A FauHawk Wearin, Loud Mouth Living in Fabulous Roma.

Tuesday, April 18, 2006

Curtain Call is 8pm

'Ti prendo alle 8, va bene? Vuoi mangiare pesce o carne? Moto o Macchina?'
'Yes, you can pick me up at 8. I prefer not to eat fish. And bring the bike.'

These were the three questions that my friend Marco asked and my responses when he called to make plans for our Tuesday evening out on the town.

In three simple questions it was all set, it was a date. Naturally I thought motorcyle i.e. casual restaurant, more than likely a trattoria than a true ristorante. Most people who know Blondi know that she usually dresses for the occasion or sometimes just the opposite but lets say she is never, never underdressed. My rule is it is always best to be outrageously overdressed than to be ever, ever underdressed. Maybe its the Italian blood that flows thru my veins. Or maybe it is when growing up attending the Lebanese church was like going to a weekly fashion show where the local female parishioners wore two-peice skirt suits, 3 inch stilettos and so much gold jewelry that it made my stylish Italian mother and I look like Swedish Minnesotans.

I planned for practical motorcycle clothes for an average trattoria kind of night out on the town. As I was rushing home in true Roman city living style with only a half hour to spare when I received a text message from Marco saying he was going to be at my palazzo at 7:50pm to pick me up. What?! He was going to be early. My comfortable thirty minutes turned into a rushed 20. I must say it was the first time anyone in Rome has ever made plans with me and been early let alone on time. You are just not on time in Rome. And if you are people think something is wrong with you. So like a true ragazza living in this city I always add 10 minutes to ever appointment I have because I know they will be late which really means 'on time' in Roma. But apparently not tonight. So upon getting the news via SMS, the Italian version of American texting, I run as fast as possible thru my courtyard in my 3 inch cork sandles to get to my 7th floor apartment. As I am riding in the very small 2 person elevator to the top floor of my new apartment building I send a SMS in return confirming he is bringing the bike so I know how to dress myself-trying to save time if possible. I quickly decide to dress for the bike and even if he has the car we aren't going anywhere fancy....non c'é problema. No problem.

I am almost finished with primping myself when I receive the SMS that he decided to bring the car and he is downstairs already. Yikes! Ok, well don't want to change. Actually, no time to change since I am still have to put my lipstick on and pack my purse for the evening. I send SMS in return saying I will be down in 5.

More like 10 minutes later, I am exiting my palazzo to find my date waiting for me on the street by his car. This is where my ride on the fashion rollercoaster begun. Marco knowing that he wasn't bringing his bike and having the knowledge of where we were eating tonight appropriately dressed for the evening i.e. leather trench, suit jacket, bottom down shirt, jeans, and great shoes. Most Italian men have the ability to buy & wear great looking shoes with hardly much effort at all. I on the other hand I have dressed myself in jeans, cowboy boots and a short black leather coat. I am always fashionably prepared, not this night kids.

The first thing out of Marco's Roman mouth is 'You dressed for the bike!'...I am completely mortified. I quickly try to recover from this fashion tragedy and say 'I received your message too late and was already dressed.' He does the typical Italian response 'Va bene, andiamo!'...It's okay, let's go! We get in the car, he tells me we are going to this trattoria, at least I was right about something, but first we are going to drive the car into town a little ways and then take a cab because the restaurant is too in the center of town and we can't drive there. I say that it sounds like a good plan to me the whole time trying to recover from the first 5 minutes of the evening and the dozen long stem peached color roses he just gave me.

Traffic in Rome can be real terrible especially driving around the historic center. But with hardly no hassle at all and no more than 20 minutes later I stepped out from our taxi onto the centurie's old cobblestones with my black boot leading the way. I recognized the area as being near the Pantheon since I take this street when I am leading my walking tours for work. As Mr. Rose payed for the cab I walked to the front door of the 'trattoria'. Looks like a nice & cozy place...wooden door, glowing light escaping onto the street from behind this screen, partition in the entrance. Marco joined me at the door and we walked inside together and that is when the show began!

