Category Archives: Wine

It’s time for a tune up

SHA Wellness Clinic

Me on a morning hike in El Albir, Spain while at SHA Wellness Clinic

Now that I’m several months shy of a milestone birthday, it’s time for me to get my butt in gear. I expect to look a certain way when that big day comes in November and I won’t accept anything less. We all have our standards and mine are high. I thought I was my worst critic until I saw the experts at SHA Wellness Clinic on Spain’s Mediterranean coast.

After hearing from Dr. Ken Prange that my nerves were frayed and that the excess of refined sugar I consume is apparent in my fingernails and tongue, I figured I would stop ordering “a muffin for my muffin top” during my occasional visits to Peet’s and Coffee Bean in the States And I really would make a concerted effort to cut down on my red wine. Although wine is available at SHA, I’m not ordering any. It’s not like I can’t go a few days without it.

Dr. Prange was just one of the doctors I saw during my stay at SHA, one of the spas I’ll feature in my story on the top spas in the world’s in the September/October issue of Elite Traveler. People don’t come to SHA because they’re perfect. They come in search of perfection. Therefore, there is no coddling by the experts, who specialize in a variety of areas.  Dr. Dolores Antón Rico, who specializes in advanced anti aging skin techniques, was generally pleased with the elasticity in my skin but nonetheless showed me a video on Thermage. Intrigued by it, I asked her if it could help my thighs, which had started to sag several years ago.

“Let me see,” she said.

I was still wearing the running tights from my morning walk and warned her that I wore no panties.

“I’m a doctor,” she said with authority.

As I peeled my Brooks running tights away from my skin, she nearly gasped when she saw my bulging belly. I can’t remember if she asked if I was pregnant or had had children because her reaction to my muffin top caused my brain to stumble. Whatever she asked, it didn’t matter. The answer was NO! She examined my thighs, lifted my tush and told me Thermage could help both. But, she added, not the belly. As if I didn’t know. But thanks anyway doc.

My next stop was with the doctor who heads up aesthetics medicine at SHA Wellness Clinic. I pointed out the ever-so-slight lines that appeared in the creases when I smiled, asked if a little filler in my cheeks would help. She took it a step further and rattled off some other things I may want to consider as well.

I was feeling pretty good about myself when I came to SHA. Now I think I need to stay for about two months and rob a bank to pay for all of the work I need done that I didn’t know I needed done until I arrived. We tune up cars. We change timing belts around 100,000 miles. Our bodies are machines and need work too. Some more than others.

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Filed under Aging, Beauty, Spa, Travel, Wine

Eat Pray Love: Take Two

Count me among the over six million people to buy Elizabeth Gilbert’s Eat Pray Love. And count me among the many who didn’t finish the  New York Times bestseller. My gold Oleg Cassini bookmark is right where I left it three years ago. On page 72.

It would seem that I, of all people, would be able to relate to Liz’s story for I too had moved to Italy on a quest. But unlike Liz, who embarked on a “search for everything” after her marriage failed, I went to eat, drink and pray for love. And she, unlike me, had a finite number of days she wanted to spend in the boot-shaped country before moving on to more serene pastures in India and Bali. I went in 2003 with the notion that I’d never leave Italy, which I ended up calling home for just two years due to the weak dollar and failure to find a Count worth marrying. Still, I was eager to read about her soul-searching journey and saved the book until a three-week sojourn to China in spring 2007. During a brief solo stay at the desolate Red Capital Ranch, where I hiked alone along a crumbling and non-restored Great Wall, I struggled to get into the book. Although I dog-eared some pages and put stars next to passages that resonated with me, it wasn’t nearly as enjoyable as I had hoped. Finally I gave up.

I thought it was just me who couldn’t get through the book but over the past few years oodles of people, mostly writers, have confessed that they didn’t finish it either. Just before the theater lights dimmed at last night’s screening, a colleague seated nearby told me that neither she nor her boss cared for the book either. (I’m sure Liz doesn’t care any more than, say John Grisham or Dan Brown, two commendable storytellers whose prose don’t match up to their book sales.) My failure to connect with Liz’s words didn’t stop me from wanting to see Julia Roberts, whom I adore, portray the author on the big screen for in the end it is the subject that fascinates me most.

Rarely is a movie better than the book on which it was based but even those who couldn’t stomach reading Eat Pray Love should enjoy the flick. I know I did. With my recent month-long stay in Tropea and few days in Rome still fresh in my mind, I salivated at the Italian scenes. The days of dolce far niente (the sweetness of doing nothing) and outings with female ex-pats and local men were reminiscent of my time in Firenze and Positano when lengthy dinners like the one in the photo above taken in Positano were common. Brava to Julia for nailing the Italian accent and the filmmakers for capturing the essence of my adopted country. (Although I’ve never seen such chaos in trying to order a cup of coffee anywhere in Italy.) Most of the dialogue isn’t memorable and another round of editing is needed. But the acting, characters, colors and cinematography captured my attention — and made me want to book a flight abroad.

