Antwerp Attack

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I’m in Antwerp! And it took me a long time to get here. Those who know me/talk to me for more than 2 minutes know I will go to great lengths to avoid flying. There is nothing a Xanax can’t fix…except being suspended thousands of feet above the ground in turbulence.

I opted for a train ride that originally claimed about eight hours from Berlin to Antwerp. I wouldn’t have care if it was 24 hours! I wasn’t getting on a plane!

My route:
-Berlin to Köln in a bit under four hours.
-Köln to Bruxelles Nord around three hours
-Bruxelles Nord to Antwerp 45 minutes.

Getting me to my airbnb around 18:00 to check in.

OR SO IT SEEMED

I’m at the station 45 minutes early this morning (just in case) and my train number comes up and it’s the only one with a weird scribble next to it and German explanation. Panic.

It’s ok, I figured it out…by asking a station worker in English. It meant that one half of the train was going to detach at some point and go in a different direction than Köln…like a Star Wars getaway portal. I kept that part to myself.

I get on the train and find a seat in the back where I can keep an eye on my bag. It doesn’t seem like anyone reserved seat numbers including myself…€4.50 for a number? Amateur hour!

I managed to select the only seat that someone had reserved. Of course an elderly lady paid the 4.50 to make sure she was sitting exactly where I had chosen. I moved and wept inside.

At some point I realized we must be running very behind and then there were a bunch of announcements in German followed by a conductor handing out apology letters with an option for being reimbursed. Is this what I had been missing in Italy? When your train is late you’re lucky if they don’t slap you in the face for opening your mouth to complain.

I was not the only confused one and thankfully a German man translated what happened into English for some people sitting ahead of me. Sadly someone had committed suicide on the tracks and we ended up running about 70 minutes behind.

I did a little bit of (bad) math and realized I would miss both of my connections. I had no data to use Internet to contact the airbnb I was staying at and couldn’t call their Belgian number. I was as the French say: Le fucked. Thankfully I got through to Valerio before crossing the border out of Germany and he contacted them.

Once I arrived in Köln I could smell the madness before I even got off the train. They had announced that a train on the opposite platform would adopt us since a bunch of people missed their connection.  But I don’t think they told the other train that.

I got ready to try my best (worst) German with one of the conductors to ask if I was getting the right replacement train. Then, to my abject horror, I realized they were all….FRENCH!!! My French is worse than my German! I clumsily waded through the throngs of people who were all just a sea of rage faces to me at this point – confused and looking lost. I went up to the closest conductor who was being swarmed by the masses. He had that whole French nonchalant thing going on….I think I super imposed a cigarette in his hand in my memory of him. A woman in front of me was raising her voice in French, but I couldn’t understand what anyone was saying. I heard one of the final warning whistles and just helplessly stood there. Then I looked at the woman in front of me again and realized how familiar she looked…I had met her three days before! She was the student after me in my voice teacher’s studio! She had even said: your French diction is very bad, I will help you when we are in Antwerp. She was also on her way to the masterclass I was going to. I couldn’t comprehend the coincidence and she started to storm away obviously displeased with this French train conductor and his imaginary cigarette I made up. I hesitantly poked her shoulder and she whirled on me. I didn’t know if this was the best time to ask her for help, but I was desperate. I blurted out, “YOU’RE ONE OF ABBIE’S STUDENTS!” She looked at me like I was a crazy person and then recognized me after a minute and gave me the most welcoming charming smile. That’s literally all that was said and we were fleeing down to the last car of the train with our luggage. I couldn’t help but smile at how incredibly lucky I got. Not only a fellow student, but one with a French passport.

Once on the train, we re-introduced ourselves and I relaxed as she explained to the conductors our conundrum. Saved by the French.

After making all the connections we arrived at the famous central station in Antwerp and it is stunning. Truly a site in itself! Very traditional and opulent with modern touches on the platforms.

I don’t know why I do this, but every single time I’m traveling to a different country I just assume it’s going to have third world country conditions and I’ll need to bring every possible toiletry with me. And then every time, I get there and it’s usually more modern and well-functioning than where I was coming from. Here I am at the last minute writing reminders to pack a travel toothbrush in case I can’t find one in Antwerp and then I arrive here and go on an escalator that adjusts to the incline of what part of the station you’re in on your way up.

