Two years ago, when I fell during the 600 mile AIDS lifecycle from San Francisco to Los Angeles, I thought it would be hard to get back on the bike. I was scared, sore and maimed…with 21 stitches stretching from my eye to my cheekbone. But I got back up…because it was just a physical fall. Superficial pain: A few scrapes, some bruises, a tear here and there and several stitches. Physical pain is manageable. It is easy to overcome and I was fine. Scared, but fine. Mainly because my biking partner was with me — my emotional rock, my safety net, my confidence booster, my best friend.
So, how do you get back on the bike when you fall off emotionally? How do you get back on the bike when your best friend is gone?
You lift one leg over the seat, clip in and ride.
You do it because he would have wanted you to do it.
Because it’s who you were. Who you are. Who you will be.
And even though you cry the entire ride — you embrace the sadness, letting your tears evaporate in the hot sun and get blown away by the steady wind. You accept the pain and the hurt and the memories of the pair of you riding. You attempt to cycle, hoping that a memory or two glides through the gaping hole in your heart and sneaks past the searing pain. You push up hills and remember. You glide down hills and forget. And with each gear you shift, you get slightly stronger. And even though the entire experience reminds you of him and feels awkward and strange and sad without him, it is what you need to help you begin to find your balance again.
Getting back on the bike is hard. But life keeps spinning onwards and so must we.
Amarone, Barbaresco, Barbera, Barolo Brunello di Montalcino, Chianti, Montepulciano d’Abruzzo and Valpolicella…I tried them all.
There was a lot of wine in Italy and I tried them all, often asking waiters for the best local wines they served. I sniffed, tasted, sipped, swished and drank. And I learned a few things.
1. In Italy wine is often cheaper than water.
2. In Italy, it is fairly easy to get a bottle of wine which has originated less than an hour away.
3. In Italy, everyone drinks wine
4. In Italy, trust your waiter. He/she usually can recommend a great bottle of wine.
5. In Italy, for a glass of wine simply say, “Posso avere una bicchiere di
6. In Italy, it is best to say, “Una bottiglia di vino per favore (um, and apparently the ‘g’ is silent…but I didn’t learn that until AFTER I got home when an Italian friend politely told me about my mispronunciation)
I guess I’ll have to go back to Italy and try again!
I love Downton Abbey. From the first piano note of the rapturous theme song, I have been addicted to the colorful conflicts of the fictional aristocrats and proletarians. I can easily see myself in several of the characters: I’m a cross between Lady Sybil, without the wardrobe; Isobel Crawley without the money and Mrs. Hughes without the patience.
So, when I had a few days at the end of my Italian journey, I chose to spend it in a castle….I figured that I could have tea and enjoy witty banter and dress in formal clothes for dinner.
What I didn’t count on in my castle, was having the flu. My sequin A lined dress turned into a terry bathrobe and there wasn’t an aristocratic stranger on site to romantically hand me a silk handkerchief; rather, it was just me unromantically blowing my nose into wads of scratchy toilet paper.
I lived in my fairytale castle for two days, spending most of my time holed up in my room and coming up for air “to take supper” before returning to my personal farmacia of Italian meds.
I spent most of the time in my castle, bemoaning my fate, taking pictures of myself laying listlessly in bed and wondering what Bates would do.
The reality is, if I were in Downton Abbey, I would probably have succumbed to the plague.
I’ve done Atkins… but I love carbs.
I’ve done Weight Watchers and Jenny Craig… but I love carbs.
I’ve done Lindora and Nutrisystem and South Beach… but I love carbs.
And Italy is the capital of carbs. To be a connoisseur of pasta, one has to learn the alphabet of pastas….or just try every single one of them. Which I did. Repeatedly.
A picture says 1,000 words.
So here are ten thousand words…
The irony of the whole thing…after two solid weeks of eating like this… I lost eight pounds.
My life as an amateur packer began when, at seven, I watched my mom packing for her vacation. I wasn’t quite sure why one needed eight black tee shirts. So, I became her mini consultant…putting her suitcase on an immediate diet. As I grew up and went on vacations of my own, I discovered that there are two ways to travel: with a suitcase or a carry-on. I’m a big believer in the latter. When you’re getting on and off of planes and trains, it’s easier to do so with a knapsack and a small duffle.
So…what are the priorities in a pack besides a passport and money?
phone. computer. clothes. shoes. accessories.
That’s it. The big five.
Monochrome is the way to go…easier to mix and match when you neither have to mix nor match. If you want color, add a scarf (the unsung hero of travel) or a headband; otherwise, stick to black. It’s fashionable, slimming and practical. And Scott Vest makes a sleek black lightweight multi-pocketed vest which can hold a phone, computer, passport, money and accessories. So, the packing is already half done.
A few pairs of black pants. A couple of shirts. A sturdy pair of shoes. And a black Scott vest.
Benvenuti in Italia
I had the privilege which I hope every playwright should have – I got to see my play performed in a different language: First Sister Cities in French…now The Affair in Italian.
Sitting in the eighth row of a gorgeous old theatre in a tiny Italian town, I got to be an anonymous patron and watch three brilliant actors portray Robert, Kathy and Stephanie…only they sounded so much classier as Roberto, Katarina and Stephania.
Gotta love the beauty of the language.
Although my Italian is spotty, I understood the show in its entirely thanks to terrific performances by Mariangela D’Abbraccio, Pino Quartullo and Chiara Noschese.
