Today is the final countdown! We leave for Berlin one week from today and all of course my feelings are all over the place. I’m thinking about when I first arrived here, when I first met the people I now call my family, the meetings and the sad goodbyes of friends who have also continued their journeys elsewhere, the hardships I’ve faced as a foreigner, but also the privileges I have had, and just trying to get used to a culture that is not my own. I thought I should do a list of things I love and loathe about being an American in Italy. Every sip of wine I have had in the past few days or bite of pizza feels like it could be my last for a long time! I’m excited to live in Germany, but the food and wine culture here in Italy cannot be topped…

And so I give you my list of what I will miss and what I will not miss:

I will miss cafes
I will not miss the lack of lines in cafes…the lack of lines anywhere really.

 

Walking through the beautiful medieval city
Walking through the beautiful medieval city in what the Lucchese have deemed inappropriate thus garnering stares. Forbidden outerwear includes:

-Color

-Sandals before August

-Wet hair any time of year

-Pants that do not go directly into boots before June

-Un-bedazzled sneakers and/or sneakers that are not high heeled

-Work out clothing

-Shorts

-Visible socks

 

Shopping
Rummaging for exact change…“18 cents? Give me a minute…”

 

Uncomplicated coffee
Making coffee for Italians who are complicated

 

The groups of old men who sit and people watch
The groups of old men who sit and leer at women

 

The Tuscan sun
The THUNDERSTORMS…oh god….

 

Going grocery shopping for amazingly fresh products
Going grocery shopping between the hours of 11 and 12 or 18 and 19. Circus hours…

 

Having your bar
Having your bar closed on Sundays or all winter

 

Going out for drinks
Men going out for drinks who think “where are you from?” is an acceptable and wanted pick-up line. “I’m from earth”

 

Peschino
The morning after Peschino

 

Personal pizzas
There is nothing about this I won’t miss

 

Gelato
All the gelaterias being closed from October to March. The torture!

 

The fresh bread
The addiction

 

The legal loopholes
The bureaucracy

 

Crazy Mario son Sordo giving piazza concerts
Crazy Mario son Sordo licking my face

 

Pasta
Pasta all the time

 

Seeing tourists enjoy the city
Seeing tourists enjoying the city in the middle of the road

 

Running into friends because we live in a toy size city
More often running into people I do not ever want to see because we live in a toy size city

 

The summers
The winters

My bike
Narrowly escaping death on my bike

 

Getting letters
Getting letter months later because of the Italian mail system

 

Easy access to transportation
Transportation that is late or doesn’t show up

 

Italians
The Lucchese (HAHAAAA, but really, they are so mean)

 

The Wall
The wall is perfect. Not a flaw. It is one of the music beautiful and unique parts of a city I have ever seen. No matter how many times I go around it, it is truly magical. I have never once gotten tired of it or felt that it lacked any change. It is the armor and the soul of this city.

 

The family I’ve made here
The fact that I have to leave another place I have called home.

 

My wonderful yoga teacher and friend gave us a quote to think about recently:

“The reason for time is because everything can’t happen at once.-

 

It is an understatement to say that leaving my friends and family in the states was difficult. It was an otherworldly level of pain and sadness.  And now I have to do it again. This quote though…it makes sense. As much as I don’t want it to and I want everyone I love in my life to be in a big house together wherever I move, they can’t be. And Germany can’t be Italy.  In many ways I say “thank GOD” to that.  But Italy, for all of it’s GLARING flaws, is Italy. It is one of the most coveted places on earth and I have had the honor to live here and to become part of the society, learn the language, work, sing, and enjoy.

I am looking forward to a more efficient society in Germany, but I know I will miss the slow-moving-enjoy-your-wine pace here…unless I am waiting in “line” at the post office. Then I’m just mad.

 

Ciao ciao for now, Lucca. You have my heart.

 

We Just Want to Give You Our Money!

We are moving to Berlin. After moving to Italy three years ago, I did all of the things that a young American living in Italy is supposed to do: I learned the language, drank the wine, ate the food, saw the sights, went to the disco, dreaded the Questura, got a bike, used the same bus ticket for 6 months, sang opera in theatres and piazzas, and fell in love with an Italian. That part wasn’t planned, but it was inevitable.

