Thursday, September 17, 2009


A few months back I spent a long weekend with a friend of mine where every single thing I did got on her nerves. I hung up a towel "wrong", I put the toilet paper roll on "backwards", I sprayed too much pam on a fry pan, and I almost ruined a bag of microwave popcorn by letting it pop 5 seconds longer than what was in her comfort zone. By the end of the weekend we both couldn't wait to get away from each other. I knew what it was. She had a severe case of "Single-itis". She was so used to being on her own, doing her own thing, running her own household that she didn't know how to deal with me and my habits. I remember thinking she must be more anal than I am and that's OOOOOKAY... but how awesome it was to be me. So chill and relaxed...

Or so I thought...

Here I am, months later, shacked up with my fiancé and I'm suddenly the "No! Not like that!" monster. I cringe when he pours coffee into the reusable filter that I keep in the cupboard even though I hate the way it brews coffee. I supervise him as he puts plates, bowls, and wine glasses into our dishwasher to make sure he puts them in the "right" way. If he leaves milk on the counter I swoop in with a frustrated and blatant sigh before putting it back in the fridge. I am worse than my friend. I am passive aggressive, too! Looks like I caught me some "Single-itis".

Before meeting my fiancé, my longest relationship was only a few months long. I was the stereotypical single New Yorker. For the past 8 years I lived completely alone. And 8 years is a looooooooooong time. Long enough for me to develop some pretty quirky habits. The worst part about it is that they aren't easy to shake. They've become a part of my daily life. I've always hated when someone tells you, "I'm just set in my ways." Ick. And here I am... living it. I'm that person.

In my defense, there are a few things he needs to work on. Like putting his nose hair trimmers anywhere but in our utensil drawer. However, I know I need to take responsibility, too. I need to loosen up. I need to be flexible. I need to... (!)gasp(!) compromise. I want to be okay with how he does things. I want to make room for him and his habits. Better yet, I want us to create our own habits.

I know there is a cure for "Single-itis". It's not like there's a relationship Z-pack and all symptoms are gone in 3 days. But I have faith that with enough effort and determination I'll get through this. It helps when I think back to my single life. How lonely I was. How all I wanted was to find the right guy. And now he's here. Why would I want to hang onto those old habits? I don't want that life back. I don't want to be the same person I was back then. I'm a better person now thanks to him.

So what if he steals my towel every morning? He's the one who does the laundry. So what if he untucks the sheets that I like tucked in? He likes to snuggle and keeps me warm anyway. So what if he leaves a pesto covered cutting board in the sink for two days? I never made myself homemade pesto. Ever.

Looks like I'm making progress already.

Wednesday, September 2, 2009

I Lost My Job and Found My Life

In December 2008 all anyone could talk about was the recession and the impending doom on the horizon. In New York City it was constant chatter. No matter where you worked, no matter what you did, you knew deep down inside that your job could disappear in the blink of an eye.

I came to New York right after college in the fall of 1996. For twelve years I paid my dues in advertising, working my way from secretary to junior copywriter to senior copywriter, to finally creative director. All of those years my job was my life. I would come home late working on TV campaigns I hoped would win me awards. I would stay out late with friends and coworkers drinking, socializing, networking. I never dated. And by the time the weekend rolled around I was thoroughly exhausted. All I could manage to do was lay on my couch, order in all 6 meals, and watch Lifetime movie marathons so that by Monday morning I had the energy to get up and do it all over again.

By December 2008 I was just beginning to find a balance in my life. I met my future husband that summer and was trying to figure out a way to merge our lives. He in upstate New York and me, smack in the middle of NYC. We decided he would look for jobs in Manhattan and move into my Brooklyn Heights apartment with me. I had bought it in May and was still settling in. It made sense for us.

My job was secure. My art director and I were up for a raise and a promotion. We had gotten our agency its bonus from one of our big clients and we were continuing to produce work that was making our clients happy. But practically overnight everything changed. Suddenly, we had new bosses and there were new rules. It didn’t matter if we got our work done on time. It mattered to be seen. Our new bosses were staying at the office til 9, 10, sometimes midnight and later. We were expected to stick around as well. Even if we literally had nothing to do.

I developed an eye twitch. For the life of me, I couldn’t make it go away. Every day it got worse and worse. It was almost comical. Nothing I did at work seemed to help my cause. I stayed late, but the new guys never noticed me. I volunteered for projects they were working on, but no one ever utilized me. I was constantly looking over my shoulder to see who was watching. Nothing felt good enough. Nothing felt secure. My ego and my self-confidence slowly, but steadily slipped away. I was almost sure it was coming. I would lose my job in this horrible economy and how in the world would I find a new one? I kept hearing “in a recession advertising is the first thing to go and the last to come back.” If I lost my job I wouldn’t just be out. I’d be down and out. How would I pay my bills? How would I pay my mortgage? Every day the eye twitch got worse. Every day I waited and waited and wondered… and then it happened.

The day I got laid off I felt a mixture of emotions. What surprised me most of all was the feeling of calm that came over me. As soon as I knew it was happening, I was able to relax. There was no more wondering, no more reading into everything, no more trying to guess my fate. Here it was. I lost my job a few weeks before Christmas in the middle of a recession in New York City. And there was nothing I could do about it.

For a few days I let it sink in. This was the first time in my entire life I had lost a job. And it wasn’t just losing a job. It felt like I was kicked out of my career. I had earned my way to creative director by putting my whole life into my career for the past 12 years. It was as part of my DNA as being left-handed and having blue eyes. It was my identity. Without it, who was I?

The depression that came next was both surprising and expected. I mean, I knew I’d be bummed out. No more regular paychecks is a scary thing and with friends losing their jobs every day, it began to feel like an epidemic. I would roll out of bed every morning with the best intentions. Today I will go to the gym! I’ll go food shopping and buy only healthy, reasonably priced food! I’ll network and find a new job! I’ll catch up on writing my screenplays!

But I would do none of that. I would sit on the couch in my pajamas, emailing my resume to the few jobs on and ordering in with what little money I had to live off of. It sucked.