All of a sudden, the Maitre D'ella trattoria appeared from behind the screen and promptly executed a slight bow and greeted Marco by Signore Ciarla, his last name. I thought 'Oh boy, this is going to be interesting. What the heck is behind this screen? What kind of restaurant am I at? Shit, I am so underdressed.' Well, I quickly found out that this 'motorcycle night out on the town' was turning into eating at a four star restaurant in the center of Rome blocks away from the Pantheon my favorite and best perserved ancient Roman monument! But the staff at this restaurant have no idea that I know that...they are probably wondering where this blondi fauhawk wearing obviously non-Italian chick came from!

La Signora leads us to the dining room around the corner where to my surprise everyone is male and is wearing a suit. Mannagia, damn, I am really going to shake some things up in this joint with my boots tonight. Then a small miracle happened and gave me hope...while the Maitre D' was assisted by two other waiters that kindly helped us get comfortable at our table, I was placed at the table so I was facing the opposite way towards the door, towards the partition. At that moment I saw a large table of Americans dressed in button down shirts and khakis. I was finally not alone in this nightmare of being underdressed...and it was the first time in my life that I was happy to see Americans in Rome.

Back to the excitement buzzing around Signore Ciarla and Blondi. There are waiters taking our coats to the guardaroba, the coat check room, and then another waiter comes and says he will take my purse so I am more comfortable. Where is going to take it to, put it where?! He proceedes to rig this hook on the table and places my small black Prada backpack on the hook. Really nice touch I must say...at least it wasn't a fake or else that might have been the thing that had thrown me over the edge. As my bag was slightly swinging from our impeccably linened table I thought, 'That purse was chosen because I was suppose to be on the back of a bike, eating pizza and drinking beer at a trattoria.' I also realized at that moment that my cell phone was in my leather jacket that had already been swept away and now I can't SMS my BFF in Milano...I knew at that moment I was on my own. Man, dating is SO hard.

I look across the table at Marco and ask myself is this where 10 generation Romans bring their dates? I know a 7 generation Romano and he owns a fabulous secret trattoria, it is actaully a cultural association in 'The Ghetto'. Maybe the longer your blood runs thru the history of Rome the more you love & cherish food and you become restaurant owners. Chi sa? Who knows?!

I am uncharacteristically quite when they bring us the menu. There are no prices. No problem. I cooly reach for my champagne flute of prosecco and proceed to discuss what we should order and I silently thank God that my brother-in-law Derek is an amazing chef and because of this I have the palate and capacity to understand this type of menu and trattoria. I gently remind you I am channeling rocker fauhawk blondi not New Yorkese eating at 4 star restaurant blondi. Oh well, anything goes in Rome.

Marco orders for us because I must admit even though I can certainly order in Italian I was quite speechless at that moment. He also orders an amazing bottle of white wine, I prefer white. The sommelier brings the wine to the table for Marco's approval and then pours our glasses and quickly ushers the bottle to the ice bucket on the table behind me in the corner. Well, that didn't last very long. It only took us 'til the first course to start breaking the rules. As we were sipping our wine and nibbling off our bread basket I asked Marco why did he choose to take me to this place tonight...our first date. He smiled in a devilish way and replied 'I wanted to take you to 'the theatre' so you would be entertained and I knew you would appreciate the food.' Il Teatro, eh...I replied 'My friend once said to me Annie, you dress like you are going to the theatre when you are going to the disco and you look like you are going to the disco when you are going to the theatre. So the next time we go out and have pizza I will dress for the theatre.' Done. Fashion nightmare no more. I was at the theatre, I wasn't at a four star restaurant in downtown Roma.

Over the next few hours I was completely entertained by the characters of the theatre I mean ristorante. Only the sommelier poured the wine, the Maitre D' asked for our order, one waiter served the courses, another cleared the plates, one served dessert, etc, etc, etc. We enjoyed every moment of it and we broke all the rules. We asked for the wine to be placed at the table, we asked for more olive oil on our sushi crudo, we asked for pepper-which is a never because everything is already seasoned just right. It was fantastic to see their reactions and expressions on their faces everytime we asked for something that brought them out of their comfort zone.