I’ll never learn. And I’ll NEVER FLY!

But from now on, I will always trust the French.

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Rights and Rainbow at the end of the Rainbow

I have been struggling lately with being a woman. I have been struggling lately with being a woman and I have been a woman for almost 25 years.

I should rephrase: I have been struggling lately with being a woman and seeing how women are treated worldwide. It is difficult to put into words my fear, sadness, and (I dislike using this word) my unbridled hatred for the people who disrespect, objectify, and abuse women.

I am outspoken on equal rights. Maybe because I have a loud voice or maybe because of the time I threw a chair across the room in my college dorm when someone told me that gays shouldn’t have equal rights because the bible said so. I cannot…can-not stress enough how jeopardized my heart rate becomes when I have to deal with people who refuse to recognize basic human rights. It does not compute. I do not understand why women are paid less than men in the United States in 2015. I do not understand why women’s personal property (their bodies) is up for debate on a public stage like a Roman gladiator slaughter. I do not understand people who do not understand equality. Where do you come from? Why do you hate people?

I also do not understand men who take pleasure in making women feel small and helpless. Around the world women are stoned or beaten to death for actions as small as leaving their homes without a male from their family to escort them. The thing no one wants to talk about -including myself- is female genital mutilation. Women are put through this torturous and horrific process still. Malala Yousafzai, my favorite woman in the entire world right now was shot in the face by the Taliban just because she wanted her and her friends to go to school.

So when I recently had several uncomfortable run-ins with men in Berlin, it does not seem to compare to what atrocities happen to women around the world. But this is how it starts. It starts with feeling threatened to leave your home, always being on guard if you make it outside, and grows from there into a mental and physical manifestation of fear. Fear of being a woman. And the fear of myself when I get so angry. I have had a few moments of men getting in my face when I’m leaving the subway alone at night or walking through a park and I immediately get right back in their faces and have my night ruined. One instant, however, was so over the top that I still cannot believe it happened.

I was in a major square a few weeks ago at noon. The middle of the day in a crowded tourist area. I was walking by a fountain and found a nice bench beneath a row of trees to sit on and eat my lunch. I had my headphones in and my sunglasses on. I was not looking for human contact. I was in a really good mood because I had gotten my to-do list of un-fun errands done and was excited to start rehearsal that night for an upcoming project. I sat down, reached into my bag, and when I looked up there was a man standing over me. He was dressed well, smiling, and asking me something. I took out my headphones and asked, “What?”. He asked me in German, “How are you?” I asked in English, “Do you need directions for something?” and his next question was the question that has continuously put me over the edge. It is the most intrusive, manipulative, and irrelevant question women are asked by men who are absolute losers:

“Where are you from?”

My go-to response is “Don’t worry about it”. Although sometimes I will opt for one of my friend’s fabulous retorts: Earth.

I took my own words that time and put my headphones back in. That answer was not acceptable as it usually isn’t and this is the point where the absolute losers who ask this question either stand there and stare at you like the psychos they are or press on. This particular absolute loser pressed forward. Our mostly one-sided conversation continued with him asking me again and again and saying things like, “Why do you have to be like that?” “I’m just trying to be nice”. No, you are not trying to be nice. You are trying to exhibit your power over me.

I continuously asked him to stop…please stop….I’m asking you to stop….

I stayed very calm and kept an even tone, which is unusual for me. He was so determined to get an answer from me that he stood there acting friendly and incredulously asking me why I wouldn’t be nice to him and blocked my way when I moved down the bench to get up and leave.

I had been looking at my phone avoiding as much contact as possible and finally looked up and said, “You shouldn’t do this to women”. And then I started to get angry. In that moment it wasn’t about me. I was going to be fine, I was sitting in a crowded area (although no one helped me) in daylight and I was not going to be broken by this piece of shit human being. But what about someone who had been assaulted before and had this happen? What kind of fear would come up in them if this guy cornered them? Would he break them? What about someone who couldn’t shake this off as easily as I could? This was about every woman who has to go through this daily in the form of catcalls, butt pinches on the subway, offhand comments about women being unstable or crazy, to being beaten for having an opinion. That oppressive tone and physical stance that asks to your face in a “friendly” manner, “Where are you from?” but says quietly from their body language, “I would sexually or physically you if no one was around”.

