Ci Vediamo, Napoli!

What. I have sensitive eyes, okay?

Here we are, guys! We have come to the bittersweet end of The Italy Project. And when I say “we” it is because I truly feel you and I have done it together. I intended to offer some parting words on Italia or living abroad, but my thoughts kept drifting to you, dear Reader. Yes, you! You look gorgeous today, by the way.

Initially, I assumed my fan base (if you can even call it that) was small – consisting almost entirely of my mom and Billy. A tiny, albeit fierce, faction intent on encouraging me to write if only to keep from going batshit crazy here in Naples. And so I wrote, sending my digital message-in-a-bottle out into the cyber sea with no intention of ever being heard. Suddenly, lo and behold, there you were! So many of you!

You offered quick dinner recipes when I bemoaned having to cook for my husband. You laughed (and cringed) with me when I made millions of mistakes adjusting to this new life. You asked me for travel advice (hope I helped!). You supported me when I felt displaced and anxious about what lay ahead.

And who are you anyway? My inner circle (obvi). High school friends I haven’t heard from in years. Military wives who found my blog when a friend of a friend shared it. Even some random readers from countries where I don’t know a soul. (Say hey, creepers!!)

Life’s twists and turns are mysterious. In high school we had to select a foreign language and I couldn’t help but roll my eyes at the kids who wanted to learn Italian. Oh, your grandmother’s grandmother was Italian? How fascinating. Learning Italian would be pointless – after all, no one speaks Italian outside of Italy. I also distinctly remember dismissing metric conversions in a similar fashion. As fate would have it, a few months ago I found myself in Pepe’s kitchen trying to translate my recipe for Chocolate Peanut Butter Bars into Italian…. while reconfiguring the measurements into metric units. I stopped mid-sentence, struck by how wrong my teenage self had been. (This particular episode resulted in me just giving Pepe’s wife a set of U.S. measuring cups. Apparently I still suck at conversions).

I never thought I’d live in Naples – Florence, sure – but Naples? God, no. I never thought I’d be a military wife. Giving up my independent swag to follow some dude around? Inconceivable! I never thought I’d marry Billy. I assumed he had real short-term potential, ifyaknowwhatimean. And yet, here I am. My life has defied so many of my expectations while exceeding my biggest, long-held dreams. I am tremendously grateful for this past year and for your love and support.

Billy and I are about to board our flight. We’re taking the long way back to the States – via Santorini and Switzerland! They say when you come to Napoli you cry twice: once when you arrive and once when you leave. Lord knows, this city brought me to tears more than a few times. But I know a part of me will weep when we go. A dopo, Italia.

Miserable In The Mezzogiorno

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At least there’s wine…

Hello, dear Reader. You may remember that last week I discussed the many things I love about Italy – a post reinforcing plenty of romantic ideals. But now, if you please, allow me to remove those rose colored glasses….

While you were picturing my life under the Tuscan sun, I’ve actually been living in Campania, the Appalachia of Italy. Economically depressed, traditional (almost to the point of being backwards), and poorly educated. We won’t even talk about the Camorra! (But if you’re interested in the history of the mafia, Saviano’s tell-all is required reading). Part of me is hesitant to perpetuate these stereotypes since certainly, there are bigger social and economic influences at play. And yet, there’s no denying that daily life in “the armpit of Europe” is a grind. Here’s my list of grievances:

Being a bella donna. Being a woman is a tough gig anywhere but in Italy, the struggle is real. The options are limited: you can be a sex object or a mom (and don’t you even think about trying to be both!). Sure, I’m simplifying, but a woman’s worth in Italy is based almost entirely on her ability to land a man and procreate. The “appreciative” gazes and indecent proposals are exhausting. Anything I say to a man is dismissed, leaving me with the odd sensation of being highly visible and simultaneously irrelevant.

Eating out. There’s a lot of hype about Italian food but, on the whole, my experiences dining out have been lackluster. The carb-heavy menu is the same everywhere you go: no substitutions, no modern twists, and no ambiance. And foreign food? Bahahaha! Just no. Impossibile! *The exception to this rule was Puglia, where every meal I ate was transcendent! Sicilia is a very close second.

Technical difficulties. Plugs don’t fit into outlets. Voltage adapters blow shit up. Devices administer shocks when plugged into the wall. The dryer doesn’t dry and the washer backs up into the shower. The fridge has ice build-up but the freezer is warm. The wifi works but only intermittently. Click Wifi OFF/Wifi ON in order to get a moment of internet access. Repeat process as needed.

The beauty scene. It’s ugly, people. Certified beauty professionals aren’t really a “thing” here so there’s no guarantee your hairstylist/manicurist/waxer has any formal training. Also, they’re limited in the products they can obtain, resulting in the use of whatever is on hand to get you that bayalage that’s trending right now. Most services are offered in your home which, though it sounds luxurious, feels haphazard (and awkward) at best. The bill is a fourth of what it is in the States, but you’re also about a fourth as attractive as you used to be – what you save in euro, you pay for in self-esteem. WOOF!

Useless napkins. In every caffè bar you will find small napkins with a waxy, non-absorbent finish. Why would you give me a napkin that doesn’t absorb moisture? What sort of sick mind game is this!?

The apathy. Naples, once the Kingdom of Naples, has been conquered, occupied, and razed by war and natural disaster several times over. It is my opinion that Neapolitans have developed a strong sense of apathy as a form of self-preservation. Come what may, they’ll simply ignore it and continue to scoot around and make pizza. But I think it’s time Neapolitans got good and angry. Angry about the trash-strewn highways, angry about the Camorra dumping illegally in their communities, angry about their kids having to leave the country in order to find good jobs. Raise up!

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Limoncello. It’s gross. Stop giving it to me.