Looking for an apartment in Italy is dangerous, looking for an apartment in Berlin is IMPOSSIBLE.

I have somehow made it this far on my “good looks and sagacious wit”, a favorite quote from one of my best friends.  I have been very lucky in my life. Things seem to always happen for a reason and have worked out for the most part, so occasionally (and naïvely), I rely on this seemingly kind endowment from the Universe instead of actually starting things on time.

And then after five days straight of bleary-eyed searches for apartments on every apartment site for Berlin I could find, I started to feel not so lucky.  Everybody wants to be a cat and EVERYBODY wants to move to Berlin. Apartments are there one second and then not. There are influxes of new ones all at once that get snatched up.  All of the German landlords want a pile of documents and guarantees, which is understandable unless it is your first time renting an apartment that is not under the table or “Italian Style”. Italy has basically been my enabler for not following the laws of society.

I was told from the start to look for apartments months in advance. At first, I threw it right back out to the Universe and said, “yeah ok, I’ll figure it out when I’m not at aperitivo”. Thankfully halfway through January I just happened to take a look and realized what I was up against. We got our first bite at the possibility just a few weeks ago. So halfway through January to February 19th was only THE BEGINNING of communication about the POSSIBILITY of renting.

I had sent out a frantic email blast half in German half in English and I caught myself an Italian! She wrote back saying English was fine because she was Italian. I literally leaned back, cracked my knuckles, and said, “oh yeah, baby”.  I wrote back all in Italian and laid it on nice and thick.  How nice it was to find an Italian renting in Berlin, I was living in Italy with my Italian boyfriend, let’s all be friends, how great we can communicate like this which is easier for you. Yeah! Yeah!

It worked. She was delighted. She immediately gave me her phone number and we chatted on the phone about each other’s lives and set up a Skype date for the next day so we could all discuss the apartment.

We Skyped with her for an hour and it all went wonderfully.  She said we seemed very trustworthy and she would love to have a young couple she could obviously trust renting from her.

She didn’t seem very well informed on what paperwork we needed to do which seemed like a plus for me at the time. We left the Skype call very positive after she told us to have a friend living in Berlin to go see the place next week to make sure we liked it before signing anything.

I was doing victory laps already.  They abruptly stopped when she started sending us paperwork that was not matching up.  She wanted a guarantee, but did not know what kind of guarantee or which paperwork to go with it.

We must have exchanged over 20 emails reassuring her we were financially secure enough to never miss rent and we had people who could legally guarantor if she wanted it. She kept pushing paperwork that we found out was for Asians who want to visit Germany…this in no way, at least that I could figure out, applied to us.

So my boyfriend and I took an entire Sunday evening on our own time to figure out what forms she needed, what order she needed them in, and how we could get them to her in a way that pleased her before signing a contract. She was happy with the research we had done, but was still convinced we were Asian. She had seen us on skype. At this point I just agreed and said I would happily fill out the paperwork meant for Asian tourists if she needed it. She told us to contact her again when my friend had scheduled an appointment to see the house with the person currently representing it (she lives in Italy currently and isn’t even in Berlin).

Our friend couldn’t get an appointment to see it for a week (A WEEEEEEK) because the guy who was going to show it to her was too busy. So we sat on our hands for a week nervously pondering if we were going to get the apartment. We felt confident. I even received a reassuring email from the woman saying, “Why not?! You are a great couple, it would be a great place for you both”. But she didn’t want to make a decision until our friend saw it. I wanted to scream, “WE JUST WANT TO GIVE YOU OUR MONEY! Please, let me give you money. I am begging you.”

At the end of a more than two week waiting period, the evening before our friend was scheduled to see the place, we got a short email from the woman telling us the person currently living there decided to stay and so it wasn’t available. The end. Bye.

I have learned to face rejection in the healthiest way: screaming like a maniac and punching pillows for five minutes and then moving on immediately.