“You shouldn’t do this to women. It makes them uncomfortable. You are making me uncomfortable. I have asked you several times to leave me alone and you are still here bothering me.” He laughed it off like the sociopath he was and that’s when I told him I was going to call the police. He laughed again and asked me why. I repeated myself and added, “you fucking creep” at the end of the sentence.

His face dropped with his voice and he said, “What did you just say to me?” I told him again I was going to call the police. He raised his voice and said, “No! After that, what did you call me?” I continued in a monotone voice that I was going to call the police. He moved closer to me if that was even possible and yelled in my face, “What did you call me!”. And I finally broke and screamed back, “I called you a FUCKING CREEP beacuse you are a FUCKING. CREEP.”

He stumbled backwards and yelled, “I’m a fucking creep?! Yeah, call the police, they won’t help you, you fucking bitch. How can you call me a fucking creep? Who do you think you are? You know what go fuck yourself!” He walked backwards screaming at me, flipping me off and continued to say, “Go fuck off”. I started laughing and said, “You came up to me, YOU fuck off”.

And with that, he was gone. Off into the crowd to find another woman to make him feel like a man since I obviously could not help him with that.

I was infuriated and I was scared. I was in no way, shape, or form scared of him as he was a small disgusting creature in my eyes, but I was scared of the feelings it brought out in me. This was one of quite a few similar encounters I had had and I would leave them feeling so filled with rage. I was having nightmares and being overly aggressive with people because I felt like I needed to defend myself against attacks. I walk home from the subway with my keys in my fist and often times debate in my head, which would be the most effective of them: the long sturdy one or the thin, but sharper one. What a world…I have to walk home at night having this conversation of which keys I would use if someone attacked me. I said to a friend privately that if I had had a weapon, I would have killed that guy. That isn’t me. I am not a violent person. I am kind, sympathetic, supportive, and soft. But I was having visuals of myself punching these men and kicking them and screaming at them. I was no better than them.

What that guy did to me that day wasn’t just an assault of my space and privacy, it was a mental assault. He turned me into a monster. He made me into someone who would cause physical harm to another person and I was neither raised that way nor have I chosen to live my life that way.

I’m trying to channel that anger into kickboxing, meditation, and knowledge. As I mentioned earlier, Malala Yousafzai is a modern day saint. She is outspoken for women’s rights and women’s education and has nothing, but kind and constructive things to say. Even after the Taliban began to threaten her she said that she would never even hit them with her shoe because then she would be as bad as they are. And after they shot her she publicly forgave them. She harbors no hate in her body.

I’m trying. I am trying to hard to not be angry at the world and its treatment of women. Today I watched a documentary called “The Power of Women” that the BBC did this year. It starts with Hillary Clinton’s women’s meeting in China in 1995 and following up with subsequent female secretaries of state and other outspoken women from around the world who have fought and continue to fight for the RIGHT to not be raped, beaten, sold, trafficked, etc… It is very difficult to watch, but shows how incredibly far we need to go in this world to protect our sisters against the brutality they face daily.

A few days after my public brawl I was coming home late and alone on the subway. Per usual I groped for my keys in my bag to put between my fist and when I got to the top of the stairs from the platform to the main area of the station, I saw across from me at the top of a different staircase a man with a woman backed up against the wall yelling at her. Her eyes downcast and her arms folded, while he pointed his finger in her face. When she looked away from him, he grabbed her face and violently pulled it towards him. I immediately stopped my pace and had seen enough. Without thinking I began to storm towards them with no plan of action, but knowing it had to be stopped. I thought I could get the guy who ran the convenient store to call the police or come out and get the guy to calm down. And then a German woman who was probably about my age came up the staircase near them, saw what was happening, ripped out her earbuds and got in the guy’s face. She pointed her finger in his face the way he had done to the woman and asserted her power. No fear. I allowed myself a huge wave of happiness. It was still not ok and was extremely disturbing, but to see a woman throw herself in front of another woman to protect her warmed my heart. We have to be there for each other. It was an amazing moment.