FurbiziaItalians have a sense of pride in being clever, or rather, sneaky. Whether it’s cutting off an entire lane of traffic or selling something at an inflated price, you get the sense the mantra is have or be had. Sly bastards.

Cash only. You may have unlimited credit and $5,000 in your pocket but unless you’re carrying very small bills (and coins), you have no purchasing power in Italy. Guys, I’m no Alan Greenspan, but I’m fairly certain the economy would benefit if it were easier for people to spend money here. Just sayin’…..

Temperature control. None of the buildings have insulation so my brain melts out of my ears in the summer and I’m chilled to the bone in winter. Why do I always feel like I’m living outdoors?

Close-mindedness. If Americans are forward-thinking opportunists, Italians are drunk on nostalgia. Tradition reigns. Whether it’s when to drink cappuccino (only before noon) or tolerating ineffective governments (after all, the evil you know is better than the one you don’t), there’s no room for new ideas or cultures. Nevermind things like birth control, divorce, and LGBT rights.

Italian pride. There’s nothing wrong with being proud but the Italians border on delusional. They condemn all foreign cuisine and are still bragging about the Roman Empire like it didn’t fall a gazillion years ago. Italy’s influence is undeniable and its mozz is tops, but it might be time to focus on the future instead of resting on its laurels. Not to be all what-have-you-done-for-me-lately but… what have you done lately?

Hustlers. (Or entrepreneurs). The economy is crap which results in people getting… innovative. When you park your car downtown there is often a guy standing nearby looking sketchy. He’s not an official parking attendant but he’s expecting you to pay him, though the service offered is unclear: are you paying him to watch your car? Are you paying him to not break into your car? For only 2 euro, it’s a solid investment either way.

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Nonnas. Don’t let the glasses and orthopedic shoes fool you, these little old ladies are bullies! Frequently seen walking arm in arm, they flood the local grocer in pairs and never fail to push past me in line. They terrorize the staff by meticulously inspecting the produce, asking for details about the morning’s cheese delivery, and scrutinizing the width of the butcher’s meat cuts.

Lack of civic responsibility. Considering the generosity and warmth of Italians in the private sphere, it’s interesting to see a universal disregard for the community at large. For all the talk of famiglia, it’s every man for himself! Indeed, tax evasion is the norm. Although, I’m willing to cut the Italians some slack on this one. Italy has one of the highest taxes in Europe (50%!!!) and after years of corrupt government spending, I understand the reluctance to cough it up. But! It’s also no wonder the roads are a disaster, there’s trash everywhere, and the local high school looks like a maximum security prison.

Inefficiency. Take produce shopping for instance, it’s a 20 minute affair! In Italy you cannot bag your own produce. Instead, you tell the grocer what item you need and he walks over to select the fruit, then he bags it, weighs it, and puts a price sticker on it before asking you, “E poi?/And then?”  Don’t try to rush the process by outlining your whole list either. No, no. You ask for one item at a time. Meanwhile, the grocer is chatting you up about the weekend, what’s for dinner (“you’re making that again?”), and how you feel about life lately because you seem a little sad or tired or something…. *Confession: Sometimes I drive an hour to the American base so I can bag my own produce in under 3 minutes while having zero human interaction. It’s glorious.

Customer service. It’s severely lacking – not always, but often! The quickest, cheapest, least labor-intensive solution is employed every time. Instead of properly filling a large pothole near our house, it was repeatedly packed with sand for months. Really? This from the minds that brought us the Renaissance?

Not enough peanut butter.

Animal-lovers beware. Dead cats and dogs litter the highways and during Ferragosto many pet owners turn their animals loose while they join the rest of Italy on the beach. Ugh!

Italians abroad. Italians, I love you guys, I really do. But please try not to be such a loud, disorganized mess in front of my new, totally chill (and reserved) Danish friends. Just… be cool. 🙂

Phew! There you have it. It was both cathartic and challenging to write this post. Though I’ve had many positive experiences living abroad, it would be disingenuous to share only the chic coastal getaways and easy jaunts across the Continent. Besides, you know I keep it real with you, dear Reader.

My Love Letter to Italia

Our 400-pound couch on moving day.

Though neither of us want to admit it, dear Reader, we both know my time in Italy is coming to a close. The movers came last week – chatting, smoking, and precariously loading our heaviest items onto a rickety conveyer belt attached to our balcony with duct tape. Shit is getting real! Initially I planned to write about our recent trip to Copenhagen and Malmö (so fun!), but there are still so many things I have yet to share with you about Italia – things I love about my life here, and things I’m all too happy to leave behind. Let’s start with the good stuff:

Neapolitan Pizza. Not pizza made anywhere else in Italy. Pizza made in Napoli. Punto. 

The sounds of the quartiere. Church bells on the hour, roaming accordion players mid-morning, the chatter of the guys on the corner below. The persistent beep of car horns. The scooting of scooters. Yet another religious parade. The menacing cry of seagulls. The puzzling blend of 80s tunes blaring from the bar nearby. Italians are a boisterous bunch and they fill my life with sound.

The rare rainy day. The Italians are a solar-powered people. No, not in the tech-savvy, environmentally conscious sense (HA!). Rather, they live outside: on their balconies, the stradas, the piazzas, the outdoor cafès. If the sun is out, the Italians are at play. Thus, a rainy day is an unusual reprieve from the clammer I claim to love so much above. Sorry amici, I know you’re crestfallen, but sometimes it’s nice to hide inside and be a lil’ emo. The sun will be back tomorrow.

Vesuvius. An undisputed symbol of Napoli, she has come to embody the impetuous and unpredictable nature of the city. Ours is an uneasy alliance, but in some strange way, the sight of her signals home.