The next day, I went to the library because CONVENVIENTLY our internet had been out for two days (and is still out! I can’t wait to move…). I once again looked through every single website, sent out emails, and 15 minutes before the library closed someone responded who had an available apartment. I felt like MAcGyver defusing a bomb. The librarians were packing up, the cleaning crew was glaring at everyone from the corner, mops at the ready, I started sweating. If there is one thing Italians are on time for, it is going home from work. Mercifully this landlord was just as rapid fire as I was at sending emails. It was like a tennis match, boom, boom! Back and forth: What are the dates? Is everything included? Location of the apartment? Do you require paperwork stating that I am an Asian tourist? No? We’re in business!

Just as the cleaning crew began to wheel their rickety carts in for the kill (I’m literally not exaggerating, it was this stressful and this intimidating to finish this up without being yelled at to leave), this landlord and I came to a good understanding and it seemed we were pretty set. But I didn’t get my hopes up yet…although I did victory dance and fist bump with my boyfriend that I am a master and found a replacement apartment within 18 hours of our dreams being crushed.

But then…the cycle began again. Except this guy was all about “now now now”. A far cry from the last one, but just as destructive when trying to negotiate in a timely fashion. After 24 hours of back and forth emails trying to appease needs on both sides, the issue became form of payment. He wanted cash, up front. Um, no. You are not a drug dealer, you are leasing an apartment.

What is completely understandable in all of these situations is that we are two people who do not know each other, but need to have trust. How is that possible? The landlords want guarantees and so do the renters.  The landlord wants to make sure they are paid and their apartment isn’t destroyed, and the tenants want to make sure it isn’t a fraud and that the contract is real and reflects what the expectations of the apartment are. Between all of these emails trying to come to common ground, I started to think of the fable “The Frog and the Scorpion”.

Basically there is a scorpion who calls to a frog from the shore of a stream and asks for passage to the other side by riding on the frog’s back. The frog asks, “How do I know you won’t sting me?” The scorpion replies, “Because if I do, we will both die as I cannot swim”. The frog is skeptical, but takes the chance as he seems to have a guarantee. Collateral in the form of the scorpion’s life. But halfway across the stream, the scorpion stings the frog. As he is dying from the poison, the frog yells, “Why!” and the scorpion replies, “It is my nature”.

Unfortunately we live in a suspicious and deceitful world. Even though I know I am a good person who would never not pay my rent and would not cause damage to someone else’s property, the landlord does not know that I won’t change my mind and decide to sting him. But after everything seemed to be sorted out, he wanted, as I said above, cash money upfront. Traveling between countries with that much cash is not safe. I suggested a money transfer the moment we arrived. He said as a guarantee that he wanted it before. I put my foot down. This seemed super shady. He had written a 10-page contract, took the listing down after we agreed on dates, this was the final hurdle and he was not budging. If this was a fraud, it was going to be revealed in this moment.

I had been binge-watching “House of Cards” and was inspired to Claire Underwood this guy. No more BS. I wrote a very straight-forward email highlighting the shows of good faith we had provided him. My boyfriend had come up with a fair and safe money transaction that I wrote. I told him he needed to meet us where we had met him and be reasonable and re-write the contract to illustrate the changes he was going to have to make to fit this and then ended it saying in essence this was the final offer we were willing to make. This was another moment where I wanted to write in CAPS, “I JUST WANT TO GIVE YOU MONEY!” I didn’t. Claire Underwood would not do that.

I went for a walk and 20 minutes later got an email that said, “It seems we have come to an agreement. You are quite deal-maker ;)”. Yup, winky face and all. I was in public, but I didn’t let that stop me from punching the air Ari Gold from “Entourage” style.

He immediately re-wrote the contract and even deducted cleaning fees. That’s right: He finally decided to let us give him our money.

After that, he was so pleasant and kind and even said we could come a day early free of charge if our flight was the 31st of March instead of April 1st.

So guys…WE HAVE AN APARTMENT! It is happening and it is exciting and terrifying all at once. This has been in the works for such a long time and now it is less than a month away. Do I have to change the name of my blog since I am moving to Germany?

 

Enoteca Calasto

I started writing this post at the height of the summer season while I was working crazy hours and just found it again. It has been so long and I need to get back to writing! Although it is winter here now, I will finish and post this to remind us of summer.

