Category Archives: Lucy

The trip that almost wasn’t

It’s a miracle that my 21-day European adventure began on time considering I couldn’t find my passport when I went to check in for my Iberia flight at LAX. I knew I had put it in the front pocket in my massive BET tote bag, where I could retrieve it easily. Yet it wasn’t there.

I took everything out of the tote bag (laptop, iPad, still camera, Flip video camera, BlackBerry, electrical cords, datebook, folders and more) couldn’t find it! Then I took everything out of a raggedy BCBG tote I am so attached to and still, it wasn’t there.

“Can I check in without my passport,” I sheepishly asked the lady at the counter.

“No,” she said sweetly.

She let me know that the flight was delayed about 30 minutes and for once I was grateful for a delay. I hadn’t arrived the recommended two hours early for international flights because it never takes long to check in.

My beau Bill suggested I go through my luggage. To appease him, I opened my humongous suitcase and pretended to look. He asked if there was any chance I put it in my dog Lucy’s carrier. No, I said.

I knew exactly where the passport was — in the taxi we had taken to LAX.

“Try to reach the taxi driver,” I said to Bill, as if the cabbie was a neighbor whose number he had.

I’ve left a lot of things in taxis. Sometimes I’ve managed to get them back, such as my favorite jacket in Athens and a tote bag in New York, and some I haven’t, such as a darling mink scarf in New York and on another occasion, a winter hat in New York.

But a passport? I flashed back to 30 minutes earlier when the cabbie opened the trunk at LAX. My BET tote bag was upside down. As my luggage was unloaded, I saw that the front flap of the pocket wasn’t shut and made a mental note to make sure all pockets were always closed in the future. I thought I quickly glanced around the trunk to make sure nothing had fallen out. Obviously I was wrong.

As Bill talked to the taxi company on his cell phone, I replayed the day in my head. I had packed my belongings and moved them into storage. Had I mistakenly put my passport in my computer bag that was now in storage? Was there time to jump in a cab, rush to the storage unit and find out? Or worse yet, maybe I had put my passport, which I keep in a holder, with things for the movers to pack. It could be in any of a number of boxes that were stacked so perfectly in the storage unit. Yikes!

I thought about my options. How long would it take the U.S. government to issue me another passport? A day? Two days? A week? I had flexibility so if I had to push the trip back then I could but everything had been so neatly arrange.

“Come to San Francisco,” Bill said when I told him I didn’t really have to go to Madrid. It was just a stop en route to my final destination.

That wasn’t an option. I knew in my heart that the passport was in the taxi. It was just a matter of finding that damn taxi! Bill called back and explained the urgency in the situation. He had his own flight to catch and had sweetly accompanied me to the international terminal after checking his luggage.

Finally, the cab driver was located and he confirmed to dispatch that he had my passport. I passed along my mobile number to the dispatcher for the cab driver to call me and waited patiently. Bill marveled at his accomplishment.

The man never keeps receipts and I’ve been on him to do so for months. Despite all of the advancements in technology, errors still occur on credit card bills. I save every receipt (yes, I’m a hoarder) until my statement arrives and then shred them, or keep them even longer. It amazed me that Bill never, ever, ever bothered to take his receipts. Until this day.

I literally thanked God that Bill, for the first time in his life, saved a receipt. Without it, we never would have tracked down the cab.

With the assurance that the cab driver would call me, Bill gave me $40 to give to the cabbie and scurried to make his flight. He now realizes the importance of saving receipt the same as I realize the importance of making sure every zipper is zipped and every fastener is fastened on my tote.

Eventually the cab driver called me. “Hey Clipper fan,” I said when I answered the phone after seeing an unrecognizable number on Caller ID. Bill had the cab first from his hotel and they had talked sports before they picked me up. The three of us continued talking sports to the airport and while Bill waited in line to check his luggage, the cabbie and I chatted about life in New York, where he is from and where I spent four years. By now, he was like an old friend.

The cabbie let me know he was in Culver City and it would take him about 15 minutes to return to LAX. “Hurry please!” I said. When he arrived, he handed me my powder blue passport holder and I gave him the $40. I’ll never forget the appreciative look on his face. It truly made his day.

I know I should have told him the $40 was from Bill but since black women have a reputation for under tipping (it’s why Oprah over tips but she can afford to do so) I decided not to divulge that information. Sidebar: Wasn’t there a Seinfeld episode about someone always taking credit for something someone else did?

When we spoke after I landed in Madrid, Bill and I applauded ourselves at how well both of us handled our first minor crisis. Neither of us panicked, freaked out or shouted.

“I still can’t believe we pulled it off,” he said, as if it was a heist.

And in a way, I guess it was.

Kelly E. Carter Lucy Carter Iberia

Kelly E. Carter holds Lucy Carter on their Iberia flight from LAX to Madrid

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Happy Anniversary to me and Lucy!

