Friday, January 27, 2012

Happy new year to me!

Photo credit: Lago di garda

I know that this might come off as a bit egocentric, but I have realized over time that my new year doesn't start on January 1. My new year starts today, on January 27, my birthday. In one way, this is logical. For each of us, our year really resets on the anniversary of the day we are born. In another way, it is a peculiarity. But for some reason, it always feels to me like the first three or so weeks of the new year seem a part of the preceding one. As if those 3 weeks wrap up whatever was going on in the previous year and then my new year really starts on the 27 January. Maybe it is something about having a birthday in January? Or perhaps some of you out there feel that too?

2011 for me was a challenging one. I won't say bad, but I will say I was happy for it to end. It was a year of unemployment that stretched longer than I wanted, of difficult moves and goodbyes to friends, of logistical difficulties with visas and paperwork, of relying more on people than an independent Aquarius is used to doing, of transitory and imperfect living conditions (no hot water e.g.)  and of stupid mistakes, one of which was locking myself out of my apartment (for the first time ever). 

This week, I somehow managed to not only lock myself out of my apartment but lock myself out on the balcony on my 7th story apartment. A tale for another time. But this event to me was classic 2011: something being almost astonishingly difficult when it seems like it shouldn't be. Helpless, locked out of my own world and unexpectedly spending an extraordinary amount of time on something that seems shouldn't have happened at all: it had 2011 written all over it. And to me it was proof that my theory is correct; my new year begins today. Today I hit the reset button. So egocentric or not, I need to say it: Happy new year to me! 

I also thought I would  share with you all my birthday/New Year's resolutions since I made them to start today. Perhaps if you are struggling with yours or never made them, you can hit the reset button to. These can maybe give you some ideas: 
  1. Focus less on the future and more on the now.
  2. Leave some time in my day for quiet.
  3. Take more notice of the things that are going well than the things that need improving.
  4. Take myself/my gut/ my instincts seriously and listen to what they have to say.
  5. Spend more time on maintaining long distance relationships with friends and family members.
  6. Spend less time on stuff (shopping, organizing, rearranging) and more time with people.
  7. Make time for writing. Finish my writing classes.
  8. Learn stick shift so that I am not helpless when it comes to driving in Rome.
  9. Start seeing more of the world. Travel less to regions I know and more to regions I don't.
  10. Prioritize running and dancing- major stress relievers for me. Sign up for a Half marathon.
  11. Discover a whole new side of Rome instead; not sticking to what I know.
  12. Keep my mentality of living like a tourist, enjoying and being grateful for every day that I have, especially when I am lucky to be living somewhere as beautiful as the Eternal City.

Happy birthday to the other January 27 babies out there and happy new year to all of you!

Sunday, January 22, 2012

Hooray for Purple!

Baltimore's City Hall in purple
In this town and in this season, it bodes well for me that I love the color purple, the local football team's color. I recall an approving comment from a fellow commuter on the purple scarf I was wearing "Oh, you must be a Ravens fan?" I stared at him blindly trying to figure out why he would assume that. Receiving my look he said, "Your scarf?" Oh, purple. I get it. "Yes," I lied and stopped the conversation. It's not that I am NOT a Ravens fan. It is that I am not a football fan (potentially a greater sin still).

One of the downtown skyscrapers turned purple
There was a time that I feigned being a football fan, contenting myself with the funny Superbowl commercials or the beer at the pubs showing the games. I tried to learn the rules. I tried to watch people's faces to understand the attraction. I even tried to find one particularly cute quarterback that I could at least have a crush on to make the game interesting. But nothing. So I have stopped trying. It just doesn't stick.

Yet, though I have not watched one game this season (Ravens or otherwise), one would have to be blind (and deaf) not to know that tomorrow is a big game for Baltimore's football team, the Ravens, whose team colors are, as aforementioned, purple and black.