Jesus, Jesus, Jesus! I’m not Christian but Jesus has become a huge part of my life in Italy. The man is everywhere! I can’t purchase a hunk of parmesean at the local formaggeria or buy a new toothbrush without standing under the solemn gaze of Jesus. Or maybe it’s a tender gaze? Or a gaze full of divine mercy? Either way, he be watchin’! If initially weird, it has become reassuring. Akin to a Trip Advisor sticker, his visage suggests that this parm is Jesus-approved. Thumbs up, people!

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The Italians themselves. Sure they come on strong with their smooching and close-talking, but you get the sense they really care about you. When I shared the news about Georgia, the whole neighborhood sought to comfort me. Georgia? Ma perchè?! Io non so questo posto… Georgia. Non preoccuparti, cara!/Georgia? But why? I don’t know this place… Georgia. Don’t worry, dear! They patted my hand and lamented living anywhere but Italia. (I didn’t have the heart to tell them Pozzuoli wasn’t especially cosmopolitan either but, lord knows, they wouldn’t have believed me anyway). Warm and inclusive, Italians are always hoping to expand their circle of famiglia and share their culture. And their recipes. My god, the recipes. Enough already!

Hand gestures. The lively hand gestures are precise and plentiful, relaying complex concepts all on their own. They perfectly illustrate the Italians’ effusive and affectionate nature. Plus, it makes eavesdropping way easier.

Driving. This is a real hot topic with foreigners – and for good reason. Scooters pass on either side, blinkers aren’t used, and often cars race up behind you with their lights flashing wildly (meaning: move, bitch!). Half of the country is unemployed and yet everyone is in a murderous rush to get where they’re going. Except for the guy triple parked downtown while he and his buddies pop in for a gelato. That gaugliò is taking his time…

It’s true the driving here is chaotic. But there’s something liberating about it too. Also, it’s hilarious listening to Americans become irate and all won’t-somebody-please-think-of-the-children! about it. I am sorry to report that no one cares about your Baby on Board in the States either, friends. It’s unreasonable to expect American traffic laws to apply anywhere outside of America. Italian drivers are not out to get you – they didn’t even notice they ran you off the road (duh, they were on their cell)! So: Don’t.Take.It.Personally. (This is good advice for 95% of life’s problems by the way).

Those “OMG! I live in ITALY!” moments. Whether it’s catching a glimpse of Capri on my way to the gym or spending an impromptu day in Roma, there are moments when I’m overcome with gratitude. TSwift spent her summer boating the Amalfi coast and eating at Napoli’s best pizzerias. Well… so did I!

It’s a Party. Everything has the potential to be a social occasion in Italy. The gym, the produce shop. If there’s an actual party? Everyone is invited! Plane landed safely? Emphatic round of applause! Once I was in traffic so ugly cars were parked on the tangenziale. While I buried my nose in a book, intent on denying the disturbance, Italians got out of their cars and began to chat. Can we get some caffè out here? Not to mention the nightly fireworks! Italians embody the spirit of YOLO.

Drammatizzare. So much drama, and Napoli is the stage! Take, for instance, the time the local grocery store packaged pre-cut broccoli for sale. Inwardly, I rejoiced. It was a small reminder of my life before Italy – a life of ease and efficiency. The old woman next to me, however, was incensed“What? They think I cannot cut my own broccoli? I’m too busy to feed my family? Too lazy? What?!” Dear Reader, I’ve never known anyone who took broccoli so personally. Life here is full of these outrageous monologues. It’s awesome.

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Pepe. Pepe is the portiere (or property manager) for our building. When he’s not tending to the plants or my broken appliances, he can be found standing on the corner with his ragtag group of buddies. Whether I’m coming or going, he’s there to greet me with a friendly wave. When I don’t know what to do, Pepe can fix it (and if he can’t, non ci sono problemi, he knows a guy). His constant presence is a comfort, especially so far from home.

Our balcony. Every morning it offers a stunning view of the bay and Italy’s third largest amphitheater. Amazing! It’s also a magical spot to watch storms roll in.

Gelato. On a hot summer day, it feels like everyone is eating gelato but me! I love that the pressure to booze doesn’t exist in Italy. Instead, it’s far more common for a couple of young guys to hop on a scooter and spend Friday night enjoying gelato together. It’s as wholesome as it is adorable! Who needs beer?

The simplicity. Life here is simple, though not easy. In the States things are easy: public transportation functions, deadlines are met, anything can be bought at any time. But, I think you’d agree dear Reader, there is a price we pay for those conveniences – everyone is hustling! The priorities are different here. Life is about family, food, and enjoyment. Caffè breaks and two hour lunches always trump your workload. Sure, it’s frustrating when you need something done, but it’s also lovely to see our neighbors rejoice in a new plant, the summer produce, or their first grandchild.

Billy Goes To Italy. I love how whole-heartedly my husband took to life here. He sips espresso like a local and fearlessly practices his Italian at every opportunity. He put numerous dents in his Alfa Romeo in pursuit of adventures in downtown Napoli (a place most Americans hesitate to even spend the day – lame!). The parco guys have embraced my chiacchierone (chatterbox) as part of their crew, inviting him into the never-ending circle of small talk. Mario, owner of the local pizza shop, teaches Billy naughty Neapolitan phrases and consults him about life’s mysteries: “I had a sex dream about a very fat woman, but my wife is very skinny… what does it mean, Bill?”  I’m proud of my man and it’s been fun seeing him thrive in another environment. (But seriously, he’s thisclose to buying a Vespa and a man-satchel so it’s best we’re leaving soon).

That’s the highlight reel, kids. BUT! Living in Southern Italy wasn’t all good news… My next post will be about the things that make me glad to be blowing this popsicle stand. Until next time!

Castles and Criminal Offenses

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Do these look like the faces of criminal masterminds to you?!

Rise and shine, dear Reader. Our last day in Bavaria is here and, judging from the view from our window, it will be a raw and rainy affair. This morning William and I have plans to see Neuschwanstein Castle up close. The castle, commissioned by King Ludwig II in the 19th century, is often cited as the inspiration for Disney’s Sleeping Beauty Castle.