Kelly and Lucy at the Ritz-Carlton, Laguna Niguel

Kelly Carter and Lucy at the Ritz-Carlton, Laguna Niguel

Today marks the 10th anniversary of when I met Lucy. When I awoke this morning, I went to her bed, bent down, gave her a kiss on her head and whispered “Happy anniversary. I love you,” in her ear. She responded with wet licks across my nose.

I’m not quite sure how we’ll honor this day. I wanted to have a party tonight to celebrate our decade together and the launch of my new luxury pet travel site, The Jet Set Pets, but the site isn’t quite ready. Maybe we’ll go to a dog bakery though Lucy never seems to enjoy anything from dog bakeries. Now, real bakeries are a different subject. She’ll gobble up anything.

I still remember the day when I picked her up. The night before our first meeting I interviewed the cast of Ocean’s 11 together for USA Today. I sat at a round table with George Clooney, Brad Pitt, Julia Roberts, Matt Damon, Don Cheadle, Andy Garcia and director Steven Soderbergh. As much fun as it was to chat with that gang all at once (I gained a great deal of respect for Brad when he offered to get me something when somebody mentioned liquor), the real treat in my life was the next day when I flew to Pasco, Wash., to pick up my baby.

She was eight months old and her name was Wendy. She had been living with the Chihuahua breeder, who for reasons unbeknownst to me, was willing to part with the dog she had made her pet. But who was I to question it? I was happy to get Wendy. The breeder asked if I wanted to come to see the place where Wendy was born but I wasn’t interested. I planned to hop the next flight back to L.A. with my precious little package.

Who knew what was in store for the two of us? I knew we would travel together, which is why I chose a tiny dog. But I didn’t know what a terrific little pal she would become. Sure, we’ve had our ups and downs as anyone who knows us knows. There was a time early on when I thought I would have to get rid of her because of her diva attitude. But a behavior specialist stepped in and salvaged our relationship. And there was a stretch in Italy when her name became Lucifer because she  had turned into such a devil. And there are many moments when she lives up to the name on her dog dish, which read “Bitch Bowl.” I can count the times on one hand when she’s greeted me at the door. She prefers that I come and greet her when I come home. That’s typical of  longhair Chihuahuas, who have high opinions of themselves.

Despite all that, I love my little Lucy something fierce. I spend countless hours in my office pecking away at the keyboard and she’s right with me, curled up in a ball surrounded by magazines.

Lucy in office

Lucy spends countless hours in Kelly's office.

She follows me from room to room, running up and down the stairs behind me, the bell dangling from her collar clinging against a darling Swarovski crystal charm to play a musical tune that I adore hearing. When I take a rare break and retreat to the living room with a glass of wine and package of raw almonds, she’s comes along with me. When I’m in the kitchen cooking, she watches intently though I know she’s waiting for a piece of 24-month aged Parmigiano Reggiano to drop on the floor. When I pull an occasional all-nighter, she tries to do the same,  struggling to keep her eyes open and on me. After 10 years together she knows my every move and can predict what I’m going to do before I do it. I can look at her cute, little face and tell what she’s thinking, know whether she’s happy or sad.

On the rare occasions when she’s not home with me, the house feels incredibly empty and silent without her.  She may only stand four inches off the ground but she has a huge personality that fills several rooms. I often wonder what she thinks when she looks at me with those big, black eyes of hers. I’m sure every pet parent would love to know the same! I depend on her to let me know whether a guy is right or wrong. Her instincts are incredible! When she’s been indifferent to someone, it’s for good reason as I later find out. I’m sure she looks at me and thinks, “What took you so long to figure that out?”

Lucy and I certainly have figured each other out. Here’s to hoping we have several more wonderful and memorable years together.

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Dogs trending now

German Shepherd photo courtesy of Maggie Smith

Reading Susan Orlean’s opinion piece in today’s New York Times on the decline in popularity of the German Shepherd sent me back to my childhood when our family had a German Shepherd. I don’t remember much about that dog except that he wasn’t with us very long — unlike our darling French poodle, who was part of our family until her death.

The one thing I do remember about the German Shepherd was his bark being so forceful that it once knocked down the Christmas cards perched on the fireplace mantle and bookshelves. I was either four or five years old. And I have a vague memory of him biting my brother, which I guess could have resulted in him no longer being a part of the family. The dog, not my brother.

I didn’t know until I read Orlean’s column that the German Shepherd was once the dog of choice for families across America. It’s funny how breeds of dogs are trendy just like designers or food. Call Christian Louboutin and pork belly the German Shepherds of today.

I don’t know what the hot dog is now (no pun intended). Well, it’s the Labrador Retriever  and has been for 20 years by the American Kennel Club standards. But it seems to me that in the last decade it was the Chihuahua. I’d like to think I started that trend when I selected Lucy in 2001 but maybe it had something to do with the “Yo Quiero Taco Bell” ad that started a few years earlier.  Breeders couldn’t pump out Chihuahuas fast enough to meet the demand of people who stupidly thought that Chihuahuas really could talk. When these pet parents realized their dogs couldn’t be taught to speak, they abandoned them and that resulted in shelters full of Chihuahuas.