The Bromo Seltzer Tower shining purple
So even though American football isn't my thing, I do like hometown spirit and most of all, I do like the color purple. (My room is purple. My favorite building in Montreal is purple. Many of my articles of clothing are purple.) So I have been very happy that in support of the game, fans have "painted the town purple." Downtown Baltimore is now a smattering of purple streetlights, logos and spotlights. And I am delighted.

The Constellation in Baltimore's Harbor sporting purple
My love of purple seems to match this city. So while I know nothing about the game, players, opponents or teams, I feel like, in this small way, I am supporting the city I grew up in.

And I would love the city to stay purple as long as possible, so if that means that Baltimore's team makes enough points to beat whoever they are playing to then get to the Superbowl which I assume is in a couple weeks to play some other team I don't know, then so be it! Go Purple!

Tuesday, January 17, 2012

Two different Isola del Giglio(s)

Isola del Giglio 2008

I am still on my break in the U.S., and it is always a little strange to hear news about Italy (let's face it, my defacto home) when I am outside of the country. And the news and images these days from Isola del Giglio, a tiny island of the coast of Tuscany, have been a bit mind-blowing. 

I know the island pretty well after a long weekend of some rather posh camping and boating along its shores. In fact, that I dared call it a "camping" trip made some of my outdoorsy friends huff when they saw the pictures. 

Camp site among palm trees

Breakfast at the camp site cafe

Boating around the Island

Swimming in turquoise water
In this light, it is an absolute non sequitur to think of that calm beautiful little island as the scene of a major cruise ship accident... It is so odd in fact to reconcile the two that, instinctively, I just want to close my eyes, and preserve my own memories of Isola del Giglio: a serene, sparkling, inviting little island where three years ago a group of friends and I enjoyed a holiday weekend. 

If it is strange and difficult for me to see the pictures in the news, I can only imagine what it is like for the family and friends of those who lost loved ones. My thoughts and prayers go out to all those people.

Sunday, January 15, 2012

Relapsing: A Visit to D.C.

Today I visited with my ex... D.C. You all might remember my 1-year, at first reluctant, but in the end happy romance with Washington D.C.? No, it didn't last. I knew it wouldn't, but even so, this perhaps short-lived relationship was one in which I grew a lot, healed some wounds and, it is one that I remember fondly. So we have remained friends and whenever I leave Rome, I let myself relapse a little and go back to DC.

Besides, I have a lot left to explore in DC. Even on my monstrosity of a list (D.C. Listography), there are things that I never got to. And since DC is an ever-changing metropolis, there are some new places to add even since my departure nine months ago.

Authentic French Bakery: Paul

This french bakery opened its first store outside of France in 1985. Since this one in Barcelona, Paul has opened stores in Tokyo, London, Dubai and Washington DC. Luckily, I am not a huge fan of pastries. Bread, however, I worship. And in this respect, Paul is worthy of worship.

A Performance at the Smithsonian National Museum of the American Indian

Of the many many museums in DC, I had never made it to this particular one. So it was a welcome opportunity to go today with some friends. We happened to enter the museum right as a show was beginning featuring the native dances and songs of Git-Hoan or "the people of the salmon."

The hand-made costumes and masks were truly impressive and the dances were fascinating representations of their folklore. At the end, I was a bit annoyed at myself for not having made a greater effort to go to this museum during the year I lived in the area. But at least I got to it now.

Old Favorites: Julia's Empanadas & Red Velet Cupcakery

I finished my trip with two of my favorites: A Vegetarian Empanada from Julia's...

And a red velvet cupcake from the aptly named Red Velvet Cupcakery. Both masters in their field. I have found no better empanada or red velvet cupcake than those respective places.

Not that I want to make you jealous, Rome, but you're not the only city out there that knows food. Fortunately, you still have the Coliseum going for you...