Indeed, it certainly feels like Disney World as we enter the parking lot packed with mammoth buses toting unwieldy Asian tour groups. One glance at the ticket line and Billy and I decide, no way. But! Do not despair, we can still enjoy the outside of the castle and its courtyard. Besides, everyone knows that while the castle looks medieval, it was actually built long after castles served their strategic purpose. In short, Ludwig had it built for funsies and he died before it was ever finished.

Now I have a confession to make, dear Reader: I’ve set you up. I’ve lulled you into a false sense of security with our tranquil tales of Bavaria, all the while knowing our adventure culminates in a dastardly crime…

Setting The (Crime) Scene
With a few hours to kill before our flight, William and I explore Munich’s city center. To be honest, it’s nothing special. Maybe it’s the crummy weather or the mediocre cappuccinos – in any case, Billy and I are underwhelmed. That is until we return to the parking garage…..

Back at the garage we discover a police car, two polizei officers, a young man, and three older ladies crowded behind our parked vehicle. Immediately, they ask (in German and then English) if the rental car belongs to us. Yeeesss, we confirm suspiciously. A wave of unrest ripples through the crowd.

The young man steps forward. He is slight with glasses, and is maybe a few years younger than Billy and I. “Look! Look at the damage you’ve done to my car!”

Stunned, Billy and I survey the scene, striving to identify the tragedy that is obvious to everyone else. Our car looks okay. His car, parked next to ours, also looks okay. We’re stumped. Incredulous, the man points to a small scratch on the bumper of his pastel blue Octavia. We lean in closer. Closer. Oh, yeah. We see it. And? Neither of us recall hitting his car when Billy parked. But, as you will see, pleading innocence proves futile.

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The Interrogation
With the suspects identified (um, that’s us), the two police officers spring into action. Both are in their early 30s, one female and one haughty male (Good Cop and Bad Cop, respectively). They begin the line of questioning: When did you arrive? (An hour ago). How long were you in the city center? (Maybe 45 minutes). What, exactly, were you doing there? (Drinking cappuccinos and seeing the Glockenspiel). Was there music playing when you parked?  (No). Were the windows rolled down? (No). Billy and I are asked these questions repeatedly, both together and separately.

Bad Cop relays our account to the “victims.” One woman holds her stomach as if she’s about to be sick. The young man shakes his head in disbelief. What depravity is this? What kind of people (allegedly!) scuff up a car, rejoice in the destruction over cappuccinos, and return to savor the victims’ devastation? It’s like when you read about a serial killer slaughtering his entire family and then heading to Dairy Queen for an Oreo Blizzard. Ah, the humanity!

Bad Cop asks Billy if he has a lawyer or witness who can say something – anything! – on his behalf. My husband gapes. I raise my hand, hoping to defend my man’s honor, but Bad Cop shoots me down with a glance. It would seem I’m in the accomplice category instead. Things are strangely tense for a minor (alleged!) fender bender. Billy and I tread carefully, showing patience and deference.

Billy calmly maintains neither of us believe we hit the neighboring car while parking. But, he’s willing to admit, it is possible, and in that case there’s no problem, we have insurance.

“Yes, but the car damage is no longer the issue. You fled the scene! This is a criminal offense in Germany,” Bad Cop exclaims. Beneath his scruff, his face is flush with disdain.

(This is the crux of our plot, dear Reader.)

“Okay… only… I’m at the scene. Right now. I returned to the scene. How could I flee the scene of a crime I unknowingly, and only allegedly, committed… and have since returned to?” Billy ventures slowly, rationally.

But the rectitude of this officer could not be shaken. No doubt his polizei academy training left him well poised to resist the manipulations of a criminal mastermind such as my husband. A vein begins to throb on his forehead as he fails to reconcile this logical statement with what he knows to be a violation of The Rules.

“But you left!” he spats finally.

While I find Bad Cop’s indignation amusing, I seek out the female officer taking notes nearby – that pesky phrase ‘criminal offense’ planted a niggle in my brain.

The Negotiation 
Mere moments into our exchange, Good Cop proves to be pragmatic and not nearly so bent on retribution as her partner. I explain that we want to cooperate, but we also have a flight to catch – what is the protocol for dealing with an alleged criminal offense in Germany?

“Arrest, ” she says simply as she takes down my passport information.

Having recently visited Germany’s former “work re-education” camp at Dachau, I reject this proposition entirely.

“And if not arrest?” I inquire.

Good Cop says paying a fee would be necessary. Bail, really.

“That makes sense. We do have a history of fleeing…” I remark.

She smirks and says she’ll have Bad Cop call the prosecutor’s office to confirm the amount. We have a plan! There is a brief break in the action while William and I await the amount of our fine.

“Maybe you’ll get into trouble? Not a lot, just enough so the Air Force won’t send us to Georgia,” I offer hopefully.

“Malia. We’re going to Georgia,” Billy retorts. Hmm, maybe he’s not as amused by all of this as I am. Ten feet away the victims huddle together, fending off the chill of a cold cruel world.

Bad Cop returns with our bill from the German judicial system: 580 Euro. Cash. From the corner of my eye I see Billy’s eyebrows shoot up. I issue him a warning glance. Missing our flight would result in a loss of two or three times that amount once we return the car late, buy new plane tickets, and possibly overnight. I head to the ATM and tap into our International Crime Spree Fund, eager to get gone already.

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A Gift From The Munich Police Department
Our car is running when I return to the parking garage. A fortuitous sign, no? But Billy informs me that we are not, as I hoped, preparing to leave. Instead, the officers are staging a reenactment. Give credit where credit is due: despite some obvious leaps in logic, this investigation is proving to be quite thorough!