Yeah, comfort zone.
I would say for the first time in a long time I was unexpectedly taken out of my comfort zone and ushered to a wonderful 'teatro' where I met a new cast of characters not far from my favorite piazza in the world.

Ahhh, bella roma.

Tuesday, March 28, 2006

Allora...

Italians say this word when they are about to intiate something. Where do I begin? I think the only way to catch up with this blog, which I think is impossible because there are too many stories to tell from the last month, is with a list of what has been defining my life in Roma. No, this will not be my most thrilling entry but I am pressed for time and I keep getting emails saying 'where are you? what are you doing? i keep checking your blog but...' so here it goes:

1.) Yeah, I ran that 1/2 marathon,,,the whole way! Like my Mom said, I ran the farthest any Ojile has ever run-now that is impressive! The first thing that pops into my head, what did I learn? I learned that even when your head and more importantly your heart really desire something your body can step in and say 'hey, i am in charge.' I ran it but it certainly wasn't my fastest and most enjoyable run. Sometimes if i don't stretch enough and use this thing I refer to as 'the blue tube'...a pilates stretching device-i can't run nearly as far or as good as I want. Well, at about kilometer 13 my legs started talking to me in a mean way and stopping was just not an option. I ran that sucker and did not stop and that was my goal from the beginning of this whole 'i am going to run the 1/2 marathon in Roma!' thing. I started with CW by my side and Astral Weeks on the IPOD and oddly enough that is how it ended when I crossed that finish line. And what did I think to myself? I can't wait to run another one, and run faster. I am hooked folks. Who would have ever imagined that?!

2.) I moved. Yes, I moved last Friday to a new apartment. I could write about 10 blogs about this experience of finding a new place to call home in Rome but I don't think I will ever take you there. I can sum it up by saying I thought it was hard, understatement, to find a place in NYC until I moved to Roma. Imagine looking for an apartment in a foreign country not to mention foreign language, by yourself(of course I had unbelievable friends such as Jules, Joel, Marta and CW supporting me along the way) with relatively similiar prices to Gotham City but, not the same earning potential for me as I once had, a new Tour Director. In the end, the move is exactly what I needed. I would send pictures but my new digital camera was stolen while I was working in Torino...i ladri-the thieves in Italy can sometimes be the closest people to you. But once again, that is a different blog and I won't take you there.

3.) My first tour. I wouldn't be lying if I said I write a blog everyday...in my mind. The chances of it getting out of my head and onto the computer are most of the time difficult to make happen. That is why I need to start audio blogging. Allora, back to the tour. Roma-Siena-Firenze-Roma was my first tour with EF my new employer. Oddly enough, my first tour wasn't a typical tour for EF. My tour was a college break tour compared to the usual high school tour. I had 23 pax, passengers, and they were all adults. The rules were a little different, kind of like there were no rules and no chaperones. I can honestly say I was blessed with the most amazing group of kids and the tour went fantastically well! The levels of stress I experienced thru the 8 day itinerary varied. All I can say is imagine yourself leading a group of 23 people and literally being only one step ahead of them because they think you have been a Tour Director for years and in reality it is your very first tour. Needless to say, I did not give out my blog address to anyone on the tour, or else my lies would be exposed. Coming from a girl that cannot lie...try to imagine how I felt everyday when I was answering questions that I had no idea what the answer was, or that I knew the answer but had to fib because there is no way that they could know that, once again, this was my first tour. And the kicker for me was...the bus driver. I must say I could keep up the illusion that I had done this before for only so long before Franco figured out I was new at this job. But in the end he never knew it was my first tour. Talk about the stress. The job is hard enough anyway and then I have to think up all these stories and ask questions in a way that doesn't expose my inexperience. God might not have made me a good liar but, he certainly blessed me with the gift of bull shitting. The student evaluations of yours truly were outstanding and I immediately received another tour. Get this, an UK tour with 39 pax from a Catholic High school over Easter. Roma-Pompeii-Sorrento, etc-Roma. The good thing is I know Roma really well, the interesting thing is-I have never been to the other cities on my tour. First time for everything I guess.

Here I go again...one step ahead.

Saturday, March 04, 2006

ROMA - OSTIA

Tomorrow is la mezza maratona, the 1/2 marathon, in Rome.
We start in the center of Rome and run to the sea.
21.097 kilometri.