And then came the Reese Witherspoon hit film Legally Blonde in the summer of 2001 followed by Chihuahua, a song recorded by Swiss artist DJ BoBo that was the summer rage in 2003.

Click to Play!

OK, so maybe I didn’t have anything to do with the popularization of Chihuahuas, a breed that has withstood the test of trendiness. Next month Lucy and I will celebrate our 10th year together. I think a party is in order. The Jet Set Pets, a luxury pet travel site Lucy inspired me to create, will officially launch next month so I can have a dual celebration. Oh why not make a trifecta since my birthday is in November as well?

I can hardly believe it’s been 10 years since Lucy became my family. She’s a terrific little companion and brings such joy to my life — though she can be a handful with that diva attitude of hers. (Honestly, I don’t know where she gets it!)  A platonic male friend recently asked me if I ever considered becoming a mother because he wanted to have a baby but didn’t want to be a husband. I told him that the thought of motherhood never crossed my mind, except becoming a pet parent to Lucy.

And to think, I almost missed that opportunity. I had started shopping for a dog in the spring of 2001 but stopped when my mother fell ill that summer. After she passed away on Sept. 17, 2001, I wondered whether I really wanted to become a pet parent knowing I would likely outlive my four-legged friend. Could I bear to lose something else so dear to me after losing my mother, to whom I was extremely close? But someone told me that I should focus on the years of fun I can spend with a pet rather than the time when nature runs its course. It’s like the quote that it is better to have loved and lost than never to have loved at all.

Who knows how many more years Lucy and I will have together? Chihuahuas live to be around 15 or 17 and both of us are in terrific health. But nothing is promised to any of us. So we’ll just continue to enjoy our days together and keep Chihuahuas in the “trending now” category.

Thank you Maggie Smith for the photo of the German Shepherd!

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I Love Lucy!

Today would have been Lucille Ball’s 100th birthday and in honor of this amazing actress, there’s an I Love Lucy marathon running on the Hallmark Channel that is keeping me up. I hope to see the hilarious wine-making episode in Italy, which is much more relevant to my life now than when I first saw it decades ago.

Personally, I would rather drink wine that stomp grapes to turn into wine but I understand there are wineries that let you stomp grapes and pretend to be Lucy in Turo, Italy.

Few people know just how much I thought of Lucille Ball when I was a kid. In grade school I read every book on her that I could get my hands on and made her the subject of papers. I was smitten! I always knew whenever I got a pet of my own, I would name her Lucy. One person who does know is my friend Maureen, whom I met in Italy and who writes the Urban Travel Girl blog. I still treasure the two DVDs of I Love Lucy and The Lucy Show episodes that she sent me to Positano.

Back to the Hallmark Channel. Right now they quartet is headed to Hollywood and have stopped in Albuquerque to visit Ethel’s father. What’s your favorite I Love Lucy episode? When Lucy and Ethel took jobs in the chocolate factory? Lucy making bread? Vitameatavegamin? Would love to know.

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Filed under Italy, Lucy, Pets, Travel

How I (Never) Met Your Mother

I know some of you envy me for being able to enjoy a six-week holiday in Europe but at times it was torture. It’s like finding the ideal mate and knowing you only have a limited amount of time together. When I told friends I was going to Italy for a month, they wondered if I’d return. Well, sadly I did. I’m back in L.A., though more determined than ever to find a way to become an ex-pat once again.

Walking down cobblestone streets in Rome’s Trastevere section or through Tropea’s narrow streets and gazing at the bluish/green sea while lounging on the beach in Tropea stirred my desire to once again become a resident of the boot-shaped country. Not that the yearning ever left me after returning in 2005. I’m so fond of Italy’s small towns that I envision myself teaching English in a medieval village while continuing to write. I even brought up the topic with a couple of residents of Tropea, where I was welcomed like a local but don’t think is the place for me, and was encouraged by their responses. I realize money is tight in small southern towns like Tropea so while parents may wish for their children speak English, being able to hire someone to teach them is another matter.

Spending my last night in Italy with five ex-pats and one hopeful at a charming enoteca near the Colosseo, or Colosseum, was the ideal way to end my sojourn. Perhaps through osmosis, the will, courage and spirit of these fantastic women (as well as my other ex-pats friends like Layne and Elizabeth, who couldn’t make the girls’ night out, ex-pat gathering) will inspire me to get my butt in gear. The euro is a bit kinder to the dollar than in 2005 when I was forced to pack my bags after 26 months in Italy. However, one still takes quite a beating earning in U.S. dollars and spending in euro, which is why I need to focus on making euros. A report released by Manpower Inc. the other day listed Italy among four countries with a negative employment outlook. (Greece, Ireland and Spain are the others.) But I can’t let depressing statistics, or reality, deter me. Layne, whom I met when we both lived in Florence in 2003, recently landed a job as an international attorney at Fendi. So there!