Also in my absence, back-up has been called. I shake hands briefly with a mild-mannered forensics investigator. Forensics? He works under the watchful eye of the young victim, scraping samples of paint from our cars and using a yardstick to determine… I honestly don’t know what he’s trying to determine, dear Reader. Good Cop tends to our paperwork and I do the only thing I can think of: take a photo. Both (obviously sober) drivers are breathalyzed. Maybe we’re on Candid Camera?

Bad Cop stands next to Billy and I, seething. I wait, knowing an eruption is imminent.

“I must do this, you understand. Who am I to pass judgment on what damage is too slight? The law is the law! If I let someone get away with this, the entire country will drive around smashing into other cars! And then what?! All Germany is a mess and I lose my job! I lose my job and I must work at Starbucks!

I nod, hoping to validate his feelings. While Bad Cop’s absolutist slant is a bit much, I see his point. Indeed, can you imagine living in such a place? A lawless place with shitty cars? A place like – oh, say – NAPLES? I also love that working at Starbucks, a company offering fair wages and health benefits, is bottom rung in Germany. But Bad Cop isn’t finished with his monologue just yet…

“I hope you appreciate all we do for you today. Normally, we make arrest and tow car. It is very special for forensics to come here. It is difficult for him to work when he… he… has not his… his…”

Bad Cop is struggling for English words and beginning to sweat.

“… his normal work space?” I offer.

“When he has not his normal work space!”

Again, I nod, but my spidey sense tells me there is still more to come….

“This…!!” Bad Cop bellows, making a sweeping gesture to the investigation underway and pausing dramatically. (Oh boy. Here we go. The wheels are coming off the bus….)

“THIS,” he repeats with another flourish of his arm, “is a gift to you from the Munich Police Department!!”

……… (a prolonged silence ensues)……..

Should I slow clap? My eyes are wide, the corners of my mouth twitch, and I resist the urge to smile. I respond honestly when I say we do appreciate it, and we will not soon forget our time in Munich!

Finally, we are free to go. As we exit the garage, we realize we paid for two hours of parking and have been in the garage for closer to four hours. The old man working the gate  announces our ticket has insufficient funds. We explain there was an accident, we’re with the police car just ahead of us.

“Eeets not mein problem, eeets a time problem!” the man insists, scanning the ticket again and shaking his head disapprovingly when the meter reads insufficient funds once more.

Magnanimously, he raises the gate for us. But he does so in such a way that there can be no doubt that this is highly irregular, showing blatant disregard for protocol, and makes him incredibly uncomfortable.

“Get me the fuck out of here!” Billy says, speeding off for the airport. He’s clearly had it with the Germans and their rules.

“That man was so upset he was rhyming…” I observe aloud.

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Viva l’Italia
Back in Naples we are comforted by a flood of familiar sights, sounds, and smells. An aroma of pizza and caffè pervade the airport. Italians chatter boisterously at the baggage claim. To our delight, every car on the road is riddled with dents (including our Alfa Romeo). Blinkers remain unused, car lanes are unobserved. Somehow, this is home. Somehow, this is soothing.

“I have a headache,” William announces. He is sitting at our small kitchen table with his head in his hands.

“A crisis of conscience will do that to a man,” I joke.

He looks at me wearily. Suddenly I realize my husband, arguably the Good Cop in our marriage, probably feels badly about his German caper. Even though it’s midnight, I do what any Neapolitan wife would do, I put on a pot of water for pasta.

I know what you’re thinking, dear Reader: this ordeal had to be a scam (it wasn’t) or, if not a scam, it was certainly more frightening than funny. But I prefer to think we paid for a unique Munich experience! These snafus happen when you venture out into the unknown – we still had a great time in Germany. Although, the Germans might consider redirecting that investigative power into background checks for refugees… but that’s another blog.

We’re snuggled up in bed when Billy whispers into the darkness, “I’m glad I didn’t get arrested in Germany.”

“Me too,” I whisper back, smiling. “You’re home safe now.”

Home safe in Naples where there are no rules and the police wouldn’t come even if you called.

Road Trippin’ In Bavaria

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The satisfied grin of a man who just bought his first cuckoo clock.

If you read my last entry, dear Reader, you will recall that William and I were in the throes of our impending move to Middle Georgia. After a few days of luxuriating in self pity (just a few!), I became intent on making the most of our remaining time in Europe.

This past weekend I arranged for a trip through one of Germany’s most popular regions: Bavaria. Tiny medieval towns, quiet country roads, and all the schnitzel and schneeballen you can schtomach!

Within moments of leaving the mietwagon with our rental car, I am already reveling in the timeliness, tidiness, and efficiency of Germany. The sun is shining and Billy is singing his heart out behind the wheel: …your lipstick, his collar, don’t bother angel – I know exactly what goes on…! We wiggle in our seats to the throwback jams of Taking Back Sunday. The vacay vibes are strong.

A Liberation Celebration
Our first stop is the Dachau Concentration Camp Memorial Site. William and I enter the camp through a gate proclaiming Arbeit Macht Frei or “work sets you free.” The grounds are quiet. The only sounds are the soft crunch of gravel beneath our feet and the low murmur of the audioguides pressed to our ears.

What impresses me most about the Dachau Memorial is the attention paid not simply to the suffering of prisoners (which we know was tremendous), but also to the social, economic, and political climate of Germany leading up to these events. The exhibit dares to examine the circumstances in which ordinary people can become complicit in such extraordinary evil. It’s an uncomfortable, but thoughtful, endeavor.

On our way out, I spot a plaque I had missed. It marks Dachau’s liberation by the Americans on April 29, 1945. April 29?

“Hey,” I call out, catching Billy’s attention. “Isn’t today the 29th?”

He wanders closer and peeks at the plaque over my shoulder. Yup.

“Maybe that explains the happy sunshine today… a little nod to Liberation Day,” I muse.