If you want to track blondi during the race go to:

www.romaostia.it

my number is:
F829

I realize most of you will be sleeping because of the time difference but the gun will go off at 0930 Roman time. It might be the only time this year that 8,000 people will be punctual for an appointment in Roma.

I am off to eat a big bowl of carbs.
Shouldn't be hard to find in this country.

a presto...blondi

Wednesday, March 01, 2006

growing pains

today is march 1st. i have lived in roma for over 4 months. i am being stretched in many ways that surpass the difficulties of learning a foreign language and how to live in a different culture.
what i want to write about instead is that i ran 10 miles yesterday. Unbelievable for this blondi who started running at the beginning of last november.

i wasn't alone on this adventure. i had CW, my shuffle and the streets of roma. usually i arrive by subway or CW's car to the park but yesterday we ran to the park. italians don't run on the streets of the city only in parks or designated areas. while i was in torino for work i decided to say 'i don't care, i am going to run on the streets.' i would run to the river and then run alongside it with all the other italians following 'the rules' about running in the city. hey, why not? it is a lot quicker if you just run to the place you want to end up at and while you are getting there you get to see the fantastic city along the way.

last week i had two great runs in roma with my running partner CW. sometimes the phrase partner sounds so lame, just wrong. he is more like my coach definitely a friend and at times like a big brother who knows how to push my buttons and get me all 'fired-up' as my real brother billy always says.

we haven't been having bello tempo, beautiful weather here in roma. instead of the park, we decided to hit the streets of roma, once again why not? less mud,the city sights will distract us and now with the invention of google earth we can actually see how far we are running. let's just hope it is accurate. i guess we will see this sunday.

i won't take you thru every step which at times can be painful for blondi. There are moments with every run that i think 'when will the first 20 minutes get easier? will i be able to run 21 kilometri?'. somehow i get thru it and am the happiest girl from minnesota at the end of each run. how can i not be when i get to run to circo massimo the first and largest circus in ancient rome that dates back to 600 bc. it is a huge oblong area in the center of roma nestled between two of the most famous roman hills, the palantino and the aventino. roma is a city that was built on seven hills. in ancient times roma rulers distracted their public, the people, by entertaining them. they built theatres such as the colosseum and the teatro marcello and they built circo massimo to hold the chariot races. this outdoor 'stadium' at different times over the years could hold 150,000 to 385,000 spectators. what i love about this place is that the italians left it as is. they didn't change it at all and they don't charge an admission fee to walk on the ancient ground. now it is basically a public park where grass grows and runners such as CW & blondi pilgrimage to. the only thing that seems modern to me is that they have named a metro stop after it and you see dazed tourists walking around it with maps and tour guide book explanations. i will never forget the first time i ran to circo massimo. i was at the point in the run which is always hardest for me. but once i hoped over the small marble wall of the circus i decided i couldn't complain because i am so lucky to have the option, the choice, and the right to run in this place. as i huffed and puffed my way around the 'track' and searched for energy in my running playlist of my shuffle strapped to my arm, i wished that this place could tell me just one of the many stories of the chariot races that were so famously held here.

i ran 8 miles that day and yesterday we did 10. we took a different route but ended up at our old friend the aqueduct park. maybe that park is really our coach. it is always consistent; we know if we make one loop, the famous one loop, it is 3.75 miles. Consistent in that the ruins have been standing there for over a thousand years, there is always tons of mud after it has rained, there are always a handful of scary dogs roaming around in a threatening way and you think 'where are their owners?' and then there are the sheep. not to mention the cool old italian sheep herders, owners of the farm whatever you call them with their big white dogs. but for me it is consistent more like a friend because i can count on it and i let it push me to be a better runner.

yesterday i was at the 5 mile mark and i took a digger as my nephews say. ate dirt as CW eloquently describes. at least i am consistent. last time i fell i was at the same park and almost at the same spot in the loop. the other consistent factor was i was wearing orange workout pants both times and proceeded to rip a hole in the knee where i not so gracefully landed on the earth. but least i have balance now. last time i fell, ripped and bled on my right knee. yesterday i took care of the left one. now i am not a clumsy gal even though this tale describes a different kind of blondi. sure it stung but what hurt more was the thought of not being able to run 10 miles yesterday. so with the help and hand of CW i picked myself, rolled up my pants over my knee and started to run again.