Summer is a far cry from the winters in Lucca when the city closes down and you have to say a silent prayer that somewhere a bar is open to take shelter and drown your sorrows before Lucca’s torrential rain drowns you. Yes, my friends, even in Italy there can be rough times that not even pasta can fix.

Then the summer comes and it is mayhem in our little walled city. It’s like the gates open at Disney World and everyone rushes in with their maps trying to decide what to see first: The Tower of Terror? Or The Guinigi Tower…Bumper cars? Or as I refer to it: tourists standing in the middle of the street almost being hit by cars, bikes, and anything moving. Stop doing that, tourists. Really.

Everything is open, the city is alive, there’s music everywhere from opera to Lucca Music Festival which this year featured THE BACKSTREET BOYS. They were back. Alright. The juxtaposition of the historic medieval city and the modern summer faire makes Lucca a haven for travelers from all over the world. Summer here is what made me fall in love with Lucca. But all of the love in the world was not going to pay for my rent and my peschini. After a year of being led on with jobs on three different occasions, I was finding it difficult to feasibly see working here.

Thankfully I stumbled into the right hands at Enoteca Calasto. It is a little wine bar that was just around the corner from my first apartment. Walking by it nearly everyday, I never thought I would end up finding a job there and over the season some wonderful friends. I walked in on a whim one day and asked a woman in Italian where I could find the boss. She answered me in perfect English, “I am the boss”. Of course I would find somewhere where the owners were English, it was fate! She said she wasn’t hiring for the season, but did need an extra hand during Lucca’s four-day Comic Con, which is essentially where the city fills with 20,000 people dressed like Pokemon. She continued to stress how insane it got, but I was just so ecstatic to have found a job that I didn’t care!

Loki and…something

Loki and…something

And then I did care. When I showed up a few months later for the days I was working, it was just a sea of human beings with swords, maces, crowns, and as promised, Pokemon costumes all shoving their way down the streets and flooding into bars. This was the first time I had ever waitressed IN MY LIFE. After the initial fear had worn off, my adrenaline was pumping and I was like a highly functioning octopus carrying two trays over my head, throwing sodas at people, “you want tortelli? YOU GOT IT”. My first day was 9 hours I think. When I returned home that night, I was literally the walking dead. I laid down in my bed with my sneakers on and passed out. How was I going to get through 3 more days like this?

The next day, one of the waitresses who had been working in the bar during the season FLIPPED OUT in the middle of the lunch rush and literally threw her apron down and yelled in Italian, “I’m out of here!” As much as I wanted to throw tortelli at her for leaving us short while we drowned in a lake of Mario Party characters, I yelled to our boss, “Hey! I’ll take her place during the season!”

That woman walking out coupled with my newfound octopus serving skills was the combination I needed! I was hired for the season as an apprentice worker. I was absolutely thrilled!

IMG_9669We opened in March and things were rather slow, but steadily picked up until the unstoppable summer arrived. Amidst the insanity of summer evening aperitivi, wine tastings, and late dinners all while working in an un-air conditioned bar, I was still quite charmed by the people I met on a daily basis. It seemed like I always had an encounter that was delightful and took my mind off of sweating through my clothes and sucking down ice in the back to keep cool. For every bad incident there is a good one that erases is. AndIMG_9728 I can’t even say “bad” because nothing truly out of control ever happened. It was more just having the capacity to get everything out on time while trying not to blow of curious tourists who asked me the same questions day in and day out about what I was doing here. One of my first weeks, an American stumbled in with a half-lit cigar and sunglasses on clearly a bit lost. His two friends joined him after and I found out he was Paris Hilton’s uncle. Another time, a sweet elderly British man chatted me up and told me just how much enjoying so much traveling on his own and all of the amazing things he was seeing. He thanked me profusely for taking the time to talk with him about his travels and his favorite books one called “Bad Monkey”. The next day I came to the bar to find a new copy of that very book he had left for me.IMG_0724