Plus, the women I hung out with Tuesday night, some new acquaintances and others old friends, are positive examples of how ex-pats can make it work even if they don’t have a major fashion house signing their paycheck. I had invited the other ex-pat hopeful Lynne, whom I had met the previous night through Layne. Over bottles of Nero d’Avola, the ex-pats told me they would help me in any way they could should I decide to return. As the group dispersed (not me because I was staying for more vino and a real meal since I hadn’t eaten yet), we met a woman from Chicago and her Italian husband. This couple was a hoot and what fun I had chatting with the two of them. But it wasn’t just the laughs we shared but the seriousness of our conversation as well.

The husband told me and Lynne, who had stayed on to keep me company, how he encouraged his Caucasian wife to introduce herself to us when he saw our group, which consisted of six women of color and one Caucasian, because he had never laid eyes on a collection of beautiful, sophisticated black women in Italy.

Sadly, too often the image of women of color in Italy is of us as a puntana, or prostitute, in Naples. We offer nothing except sex. And it’s constantly reinforced. On Layne’s seven-hour bus ride from Tropea to Rome, she was appalled by a movie about a Senegalese family that moves to Italy. The African wife/mother begins an affair with a married Italian man. She’s shown nude, moaning and screaming during their multiple sexcapades. And this was shown on an early morning bus ride with about 15 senior citizens, who were riveted. When the Italian wife learns of the affair, her family tells that for African women, “sex is like water. They need it to live.”

It’s these kinds of stereotypes that the women I hung with last night are able to break down. And it’s not just in Italy. Four years ago I traveled solo through Croatia and met a local on the island of Hvar who told me how much my presence in his country was doing to educate Croatians about Black people for I showed that we can be intelligent, classy and professional. That country has such a bad reputation when it comes to racism that an editor of a black travel magazine wouldn’t give me an assignment about Croatia because he was reluctant to promote such a place. It turned out to be one of my best vacations.

But back to Italy and my oh-so-fab group of ex-pats that I want to join. There’s Bunmi, who is from the UK, married to a New Zealander and is the mother of two. Courtney, who is married to an Italian and approaching her second anniversary. Charmaine was divorced from an Italian when I met her several years ago but she wed another Italian about a year ago. I didn’t have a chance to ask Arlene, who moved to Italy in 2008, about her relationship status. Nancy, the lone Caucasian, dates John, an American sportswriter in Denver whom I have known since my days covering sports. Nancy and John had moved to Italy together and left due to finances shortly before I arrived in April 2003. Now she’s back and hoping John returns as planned. When living abroad is in your blood, it doesn’t leave. And there’s Lynne, who like me would like to live in Italy and is traveling solo on holiday. I wanted her to meet these women so invited her. Lynne, also like me, never can get a date and can’t figure out why.

That brings me to Paolo. Some of you have wondered what became of the Italian who fell madly in love with me on first sight and on our first date invited me to his house to meet his mother and called her on the mobile so I could speak to her. No, I didn’t meet mama but she did call me on my final night in Tropea to tell me what a pity it was that we didn’t get together and that she hopes that the next time I come to Italy that we meet. I told her that I was sorry that it didn’t happen either, even though I wanted very much to meet her.

Layne and I scream with laughter trying to figure out what happened with what looked like a promising start to something, although I wasn’t quite sure what. But something more than what I ever have going on in the States. Maybe it was my lead pencils, my vacation hair, my strong deodorant or writing “ciao amore” that put the brakes on Paolo’s fast-moving train.

Let me explain in detail:

CIAO AMORE
As you may recall Paolo, a single attorney with no kids and who I found out is 46, lives 120 kilometers from Tropea and came for a weekend to hang out with his brother and another friend, both of whom live in Rome. That’s when we met. Thanks to a mid-week holiday in Italy, Paolo returned to visit me a couple of days later.

Before he left his city he asked if he could stay overnight with me since it was a long drive back. I told him of course, but he had to sleep in the extra bedroom. He scoffed at this so I relented and told him he can sleep with me in my room but we are NOT having sex.  Once he arrived, my self-control didn’t stop me from wearing a revealing baby-doll nightie with a thong to bed because hey, a girl’s gotta feel sexy even if she has no plans to give it up on the second date. Being that he’s a man, and Italian at that, of course he brought up sex when we were in bed. (We always spoke in Italian but I’ll write in English.)

“I don’t know you well enough,” I said as to my reason why he wasn’t getting any.

“How long do I have to wait?” he replied.

“How long do you usually wait?” I asked, knowing that he had dumped his girlfriend of 10 years just three weeks prior.

No answer.