Small moments like that are what will change how women are treated. Watching the documentary and all of its horrors gave me a lifetime of things I want to be fixed in this world. Gay rights has also been right on the same level for me. So today, after I had finished “The Power of Women” and cried my eyes out about the state of our world, I ran through the rain to catch a subway to an English bookstore where I knew I could get Hillary Clinton’s autobiography. I also stumbled upon Tina Fey’s and decided I deserved a nice big laugh from another strong woman.

I carried my two powerful women to the subway in my bag feeling strangely protected. I heard my phone beep and opened a message from my friend that said:

GAY MARRIAGE IS LEGAL IN THE USA

I stood there in the rain and re-read the text not believing it could be true. I wrote back asking if it was true and she said yes…and then my phone died. I looked around like a fool looking for someone I could celebrate this moment with. This was not how I envisioned hearing this announcement. I wanted to be with a bunch of people screaming, crying, cheering, and everything in between. I RAN home, threw open my computer and burst out crying…ugly crying reserved for when you are alone as I was. This is something I was starting to think I would not see in my lifetime. I hoped I would, but tried to be realistic as to not have my expectations crushed. I have not been proud to be an American lately and today gave me a feeling that I have longed for and missed. Today was a step forward. It’s ridiculous that it took this long, but it is a victory nonetheless. Hours later I feel like I’ve been on an emotional rollercoaster and the joy I feel for the people I know and love in my country who have fought for this moment is unparalleled. It makes me hopeful that America may one day live back up to it’s potential of being a great nation. This day is glorious in this respect and a day to be celebrated. It is a day that so many of us have waited for and protested for and today we won. But I am still plagued with the images and stories of the women who I watched earlier. And I hope that the next step in equality will be ours.   This is a time to celebrate, but it is also the momentum that needs to keep being pushing forward. We can’t stop now because there is so much more to accomplish at home and abroad and I hope that leaders will move the process along quickly to bring equality to everyone. Everywhere.

***just logged onto wordpress to post this and their banner today is a rainbow…Joy.

Singing for My Supper

I’m getting paid to sing!!! And I am really concerned as to why this is something I need to announce…or any musician should need to announce or brag about. You don’t see lawyers or chefs posting on social media, “Hey guys! Guess what? I’m getting PAID for the work I do!” That would be really jarring and obvious to people. And yet, when I recently posted something on Facebook about getting a paid singing job, my lovely friends encouraged me and liked my photo and said “congratulations” as if it was this big accomplishment.

The sad truth is that it is a big accomplishment for a musician to get paid. Why is that? Why has that always been a trend? Mozart died poor and was buried in a common grave and he was…perfect. He was the most perfect composer. My eyes well with tears thinking of every piece of his music. It. Is. Perfect. Truly. He was the original example of “only the good die young”.

But it truly begs the question: Why are musicians and for that matter any type of artist in general not paid/paid well? Is it because we like our job? Because we enjoy it? Why should I be punished for loving what I do? There are certainly moments I DON’T love it. Music theory, rhythm practice, monotonous repetition, having a difficult lesson, nerves, or screwing something up in front of a large audience…these are all things I do not love about what I do. But it is a job so I have to do it. The difference between the job I do and the job almost everyone else does is that I am usually not paid. So I spend hours a day learning, practicing, repeating, physically, mentally, and sometimes emotionally taxing myself, but I don’t deserve to get paid. Why?

I hesitated writing this because I thought, “So many other singers and musician bloggers have talked about this to death”. But…THAT’S EXACTLY WHY WE NEED TO ADDRESS IT. Why is this STILL happening?!

I think it is a lack of education. That is my personal opinion. People see the final product of something and assume that’s it: Two to four hours singing about love on stage in a pretty costume. Because I don’t have a 9-5 job, I’m not considered legitimate. But a lot of times musicians are working from 9 until midnight! Or beyond if you have a show opening that given week! Weekends, holidays, summer, day, night, all the time. I recently learned a large role in a very short amount of time and was losing sleep over how overwhelmed I was. I was spending hours upon hours studying it on my own and coaching it with an amazingly generous pianist friend of mine to learn it in time for a sing through of the whole opera. When the day finally came, I jumped on the underground frantically looking over as much of the music as I could before I got there and thought, “Thank god I don’t have a job so I can go to this on a Thursday in the middle of the day”. And then stopped myself like: WHAT DID YOU JUST SAY TO YOURSELF?! I’m so used to not being taken seriously that this is how I refer to myself. How dare I not appreciate the time and effort I put into this to create a good final project?  What is the difference between me preparing this role and someone preparing a presentation for a board meeting?  One difference: I HAVE TO SING MINE.