Friday, January 6, 2012

Road Trips: Different Perspectives

I have really come to dislike long car rides. I am not talking about the fun road trips that you plan with travel buddy-friends to fun destinations where you make CDs full of invigorating music and you stock up on sugary and savory snacks and caffeine-filled drinks. No, I am talking about the perfunctory car rides of 6+ hours that is the only satisfactory means of arriving somewhere with whomever else needs to go there. 

Perhaps taking the car for many of our trips was the one way my fairly non-traditional American family was traditionally American. We used to take our car up and down the east coast- sometimes all the way down to Florida but frequently up to Montreal, Canada. Either way, we are talking about car trips of over 10 hours.  

Of course when my sister and I were young, we hated car rides for all the reasons young people hate being in the car: you get bored, car sick, restless. You have to pee more than normal. You are not in control of the radio or any other entertainment device (until the technological wonder of that era, a Walkman, was invited!). And worst of all, you had absolutely no say on the timing and number of stops.

You see, everyone endures (and I choose the word "endures" purposefully here) being in the car in a different way. Some people go as fast as they can get away with, max out their bladder and their concentration, in order to get there at the earliest time possible. Some other people set aside a full two days for a trip that can be done in one so that they can stop on the road, spend lunch in little towns, spend a night at an obliging hotel or motel, and generally take their sweet time. 

One great road trip from Rome, Italy to Nice, France with friends
My style of enduring car trips is somewhere in the middle. I have no interest in cutting into my vacation time by prolonging the driving-bit, but I also have no desire to put myself through mental and physical anguish in order to see if I can cut down a 10-hour car ride. My thought is: I'll be in the car all day. Might as well enjoy it.

So car rides/ road trips are best carried out when traveling with like-minded individuals. For me, that is people who would say- "I think Starbucks gingerbread latte is in season now. Let's stop there at the next exit!" or "That's a pretty sunset let's stop to take a picture" or "that is a very odd looking diner, let's eat lunch there." That is my kind of car trip. 

A Road Trip stop at an aforementioned odd diner
en route from Las Vegas to the Grand Canyon
Unfortunately, our family car rides to Montreal lack this particular consensus of opinion from all the way back to when I was a whiny, "are we there yet?" child to now an adult who can keep her mouth shut but secretly resents all the passed opportunities to enjoy instead of endure a ten hour car ride. 

In the end, I try to tell myself that car rides, like so many other things, just reflect different approaches to life. Get to your goal as quick as you can or enjoy the ride. I have decided I am the latter.

Tuesday, January 3, 2012

Resuming in 2012

So I lied to you. I am sorry. I didn't post pictures of tagliatelle or write about the new restaurants I tried in Rome. I did try many and, of particular note, I had one tagliatelle from Met in Ponte Milvio that was crazy good, but sadly, I have no photos as proof.

I can't offer a good excuse. Just that 2011 was a bit overwhelming for me. However, I have told you this story before, so I won't repeat it. I will just say that I breathed a sigh of relief at the ring of midnight and the start of a new year.

But despite a December filled with doctors and antibiotics first for me, then for my cat, then for my boyfriend. The year also ended with a family-filled Christmas, a friends and fondue-themed New Year's and generally wonderful week in Montreal. And this time I do have photo evidence. Behold.

One of the most stunning churches
I have been to: Notre Dame in Old Montreal

A particularly chilly Fiat 500

St. Catherine Street in one of the many snow storms of the week

View from a Crescent Street lounge
owned by former race car driver: Villeneuve

Montreal's famous smoked meat from Schwartz
(Disclaimer: This is not my sandwich. The journalist and not the
vegetarian in me is posting this photo.)

A variety of Maple Syrup products from Marche Jean Talon

A Veggie-style Poutine from La Banquise 

Another fantastic dining experience, Les Enfants Terribles, on rue Bernard

Carre St. Louis and the purple house I fantasize making my own

The at once classy and bohemian Rue St. Denis

Ringing in 2012 with a strawberry and rhubarb pie

Living like a tourist in 2012 has gotten off to a good start.  


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