oddly enough i am actually glad i fell. if i can run 5 miles, totally wipe out, pick myself up and run 5 more than i know that i can get thru these 'growing pains' that i am experiencing outside of my running shoes. i have had them many times in my life before but here in roma i am going thru a different kind. answers to questions such as 'what will my career look like?', 'how do i find fellowship in my faith?', 'who is annie to my new friends i.e. sudo-family which at times have huge expectations that cannot be met?'...answers to these questions, which i might not enjoy at first, will shape my life and experience here. and yes, at times it will sting and be painful.

i have decided to keep on stretching similar to my running because if i wanted easy i wouldn't be in roma. i need to stretch, learn, fall, pick myself up, and go thru the pain of the journey to relish in the joy of the finish.

Friday, February 17, 2006

Straphangers

C’è molto traffico a Roma, sempre.’..There is a lot of traffic in Rome, always. I tend to choose metropoli such as New York City, Roma…and Minneapolis (I guess it is a little one though) where there is a certain amount of sacrifice with the city living. Or should I say compromise.

I never drove once in all the years lived and times visited in NYC. I relied, depended on & ran for the subway, buses, and taxis. Sometimes daily I chose to arrive on foot while I rarely hitched a ride and yet frequently took trains that carried me off the island. When I moved to Rome I brought with me the sensibility of how to live in a big city without having a vehicle of my own. I actually prefer it. Romans and ex-pats have a list of similar complaints about the less than efficient Rome and Italy in general. At the top of the list is how Roman transportation is incredibly insufficient for the 4 million people that call this metropolis their home. Other statements to describe i mezzi…the different ways to navigate the city let it be the metro, bus or tram, are ‘it sucks’, ‘un casino’…a mess, ‘unless your final destination is near a subway stop, or you have a car or Vespa be prepared to wait, and wait, and it will take some time.’ No wonder why the Romans are always late. I think my Italian heritage must have some Romano blood in it because I was born a day late and a dollar short. I fit right into this town.

I fortunately live a 5 minute walk from the subway stop called Re di Roma. When I discovered that I was to live in this area of town I was extremely relieved. The key to surviving the lacking and inept public transport without access to a car or motorino is to live near a metro stop. Once I knew that I had Linea A a short walk from my front door I was ready to take on the challenge of navigating around my new ‘polis.

The first day I arrived to Rome I worked off the jet lag by acquainting myself with my new home a piedi…on foot with my friend Joel who happens to be an avider walker and tries to avoid the metro and buses if possible. My first night in town Joel invited me over to dinner, he only lives three subway stops from me-perfetto! Walked to subway, bought my one euro ticket, three stops and 20 minutes later I was at his door. While I was enjoying my first dinner in Joel’s tiny a la NYC apartment I came to discover that construction on my metro line was to begin tomorrow and there would be no service after 9pm every night. Caspita!!! This Blondi did not panic. As an experienced New Yorker I calmly asked “For how long would it be under construction?” I naively thought ‘probably 3 months that is usually what it is in NYC’. Oh how quickly did I learn my first lesson in Roman transport and Italian ingenuity. No Annie, not three months…three years! Right. Come to find out they have begun construction on Linea C soon to be the third metro line. What am I writing…soon?! They are saying 10 years until it is completed with expected delays due to the fact that when they dig they discover ruins under the semi-modern streets of Rome. Let’s seriously pray it is not like The Big Dig…have they even finished that yet?! I decided that since the metro doesn’t even run after 1230pm it wasn’t that big of a loss. In the following months I began the habit of walking about 5 miles a day and would come to have a love-hate relationship with the bus system.