Anyway, the sex, or lack thereof, didn’t turn into an issue during his two-night stay. At least not then. Interestingly enough he brought it up after returning to his city. At his request, I emailed him photos of us and began the email “Ciao amore,” or “hello love.” He wrote me back and asked “how could I write ciao amore when nothing happened.”  For Christ’s sake! I say “ciao amore” to cute Italian babies on the street who I don’t know. Was it really that big of a deal?

And we had gotten along swimmingly during the two days together. I was thrilled to discover how health conscious he is: he works out at a gym three times a week and jogs — and I’ve taken up running because of him; we both drink soy milk and abhor cigarettes. And he’s clean. When he returned from our morning run, he washed his workout clothes in the sink and hung them out to dry. This was huge because I consider him a mammone, an Italian mama’s boy who lives at home and relies on his mother to do everything for him. He does live at home but he explained that it’s in a palazzo with five apartments on the bottom.  I can overlook this as it is not completely atypical in Italy. Plus he’s affectionate and thoughtful. We cuddled on the beach and when my iPod froze, he offered me half of his earphones so we could listen to his music while soaking up the rays.

We took in sunset from my terrace while drinking Martini Bianco, my favorite apertivo, he cooked dinner for me both nights, and when we walked Lucia at night we stopped for after dinner drinks.

In just two days my Italian improved exponentially because I took my dictionary and notepad everywhere, looked up words he used and jotted them down so I could remember them. I also looked up the word “rebound” and showed it to him as I figured he was on the rebound, which he denied since he was the one who called off the 10-year romance. During his visit, he called home to check in with his family and tell them how he cooked dinner for me. They were shocked because he NEVER cooks.

I talked to Paolo’s brother Dino (for the second time) as well as Dino’s girlfriend Gabriella. Everyone had seen my photos on my website and agreed that I was bella. Lucia was a little cautious of Paolo at first but she became his little buddy, curling up at his feet when he watched TV and staring at him as he shaved. We don’t get many men spending the night so this was an unusual activity for her.

LEAD PENCILS
When Paolo returned home, he told me his mother continued to ask when to expect me for dinner. I never received a formal invite and couldn’t take the train three hours and show up on my own. After he returned home, Paolo also repeatedly complained about the stress he was under at work and home but provided no details. While Skyping one day, he asked if I noticed how he didn’t sleep during his two-night stay with me. Sure I had, but I figured it was because of me.

My bed, which I had slept like a baby in until his arrival, squeaked with him in it. Every time he moved, it creaked. And he moved constantly because he hasn’t slept in a while. He periodically dozed off and when he did, he snored something fierce, which awakened me and pissed me off. So for two days I barely slept at night. (Earplugs don’t stay in my ears so are not an option.) Thankfully I slept fine on the beach and my ability to fall asleep anywhere on a moment’s notice became a running joke between us.

Because my bed, like most in Italy, was only a double, we slept VERY close. Okay, he wrapped his arms around me and our legs intertwined, if you need details. By the second night, he told me my legs were heavy. I pulled them away but stayed in his arms because when I rolled out of his grasp before, he asked if it was uncomfortable being in his arms. No, I like being in a headlock. No problem. Deal with my legs. Heavy, I thought to myself. My tooth pick legs? How can they be heavy? Now Layne and I jokingly call my legs the lead pencils.

STRONG DEODORANT
During another point in the middle of the night Paolo told me my perfume was strong. I was 99% asleep and therefore very proud of myself when, without thinking I need to speak in Italian, I replied, “Non ho usato perfuma.” (I didn’t use perfume.) He then made a comment about my deodorant being strong. Yeah, I wear Secret, which is strong enough for a man but made for a woman. But it’s powder-fresh scented. Strong as it may be, my underarms still smell fresh. Dude, be glad I don’t come to bed smelling like a goat.

VACATION HAIR
When Paolo initially called his mother to tell her about me, he told her that I am as tall as him and have curly hair. When he later checked out my website, he saw photos of me with longer, straight hair. He commented about the different hairstyle and said “piu bella,” telling me that I am more beautiful with long, straight hair. I replied that I agree but it’s shorter and curly now because this is my “vacation hair.” And I left it at that. I didn’t feel like explaining/couldn’t explain in Italian that I’m wearing a weave during this trip because I can’t deal with my natural hair while traveling for six weeks. I’d have to explain what happens to my natural hair when it gets wet, how I didn’t want to wear it in its natural state for six weeks because maintaining the spiral curls requires lugging around a lot of products,  define a hot comb and pressing, tell him about my aversion to creamy crack relaxers, convince him that I really do have thick, shoulder-length hair like my website shows but it is braided for now and I have some Indian chick’s hair attached to the braids. This is complicated enough to explain to a non-Black person in English, let alone an Italian in Italian.

Paolo sometimes caressed my hair and I’m sure he had to feel the tracks. But he never said anything so I adhered to the military’s “Don’t ask, don’t tell” policy. Most black women who wear weaves impersonate a boxer by ducking and dodging when a man reaches for their hair. But not me. Go ahead, cowboy. Touch my weave. It’s not coming out and your hands aren’t going to get caught in the tracks. I am most positive Paolo never felt tracks before so he had no idea what he was feeling. Maybe he thought I had growths on my scalp and couldn’t bear to fall deeper in love with me and then lose me to some outlandish skin condition.