“Yes. A Liberation Celebration!” Billy exclaims. I take his hand, both of us smiling at the thought as we head back to the car.

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Cuckoo For You
As we drive further into the countryside, Billy and I marvel at the pristine condition of the vehicles on the road – we’re not in Naples anymore! A few times I remind Billy to slow down: “This is Germany. They have rules in this country.” We pass endless miles of bright green pasture on our way to Rothenburg ob der Tauber. We sing. We snack.

Rothenburg is known for its charming half-timbered houses and medieval architecture. One of the few walled towns left in Europe, its cobblestone streets and preserved gatehouse lend a fairytale feel. We explore the Main Square, buying trinkets and pausing to admire cuckoo clocks. (Germany, in case you didn’t know, is famous for its mechanical cuckoo clocks manufactured in the Black Forest).

We are greeted by the saleswoman who promptly inquires, “What kind of clocks do your families have?”

Family clocks? The question reminds me of an encounter I had a few years ago when a woman asked me where my family liked “to summer.” Pff! Girlfriend, in my family summer is a season, not a verb, thankyouverymuch. But back to the clocks….

Billy and I peruse the wall of clocks, attempting to determine our cuckoo style. It’s exciting to make such a lofty decision together. After a few moments of careful consideration, Billy declares, “I want one with dancers on top.”

‘Dancers on top’ puts us in a higher price range but I had to agree, what was the point without dancers on top? This one was too big, that one was – dare I say – dinky. This one is too boxy and that one not nearly boxy enough. Too cutesy! Boring. This one gave me the vague sense that it was trying too hard…. Until finally, we find the clock for us: a midsize model with a half-timbered facade, blue shutters, and dancers on top. BOOM!

Later we stop to admire the facade of a nearby church. Our quiet contemplation is interrupted by a cluster of commotion nearby and my ear catches the phrase, Mamma Mia! Billy and I exchange glances. Italians. My husband beckons them with a Ciao! Two elderly couples approach us, eager to chat in their native tongue. The men go about the usual exchange: Where are you from? Naples! Where in Naples? Pozzuoli! My cousin lives in Pozzuoli! We’re from Trieste.

The women, characteristically disinterested in the talk of men, turn to me and get right down to business, “Siete innamorati?/Are you two in love?”

Billy overhears and proudly announces, “Sì, siamo sposati/Yes, we’re married.”

Everyone rejoices (I mean, it is pretty fun). We shake hands, we kiss (left cheek, right cheek), and part friends.

William and I end the day by walking the perimeter of the old town wall. We poke our heads through tower windows and peer down into small gardens full of tulips. The sun begins to set, drenching the pointed roofs of Rothenburg in a warm, golden hue.

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We’re Still Cool, Right?
The next morning we awake to the delicate, cheery chirping of birds – infinitely more soothing than the desperate wailing of Napoli seagulls. Billy and I have breakfast and hit the road, eager to get to Schwangau and do some hiking.

We drive straight to the base of Mount Tegelberg and lace up our Lowa hiking boots (a pricey but practical souvenir from our trip to Grindelwald). I purchase four hours of parking from the meter, certainly more than we need. You see, dear Reader, unlike Neapolitans, Germans are exacting when it comes to following procedure. It is with great satisfaction that I place our ticket on the dashboard, confident in our irreproachable behavior.

A sign at the base of the trail estimates our hike will take three hours. Billy and I both turn on our Polars – three hours? We’ll see about that. The trail is steep but it offers some stunning views of the lakes below, the alps above, and the überpopular Neuschwanstein Castle. (Fear not, dear Reader, we’ll take you there tomorrow). A mere two hours and 1,258 calories later, William and I reach the top. He indulges in some schnitzel at the summit restaurant and we take the last cable car down the mountain.

“Have you noticed there’s a lot of old people here?” Billy asks over dinner that evening.

A quick survey of the room confirms that yes, we seem to be on some kind of retiree road trip. Maybe the young people are too busy dropping pills in Ibiza to appreciate Franconian Germany – and that suits us just fine! Indeed, we’re old enough by now to know the value of a tranquil weekend.

The Next Chapter: A Military Spouse Edition

tumblr_static_6gpu12epdoso8oowks4scg08sA (mostly) light-hearted look at my transition from Working Girl to Military Spouse. And why GEORGIA is on my mind…

Regular readers know that the past year was a flurry of change: I quit my job, got married, moved to Italy, learned another language, and assumed the role of military spouse. Conversely, 2016 was slated to be all kinds of laid back – travel, visits with friends, Saturday nights eating pizza on the couch. But these dreams were dashed when (dun dun dun!) Billy received an “exciting” leadership position in rural Georgia. Beginning in three months.

My reaction was nothing short of shock and awe. And anger. Definitely anger.

Welcome to the Family
In order to understand this reaction, dear Reader, we need to back up a bit. The Italian culture isn’t the only one I’ve been submerged in these many months; I’ve also been navigating (ever so tentatively) the terrain of my new military community.

Initially, it didn’t feel like my community at all. The self-important acronyms, the uniforms, the armed guards on my way to yoga – not really my scene. People were friendly though, often declaring, “Welcome to the family!” I responded as I do to all organizations that tout their mission or recruit too enthusiastically: with suspicion. But I had nothing against the military per se and, in my defense, I show the same ambivalence towards organized religion, political camps, and anyone who subscribes too fervently to the Paleo diet. The people were kind, the base was adequate… but it was Billy’s domain. Not mine.

Come to think of it… everything was Billy’s. The coworkers were Billy’s, the promotions were Billy’s, even the social security number given at my medical appointments was Billy’s! When asked to confirm my place in the organization, I routinely checked the box marked Dependent. Gross. Not that I didn’t have “opportunities” too – going to spouse luncheons or maybe taking an entry level job for a third of my normal pay… Ugh. Where was Independent Malia? I missed her.