I started to profile people. You can’t not start doing that when you have people from all over the world stopping by day in and day out. On a normal day I would hear Italian, American English, British English, Australian English, German, French, and Russian. Occasionally Norwegian, Chinese, and Danish peppered the garden outside offering different tones and mannerisms. I could tell who was American by how they laughed- this rich warm guffaw that made me nostalgic for home. Surprisingly, the Norwegians were very loud! One of them explained to me that it is because everything in Norway is so expensive that when people go out they do not drink that much and instead for them here alcohol is so cheap so they have a really great time! The English were delightfully witty and charming and very happy to be in a culture when it is acceptable to day drink. The Germans were very demanding, but once everything was in front of them they were super appreciative and often handed you tips directly while thanking you. There were two types of Russian: the Russians who had extreme wealth like two middle-aged beautiful Russian men I served. They were dressed like royalty with gorgeous colored suits and jewels and spent over 200 euro between them. And then the Russians who came in large families and asked how much everything was and then asked for separate checks.

Politically correct melanzane

Politically correct melanzane

There was one day that my shift finished at 5:00 and it had been an incredibly busy and hot day. The other staff and I were dead tired and were counting down the minutes until we could go. And then at 4:45, 10 Russians showed up and wanted a bunch of lasagna. I nearly wept. It became an ongoing joke for the rest of the season to not get ready to leave until it was literally your time to leave because there was always the possibility of 10 Russians showing up at the last minute and asking for hot lasagna and cappuccino in 95 degree weather.

Medieval procession on a "normal" Sunday

Medieval procession on a “normal” Sunday

The Italians are great for the most part. They love to joke and make fun of you and pretend you messed their order up until the see the fear in your eyes and then throw their heads back laughing making the hand gesture for, “did I scare ya?!” Sometimes you get the ones who are never happy with what you bring them. When you ask them how everything was they tell you truthfully if they didn’t like it. And yet you can’t fault them. It is part of their culture to be honest about how they feel about food and wine and rightfully so. Most loved that I was American and spoke Italian. They really appreciated it and were always curious why I was here

Jedi candle break on a slow day

Jedi candle break on a slow day

I will say that making coffee for Italians is to this day one of the most stress-inducing things I have ever done. ALL THE COFFEE RULES. But for other people I really enjoyed getting

Suddenly all the Brits started dancing

Suddenly all the Brits started dancing

into a rhythm of making the coffee. I always kind of felt like a rock star and would smile to myself as I banged the old coffee out, flipped a few switches, and then set the plate, spoon, and chocolate up all in time to spin around and stop the machine. It was like a little dance. And there was something romantic about setting up in the morning. Laying the tables outside in the little garden in the piazza seemed like a quintessential Italian image to me- just setting up for the day, watching people pass by, having coffee. And for closing snuffing out the candles in the windows, bringing everything in, hurling garbage bags at each other, hitting one another with the broom, loving inflicting physical and emotional pain on each other.

"GOBBLE"

“GOBBLE”

I was nicknamed The Little Turkey by one of the Italian waiters near the beginning of the season because they couldn’t understand what I was saying when I spoke quickly in English and I talked all the time. If I started asking for things, one of them would let me finish talking and then go, “GOBBLE GOBBLE GOBBLE!!!”. We always joked. Even our bosses were amazingly funny and always up for a good prank. It was a daily goal to offend each other to the point of no return: they made fun of my speaking Italian, I made fun of them speaking English (think of the most stereotypical Italian accent), we would write horrible things on each other’s water bottles. More often than not I would get a drawing of a turkey or “gobble” on mine. We IMG_0208would try to scare the living shit out of each other while closing the bar: standing outside the bathroom door, throwing the door open and screaming, hiding behind the bar and popping out, pretending our boss had called and was mad at someone. It was just too easy to freak each other out. There was more than once I had to duck down behind the bar to cover my mouth from spitting water everywhere after a well-timed joke.

Sara dancing to The Backstreet Boys

Sara dancing to The Backstreet Boys

Proseco break

Proseco break

An especially amazing thing though was bringing music to the bar. Shortly after I started, the owners asked me to do an opera night. They had never heard me sing before and the week leading up to it nervously asked me on a daily basis how I was doing and if I was ready. I kept telling them everything was fine because it was. I have been singing since I was 15. Singing in a bar wasn’t going to be something I would lose sleep over. The first night was a great success and for some reason our owners were shocked that I pulled it off! They said, “We didn’t know you could sing so well!” I said, “Why would you have taken such a huge risk?!” They had advertised that I would be singing and gave me a two-hour slot! It was hysterical. We were all cracking up because they really could not believe it. How silly! So it became a bi-weekly engagement for the rest of the year. Once it was summer, we set up a piano outside, added 15 extra tables, and I got to walk around the piazza that houses not only our bar, but the church where Puccini was baptized, and sing to almost 100 DSC_0156people who were either customers, or people passing through, stopping, and sitting on the church steps to listen for a bit. This was the Italy I imagined! Wine barista by day, opera diva by night.