So it could have been the vacation hair, strong deodorant, lead pencils or “ciao amore” that kept me from meeting mama and prevented him from returning to visit me on the weekends, when I know he was free because we talked all the time. Maybe Paolo, whose is not without faults but is workable as no one is perfect, didn’t see the point of getting wrapped up in somebody who would soon depart (especially after breaking up with someone after 10 years) and doesn’t live in the moment enough like me to enjoy hanging out only for a few weeks. Although we stayed in contact daily through Skype and SMS while I was in Tropea, I was thrown for a loop when his mother got on Skype my final day.

So although I didn’t meet the mama, I return with fantastic memories of new experiences and having fallen in love – all over again with Italy. Baci!


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Filed under Beauty, Dating, economy, Italy, Los Angeles, Lucy, race, Travel, Wine

Il meta punto di una bella vita


I’m two weeks into my month-long stay in Tropea and have settled in nicely. I’ve learned which bar makes the cappuccino to my liking and offers the best cornetto (croissant) and what time I must arrive in order to buy the latter before they are all gone. I’ve learned the best place for fruits and vegetables, the worst, and been reminded not to expect too much at the best. I’ve learned shortcuts to the beach and proud that the fastidioso (bothersome) immigrant peddlers have learned to leave me the hell alone for I don’t want a massage, jewelry or another beach towel. I’ve learned where I can get patine frittes porta-a-via (French fries to go) for those nights when I’m not hungry enough for a real meal but need something to go with my rosato wine at home.

I know the best place to walk Lucia when I need her to go immediately. I call it the poop street, although it is really three quarters of an entire square block. It seems like all of Tropea lets their dogs poop here – and leave it for others to step in. I can’t imagine not picking up after Lucia though I feel like a fool for picking up her droppings right next to dried merda (shit).

Of course Lucia is a big hit in town. Young and old Italians squeal “piccolino,” (miniature animal) and “canelino” (little dog) when they see her. They ask “che razza?” wanting to know her “race,” and I respond, “Chihuahua (pronouncing it chee-wah-wah) pello lungo (long hair).” Lucia always stays home when I go to the beach. It’s enough to carry my darling Trina Turk tote that holds my camera, Sony Reader, dizionario, notepad, hand sanitizer, wallet and beach towel without lugging an 8-lb dog up and down the 100 steps leading down to the beach.

At Bistro Noir, where prendo (I take) my cappuccino in the mornings, I now greet the locals like Giovanni and Pasquale by name and this morning asked Giovanni, “Vuoi qualcosa bere?” (Would you like something to drink?) It was barely after 11 a.m. and he ordered an aperitiv. Typical for an Italian. They start drinking alcohol at sunup in this country. I paid for Giovanni’s drink (showing my gratitude for a ride the other day and an impromptu trip to Capo Vaticano although he didn’t know me or Layne) and took a seat outside in the strong sun, to read another chapter of Kathryn Stockett’s The Help on my Sony Reader, with Lucia at my feet. I sometimes break her off the end piece of my cornetto but not today. I don’t want her expecting this every morning. Plus, she still needs to lose weight. I think she’s lost a pound but can’t figure out why she huffs and puffs as if she’s just run a marathon after I carry her up four flights of steps. (The steps are marble and she can’t tackle steps without carpet.)

After two weeks, I don’t even mind walking up the 73 steps to my fourth-floor flat. This morning when I returned from my morning walk with Lucia and colazione (breakfast) at Bistro Noir, I was halfway to the fifth floor before I realized I had overshot my floor – and only noticed  because the ceiling suddenly dropped significantly going to the fifth and highest.

I’ve been home all day. I soaked up the sun for seven hours at the beach yesterday, removing myself from my lettino (chaise lounge, or literally, little bed) only for pranzo (lunch). Givoanni mentioned today that I am a little more bronzata (darker) than when he last saw me, which was Tuesday. (I doubt he really noticed. I know I’m two shades darker but to most folks, black is black.) Yesterday was my first day in a bikini (sorry no photos) after wearing a one-piece for the first two weeks following over indulging for three weeks in Monaco, St. Tropez then here the first week. With my evil twin Layne gone, I’m dining out less, eating healthier at home and running on the beach in the mornings, thanks to Paolo being so health conscious and suggesting a run while he visited. (Yesterday, my knee started bothering me and I had to go to the farmacia to buy a brace since I forgot to bring mine.) I’ve worked myself back into bikini shape. Though yesterday put it all in perspective. There was a woman in the water, with no arms, in a bikini. At first I thought I was seeing things and assumed she just had her arms wrapped tightly in front of her. But then she turned around and I saw there were no limbs at all. How can I ever complain about my bulge in the mid-section? I need to be comfortable with whom I am, just as the armless woman is.

