Tag Archives: lesson

Buongiorno Milano!

Standard

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 54: Knowing When to Run

Standard

I have an addictive personality. When I decide I need a pair of red pants, I do not rest until I have them. I go for an Oreo and end up eating the whole bag. I go out for a drink with a friend, and wake up the next morning on a couch of a friend of a friend of a friend. I go all in when I do anything. It’s a terrible, nagging habit that I wish I didn’t have.

The same is to say with people in my life. I don’t like giving up on anyone. I’ve done it before, but in most cases, I end up emailing and calling and texting like a crazy ex-girlfriend until my apology is accepted or a restraining order is issued. I have a hard time letting go of people I care about or people who I want to care about me. I hate feeling like I hurt someone’s feelings. Worse than that, I hate feeling like someone doesn’t care if I’m in their life or not.

And that’s something that really drives me crazy. To feel like someone you care about, someone that you may even love, doesn’t care if you give up on them, if you walk away. I’m not talking about walking away and turning into a pillar of salt because you never truly wanted to go. I’m not talking about making frivolous threats to get someone’s attention. I mean making the difficult decision to leave someone you care about because you fear they will never understand the way you need to be loved. Walking away because you’ve tried over and over again, you’ve given all you have, but you’re still caught in a web, having your insides sucked out. I’m talking about making the decision to stop chasing someone who may not want you, and give them the chance to run – to see if they’ll even put their sneakers on to come after you. Its a dangerous game to play.

This only seems to prove my twisted addiction for cruel forms of punishment. It’s as if I enjoy the thought of suffering from a crushed spirit. Maybe I read too much from the Buddha. Not all forms of suffering are enlightening.

“To suffer unnecessarily is masochistic rather than heroic.” – Viktor Frankl

I don’t like giving ultimatums. In my limited experience, they shut people down and I end up with a thing I never wanted. But sometimes, you have to be able to say no, knowing what it may mean. You have to break the bad habit of making excuses for someone who doesn’t treat you right. You have to face your addiction and start your own intervention. You have to walk away, knowing that no one will come after you, but hoping that you’re wrong. And when you turn out to be right, don’t let it get you down. I think that maybe it will lead you closer to someone who you won’t have to chase at all one day.

I’m glad that I love myself enough to be able to walk away from something that isn’t good for me, for someone who doesn’t think I’m worth following. A lot of people end up running their whole lives, chasing after something that may not even exist. I’m tired of the running. I’m ready to take my shoes off and stand still for a while.

Day 48: My Father’s Daughter

Standard

Every day when I get home, my dad comes to the door, pushes our wild pack of dogs off of me, and heads to my first destination: the kitchen. We snack, grab a drink with some ice in it, and usually end up sitting at the kitchen table talking. Our bosses, the weather, the yard, the speed of light, J.R. Tolkien … no limits. We just sit and talk for hours. I’m not sure how many people have that relationship with their father, but it’s such an exceptional gift to me.

I’m definitely my father’s daughter. He’s called me his “little girl” since the day I was born. He still addresses my birthday cards that way. When I was a little girl, he taught me how to hold my breath under water, play HORSE, and catch the lizards whose tails fall off when you pick them up. When I got older he taught me how to drive, lay tile, change the breaks on my car, and put someone in a chokehold. He always knows what the weather is going to be. When he’s proud, his chin starts to tremble. Sometimes tennis matches do it to him too. He is too cheap to turn the air down in the summer. He would eat a hamburger from Red Robin every day if we would let him. He made me my first olive and cream cheese sandwich. We have the same taste in beer. He drives way too close to the person in front of him. He curses when he can’t find things in the fridge. He puts his initials on practically everything he owns.

I know he won’t be around forever, and meanwhile, I’m running in every direction as fast as I can. I get a lump in my throat thinking about the day that I get the call telling me he’s gone. So I’m not going to think about it. I’m just inflated with love for that crazy old man.


Day 35: Soulsong: Music that Moves Us

Standard

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.

__________________________________________________________________________

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 25: Dolla Dolla Bills ya’ll

Standard

Tonight, we went to the Brass Ass. If you’re from the area, you know what a wretched place it is, if not, you can use your imagination. We went as a “ha ha lets go to the Brass Ass and get cray!” sort of gesture that made sense when vodka cranberries were swirling around in our bellies, making our blood hot.

My experience with strippers so far in life has been pretty high-brow. Vegas, Bourbon Street and a few private parties. These ladies were of a different sort. It was a scene straight out of a Palahniuk novel. We all joked that we could do better, and how we didn’t feel so bad about our bodies. We laughed loudly, clapping our hands and avoiding the cat calls aimed in our direction. And then we left, I drove home and now sitting here, the tragedy of it all is sinking in. Because this was an hour to laugh about in my Saturday night, but for those women, this is their jobs, their lives. This is what they do every day.

So I’m not sure exactly what I’m thankful for tonight. Can I say I’m thankful I’m not a stripper without sounding completely pretentious? Yeah, I didn’t think so.

I guess I’m just thankful that I see enough potential in myself to never lose sight of who I am. No matter how bad I may screw something up, I know I’ll always bounce back. Maybe those women were bouncing back too, or maybe they are more capable of removing the stigmas society tells us to have towards strippers. Maybe they love their lives.

But, I don’t think they do.

Day 19: Katie

Standard

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

Standard

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.