It was a really amazing experience. I could honestly write a book about the customers I met whether I was wearing an apron serving glasses of wine or wearing diamond earrings and singing Puccini. It is so difficult to try and cram a whole year into a blog post. The people I worked with and for were amazing. We laughed a lot, fought a little, and danced to The Backstreet Boys daily. I will really miss having a job that made me feel like I was traveling to different countries every day. I still cannot get over the amount of people you meet just staying in one place and serving them local wine.

Enoteca Calasto 2014/15

Enoteca Calasto 2014/15

Sunday Lunch

Less than 10 minutes by bike from door to door (unless we hit the light at sant’anna), we have the perfect lunch awaiting us every Sunday. Walking up the stairs brings on the aroma from the kitchen that loftily floats down the hallway beckoning our rumbling bellies.

The tables is always set the same: three place settings, two across from each other and the third at the head of the table. From day one my seat was assigned and has yet to change more than a year later. The same bottle of red vino sfuso, a liter bottle of acqua frizzante, a little brown wooden bowl with crackers still in their wrappers sits in the center. The faint sound of a tennis match plays on the television in the other corner of the room and Andrea occasionally acknowledges it with a curse at Italy’s opposition while he holds a spatula in his hand.

The one thing Italians are always on time for is lunch. Especially Sunday lunch which at this point is more of a religion than Catholicism.

Valerio’s dad, Andrea is our priest for this service of food. We always have relatively the same thing: Either a creamy antipasto dip he makes to be put on crackers or we go right to the main course of his famous oven roasted potatoes (which took us ages to figure out until he gave us the secret) accompanied by some sort of meat. Either roasted lamb or pork, beef stewed in red wine for hours, or more often than not, polpettone. Polpette means meatballs, polpettone means BIG meatball. But not what we have been brainwashed in America to eat with spaghetti, the meatballs in Tuscany are a mixture of very high quality pork, spices, eggs, onions, and breadcrumbs that are formed -in this case- into a giant flattened oval shape and either fried or baked. They. Are. DELICIOUS.

Andrea doesn’t have us work for our lunch, he makes us sit and he takes our plates one at a time to and from the counter above the stove. There is no salt on the table because there is no need for extra anything. People may find the lack of salt from the table presumptuous on the Italians’ part, but anyone who has eaten here knows that the food never lacks anything. It is cooked the way it is and does not require your extra pinch of salt.

After lunch, like clockwork, Andrea puts on the coffee, goes to the window behind the TV and smokes a cigarette. He leaves the coffee to it’s own devices and chats with us while I nervously glance at the coffee on the stove listening for the telltale gurgle saying it is done and if you wait a moment longer you have ruined the coffee thus ruining everything. But he goes on smoking and chatting and somehow times his cigarette perfectly for when the coffee is finished.

We get settled as best as one can on his couch which he sarcastically refers to as “the last gift from the ex wife”. This is because it is the most uncomfortable couch on this earth. Now we watch the motorcycle or car race that is on every Sunday and root for Valentino Rossi, Itay’s own motorcycle star. Before it starts, Andrea quickly preps our desert. In the summer we have gelato and in the winter we have chocolate. And then it is 60 laps for the motorcyclists and licking our gelato bowls clean for us.

This ritual is something that reminds me of why this country is special. After living here a few years it can become very easy to fall into complaining and criticizing things. I won’t even go into my feelings on the post office … But this simple lunch we have every week is on time, made with love, and is a way to pass time together in the most basic and uncomplicated way. It is charming to witness and even more so to be apart of something that does not change or falter. Even the nuances such as knowing where to put the placemats after lunch in an effort to help clean up is something small yet momentous all at once.