The water is as alluring as an exotic woman is to an Italian. But somehow today I’ve resisted it and opted to sit on the terrace and read. As I looked around I wondered– and Layne brought this up when she was here – how come no one else is ever on their terraces. During apertivi time it’s always been just us. In the mornings and afternoons it is just me. The only time I see Italians on their terrace is sweeping or tending to the laundry. Their windows and doors are open so I know they’re there. Don’t they know the beauty they’re missing by not sitting down and enjoying life fuori (outside)? Maybe they take it for granted. It’s always there. Always has been. Always will be.

When I walk through the piazza at night I think what will become of the teenagers.

Do they dream? Hope to leave this town that offers them little except, for the more fortunate ones, working in a family-owned store or restaurant? Or are they content to remain here, for it is home. Have they been anywhere? Max, the owner of MaxBar, which is the hip spot in town and offers a wide array of cocktails, told me he had never been outside of Europe. I subconsciously turned up my nose at him. Shameful of me, I know!

Now that Layne and Paolo are gone, I don’t go out at night. I spend my nights reading. Nighttime isn’t like Positano, where I could sit on my terrace or just open my kitchen windows and hear singing from the restaurant Mediterraneo across the street or the waves if I listened really hard. Instead in Tropea I hear motorinos and cars zipping by and the buzz from the locals gathered in the nearby piazza, so I come in from the terrace at sunset.

The only singing is during karaoke night. Although the other night there was some sort of talent show in the piazza.

Tomorrow I begin formal language lessons at school. I’ll go in the mornings but still be on the beach in time for lunch. I still have a difficult time understanding Italians speak their language and school will only help so much. Basically I have to go out and converse. On the beach yesterday I got the gist of a family’s conversation, enough if I had to translate. But this morning, I could only catch a word here and there between two gentlemen who stopped to chat on the street. They could have been speaking in a dialect or it could have been my brain not functioning at noon. Who knows?

I can’t say I was tired because I’ve been getting some of my best sleep in years, although I sleep on a bed more suited for an army barrack. Just proves it is not the cost of the mattress or a sheet’s thread count but one’s surroundings and state of mind that make for a good night’s sleep.

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Filed under Italy, Lucy, Travel

Is it time to meet his mama?

Just as Layne and I were complaining vehemently about Tropea men not knowing how to properly treat women, we go out Saturday night and meet due fratelli (two brothers) who show us a good time and can teach these men around here a thing or two.
 
We met them at a restaurant when Paolo fell innamorato (in love) with me at first sight. Seriously. He couldn’t take his eyes off of me the entire time. Eventually his group, which included his fun brother Giampiero and a quieter friend, Carlo, joined me and Layne at our table. I followed as much of the conversation in Italian as I could and had Layne translate every so often. Giampiero wanted to practice his English but I said no. I need to practice my Italian more so let me tough it out. We drank wine and grappa and danced (my friends know that I do NOT dance so this was huge), at one point joining arms and jumping up and down in a circle. If only I had a photo of that!

And we cheered on Paolo when he took the mic to sing.

When I went to the toilet, Paolo told Layne that he was in love with me. It was quite apparent.

 Then we hit another spot for more wine and conversation. I learned to make sure I enunciate well after accidentally dropping the “d” when I said ho ordinato (I ordered) and it came out ho orinato, which means “I peed,” and caused both Giampiero and Paolo to quickly correct me in unison. I remembered years ago when I started studying Italian and I made a similar mistake in school when I tried to say to the class that every afternoon I take un pisolino (a nap) but instead I said every afternoon I take a little penis. I thought about sharing this with the guys but decided against it. Finally around 3:30 a .m., the trio walked Layne and I to our door. We made plans to get together the next morning.

The boys, who conveniently were staying at a bed and breakfast right across the street, were to come to our place to cook lunch before they returned to their respective cities. Giampiero, who boasted of his cooking skills, said he would buy the food and we didn’t have to worry about anything. Sounded easy enough. But nothing is ever easy in Italia.

Paolo showed up alone at the appointed time. I was still getting dressed and Layne said something about him going to get the other two and then we were going out for lunch, which was fine with us. Then all three return with a Nespresso machine in a box that had never been opened and we had espresso. Giampiero opened the kitchen cabinets to check out the cookware and deemed the pots and pans adequate enough for him to make us a meal. The next thing I know, we’re all leaving.  Layne and I weren’t really sure where we were going. Wasn’t somebody supposed to be cooking for us? Even Lucy was confused. She was in the kitchen with the five of us, hoping some food would drop on the floor. But there was nothing but espresso. The trio talked about getting tartufo (truffle) pizza and we said yes, great! There was more confusion on the street. Layne and I thought we were walking to a pizzeria in Tropea but then there was talk about whether I would fit in Paolo’s car. (My height was a never-ending joke which got on my nerves but I kept smiling.) Okay, this meant we were driving somewhere. Somehow the five of us crammed into the Audi and off we went. Where to? I didn’t have the slightest idea.