An old boss reached out and hired me and my art director for a freelance project. It would only last us a few weeks, but it would help us through the holidays. It gave me a reason to get up in the morning again. And it gave me hope that even in a tough economy – there are jobs to be found.

I think that realization is what started to save me. I kept hearing the frightening statistic of the growing number of people who were losing their jobs every day. Seven percent climbed to eight percent and then to nine percent. It was all anyone on the news was talking about. But that realization stuck with me. Yes, nine percent of the population losing their jobs is horrible. But that means that 91% of the population STILL HAS A JOB. I wasn’t a part of the majority. I was a part of the minority. I wanted to join the rest of civilization again. I became determined to change my fate.

Suddenly, I had hope. More than hope. I had drive. I had a plan. I was going to get a job. I started by getting my self-confidence back. I reminded myself of all of my career accomplishments. Then I focused on my personal accomplishments. I am a good person. I have a great family, great friends, and for the first time in my life – a man who is both my boyfriend and my best friend. And together he and I could conquer anything. But then it dawned on me… what job did I actually want?

The “lucky ones” were working all hours of the night, slaving away at their desks, doing twice their normal workload. Did I want to go back to where I had come? Did I want to welcome back my eye twitch (which, ironically, had gone away the day I got laid off)? My father has told me many times that in Chinese the symbol for crisis is the same as opportunity. This was the opportunity of a lifetime. It was a chance to not just change my fate, but determine it.

What did I want? I wanted a job in advertising for sure. But I wanted “normal” human hours. Somewhere people must be working from 9-5 or else it wouldn’t be a common expression. Somewhere I could be valued for my background and my creativity while being utilized instead of overworked and undervalued. Somewhere out there was my perfect job. Even in the middle of the worst recession I had seen during my career. I stopped focusing on the bad and started focusing on the good. I stopped listening to the depressing news. I stopped worrying about how I was going to pay my mortgage. I just knew that I would and I could. And I was right.

My perfect job found me. I had posted my resume on and a recruiter reached out to me. She worked for a digital advertising agency that had an opening in its New Jersey office. The pay was almost exactly the same as what I had been making. They were hoping to fill the position with someone who had NY agency experience, but was ready for a more suburban, settled life. The hours were from 9-5.

A year beforehand I would never have even considered such a job. But in April 2009 it was everything I could have asked for and more. They worked with me so I could commute from my Brooklyn apartment until I moved closer. They gave me assignments where I was needed and valued. And they gave me an opportunity to change my life the way it needed to change.

I sold my Brooklyn apartment, bought a home in Pennsylvania, and moved in with my now fiancé. Life is so different from December 2008. So much more fulfilling. So much happier. So much more of life instead of work. Losing my job felt horrible and scary at first. But it turned out to be the best thing that could’ve happened to me.

My crisis became my opportunity after all.

Tuesday, October 28, 2008

Rome is Home - Why you should never bother with a hotel again

The first time I went to Rome was in December 2006. I knew nothing about Rome. I mean, I’d read a few guidebooks and I’d heard about the history, but when it came to navigating the city I was pretty darn clueless. My travel agent booked me and my friends into a “boutique hotel” across the Tiber River near the Vatican. The first time I walked across the Tiber I walked directly into a world of chaos. Vespas zooming past at the speed of light. Tourist groups that took up entire sidewalks. There was something missing from what I had always expected to find in Rome.

My second time in Rome I stayed near Termini station. Imagine staying just outside of any main train terminal and you can just about smell the lack of charm. Where was this world of piazzas and cobblestone alleys I had pictured?

The third time (you would think by now I would’ve figured it out, but, no…) I stayed up by Villa Borghese. A bit of a hoity-toity area, but still not the Rome I’d been hoping for, holding onto, holding out for.

I’d had a few tastes of it. The area by the Colosseum. The market at Campo de’ Fiori. Piazza Navona. They were areas I happened through quickly, but disconnectedly. I couldn’t really map Rome out in my mind. I hadn’t stayed there long enough to piece together a full picture. All I had were bits and pieces of disappointment and a few glimmers of hope.

Despite my disappointment with Rome, I had fallen in love with Italy. I had taken daytrips out of Rome to other cities bursting with medieval flair. I had blundered through my half-assed Italian and gotten compliments for speaking so beautifully. In fact, the word “bella” was thrown around generously (and who doesn’t love that?!). The wine, the food, the shopping! Oh, and there was that little matter of falling for an Italian man. I was feeling the love everywhere except in Rome.

Summer of 2007 I was desperate to go back to Italy. This time for a month. 10 days traveling around and 20 days in Rome. I was determined to find my Rome. The Rome I knew was somewhere for me to uncover. I couldn’t afford 20 days in a hotel, so I began my search for an apartment. I spent countless hours on Craig’s list, yahoo, and google until I finally came upon La Casa Roma. Everything about it was different. There was a more intimate feel to the web site. Charlotte, the woman who ran the company, emailed me back instantly. I had about a million questions and demands for my temporary home. I guess you could call me a bit of a touristzilla. Let’s be real, this apartment had a lot to live up to. And yet, I felt the hope. Every impossible detail I requested, Charlotte came back to me with yet another option. Every question I asked was met with a friendly response. Her emails were loaded with information and personality. It felt right. I finally felt the start of a click.

When I arrived at my apartment in Rome I couldn’t believe my luck. Here was my dream Rome. My dream street. The shops, the alleys, the charm. Everything I hoped Rome could be. The apartment was perfect with wooden beamed ceilings and frescoes on the walls. Finally, everything clicked into place.

During those 20 days in Rome I discovered that the city is completely walkable if you’re staying in the right location. I discovered that the best restaurants are often not in the guidebooks. That if you’re staying in the historic center, you will inevitably stumble upon a cobblestone street tucked away from the chaos of tourist groups, lined with little treasures. I fell out of love with the Italian man and in love, finally, with Rome.

On the year anniversary of my October 2007 trip, I returned for a little reunion. I planned to eat at the same restaurants, drink the same Vin Santo, and stay in the same charming apartment on via Governo Vecchio. And thanks to Charlotte Kirchgaesser at La Casa Roma, I did just that.