Then, I decided to roll with it – we were only abroad for a year or so right? When we returned to the States, Billy would work on base and I’d be back in the office. Life would resume normally. So what if I was a housewife for now? It meant every moment William was home, the chores were done and all of our time was quality time. I made dinner every night (even though I hate cooking). I brought side dishes to the Air Force Family picnics (more cooking). I went to International Spouse Club luncheons (yes, that’s a real thing). I cleaned the house (laaaaaame!). I wrote blogs (is anyone reading?). I booked trips (okay, no complaints with this one).

But I did it all, assuming it was temporary. Sure, I was baking casseroles and being spousey, but I was doing it ironically. Like, “Hey guys, watch me wife so hard right now! Ha ha! Can you believe this shit? HILARIOUS!”

Living in rural Georgia made it…. real.

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A Fact Finding Mission
So, dear Reader, I was angry. I felt duped, if by no one else than by myself. This new position requires Billy and I to live on base, placing my professional contacts an ambitious commute away in Atlanta. To make matters worse, everyone was trying to make me feel good about it! They said it wasn’t only an opportunity for Billy, it was an opportunity for me too – for me to support him and inspire other spouses by leading by example. Huh? Nice try.

But I didn’t need to be placated, what I needed was information. So I did what anyone scoping out a new love interest or job would do: I cyberstalked. First, I consult a map. Yup, social Siberia. But! The base housing looks nice – that’s a start. Okay, what about the local Spouse Facebook page (every base has one), surely they have some events going on. Let’s see there’s the…

  • Crazy Hat Luncheon – The First Of Its Kind!   (Mmm, no thanks.) 
  • Knutty Knitters Meet Up   (Tempting… but I’d rather be Netflixing.)
  • All Natural Household Cleaner Class   (That sounds so boring I might die.)

<<Scrolling… scrolling…>>  Ah! Job Opportunities. Here we go!

  • Frito-Lay’s now hiring warehouse workers  (What’s warehouse work?)
  • Looking for volunteers to work the upcoming dog show… on POOP PATROL!!   (Sweet mother of god. Am I being Punk’d?!)

I needed help. I couldn’t talk to Billy, after all it was his overachieving that got us into this Middle (of nowhere) Georgia pickle, was it not? No, I needed someone else. And that’s when I did something drastic (for me) – I reached out. I messaged the Spouse Facebook page, explaining our upcoming move and inquiring about the area.

To my surprise, I had a response within minutes: “I read your message. It would be best to talk on the phone.” Signed, Hope.

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Then There Was Hope…
Hope introduces herself as a long time Georgia resident and military spouse. For no reason I can pinpoint, I like her immediately. And I’ll say this for the woman: she made me no promises, she told me no lies.

“Listen. I’m not gonna blow smoke up your butt. You asked about restaurants and fun and I thought, oh no! I need to talk to this woman. Bless your heart honey, we don’t really have any of that here!” she chuckles. “Don’t get me wrong though. Georgia livin’ is pleasant, but sloooowwwww. The good news is, it’s a great place to raise a family. My kids can’t fart in this town without me knowing about it.”

………. a long, pregnant pause falls over the line (if you will)……

Ignoring that comment, I tell Hope this is Billy’s first command position. When she asks which squadron he will be commanding,  I venture, “Umm… the finance one?” The 78th Squadron, she informs me (glad someone knows what’s going on).

“So… this means you’ll be a Commander’s Wife!” she says, sounding almost amused.

Yes, I concede. But with no official authority to exact change, I admit I’m not sure what the role entails.

“Well, people may come to you for emotional support. And you need to show face for your husband’s sake but, honey, you don’t need to be one of those wives.”

<<Let’s sidebar, dear Reader… The military takes – and needs – all types. From postal workers to biochemical engineers, every kind of educational and socioeconomic background is present in this community. The same, honestly, can be said of military spouses. But what Hope is referring to here is the occasional spouse who hits the Kool-Aid too hard.

I once heard a woman expound that by doing dishes and folding her husband’s underwear she was allowing him to focus solely on work, thereby protecting our American freedoms and allowing millions to sleep at night knowing they are safe from terrorism. (Is that the national anthem playing in the background?). What in the amber-waves-of-grain was this woman talking about?>>

I tell Hope about this conversation and she laughs.

“Folding undies for freedom? Bless her heart!” (It’s at this point I realize the phrase ‘bless your heart’ can be used as a polite, Southern way of calling someone a stupid mother fucker). “Here’s the deal,” she continues, “Be yourself, okay? You might need to host the occasional white glove tea party, but BE. YOURSELF.”

White glove tea party? I change the subject, “What about working in Atlanta? I have some contacts there.”

Hope says it’s a haul while stressing, “But you can do it.” I inquire about Macon, a city closer by, and she asks if I carry. A moment passes before I realize she means a gun. 

“…Because I do. I do carry. We’re off the map here but you never know with all this ISIS stuff going on,” she confides.

Judging by everything I’d learned thus far, an appearance by ISIS seemed too much to hope for.  But I did enjoy the idea of Hope and I attending white glove tea parties and strolling under dogwoods while packing heat in our handbags. I smile in spite of myself.

“Hope….what time is it there?” I ask, realizing it was early afternoon in Italy.

“Oh, it’s around 6AM. But never you mind, I saw your message and figured you needed to talk.”

This was a woman I had never met, with whom I shared nearly nothing in common, and she took my call at six in the morning? A small voice in the back of my brain whispers, Welcome to the family. I thank her profusely but Pistol Packing Hope waves me off, insisting I save her number because, “Girl! You’re gonna need it when you get here!”

I hang up the phone and sit quietly for a few minutes. Hope confirmed my small town fears, but I begin to think about why I’m going to Georgia – and it sure as heck isn’t for you, America! It’s for my William. Because, unlike other men before him, he isn’t put off by my independent streak. He never asks me to be a little less so he can feel like he’s a bit more. And because we both know, without question, that the two of us are simply better together.