Our first stop was at a fruit and vegetable stand a few blocks away and only Giampiero exited the car. Huh? I’m thinking we could have walked here. I wondered if Layne was as clueless as me. After all, her Italian is great and I’m figuring she picked up on something that I didn’t so I was fine to go along for the ride. Paolo, who drove, and me, who rode shotgun, munched on delicious dried tomatoes and bananas that Giampiero bought, still not knowing where we were going. I just knew I needed food because I had skipped breakfast in order to get my beauty sleep. Giampiero, a true Alpha male with an engaging personality, was soooo much fun that it didn’t matter where we went. As long as we ate at some point. I was getting to know Paolo with my bad Italian and Giampiero entertained Layne, whose language skills I envy. Paolo learned English when he was in school but hasn’t spoken it in a long time. Giampiero is studying English again and loves practicing. For me, it’s frustrating having to concentrate so hard to speak. (Yeah, I guess I could go to school here and I MIGHT next week but I’m on vacanze!) I tuned out the conversation when Jay-Z’s and Alicia Keys’ Empire State of Mind came on in the car.

By the time we ended up in a crumbling yet charming town called Pizzo about 30 minutes away Layne was nauseous from sitting in the back seat scrunched between two grown men with little air. Windy roads, espresso on an empty stomach and a backseat apparently don’t work well for her. But once we got out of the car, her head cleared and she asked me what’s going on. Neither of us knew but we figured we would have lunch. She said she told the guys to leave us at the piazza after lunch (really so we could continue to drink wine without them knowing how much we drink) and take Carlo, who had an early flight, to the airport, then to come back and get us. And that way there would be more room in the car. But Paolo couldn’t bear to leave me. (Can you blame him???) Giampiero had made phone calls but we were still basically clueless as to the plan.

We climbed stairs, walked past apartments with laundry hanging from windows and flower boxes overflowing with colorful fiori before ending up in a piazza with a lookout point over a beautiful body of water.

A cousin came to the piazza and Paolo, introduced me as his fidanzata (girlfriend).  Layne and I assumed there was still tartufo pizza somewhere in the plans but we sat down at a gelateria, where I ate tartufo gelato, which was quite good.

Now we understood. The cousin was there to take Carlo to the airport. That left the four of us, who trudged back to Paolo’s car and discussed what we were going to do. I’m thinking finally we’re going to have the tartufo pizza they’ve been talking about. But no. Instead we feast on a delicious seafood meal and drink wine on the terrace of a restaurant overlooking blue and green waters.


 
I had filled up on the big bowl of ice cream and the banana so for once in my life I wasn’t that hungry. I even begged off pasta after eating two seafood dishes first. And after I warned Paolo that I eat A LOT. (I think he was scared but better to prepare him first than shock him later.)

During lunch Paolo asked if I’d like to come home and meet his mama and of course me, playing along, replied si. (Mothers always love me. It’s the sons who don’t for some odd reason.) He called his mama from his mobile and told her about me, that I’m as tall as he is and have curly hair. That’s as much as I picked up though I’m sure he must have used the word bella. Suddenly he handed me the phone for me to talk to my soon-to-be mother-in-law. I quickly corrected myself when I spoke to her, going from the informal to the formal. I told her she has raised two fine sons, which she appreciated. She giggled like a schoolgirl (I think she was a teacher) as we try to communicated and then she passed the phone to her youngest son, Dino, whom I chatted with for a moment before I gave the phone back to Paolo. Now la famiglia knows about me – the father died last October – and by now I’m sweating from the sun beating down on us and my nervousness. We move out of the sun but still enjoy the view.

As it turned out, I didn’t go home with Paolo, an attorney with no kids or a girlfriend, to meet his mother Sunday night. He drove back to Tropea, dropped me and Layne off, then took his brother Giampiero, who lives in Rome, to the airport.

By the next day, it seemed like every man in Tropea knew we hung out with other men. One of Layne’s more athletic admirers was quite hurt and questioned Layne as to why she would rather go out with a big guy than him while another seemed relieved to hear that it was Paolo who was innamorato with me. (Both Layne and I absolutely adore Giampiero, who too bad for Layne is married because they both live in Rome, and we would take him and his extra pounds over a chiseled sex-starved jerk any day. For the record, Giampiero was a perfect gentleman.)

Meanwhile, Paolo, also a perfect gentleman who lives 120 kilometers away from Tropea, said his mother asked how come I didn’t come for dinner and when will she meet me. We chatted on Skype and I told him I had just talked to my brother. He wanted to know if I had told Kevin about him yet. Well, not just yet, I said. Will I go home with him and meet la mama? We’ll see. If I do, I have to make sure I know the word “nap” from “little penis” and “order” from “pee.”

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Filed under Dating, Dining, Italy, Lucy, Travel, Wine