She put me back in my special apartment and when we met up again this time I knew I had to do something. Anyone who visits Rome should contact Charlotte. She’s kind, informed, punctual, organized, friendly, speaks about a million languages, and knows her neighborhoods better than anyone. And here she is – at your disposal. As someone who writes advertising for a living, I found it to be a great injustice if I didn’t advertise for La Casa Roma. She truly makes Rome feel like Home.

Meet Charlotte Kirchgaesser:

ME: What inspired you to create La Casa Roma?

CHARLOTTE: It was a fortunate coincidence. I moved to Rome in 1999. At first it was a bit of a struggle as I didn't speak a word of Italian! So I went to school to study the language and then luckily enough I was able to work on the movie, Gangs of New York (Martin Scorsese). One of the tasks was finding the right accommodation for the high profile actors and the crew as well. So I really discovered the city walking from appointment to appointment taking pictures of these incredible apartments and villas. Then making arrangements for the actors and crew to move into the apartments. I continued working in production. I also went to Romania to work on Cold Mountain for several months and then came back to Rome. Frequently I bumped into the landlords who asked me to rent out their apartments. I explained that it really wasn't something I did for living... But little did I know - as less US productions came over to Rome to film, I was out of work and found it difficult to find an adequate job in PR. So I thought about various options when a friend said I should create a web site and offer the apartments on the web. My friend really had to convince me. So I went for it! And that was the way La Casa Roma began. More than 6 years ago.

Well - sometimes life is strange... I never would have thought that I would rent apartments to people from all over the world when I was working on Gangs of New York. But I think I was really lucky…

ME: What makes La Casa Roma different from other agencies?

CHARLOTTE: We try to make a tailor-made offer to the person who sends us a request considering their needs. Behind the web site there are human beings - so the client can call or send mails with questions and they’ll receive answers from real people. Booking an apartment on the web is certainly a big leap of faith! I don't want to disappoint anyone. I think we all work to hard and deserve a good vacation and if you pay a lump sum of money you deserve quality.

Once the client is here - it is not just about giving them the keys to the apartment. We make sure to walk them through the apartment, explain everything relevant, show them where they can go shopping. They have our number and they can contact us at any time if they are in need of something or have questions. One time a client lost a crown so I made an appointment at the dentist, if they lock themselves out, they can call me (even Christmans Eve!), if they forget something in a cab I try to help out and find the driver, if they need recommendations for restaurants, car services, guides etcetera, I’m here.

Actually, we realized how much our clients appreciate this type of service so we are extending what we offer. I made an agreement to collaborate with a licensed travel agent, PERS Voyage, and by the beginning of 2009 we will additionally offer the following services:

Private guided tours on specific subjects
Airline tickets
Meet and greet at the airport
Airport Transfer services
Car rentals
Wine tasting classes
Cooking classes
Private Shopping Guide with access to best ateliers and designer shops on appointment
Auctions and Vernissage to best galleries in town
Private Parties and Catering
Daily Wellness Packages
Reservations for the best tables in town
Special itineraries in Italy

ME: How do you select the apartments you rent out?

CHARLOTTE: Location is very important. The center of Rome is huge. If you spend a time in Rome, you would like to live in the historic center and not too far away. You don't want to spend your time waiting for buses while you are here in Rome. So that is a must. Then the apartment has to have character and charm. Obviously it also has to be comfortable and have class. Noise is important as well - don't forget Rome is one of the noisiest cities in the world: scooters, restaurants, night life... I really have to see myself spending time in the apartment as well.

ME: Are there a minimum number of nights people must stay at the apartments?

CHARLOTTE: Yes, 5 nights. I make exceptions as well but like to keep it at 5 nights.

ME: Have you ever rented out to anyone famous?

CHARLOTTE: Well for Gangs of New York I collaborated with an Italian woman and we rented out to Cameron Diaz, Daniel Day Lewis, Martin Scorsese... pretty much the whole cast and crew. Then the cast and crew of Life Acquatic and I also made some arrangements for the crew of Ocean's 12.

ME: What are your favorite areas of Rome?

CHARLOTTE: Well, I love the Monti area! Then the area around Piazza Navona and the Pantheon. Campo de' Fiori is lovely as well. You just need to be in the right apartment - otherwise you will be miserable. I love via Giulia and via Margutta - those are the most beautiful alleys in the center. Also, Borgo, around St. Peter's has charm and is like a little village.

ME: What is your favorite thing about living in Rome?

CHARLOTTE: The history of the city... The beauty... walking and strolling around the alleys getting lost and then discovering the most incredible court yards, terraces, palazzi... The food - be it the warm, creamy cappuccino and cornetto (croissant) in the morning. Watching the city wake up... observing the people getting ready to go to work… Then a simple panino crunchy with fresh mozzarella and prosciuto... or pasta.... the dolce... the wine... and most of the climate. It is lovely... People are laid back and even if things don't seem to work the Italians are masters at improvising. You can learn a lot from them.

ME: In your opinion, why is it better to stay in an apartment than in a hotel?

CHARLOTTE: You certainly have more space! You can enjoy your apartment - cook - and go shopping. It is fun to go to the market and buy fresh produce for example at Campo de' Fiori and prepare your lunch at home.Then if you walk through the city, from site to site and museums you get tired and it is great to be able to relax in an apartment. There is usually more than one room - so one can read in the living room while the other can sleep. Plus you just experience the city in a different way - live as the Romans do!

If you’re planning a trip to Rome, check out Charlotte’s apartments at

Or email her directly at

Tuesday, October 30, 2007


after being here for 3 weeks the least i could do was put together my list of best places to eat and things to do when you're in Rome. i read about 100 guide books and a lot of them recommend the same places, but i'm gonna give you some insider scoop so next time you're in Rome, you can mix it up a little bit (addresses to come...)

Sant' Eustachio
Although I'd like to give a shout out to the coffee shop on my street (Cafeteria Pasquino) nothing beats Cafe Eustachio. The line is out of control almost all times of day, but the coffee is well worth the wait.

Da Tonino
This restaurant has a no frills atmosphere. It's all very casual and filled with a mix of tourists and regulars. Order the pasta con melanzane for an eggplant experience you've never had before. The carciofi (artichokes) romana style are a great side dish.