So now, dear Reader, there’s nothing left to do but get excited about Georgia. In the meantime, I’ll be here – making America great – one load of laundry at a time. USA! USA!

My Daily Grind – “Fitness” in Italia (Kinda)

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My first, and likely last, gym selfie.

Because even I’m getting sick of my fabulous vacay shots filtered to perfection…

This entry, dear Reader, is about my daily fitness grind here in Italy. Fitness was a huge part of my life in Boston – a respite, a social hour, a constant in the turbulence of my 20s. Dance, yoga, spinning, boxing, lifting… there was a workout for every mood.

Moving to Italy was an adjustment in every way, and it wasn’t long before I was beginning to feel less than skinny in my skinny jeans. I can see the knowing smile spreading across your face now: “ohhhh, all that pizza and gelato!” Yes, there was pizza. And gelato. But the real culprit was the changing landscape. There isn’t a boutique fitness class in sight. And Whole Foods? I was driving an hour to the U.S. military base to buy almond milk and quinoa (often to find they were out of stock anyway). Basically, obtaining my healthy ingredients and working out started to feel like, well…. work. 

Still, something had to be done.  I couldn’t be all Eat, Pray, Love about it and just “buy bigger jeans.” I’m too vain (some #realtalk right there). In addition to the military gym at my disposal, I joined an Italian gym closer to home – the only “cool” gym in town: Virgin Active Napoli. To be clear, this blog isn’t about “my fitness journey” (ugh, not another one!) and it doesn’t contain any fitness advice. Instead, it is dedicated wholly to poking fun at my beloved Italian gym companions.

The fitness craze has yet to really hit Italy and it’s obvious that, while Virgin Active has many members, most aren’t sure what it is they’re supposed to do there. The result is a vibe that is normal one moment and completely strange the next. I think we can agree, dear Reader, that gyms anywhere have bizarre subcultures, but there is something decidedly Italian about these oddities… For starters:

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WHAT are you wearing?
During one of my first classes at Virgin an older woman wanders in late wearing sunglasses, an off-the-shoulder bedazzled t-shirt, and dangly earrings. Confused, I decide to find it inspirational – maybe she’s recovering from eye surgery and getting her workout in anyway? Maybe she’s mentally ill and still determined to get “out there.” But deep down I know: girlfriend is just stylin’!

Zebra print spandex singlets, hot pink hair scrunchies, pleather pants and wedge sneakers on the treadmill (while walking and talking on the phone, obvi). Men in booty shorts, ladies with full hair and make-up, talon-like nails, lacey push-up bras, and that one guy who thinks UnderArmour briefs are workout shorts (those are undies, bro). Check out the gym’s Facebook page, dear Reader, and you will find its photo section full of barely dressed members taking selfies in the locker room. #Fitspo?#FitNO. Amazing.

But the moral of the story is this: wear what you want – whatever it is – because life is too short to feel anything but fabulous!

“Piano, Piano” (Slowly, Slowly)
With the exception of driving, life moves at a much slower pace here in Italy and the same can be said of the gym. While Virgin has a few intense classes, more often than not, the instructors tell me to “piano, piano” (go slowly, slowly). During spin class the instructor comes over repeatedly to turn down my resistance, “Stai tranquillo.” Tranquillo? In spin? I’m an American woman trying to burn calories – I can’t RELAX.

In yoga, we spend the entire class stretching on the mat and about five solid minutes in butterfly pose flapping our legs up and down pretending to take flight. I’m itching to do a wheel when my thoughts are interrupted by a jarring sound – the old man on the mat next to me is snoring. I bow to him mentally, he who is clearly a master of being tranquillo.

There’s no rush getting into the gym either, folks. At the gym’s entrance members sit in their cars (smoking, taking selfies, or on their cells) while waiting for a primo parking spot to open up despite the humongous – free! – lot around the corner. If fitness in the U.S. is about being Xtreme, fitness here emphasizes all things low impact.

Which brings us to our next important take-away from the Italians: hitting the gym is supposed to be fun – so don’t sweat it (literally)!

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The Ultimate Italian Agenda
Initially, I was perplexed by the layout of the gym. Lengthy rows of cardio machines  directly face each other creating an awkward Mexican standoff scenario (at least for me, an American). But it doesn’t take long before I notice Italians on opposite treadmills chatting while running, their gesticulating hands not slowing them down in the least.

If I couldn’t quite put my finger on it before, now the mystery is solved. The gym is simply part of the ultimate Italian agenda: socializing. In spin guys reach over to pat each other on the back after a tough hill. The “sexy” girl on the treadmill is looking for a date (but really, a husband).  The dirty old men lounging on the weight machines come for the company… well okay, and to check out the ladies. It’s all about connecting and being together.

Even the language of exercise is different here. In the U.S. it’s your workout, your goals, everything is tailored to meet your special-as-a-snowflake needs. In Italy, we ride up the mountain (slowly). We get through this (light) set of lifts. We hang at the café afterwards to see and be seen. Even an introvert like me can’t help but find this unity heartwarming. And ironically, these espresso swigging, carbo loading, cigarette puffing Italians will probably outlive us all. Studies have long shown that a sense of community adds years to a person’s life – and hey, if your physique improves too it’s just vegan friendly frosting on the gluten free cupcake!

Anyway, dear Reader, my bella figura is back – or at least my skinny jeans fit again. Over the past few months I’ve been able to piece together a constellation of classes, fit friends, and at-home workouts that are at least half as awesome as my routine back in Boston. I’m proud of myself for recommitting to activities that allow me to feel strong and sane, even when my resources are limited. Please also note, everything here was said in good fun. Fear not, Italy – you look great! But you already knew that didn’t you?