so bad, and the little pleasures become larger.

So, everyday, I find myself being thankful for 140 Days to Prague. I’m sure I drive anyone crazy who follows my blog with posting so much, but this is the best therapy I’ve ever had… and I’ve seen professionals.

Back to today. I woke up this morning and talked to my dear friend, Katie for a while. We’ve been trying for weeks to catch each other. With a 13 hour time difference and extremely busy lives, today was the first day we were able to take a full hour and catch up.

Today, I’m thankful to be friends with Katie.

I’m sure many more of these will come because I love so many of my friends so much, but Katie and I had a good chat this morning, so she’s up first. The usual catching up, plus a little bit of politics, a little bit of philosophy, a lot of life.

We haven’t known each other very long – we were no more than acquaintances during college. It wasn’t until after we both graduated and she commented on a facebook post of mine that we even started talking. Although she is on the other side of the world and we haven’t known each other very long, I love that we can sit on the phone and chat about life openly and without judgement. I don’t know many people who I can have meaningful conversation, disagree with on a topic, and still enjoy the discussion so much. If Katie and I would not have become friends, I’m not sure I ever would have taken the leap to Prague. I look up to her courage, her spontaneity, and the joy she gets from life. I know it’s going to be a while until I get to see her again, but I know we will be friends for a long time.

I’m thankful you’re in my life, Katie!

Day 14: Little Niceties

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Today, I’m thankful for the little nice things that people do.

I walked into my office this morning to an Applebee’s gift card from someone who submitted a classified ad to my newsletter. Well, didn’t just submit it – he emailed and called quite a few times over the course of the last month, making sure it was published, making sure I got his voicemails, making sure I got his emails. I’ll admit I got annoyed with him a few times and wasn’t as completely nice as I could have been.

So the gift card was a good reminder that you should always take the extra second or 10 seconds, or minute, or 5 minutes to be kind. I was never rude; I simply could have taken a little breath, gained a little perspective, and been a little better than I was. I’m not saying money buys me love – the note he wrote without the gift card would have had the same effect on my heart.

I encountered someone yesterday who had the same effect on me. I was getting my car assessed from a recent rear-end accident. My bumper was barely scuffed. The agent said he would work in extra time to have my entire bumper sanded and painted, to repair another, much more noticeable scratch I got in a Kroger parking lot a few weeks after getting my car. And he was just so nice. An insurance agent, of all people.

So two little acts of kindness have restored a lot of faith in me today. Little reminders that it takes no more time to be kind than it does to be obnoxious – and it’s better for your blood pressure too, I think.

Day 12: Like Riding a Bike

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Day 12: Today, I’m thankful I got on the bike.

That overused cliché about never forgetting how to ride a bike turns out to be true. I haven’t had a bike since… well, I honestly don’t even remember. Sometime around second grade, I think.

We got my dad a bicycle for Father’s Day a few weeks ago, and since the temperature dropped from 93 to 75 degrees over the course of an hour today, I finally decided to give it a whirl around the block. I’ve been debating for weeks, but I’ve psyched myself out every time, imagining violently sliding across the pavement sideways and meeting my untimely and embarrassing end. Today, I said screw it, put on some soffe shorts and a tank top, and went for it.

I went around the block twice and came back in, sweating, and feeling good that I conquered my fear – even if that makes me as accomplished as a 6 years old. After a little bit of lightning and some spitting rain passed, I decided to go back out again.

I’m so glad I did – the air had a yellow hue, the clouds were dark purple against an auburn sky, and the air was cool. I kept the gear higher than I should trudging up the massive hills in my neighborhood and didn’t succumb to squeezing the breaks as I came soaring down the other side. It felt incredible to go that fast, cool air beating around my ears and tangling my hair. And one time around the block turned into three or four or five, as I lost track of time.

I’m sure I my butt cheeks will be hurting tomorrow, the unfortunate way they do when a bicycle seat bruises them, but for now, I’m glad that I got on and started peddling. Once I did, I realized how silly it was to not ride simply for the fear of falling down.

Day 9: Clean Teeth

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Day 9: Today, I’m thankful that I can pay people to clean my teeth.

I know a lot of people have irrational fears about the dentist, but I’m not one of them. I never had many problems with my teeth growing up, so it was always a pleasant enough experience for me.

Today, I went for my annual cleaning. The thought of someone else scraping the plaque off your teeth is pretty disgusting, but it just feel so good. They use that little round super toothbrush that buffs your teeth, and the toothpaste with the sand in it – then rinse, vacuum out your mouth, give you a free toothbrush, and send you on your way.

I can ear a little bell chime whenever I smile today.

Thanks, clean teeth, for being shiny.

Ding!