In the meantime we have our 2 lines; Linea A, the red line and Linea B, the blue line. The subway in Rome was originally built to carry commuters to and from the center of the city not 4 million habitants and millions of tourists. Unfortunately the two lines only intersect at one point, Termini Station, which happens to be the main train station as well. So in true Italian fashion sometimes you have to go backwards to go forwards. It is a busy juncture where the daily grind intersects with travelers carrying luggage which soaks up much coveted standing room only space on the metro. To add to this the subways during rush hour are crammed like the number 6 train in NYC. The difference is that in NYC you have about 10 lines and at times can avoid taking the 6 if you are near the 4 or 5. Just last week I needed to get a centro…to the center of town by 0830, it wasn’t going to happen. I waited for 40 minutes and several trains came and left but with only a few poor souls being able to literally smush themselves onto the already jam packed train. Non mi interessa…it doesn’t interest me even if I am going to miss my appointment to get my hair dyed. Yes, the secret is out…sono una bionda finta…I am a fake blondi. I kept thinking how do these people do this at least 5 days a week, they must be exhausted before they even get to their offices to start their day. The concept of the two hour lunch is starting to make more sense now. Is it possible the lack of sufficient transport in Italian society has shaped their lives in more ways than being an extreme annoyance? They are notoriously late; they take long afternoon breaks…hhhhmmmm.

I wrote this entry on the way to Torino over two weeks ago with my beloved Roma behind me and the 2006 Winter Olympic host city approaching me. There are many stories to tell about my experience working in this famous northern industrial city but let’s continue the conversation about traffic.

Certo there is traffic in Torino on the average Italian day but you can imagine how this city felt when the all the production crews, fans and Olympians from all over the world arrived to capture, witness and participate in these famous games.

My first observation since I am a sudo Romana is that there are hardly any Vespas and motorcycles in Torino. The first morning after I arrived I was walking under the famous porticoes in this once aristocratic town and I realized something was missing. Le moto!!! Not only did I not see them…I did not hear them. At that moment I realized how attached I am to my new home in the south. People ask me often, “Why Rome?’…there is an energy that I just love, unmatchable. The beauty of the city, the zest for life the Romans possess, it’s the door to the south. This energy is fueled by the thousands of motorcycles buzzing thru the cobblestone streets and…Torino doesn’t have that.

Torino seems to be a very organized town with i mezzi. I quickly learned the bus system and I was on my way. As the days became closer to the 10th of February and the opening ceremony the city became more congested as one could imagine. There are bus & taxi lanes, tram tracks, and what remains of the street is fair game. During the Olympics they created ‘The Olympic Lane’ which is the bus & taxi lane but you can drive in it if you have an Olympic pass for your car which can be yours for a mere $3,000 dollars or euros I can’t remember. But does it matter…it is insane! The project I was working on we didn’t need the Olympic pass instead my ever so clever producer rented IO GUIDO CAR SHARING. It is brilliant! It is a car sharing company that exists in Italy that offers the service of renting cars with special privileges. You pay a monthly or yearly fee and you can rent cars all over Italy at special prices, get great deals on gas and when you have IO GUIDO you are allowed to drive in the bus & taxi lanes, you can park in areas that are usually restricted and you get to park for free in the other normal areas. Once again it is brilliant and the perfect vehicle for production! SO you can keep your Olympic pass Torino we have car sharing.

I am on the train heading south to bella Roma and I can not wait to arrive at Termini. I am fortunate to have a friend with a car that will meet me at the train station to help me with my bags and drive me to my palazzo on Via Terni. Tomorrow I will go for a run at my aqueduct park, take the subway or possibly wait for the 85 bus and certainly walk on the streets of Rome. And I will do it all with a smile and spring in my step.

Don’t need the ruby slippers to say there is no place like home.

Thursday, January 19, 2006

My first blog

It’s my first Monday evening since I returned to Italia last week. I was somewhere over ‘the pond’ this time last week. A few moments ago I sat down at my dining room table with my computer and a glass of vino bianco with Maria Callas’ lovely voice accompanying me. I am certain that I sound like a cheesy Americana living abroad minus the notebook I am writing on…Italians aren’t big on technology.