Locanda Vecchia

This little restaurant is located down a long dark alley just steps from The Pantheon. It looks mysterious from the outside and keeps that vibe going once you walk through the front doors. The tiny dining room is downstairs in a wine cellar. Unlike the restaurant itself, the wine and food selection is massive. We had the proscuitto con melone as an appetizer and two pasta dishes for our mains. For dessert try the eggnog profiteroles with chocolate.

Il Piccolo

Like the name implies, this place is tiny. It's on the best street ever (Governo Vecchio - my street!) and is great for an after dinner cocktail. I like their Vin Santo. Get cozy inside or sit outside for some people watching.

Cafe Cafe

Down a side street across from The Colosseum, this little restaurant is never too crowded. They offer great wine, coffee, and greek/italian infused food. The casareccio panini is like no other.


Right at Campo dei Fiori it's an outdoor eatery that knows how to work with the weather. Heat lamps are out the second the air gets brisk and if there is even a drop of rain they quickly attach temporary gutters to the umbrellas over all the tables. Order the Clemente Chianti to go along with your Fettucine Bolognese or Parpadelle con Pecorino.

Da Buffetto (written up in all the tour guides)

There is just something amazing about this pizza. At first I thought it was all hyped up, but truthfully I was never able to find any pizza with quite the same crust or sauce (trust me. i ate a lottttta pizza while i was here). Try the Vegetariana for a hit of zucchini flowers and other tasty veggies on your pizza. I read in my guide book to get there around 7pm to avoid the line that builds up outside every night, but we had to get there at 6:30 to avoid a wait. I think it's worth the experience and the pizza. Check out the wall of celebs with Buffetto himself posing in all the pics.

The lesser known Zucca di Gialla is down the street so if the line is too long for your liking, head there for an almost as good pizza. Their dessert "flan" (better known to us as the molten chocolate cake) is amazing and the waitstaff is extremely friendly.

If you're in Trastevere, you have to hit up Da Vittorio. Their heart-shaped pizzas are as cute as they are delicious.

Santa Lucia
If you're on a mission for the best tiramisu around, then go here for dinner. Personally, I wasn't extremely impressed with my dinner selection, but between the tiramisu and the atmosphere it just might be worth it. Try to get a seat in the raised outdoor garden if the weather is nice. If not, the inside looked pretty impressive as well.


Across the Tiber in Trastevere, this candy shop is worth the trek. And quite honestly, it isn't that far to get to if you're staying in the Historic Center. Maybe a 15 minute walk at best which will burn off some of the calories you are about to consume. Their Diavolo chocolate has bite with ground up peppercorns inside and they fill the cannoli right before your very eyes. For authentic cannoli, this is the place to go. They only speak Italian but you can point and smile or just drool in the general direction of what tickles your fancy. The little old woman who runs the place makes the whole trip worth it! She is ADORABLE!

It's a tie.

San Crispino is written up in all the books but I haven't tried anything besides the Merenga con Ciocolatto. This is a vanilla based gelato with chunks of chocolate and meringue in it and it's to die for.

Mimi e Coco is a gelaterio on Governo Vecchio and is amazing. Portion sizes are out of control so order a small and expect to get twice as much in your copetta (cup). If you've ever had Bloomingdale's "yogurt" flavored frozen yogurt they have a gelato that is identical. Crema caramel is also awesome and Baci tastes just like the perugina chocolates.

Wine tasting with Heather Hanson.
Go to to book a tasting tour. Heather knows her vino and makes the night both fun and educational. Be prepared to get a little buzzed!

You will read about it in your guide books and it's true. Go buy a ticket at the adjacent Palentine Hill and use the same ticket to skip the very long line at the Colosseo to go practically straight in. As an aside: Palentine Hill is well worth the money and a must-see.

Top of Palentine Hill that overlooks the Fori Romani and Colosseo.

Anywhere recommended by

Next time you're coming to Rome DO NOT BOOK A HOTEL! Unless you are really nervous about getting around and feel like you need to have a front desk clerk handy. Instead, email Charlotte at La Casa Roma and tell her what type of experience you're looking for. She has a whole range of apartments (including 2 bedrooms for couples traveling together) all in the Historic Center of Rome which is where you want to stay. Most of the sites are walkable from the Historic Center but hotels in this area can cost a bundle. I found this experience not only much more cost efficient, but also nicer all around. Charlotte is a great person to work with, has lots integrity, and is super easy-going and accomodating. For all of my future trips back i will definitely utilize her service.

I hope you enjoyed my Best of Rome list. I had such a wonderful time here (and in all the other great cities I got to visit this month). If anyone wants to come to Rome and needs a travel buddy - you know where to find me! I'm definitely coming back again in '08 so let me know if you want to join!

Monday, October 29, 2007

ciao ciao roma

it's the final night here in Rome. to anyone reading along, thank you for taking an interest in my amazing month here in italy! here is my last post of highlights. tomorrow morning i will post a final "best of rome" with my personal recommendations after 3 weeks in this incredible city so please check it out. for now...

on saturday jackie and i capped off a fun day of sightseeing with a cocktail just outside of the Pantheon. aside from the troup of Hare Krishnas who decided to hold a concert in the middle of the piazza and the mime who would not go away, it was lovely. that night we came home and took in an episode of the The Search For The Next Pussycat Doll (one of the few selections available in english). jackie noted they were really just looking for someone who could sing, dance, and was attractive. why couldn't we be the next pussycat doll?? (yes, this was a thought after we had several glasses of wine. obviously). we're cute. we can sing (just ask us to harmonize to one of our two "numbers". Here Comes the Sun or Winter Wonderland). and as far as dancing goes... we're going to sign up for hip hop classes once we're back in the states. you never know. one of us COULD be the Next Pussycat Doll! and if that doesn't pan out, we could always be back-up dancers for Britney Spears.

the next day we got up really freakin early to hop on a euroSTAR train to Florence to see The David. as we walked over to Termini station we were shocked at truly how few people were out on a Sunday morning. and then we caught a glimpse of a street clock and realized the italians have daylight savings time a week earlier than we do. ooops.

once we arrived at Termini we saw jackie's favorite advertisement in all of Rome. here is a special shout out to Colleen who I KNOW would've loved this ad just as much as we do:

if you can guess what this ad is for, you get a prize (if you're lucky, i'll give you that ceramic dish from Assisi).