Outside of my visits to several spas, I didn’t fall in love with Bali when I visited in 2000 but maybe that’s because I didn’t meet anyone as sexy as Javier Bardem.

I’m willing to give Indonesia another try. And despite having a visa for India in my passport, I never took the trip. I’m sure I’ll get there. Some day.

And maybe one day I’ll finish reading Eat Pray Love. I promised myself I would and now that I’ve seen the movie, I’m more inclined to do so. It says something that I moved the book from my Upper East Side apartment to Harlem then to L.A. If I didn’t want it, I would have tossed it when packing my belongings for each move. When I opened the book last night after returning from the screening I found the Oleg bookmark with the words, “To be well dressed is a little like being in love.”

Two people who can attest to that are Liz Gilbert and Felipe.

Attraversiamo.

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Filed under Beauty, Dating, Dining, Fashion, Harlem, Italy, Travel, Wine

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

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

Eat, Drink, Pray for Love

While Layne went off with Corrado, an Italian hottie who says “Call me Coco,” I was left on the beach with a toothless Moroccan who peddles towels (I bought one from him yesterday) asking me how much I’m paying for my apartment for the month and if I’m married. I told him he was maleducato (rude) and my marital status is non importante.

We’re into Day 5 in Tropea, in the southern part of Italy, and it’s official: the entire town of 7,000 knows we’re here and knows our every move. After all, it’s not every day that a 6-foot-1 African-American with an eight-pound Chihuahua and blonde Swedish-American vacation here together.

It is impossible for us to blend in so we’ve been the talk of the town. While walking Lucia the other morning, I came across a construction worker who stopped working to play with her and stated that he knew I was renting an apartment and that an avvocato bionda (blonde attorney) was staying with me. Later that night, while walking to dinner with Francesco, owner of an Italian language school here, we were introduced to two men, one of whom who said he knew that we were on a boat earlier in the afternoon.

For the record, Layne and I were only on a boat briefly after a bird pooped on the front of her yellow dress as we walked to the port. We went aboard a boat so Layne could find water to wash off the merda (shit). I told her it was good luck to have a bird poop on you (I learned this by watching Under the Tuscan Sun) and every Italian said the same thing to Layne yesterday. Yet she still was grossed out by the whole experience.

We should be drinking apertivi with Francesco right now but once again, Layne is standing someone up in this town. Actually she’s standing up two men tonight (we’re supposed to have dinner at the restaurant where hottie Coco works), which brings the number to four so far. Luckily she’s leaving on Tuesday because every man in town would be pissed with her if she stayed for another week.

Francesco (we call him “Joe Cool”, see photo below) tried to put the moves on Layne the other night although he owns the language school where she is studying and where I am trying to talk myself into going for a week next week or the following week.

During dinner at Il Pinturicchio the other night, Francesco explained the protocol he must follow because he can’t date his students. A school that I must add draws 80% percent female students. Tropea makes no bones about what it offers foreign women. Francesco said that a television ad airing in Austria shows an older German woman enjoying wine at sunset with an Italian man half her age. Can you say cougar?  So you can imagine the number of foreign women who flock here seeking fun in the sun with un ragazzo.

But Francesco must maintain professionalism in his job and not prey on the foreign women seeking companionship. “Protocol” is the word he often used the other night. However, as the evening wore on, he forgot all about protocol. We hopped from Bar Max, a cool bar owned by a cutie named Max, to Il Pinturicchio for dinner (I had the delish pizza below!!) to another restaurant for grappa and limoncello then back to Bar Max for wine and to listen to a band.

 By the end of the evening, Francesco was putting the moves on Layne.

I can’t say I’m getting as much action. I thought Antonio (center below) was hot when we met in the dark on the way to a restaurant. But then I had second thoughts when I saw him in a well-lit restaurant a couple of hours later. I’m sure his wife, who has one middle tooth, breathed a sigh of relief.

I’m enjoying the town more, although I did find out there is an historical part, which is a lot more charming than where my apartment is located. I joke that we’re in the ghetto. It’s not that it’s bad but it’s not nearly as charming as the old town. But I like sitting in the piazza checking out the locals, as we did this evening after enjoying a day at the beach, where we met Davide, a police officer in a nearby town, and Pasquale, a professor. They made the mistake of asking us if we wanted anything to drink and suggested water, Tang or Coca-Cola. Layne, who never met a wine she didn’t like, later told me she was proud of me for saying, “Vino.” (As if we had not already had two carafes during lunch on the beach.)