I have been really enjoying my time since my return to Italian soil. My first few days were spent outside Roma at the sea in a little Etruscan town called Santa Severa . This was the setting where I spent my two Tour Director training days. Friday I went running for the first time since New Year’s Eve day and boy was it a challenge. I had my new IPOD shuffle, Coach CW and the forever comforting aqueduct park to help me run thru the pain. Friday night I went to, in my opinion, one of the best places for Napoletana pizza in Rome, Da Magari. Upon our arrival, my friends and I were surprised, to say the least, to find the standard fantastic pizza and the ever so cute waiters were also appreciated by….ROBERTO BENIGNI! The Italian actor that won the hearts of many, including Americans, when Life is Beautiful was released years ago. My friend Alan was walking in front of me while we were being lead to our table when he quickly spun around and said “That is Roberto Benigni sitting at the table in front of us.” I quickly absorbed the fact, adjusted my excitement and passed his table as I looked straight into his eyes and gave him a calm Minnesotan smile. As I was collecting myself I forgot to do the same as Alan and turn to my roommate Gianni and give him the much appreciated ‘heads up’. What happened next just makes me chuckle and smile, a lot. Once my roomie realized who this pizza lover actual was he let a loud exclamation with true Italian gusto “ROBERTO BENIGNI!!!” I must say it was absolutely priceless. Everyone in the restaurant turned to look at Gianni whom at times seems more like a child than a 42 year old man. He immediately recovered, excused himself and wished them a pleasant dinner. This was my first celebrity sighting in Italy. Being a former New Yorker, I was use to seeing ‘stars’ living their daily life in NYC. It was great fun to be in my local pizzeria and see a great Italian film star and Roman enjoying some yummy pizza with his wife(who plays his wife in all his films) on a Friday night.

I originally started this entry as an intro to the story below. Like my friend just wrote me in response to my Tour Director update email, “There is one thing I am certain of…you will never be at loss for words.” Thanks Paul. I will fill you in on what happened on Saturday, Sunday night and Monday morning a different day.

With that being said, 3 paragraphs of writing before I had just found my first blog about my first few hours in Rome last September. At that time, I thought I would call my blog Via Terni....name of my street. I think Lebanese Blondi is a better fit.

I forgot that I wrote it. Instead I ended up writing about Jack regarding my first few hours in Rome. Well here it goes…

Benvenuto – 09/20/05

Benvenuto-Welcome!!! The day I have been waiting for how many years? I would say eight…it was 8 years ago that I lived in Milano. I look back at those six months and when I think of who I was…I think a little girl. Who had no idea about credit cards, thank goodness, but more importantly was learning, speaking and dreaming in Italian, ogni giorno, everyday!

So here I am in Roma, eight years later and what some days seems like a lifetime when I talk about my past. I know I am only thirty but those years of 26, 27, 28 can be real tough ones, really good ones but tough at the same. Actually there are SO good because of the hard stuff you learn to live thru. I like to call them my years of my second adolescence.

I arrived at the Rome airport and breezed thru customs with no problems…I was prepared with my story that I was coming to Italia for a three month vacation, no work, just vacanza. To my surprise they didn’t ask one question, didn’t bat an eye. I think it was harder getting to Guatemala and back then moving to Italia.

My friend Joel, an American living in Italia for the last 7 years, met me at the airport. It was great to see him. I had met him thru a producer I once worked for in Minneapolis. Last December when I was traveling in Italia I met up with Joel and we have been great friends ever since, I love when this happens. I think it is easy to bond with people when they have similar passions as you. Let it be work, faith or living the ex-patriot life in Italy.

We rolled my three bags to the train terminal to take the most economic way into the center of Roma. 2 bags was the luggage limit but I decided to pay some extra money to bring a third. How else was I going to get all of my fabulous heels acr0ss the pond??? All my Guate friends remember the meeting when Dustin said “OK, so you will have one bag for shoes and another bag for the rest of your stuff.” I sat there quietly thinking, this is my kind of trip…an entire bag devoted to shoes! But that can’t be right…so I leaned over to Anna and she explained the bag of shoes would be the ones we would collect for the kids down in San Juan. Right, this is a short-term mission trip.