Florence was beautiful:

i even found a boyfriend:

although my personal highlight was when fate brought me straight to this graffiti:

clearly there is a visionary out there with the same goal i have for bringing back "turd". only in italy. i belong here.

unfortunately on the way home i broke my butt. i'm not sure how or what or why, but now i can't sit down. it figures i would cripple myself right before i have to sit on a plane for 9 hours. jackie and i took some crummy euroCITY train back to rome with horrible seats and even worse air quality. i'm not sure why we were the only people doubled over in pain every time the train went through a tunnel, but take it from us. euroSTAR is worth the extra euro.

tonight we're going to a cool little restaurant down a dark little alley. i'm not exactly sure how much wine i will have to drink so that i can sit on a chair without excrutiating pain, but you can damn well bet i'm going to find out.

Friday, October 26, 2007

holier than thou... pulease

it's friday night in roma and jackie and i are getting ready to meet Heather (yes, the wine expert) for dinner. we've had a lot of fun since jackie arrived yesterday morning, but before she got here i had another night of good times with the millingtons. we ate at the highly acclaimed Maccheroni. and if you didn't believe me before about how i could make a living fixing menus, check out an excerpt from this ever-popular restaurant.

of course, i wondered how something would taste coming straight from the frying pant, but i decided to pass.

after dinner we went to my favorite local coffee hang for late night cappucinos (very american of us) and then to draw even more attention to ourselves, we started up a game of travel scrabble.

the millingtons play that any word in italian gets double points (so if you're on a triple word score you get double your triple word score - get it??). and truthfully i had the unfair advantage of learning italian for a year longer than they have so it should be no surprise that i kicked their culos. or i guess it's really culi for plural...

jackie arrived yesterday and we walked literally all over creation. today we hit up The Vatican where i realized that the whole purpose of our journey was for us to pray for forgiveness once we got inside.

when we arrived the line was double OC (as mich sheehan would say -- out of control). so, naturally, jackie and i cut it and then got mad at everyone else who tried to cut in front of us.

as if that wasn't "christian" enough, i had to take a picture of my favorite sign outside of the Vatican:

Jane Fonda and Richard Simmons, you are NOT welcome here!!!

i realized something today. most of the people trying to get into the Vatican were doing everything BUT observing the "christian" way of life. line cutters, pushers, shovers, picture ruiners, loud talkers, complainers... i found the irony quite amusing. which is probably why i fit right in.

Wednesday, October 24, 2007

eat gelato first

after my parents left on monday i had the pleasure of joining The Millingtons on a day of random fun around Roma. they had read an article about the 116 bus which is a tiny city bus (it looks like it belongs in the Land of Make Believe from Mr Roger's Neighborhood) that goes all around Rome from Campo dei Fiori to The Spanish Steps to The Vatican and back. you can hop on for a practically free tour of the backstreets of Rome. we weren't exactly sure how you catch the bus so when it appeared around a narrow city street we tried to flag it down. the driver shook his head and pointed to where we were supposed to pick it up and then drove off with us chasing after him. we finally caught up with the bus and jumped on board. we were happily riding on it for about 3 minutes when the bus suddenly emptied and the driver tried to shoo us off. he pointed at the stick shift and said in perfect english: "it's broken".

here is the broken down bus:

luckily i've upgraded myself again to Navigator and am a wiz with my Rome city street map. i played tour guide and walked Jessica and Hunter all over with the type of confidence and know-how of a professional tourist. do you think i could get a job like that? i'd be so good at it!

here are the millingtons. aren't they adorable?

yesterday i met up with them again for lunch at Gusto which was really good. a bit on the pricey side, but the triple chocolate mousse was worth the denaro. although, on the english menu it was called the Tree Mousse. luckily i know how to decipher "english" menus. truthfully, i think it's easier to read the italian menu. plus the english menu never sounds as appetizing. i've been thinking about offering up my services as a professional menu fixer-upper. cha-ching!

last night i met back up with Heather, the wine expert, and a few of her friends and clients. i somehow weasled a free night of dinner and booze out of it (i'm not complainin). i wasn't quite ready to turn in when i got home so i decided to have a nightcap with the TV. luckily, i recently figured out that i can switch the TV to inglese instead of italiano so when i'm craving some trashy american TV i know what to do. the italians seem to have an obsession with 3 shows: Will & Grace, Buffy, and Law & Order. last night i happened to catch an episode of Law & Order C.I. that was worthy of a photo. anyone recognize this man:

how about now:

last chance:

it's Richard Joseph Paul!! how excited was i to turn on my italian TV to see good ole RJP staring back!! some of you may not know the RJP story so you'll have to ask me in person but most of you DO know the story so you can imagine how happy i was to see his familiar face.

after all my free food and wine i fell asleep in my clothes in front of the TV and then woke up late this morning. could i finally be exhausted from all the shopping, walking, eating...?? after my slo-mo morning i did something i haven't done this whole vacation... i ate gelato for my first "meal" of the day.

at first i felt a little bit ashamed about it... was i really going to skip actual nourishment and head straight to gluttony?? i debated it for a short period of time (really short. like microseconds). i even almost walked into a shop where they sell panini but then i did the noble thing and went straight for the good stuff.

gluttony comes first. at least for a few more days.