I see people on Facebook asking for money to go to a summer music program to further their career. I doubt I will ever see an accountant or baseball player trying to raise money amongst their online friends. And I have no animosity towards other people in their chosen careers, if anything I envy them. They know where their next paycheck is coming from.

The famous joke about actors is:

Man 1: What do you do?

Man 2: I’m an actor.

Man 1: What restaurant do you work at?

It’s true. I did work in a restaurant! I spent so much of my time having a day job that I would neglect studying and singing for dangerous amounts of time because I didn’t know how to balance having two jobs at once. And why should I? Does anyone ever ask a CEO, “Hey, where do you work when you’re not working?”

Funding is another issue artists face. In 1981, 1989, 1990, 1995, 1996, 1997, and 2009, the NEA (National Endowment for the Arts) came under attack by various presidents and congress members (surprise surprise by conservative republicans) and at one point Newt Gringrich wanted the NEA to be eliminated all together along with the National Endowment for the Humanities and the Corporation for Public Broadcating. So that the United States could spend more money on war and rallies telling people that gay marriage will anger Jesus. I’m stopping myself now.

In an article from 2014 discussing funding for the arts around the world, we learn that there are ten countries that have better funding and protection for the arts than the States and one of them is MEXICO. The United States provides 1/40 of what Germany provides in funding for artists. In 2007, this roughly equated to $20 per German citizen compared to 41 cents per American citizen.

How is that acceptable? $245 billion the US government has spent on bailing out banks and in 2013 arts funding was .28 percent of the government’s non-military spending.

What do we need to do to convince you that we are working? Or more importantly, what do YOU need to do to understand that what we do is work.

I’m hoping that this new chapter in Germany will be lucrative for me, it is already off to a wonderful start and I am encouraged to see an obvious appreciation for art here. I guess what so many of us struggle with is that if we lose the battle on the paycheck even when we stand our ground, we do it anyway. Because we love it. And be honest, you love it too. You love the drama, the music, the photographs that tell a story and capture history or a beautiful sunset. The costumes at the ballet and the makeup on the movie stars. You love it when sopranos sing high notes as they are dying on the stage at The Met or when the busker who does a surprisingly good cover of a James Blunt song brightens your walk to the subway. You cannot escape it, it is all around you. And that is because whether we are paid or not, we have to express ourselves which is the blessing and the curse.

I need to stop writing so I can get back to work…yes, it is work.

Berlin!

We made it! We are in Berlin and have been for a little over a month. Do I need to change the name of my blog? I really don’t want to…someone suggested Fraulein Venus or something along those lines- HA!!

Berlin! IMG_6509

It’s amazing. I’m loving it. I think maybe I’m in the honeymoon state, but I don’t see it wearing off any time soon although one of my friends told me the other day how intense the winters are. I told him I went to school in Upstate New York and this wasn’t my first time at the rodeo. He put his hand on my shoulder, leaned in, locked eyes with me, and told me in hushed tones, “You don’t understand.” I felt like I was in “Game of Thrones”.

For now, the sun is out, it’s getting warmer and there is so much to do and see! My first impressions of the city are as follows.

Beer. It is everywhere. The moment we got to our friend’s apartment in Berlin, they handed me a beer.

Arrival Beer

Arrival Beer

It’s too easy.  To the point where I went with a friend to her friend’s house who was away to check on her cat and ended up drinking a beer. It’s so cheap and accessible.