We hopped on the train and headed towards my new house. In Italia when you buy your ticket for train travel you have to stamp it in a machine on a platform before you enter the train, if not you will get a big MULTA, ticket. But of course we stamped ours…Joel didn’t on the way to get me hoping he could use his ticket twice but he got caught and escaped the fine by acting the part of the dumb Americano and they let him off the hook. I was thankful to hear that or else that would have been a 25 euro train ride which normally costs 5 euro.

When we arrived to my new home, my roommate Gianni Leonardi was still at work so we had made plans to see his mother, whom conveniently lives across the hall from her only child, a son. Now sons are golden here in Italia, similar to the Asian culture. They can do no wrong and tend to live with their parents until they get married…which could take years into their late thirties and sometimes never happens. Modern Italian women are getting smart and not marrying these Italian men…that is one of the reasons the birthrate is increasingly low in Italia.

La Madre di Gianni, the mother of Gianni is named Franca. She is a smart, beautiful woman with a strong personality. She is a very classy 65 year old lady. At this point I have no idea where the Father is, and I have not asked. She welcomes me into her home which is quite amazing. You rarely have a house in Italia, unless you own a whole palazzo, building, in the city and of course you would have to have much Euro to be able to do that. Her apartment is furnished with family antiques and art-real ART! We sit in the living room; she offers us something to drink…which turns out to be a Campari, one of my favorite Italian liquors. Granted it is only 11:30am at this point and I have been up all night…but hey when in Rome! How many times do you think I will say that….so we spend 20 minutes getting to know one another, Joel is thankfully there with me as I struggle with my unused Italian. At the right time, she brings me across the hallway to my apartment. I knew the second I walked in that it would be a place that I could call home. It is quite large and has been updated in the last 10 years I would say. It turns out that Gianni won the Italian lottery once, the equivalent to $25,000 so he put the money back into the apartment. It is much bigger compared to my apartments in St. Paul, NYC & Milano.

Saturday, January 14, 2006

Can you hear me?

Without the 'now' I would be referring to what you say before you start talking on the mic on the coach, the tour bus.

Si, si, I made it back to Roma on Tuesday safe and sound. Well, really quite tired but that is how it goes sometimes. I had to take a very expensive and LONG flight to make it back to Italia for my tour director 'Audition' on the 11th & 12th of January. I made it back indeed with a warm welcome from friends and the locals in my hood. With the help of much espresso and ambition, I stayed up nearly the whole night before the first day of the training session with some serious jet lag and the wonderful help & expertise of my British Tour Director friend Alan.

Many people who don't know anything at all about production ask me why don't I become an actress and be in front of the camera. I say, OH NO, that is for my very talented and beautiful sister who was born an actress. I work best behind the camera helping things hurry along the way.

Well, 'My Audition' went unexpectedly well. I have been referring to the third step of becoming a Tour Director as an audition because I hate the stress of competition. I am not a very competitive person by nature. I am extremely competitive with myself, with goals I set for my career, etc. But absolutely not with other people. Look at the sports I do, don't laugh. Growing up there was and still is Archery. When I lived in Boulder...Yoga, hiking and rock climbing. Now in Rome, running. Besides cheerleading, marching band and kickball I have never been a group orientated competitive person.

Not only is my Italian rusty since I have been back to Rome, my blogging is too.
I will continue with the infamous 'audition'.

In somma, in conclusion, I worked thru the jet lag, stress and pulled it off. I think I was born to talk on that mic on the coach, l'autobus, the pullman, the bus. Of course, I was chosen to do my commentary first. I was fine with it. Hey, English is my mother language. I don't have as much to worry about compared to my fellow candidates(100), mostly all Italian. It is suprisingly very calming to sit at the front of the bus and face out the rather large window and look upon the streets & countryside of Italy and have a captive audience. I think I have found my calling, a group of people that ACTUALLY want to hear me ramble on about the true love of my life, Italia. Get this, they pay for it. Brilliant!

I will find out in two weeks if I will become a Tour Director. Which is kind of funny because I will know the results of this crazy experience days or moments before I head north to Turin for the 2006 Winter Olympics. I will be working in Production there, my 'normal' career.

A friend said to me while I was home in MN 'It is amazing how God is opening up all these doors for you in Italy?".

Now I just have to find the courage to keep walking thru them.