Monday, October 22, 2007

i speaka italian

i can't believe i only have 7 days left in Rome. i've done so much since i've been here and yet the city is still full of so many surprises. every day i take out my handy map of Roma and explore a different route from point A to point B. each time finding another treasure.

speaking of treasures... i forgot to mention the trip my parents and i took to Assisi last week. i had been going on and on about how amazing Assisi was and so my mom arranged for us to take a day tour. as an aside: we'd never recommend this tour to anyone we actually like so don't ask us about it. we're still healing from the experience. however...

the views from Assisi are incredible:

although the real highlight was what happened on the way there. for some reason our tour stopped at a ceramic factory on the way to Assisi (we think our crazy guide must get some sort of kickback). they announced there would be a lottery and someone in our group would win a "big surprise!" i'm not sure how i knew i was going to win (the psychic in me), but i did. although i could never predict what i was going to find when i unwrapped my special prize:

giddyup!! now that i look at it again, it's not as hideous as it first appeared. maybe it's even a little cute. maybe i'm drunk. next time you're in my kitchen make sure to look out for it (not that you would have a chance in hell of missing it). it's a soap dish. or at least it will be when i get home.

on Saturday night we went out to Il Convivio with The Millingtons. i had been looking forward to this dinner since i booked my trip here. i had gone in april with lorraine and margaret and couldn't wait to get back. it is top of the line service for about 100EU per person which, by New York standards, isn't all that bad.

it started out so well. we had a nice table in a back room. and one of the appetizers was a personal favorite italian treat: fried zucchini flowers and mozzarella. unfortunately it all went downhill from there... jessica and i ordered the same dish. guinea hen. since both of ours came with raw foul on the plate we wondered if maybe this was some culinary delicacy we just didn't know about. was the possibility of getting salmonella poisoning supposed to add to our experience? we weren't going to complain until my mother and hunter (jessica's husband) compared notes on their lamb. both of their plates were cold. and then my dad chimed in. his fish was room temperature, too. was this normal? i was on the verge of making a decision about complaining to the waiter or not (i was basically the ambassador of our table. the only one who could speak full sentences in italian to the very italian waitstaff) when i sliced into a piece of my hen and saw a huge HAIR sticking out of it!

i called the water girl over and showed it to her. she promptly removed my plate and ran off with it. i then got the waiter's attention to tell him what happened, but he didn't actually see my plate or the hair. next thing i know, the chef has come out of the kitchen with my plate which has clearly been picked over and dissected. he points to a vein and tries to convince me that i was mistaken. i think i know the difference between a vein and a hair. not only that -- they had removed the "hair" or whatever it really was when they came back with the plate. now i was angry. and it takes a lot to get me angry.

egged on by my two sets of parents (jessica and hunter are my faux parents) they tell me it's now or never. if i'm going to really complain i have to go for it... and so i do...

i still can't believe i managed to have this conversation in 85% full blown italian, but i somehow explained to the head waiter that i had eaten there in april and had returned with my family for a special dinner. we were upset because their meals were cold and there was a hair in my food that had then be removed when it was shown to me again. he had an excuse for everything, but was very nice. i stood my ground and politely said it would mean a lot to us if they could do something, even if it was something small. we would really appreciate it.

and who knew? i guess i speak italian after all because my little discussion worked. when the bill came they not only knocked off my hairy meal, but also an additional 80EU of our bill. my two sets of parents couldn't have been more proud. and you know what? neither could i.

Saturday, October 20, 2007

ain't no cupola high enough

mia madre e mio padre have had me eating my way through Roma just as i had expected (and secretly hoped). every day there is the mandatory gelato stop (sometimes twice in one day) and every step we climb we calculate aloud that we have burned off another spoonful. of course, we're completely lying to ourselves but it feels good to pretend that we can eat without consequence.

yesterday i would've sworn i dropped five pounds after we walked over to the Vatican and climbed the Cupola (dome of Saint Peter's Basilica). they have signs all over the place warning you that after the elevator brings you up as high as it goes you must walk 320 steps to the top. i have to be honest. i was a little nervous for my parents (both older than they'd like to admit and than anyone could tell by looking at them). but as we got closer and closer to beginning the climb i started to feel more nervous for yours truly. after 10 days of walking 6 hours a day (yes, you'd think i would've actually lost weight after all this walking but i have not. trust me) my feet are experiencing all sorts of aches and pains. what if i was the one who made it part-way up the Cupola only to beg for someone to carry me back down?? thankfully the few times i hit the stairmaster had more than prepared me for the climb. and once we reached the top it was well worth it.

my parents are leaving early monday morning and jackie arrives for the last few days of my italian adventure on thursday. i'm excited to go back to the Vatican and to see many of the sites of Rome for the 2nd, 3rd and even 4th times. it truly does not get old (which is quite ironic if you think about it).

today my mom and i dragged my poor unsuspecting father all over Rome on somewhat of a shopping expedition. sure, we stopped at the Pantheon and the Trevi Fountain along the way (or i should say we ate pizza on the way to the Pantheon and went to the San Crispino Gelateria after seeing the Trevi Fountain. let's get the Gallinas' priorities straight), but it was still a tad bit of torture for my pops.

the best find of our whole day of shopping was in the DVD section of a local tourist trap:

if you've been reading my blog, you know why this is relevant to my life. and if you haven't here is an incentive to catch up on my trip!

tonight we're meeting up with my friends, The Millingtons, for a fancy schmancy dinner at Il Convivio. a restaurant with a doorbell and an extra seat for your purse. as much as i'd like to pretend all this eating is soooo not me we all know the truth. so for my last 10 days in Rome i will continue to enjoy the gluttony. and when i'm back in NY you might see me climbing the stairmaster with my eyes closed - pretending it's just another cupola.

Wednesday, October 17, 2007

Me and Roma 4 Ever

well, jessica left me on monday after a whirlwind of sightseeing, eating, and lots of wine.

after our quasi-tearful goodbye it dawned on me that i feel like i'm on one of those reality shows where the people i've bonded with keep getting voted off and i'm left on my own once again. of course, i miss jessica dearly, but now that the 'rents have shown up i have plenty on my plate again (quite literally).

last night we did a wine tasting tour in my neighborhood. the young woman who took us around was a spitting image of jennifer aniston (the picture does not do it justice)

and a complete rock star when it came to explaining wine. the 4 varieties she chose for us were all delicious and if there is enough room in my suitcase i will bring some back. speaking of coming back... i'm not. ever. i'm staying here. okay, i'm not really staying here, but i wish i could. my block is the quintessential neighborhood block with the hustle and bustle of a happening little street. the same cast of characters are outside every day and people are starting to recognize me. it's funny cause our wine expert (heather) also lives in my 'hood. last night she asked me if i know "the makeup lady". and i DO! she's one of the crazies who wanders up and down my street with her face painted all sorts of bizarre colors. apparently she used to be a successful artist and has since lost it (clearly). as sad as her story was, i couldn't be more excited that i actually know the local weirdos! a little over a week and i've never felt so much a part of any neighborhood before (and i've lived in the same apartment on 24th street for over 5 years!).

although the thought of staying on this street forever is extremely appealing, i don't exactly have a way to make cash and would probably end up wandering the streets as some other neighborhood freak. maybe i'd be "the lady who wears her underwear over her clothes." since sticking around isn't exactly realistic, i have found a new fantasy. i will return to Rome every year and stay on this street in this very apartment. and, that will suffice for now...