I will so drink so on a boat

I will so drink so on a boat

People walk down the street with it. Something that would be considered red neck in the states is so normal here. Everyday, all day, people on the U-Bahn (subway) have a beer bottle in their hands. No matter what day of the week or time of the day, beer is a flowin’.IMG_6567

The history. There are moments of extreme wonder and joy at all of the modern architecture and futuristic aspects.  And then there are extremely sobering moments remembering the history here. The Stumbling Stones (http://www.npr.org/2012/05/31/153943491/stumbling-upon-miniature-memorials-to-nazi-victims) placed at the feet of homes where once upon a time not so long ago families were rounded up and taken to Auschwitz.IMG_6520

IMG_6523There are memorials to the people who died trying to jump over the Berlin Wall and monuments all around the city marking where it was. It is a lot at once. I’ll go from nearly skipping down the street to weeping within a span of minutes. Trying to not only imagine the Holocaust which is something truly beyond my realm of reality, but then seeing pieces of where the Wall was and being able to casually stroll through it back and forth makes me feel almost ungrateful in a strange way. I can walk from one side to the other. I’m a foreigner in this country that endured not only the horrors of World War II, but also the oppression of the Wall. And I choose to be here and can walk to and fro…

The way the culture is here, however, is balanced in respect to what happened. People are kind, helpful, joyful, intelligent….they enjoy their lives and have a functioning society while still having beautiful tributes to their dark history. It’s not abrasive and intrusive, but it’s also not hidden. I think it is something that is so heartbreaking for them. Even people who weren’t around during World War II carry a sort of residual guilt from it all. But you see people out in the many beautifully kept parks on the weekends with their children, playing sports, reading, spending time with their dogs…it’s a sort of utopia that sprang out of disastrous tragedy of the past.

Part of The East Side Gallery

Part of The East Side Gallery

Things work now. The public transport is out of this world. Clean, on time, zero tolerance for violence. There are always a few drunkies roaming the trains asking for money, but it’s not an affront. There was a really amazing moment I was touched by- we went to Mauer Park on Easter Sunday to walk around and see the famous flea market.  There was this Roman theatre like stage and a street performer who was simultaneously doing stand up comedy in German, using a diavolo string thing, and dancing. People were going insane. There were well over 200 people watching and OF COURSE drinking beer.  And there were a couple of homeless guys walking through the stands collecting empty bottles. For them, they can take them to a bottle return and make some money and the park isn’t littered with bottles people leave behind.. It was really nice and fascinating to watch.  They weren’t asking for money, just happily taking everyone’s bottles and laughing at the performer and people were more than happy to pass the bottles off.

Big crowds

Big crowds

Communicating is horrifying. You learn one phrase and then the response is rapid German. No no!! Stop! Also unlike in Italy when you don’t know how to say an exact word or phrase you can describe it or get close and they will level with you and help you out. Here, if you do not say it perfectly they don’t help you out. They look really confused and stand there silently.  I tried to order three pieces of bread and literally pointed to them, said the German, and held up 3 fingers and for some reason it was out of the question.

The food. I won’t lie…this I miss Italy for. Now, it is so much better to have every food

Valerio cradling the pasta and asking it why it doesn't taste better.

Valerio cradling the pasta and asking it why it doesn’t taste better.

nationality to chose from in one square mile, but…but the produce and the pasta…I can’t. Poor Valerio, every time he makes a pasta here whether it be with zucchini or tomatoes and pancetta, he will take a bite, drop his fork

Hey, beer.

Hey, beer.

in a much dramatic manner and exclaim, “But this tastes like nothing!” Unfortunately he’s right. The pasta is not good quality and a lot of the produce is not either. They don’t take vegetables and fruits out if they aren’t in season so they are being imported or grown in bulk. So that’s a little sad. But my god is the pork good. Berliners know what they are doing when they make sausage.

The music. Finally. FIN-ALLY. It is so overwhelmingly joyful to be working with talented musicians I respect and admire. I am singing so much that there is not time for much else. Except beer. Where I had to try and drag people out to play concerts or rehearse in Lucca, here I go from one rehearsal to the other with people who are so excited to be singing, learning languages and technique, and putting on concerts whenever they ca. I feel alive again in singing. I have a phenomenal voice teacher who is super intense and wonderful and has a voice that could knock a house down. I feel like I am in school again and I am more than happy to be a student of music.

I think Berlin is going to be a great new home. Did I mention how cheap the beer is?

The Tor!

The Tor!

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