A long time believer that actors make the best directors, Chiara Noschese helmed the play flawlessly. Her pacing was EXACTLY what I like… Aaron Sorkin fast… No unnecessary precious pauses… Audience loved it. I felt incredibly grateful to watch such a beautiful realization of my show. .. And in The heart of Italy! I can see why the reviews have been so stellar. Across the board— directing, acting, set, lighting, costumes… All top notch.
When I was in college, I saw Rome in a day. Literally.
Traveling the way only 20 year olds can travel…with a heavy knapsack and a light budget. And the budget dictated that I could avoid spending the night in a hotel room if I took the train from Florence to Venice via Rome. Yes, if you look at a map it’s ridiculous…but I was 20 and you’re allowed to be ridiculous at twenty.
We arrived in Rome at 10am, stored our knapsacks at Stazione Termini and walked the city until our train left at 10pm. We visited Vatican City, saw the Pantheon, tossed coins in the Trevi Fountain and climbed the Spanish Steps.
We got the highlights and I was fairly nonplussed….in the way that 20 year olds often are.
Rome is about nuances. It is about stepping into a farmacia and trying to order cough drops, it’s about attempting to navigate a menu and order an entire meal in Italian, it’s about taking local trains and going to the theatre and buying local produce and taking a few deep breaths. Sure, Rome is about the highlights, but it’s also about the shadows.
A couple of decades after my first Roman holiday, I was able to do Rome in a few days. In addition to repeated trips to the original highlights, I explored the Trastevere, wandered through the Jewish Ghetto, and enjoyed meals which consisted of more than bread and cheese. I soaked in the history of the Roman Forum, the culture of Piazza Navona.
When in Rome, do as the Romans do…but try to take a few days to enjoy it.
I multitask when I eat, especially if I’m eating alone. Ambidextrous, I can eat with either my right or left hand while simultaneously checking my email, texting or Facebooking. Yes, the verb facebooking.
In Italy, I unplugged…because eating is not a side show, it is the main event.
It took me a while to make my dinner reservations for 8pm, still a tad early in European culinary circles, but much later than my usual 6:30. Eating in Italy is an art and to do it properly, you need to be 100% focused. And having an iPhone on the table would be consider gauche. Or as we say in Italian, a sinistra.
Traditional Italian meals consist of five parts…and far be it from me to buck tradition, so I always ordered all five parts: Antipasti- appetizers.
Primo – first course.
Secondo – second course.
Contorni – side dishes.
Dolce – dessert
Waiters fully support the art of the slow meal because they will never bring you the check. Never. They’re not being rude, they simply want you to enjoy your dinner. So, after i was ready to be rolled back to my hotel room, I simply said “Il conto per favore” and three hours after I had your first sip of wine, my meal was finally over.
And I didn’t pull out my iPhone once.
Vats of Gelato. Gallons of Gelato. Entire Storefronts of Gelato.
When I travel, I don’t wear socks with sandals or bright colors sneakers or Chico’s ensembles. I don’t want to look like an American, I want to blend in. I like to look the part when I travel. Yet, looking the part does not mean acting the part. Especially when it comes to eating gelato. My travel philosophy is to try as many gelato flavors and stands as possible. After all, odds are I may only visit a city once in a lifetime…I might as well enjoy its gastronomic options to their fullest possibilities.
So…I pushed my way through several obese Midwesterners to toss a coin in the Trevi Fountain while eating Pistachio gelato.
I followed Nuns in the Vatican while eating Cioccolato gelato.
I chatted up Gondoliers in Venice while eating Tiramisu gelato.
I bought Murano Glass in Murano while eating Fior di Latte gelato.
I had Stracciatella gelato in front of the Colosseum, Menta gelato in Piazza San Marco, Fragola gelato in Piazza Navona, Caffè gelato on a vaporetto in the Grand Canal, Nocciola gelato in Campo dei Fiori, and Limone gelato in front of Fountain of Neptune in Bologna.
Sometimes, 31 flavors just isn’t enough.
Never judge a restaurant by its appearance.
I single handedly ate my way through most of Italy and during my gastronomic journey I discovered that oftentimes the best meals were at the sketchiest looking restaurants. Sure, dining on the rooftop of the Danieli Hotel is trendy, expensive and stylish; however, the food doesn’t reflect the price tag. I should know. I reluctantly paid the exorbitant bill.
The “brothel restaurants” are 1/10 the price of the Danieli restaurants. They don’t spend money on appearance, because people don’t go for the ambiance. They come for the food.
Sora Margherita, a restaurant in the Jewish Ghetto in Rome is located off of a tiny side street and has a red beaded curtain as its door. And the man behind the curtain was a ruddy faced, corpulent Italian who was as confusingly exuberant as Roberto Benigni and as intimidating as Mussolini. Yet the place was packed. They didn’t cater to tourists with a multi-language fancy menu; rather, the menu was on a piece of a yellow construction paper and the Italian dishes were written in crayon. Uber Chic? Pretty sure it was just laziness; yet, this place had come highly recommended by an Italian friend and I was not disappointed. I had a carafe of Chianti and enjoyed their signature Carciofi alla Giudia…aka Jewish fried artichokes.
In Venice, down another questionable side street, I discovered Osteria All’Antica Adelaide where I enjoyed one of the best meals of my life. Again, the decor was forgettable; yet, the food was remarkable. Is this the latest trend? Shabby Chic? It certainly works for home decor, but restaurants? Of NYC’s ten best restaurants of 2012, according to Zagat, nine of them have decor which ranks as high as the food.
So what do the Italians know that we don’t?
Maybe it’s time to pay attention to the man behind the curtain.