Sunday, October 14, 2007

when in Rome (i know it's cliche but i had to do it)

jessica and i have had some seriously packed days since she arrived last week. i can't believe her trip is already over and at the same time i feel like we've been here for a month. every day in Rome has been full of gelato, plenty of vino, lots of mangled italian, way too much shopping, and walking til our feet felt like they were going to fall off. and, naturally, we've taken our fair share of self-portraits.

we've hit up a few of the touristic sites but have mostly been taking advantage of the Roman way of life. something i noticed the other day is how walking across the street is a group effort. sure there is the occasional cross walk when traffic actually stops but for the most part you have to walk to a pedestrian street crossing and pray that you'll make it over to the other side. jessica and i began the habit of choosing our street crossing partners. which is like picking a team in gym class. i'm a fan of the family with children or my personal favorite: nuns. when the nuns decide to stride through Roman traffic the wise thing to do is to follow. i don't know if it's blind faith or the thought of eternal damnation for anyone that jeopardizes their safety, but they seem to be the most successful at stopping traffic. so to any of you who come to Rome and panic at the thought of crossing a busy intersection i suggest you look out for a few of The Sisters.

on friday night jessica and i went out to an incredible dinner in an outdoor courtyard (Santa Lucia) where we ate the best tiramisu either of us had ever had before. the waiter loved us and asked if we wanted to meet up later at a bar called Della Pace. we're not sure if he got upset with the crummy 10EU tip we left him (i still have no clue how to tip properly here) or if he saw us with our new friends, but he never showed up. instead, jessica simply smiled at 2 italian men and suddenly we had entertainment for the rest of the evening.

we couldn't decide if antonio and gianluca were a gay couple or just very affectionate italian men (turns out it's the latter) but we had a lot of fun with them. after a bottle of wine, 2 glasses of vin santo, and a shot that looked like a candle jessica was drawn to a man selling singing and dancing stuffed animals and for the bargain price of 15EU secured two of them. who we brought along with us for the remainder of the night and she kept referring to as her "figlie" (children).

antonio and gianluca told us they had to take us to a bar that had the best bathroom ever which sounded like a weird pickup line, but then we got there and realized it was definitely true. yes, these are pictures of an actual bathroom:

on saturday night we met up with matteo who took us out in San Lorenzo to my favorite sketchy bar called Teddy's where we had dolce shots and drank beer on the street. he also taught us the difference between calzini (little socks) and cazzini (little penises).

today we wandered into the longest market ever in Trastevere filled with mostly junk ( jessica referred to it as a mile long length of crap) where we had to pass through a really tight squeeze and some man molested me (i guess it was bound to happen at some point). we finally escaped the chaos of the market only to get lost in a parking lot. eventually we found our way and headed back over to Campo dei Fiori for lunch where we ran into a guy we know from one of the stores in our neighborhood. it's funny how only being here one week we keep seeing the same people all over town. i already feel like one of the regulars.

after lunch we went back to the cat shelter (cats of the colosseum) where jessica has all but talked me into adopting a cat. i've never owned a cat in my life (you know me. i'm a dog person!) but i swear i am in love with these cats.

today i looked for Erice, the one that stole my heart. she was sleeping somewhere amidst the ruins so i'll have to go back if i'm actually serious about this. i'm thinking about taking a poll. if anyone is actually reading my blog can you please tell me whether or not you think i should adopt a Roman cat and bring it back home??

if you want to make a donation or check out their web site here it is:

in a few hours Jessica and i will go out for our last dinner together on my street. there is a cute wine bar called Piccolo that we'll hit up first and then hopefully grab dinner at Cul de Sac. tomorrow morning she leaves me and i have a day to myself before the 'rents show up. so maybe tomorrow i'll have a mini day of detox before wasting away in gelatoville.

Tuesday, October 9, 2007

Home-a In-a Roma

well, the eagle has landed. i'm now onto Part Due (doo-ay) of my italian adventure.

my last night with Liz (monday) we ate a lovely meal together near the Hotel Igea. (which, is the best hotel in Venice. great location and good vibe. plus we love the front desk guy, Tomaso! if you ever go to Venice, stay there and make sure you befriend him. even though he is in the midst of picking out curtains for his apartment he swears, "I-ah not-ah gay!"). Tomaso had recommended a place for dinner, but we forgot to ask him how to get there and yet we accidentally happened upon it anyway. Il Giardinetto. meal was delish as usual, but the place closed down before we finished our botteglia di vino. after getting about a thousand dirty looks from the waiters i finally asked if they had plastic cups so we could take our vino on the road. they couldn't be happier to oblige and get us out of there so we took our wine TO GO and headed to a small ponte where we drank, chatted, and took self portraits of course.

i realized Liz is my muse so if my blog gets boring and is not longer funny you know why.

the next day we hopped on a plane together to Rome. liz continued home and i landed here. cool aside: we were on the same plane with (and sitting one row in front of) the guy who was on jeopardy for the most consecutive days. his name escapes me...

now in Roma, i must say i am one of the luckiest people on the planet. my apartment is on, perhaps, the best street on earth. Via del Governo Vecchio.

boutique shops, cafes, Da Buffetto (one of the most highly recommended pizzerias here), bars, etc. it all works out cause now that i'm getting fatter and fatter i can keep eating and then buy myself new clothes immediately afterwards.

my apartment is really cool. it has wooden beamed ceilings and frescoes on the wall.

shortly after arriving here tues am i had my first Abbott and Costello interaction. when i got in, Charlotte, the woman who rented me the apartment, showed me every nook and crannie and explained how everything worked. the only problem was with the satellite TV which she was pretty sure had something to do with the actual cable box. she had asked the upstairs neighbor if she was having any problems with her TV and she wasn't so Charlotte decided to take away my cable box and come back later with a new one. she also mentioned that occasionally people will ring the buzzer to be let into the building and i should just ignore them. no problema. so, i started unpacking and getting settled in the apartment when i hear my doorbell ring. i totally ignore Charlotte's advice and decide to open the door. on the other side is a woman around my age. she asks if i speak Italian and i answer, "un po". she says something about the televisore. so now i take a quantum leap and decide she must be my upstairs neighbor and now she is also having problems with her TV. i try to explain that a woman took away my television. which sounds like someone stole it and ran off with it. she keeps using words i don't understand and then name drops someone who i assume is the owner of the apartment i'm renting. i realize we are definitely having two very different conversations about a television set but i truly have no idea what she's trying to figure out from me. we even bust out my Italian-English dictionary and really can't communicate at all. i end the conversation with, "mi dispiace!" (i'm sorry!) and she laughs at me and says goodbye before heading off frustrated. i had thought i knew enough Italian to get by and now i realize i know enough Italian to order two cappucinos, get train tickets, and pay my dinner check. actual conversation... not so much.

but i will survive. jess is here now and yesterday we went to Campo dei Fiori and bought all our own groceries so we (she) could cook us an incredible dinner.

being here has been great so far. the only downside is that the picture on the shower wall (yes, there is a picture in the shower) is of a big fat naked woman's rear.

one of the only two mirrors in my apartment is across from the shower so while i am cleansing i get to look at her fat naked butt and compare it to my own. which is not a pretty picture whatsoever. thankfully i intend to walk everywhere while i'm here. especially to all the gelaterias. so it should just about even out in the end.

Monday, October 8, 2007

Water Taxis, Trains, and Autobuses

although the majority of my trip is in and around Italy, liz had a cool idea that we should pop on over to Croatia for a bit. now in climate of peace, it’s a tourist haven for europeans. plus it's practically just across the water from Venice.

however, getting there wasn't exactly as easy as we thought it'd be. turns out, there aren't any more ferries between Venice and Opatija at this time of year. after a few moments of panic (one of the tourist agents here told us she didn't know any way for us to get there), liz and I stumbled across a much more helpful woman who happened to be Croatian. it wouldn't be as simple as hopping on a ferry, but it was feasible. thank god. so we woke up at the butt crack of dawn on saturday morning and began our adventure. it started with a half hour ride on a water bus from outside of our hotel to the train station in Venice. then we took a two hour train ride from Venice to Trieste. at this point we both had to use the bagni (bathrooms) VERY badly. imagine my horror when i finally got into a stall and there was no toilet seat. just a hole in the ground. i know plenty of people who have had this experience, but this was a first for me. i like to think that it simply added to the adventure of the moment. after regressing back to what i imagine the cavewomen used to do, liz and i took a two hour bus ride from Trieste directly into Opatija. once we arrived, we knew it was well worth the journey.

Opatija is beautiful. picturesque, relaxing, heavenly. and the people are adorable. one young woman was talking to us about how she had a chance to live in NY and Pennsylvania during an exchange program. she said that she used to watch tons of american movies and noticed how when someone was depressed they always seemed to be sitting around with a pint of ice cream and a spoon. she thought, "yeah right - like they ALWAYS have ice cream just sitting around in their freezer. then i got to America and i realized - you do!"

we had a nice time in Opatija. we took advantage of the wellness spa in our hotel (only $50 for a one hour massage!) drank wine that was called something like Slutina while sitting on the water...

and pigged out for liz's birthday (which was yesterday). they even delivered a surprise birthday cake to our room which i decided to eat even though i'd already had a full 3 course meal and dessert.

i haven't stopped eating since i got here. i was joking before i left that i'd probably come back 1,000 pounds heavier and i'm well on my way. clothing is getting tighter and tighter, but i am enjoying myself thoroughly. I LOVE FOOD. especially italian food. in a little while, liz and i are going to have our last dinner together in Venice (we came back this morning). tomorrow Liz heads back to the states and i head off to Rome for the next two-thirds of my Italian adventure.

the other night I was thinking about all of the fun times liz and i had together on this trip and some of the highlights we’ve shared. a personal favorite that I never wrote about happened when we were in Rapallo.

we were both pretty wiped out and had a bit of a lazy day, taking our time getting ready to go out for dinner that night. i had dibs on the first shower. the actual shower was a tiny rectangular box that reminded me of that game show in the 80s when people would get into a tiny clear booth and have to grab as much money as they could while it blew around them. except there was no prospect of instant wealth in this situation, only a prize of cleanliness. which, was worth the effort.

i could barely move my arms around to lather up properly and I kept getting water in my eyes, but I pushed through. by the time I got out of the shower I needed to rest before going into full on blow-dry mode (which, if you know me well enough, you know it is an ordeal in itself). so i relaxed with a little RAI TV as liz took her turn in the shower coffin.

i was zoning out a bit when the room phone started ringing. “hello?” “hello is everything okay?” “uh… yeah…” “we got an alarm signal from your bathroom. are you sure everything is okay?” at this point I’m thinking there must be some sort of language barrier because how could they have an alarm from the bathroom? i’m like, “uh… yeah i’m sure. thanks. bye bye.” and i go back to watching TV and then it dawns on me. liz.

i walk over to knock on the bathroom door and the first thing i notice is the digital display that usually has the room temperature on it now says, “HELP!” in all caps. i call for liz to make sure she’s okay, which of course, she is. and i tell her that we got a call from downstairs because they got an alarm signal from our bathroom and next thing i hear is liz giggling hysterically.

in our teeny tiny shower there was a big string hanging from the wall. in liz’s defense, it was completely unmarked. she thought it was the way to turn the shower on so (in her own words) she was practically swinging on the thing and nothing was happening. well, she thought nothing was happening. clearly, she was sending out a signal to the whole hotel that we had arrived.

our 10 days have been filled with lots of gelato and lots of laughter. so many great things memories! now for me... it's onto Roma...

the adventure continues...