That was after Layne came back her trip with the hottie Coco, whom said he was seated at the large table the other night when we stopped by a restaurant for after dinner drinks. I don’t remember him and think I would, considering his good looks. But then again, there were a lot of people gathered around the table and we didn’t meet everyone individually.

When Layne returned from her boat ride with Coco, she filled me in on the excursion. Less than a minute into it, he asked for a kiss and for the next hour he begged at least once a minute for un bacio. He tried to lure her into his web by saying things like, “I love you,” and “It’s because I’m ugly that you don’t want to kiss me. If I looked like George Clooney, you would kiss me.” When she told him that they had just met, he replied, “When the feeling are so strong you don’t think of logic.” I cracked up as I imagine these lines have worked on so many of the women from Austria who flock here. One look at him, and you can imagine he’s pretty successful with the ladies:

If it sounds like all we do is eat, drink and flirt, that’s not true. Layne goes to school for two hours every morning and I do whatever it is I do. Today I ate breakfast on the terrace and read The Help. The other morning I walked to “Big Shop,” the store where household goods are sold, and bought hangers (I have lots of clothes, although I shipped 10 pounds of hooker clothes home from St. Tropez to lighten my luggage), sapone liquido (liquid soap), CIF con ammoniaca vetri e  superfici brillanti (glass cleaner), transparente (plastic wrap), sacchetti ghiaccio (plastic bags to make ice cubes) and scozzesi tovaglioli doppiovelo (napkins), Woolite and other goods I’ll need for the next month.

I had already bought bubble bath the day before but I don’t think I’ll be taking many bubble baths. I let the water run for nearly an hour and the bath wasn’t even half full. After while the water was cold so I knew I’d have to take a half full warm bath or a cold full bath. I opted for the former. So showers it is.

I can deal with the hot water issue. What I cannot deal with is the Chinese women who interrupt me on the beach every five minutes to ask if I want a massage. At the end of day today I told two of them, “Look, I am here for a month. You will not ask me every 10 minutes for the next month if I want a massage. When I want one, I will let you know!” I hope they pass the word to their fellow countrywomen. An irate black woman on the beach will not be a pretty sight. I told Layne that I was going to buy a water gun and start squirting each one that approaches me from here on.

But it is interesting how these Chinese women – the two I spoke to the other day are from Shanghai — chose Tropea of all places to immigrate to. There’s also an African man who sells bracelets and of course the toothless Moroccan whom sells beach towels.

Makes me wonder what I could peddle if I moved to this beautiful place. Don’t even think about it.

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Filed under Dating, Italy, Travel, Wine

It’s always wine o’clock in Italy

Day One in Tropea is drawing near an end and it’s been an experience. We’ve drunk too much wine, been mistaken for being the wives of senior citizens from Florida and discovered n’ duja.

Right now Layne and I should be enjoying dinner at some restaurant owned by the family of a guy who runs one of the Italian language schools in town. Layne, whose Italian is pretty impressive, begins one-on-one Italian lessons in the morning and I think I’ll take a week-long intensive course in a couple of weeks. (I need a week or two to do nothing.) We figure if we’re nice to the guy whom we met with today, he’ll give us a discount at school. But right now Layne is passed out from all of the wine. I was too until my alarm went off, signaling it was time to get up for dinner. It took all of my energy to get up from my wine-induced nap and take Lucy, who was sleeping comfortably with Layne, out for an evening stroll.

I doubt we’ll make it to dinner. It’s not as if we haven’t eaten and drank enough today. We were out of the apartment before noon, anxious to see Tropea, after arriving close to midnight.

Not that we let a late arrival keep us from hitting the town. No sooner had the realtor lugged my 70 pound suitcase up 73 steps and his friend hoisted Layne’s sizable bag above his head and done the same, that Layne and I hit the piazza for a nightcap. There is only one piazza in town and it’s just a block from us. We were happy to find it was alive so late on a Sunday night. Groups of Italians mingled outdoors in the cool air and American music entertained us. We took seats at one place and ordered a carafe of red wine and food — a panino for Layne and a plate of French fries for me. The choices were slim at that hour.

It wasn’t too long before an attractive Italian man from a nearby table tried to strike up a conversation with his admittedly bad English. His name was Pierro and let’s just say I hope to write more about him later for he was much more enjoyable to look at than our wine was to drink. Nonetheless, we polished off the wine.

There was a lot more wine on our agenda today. My how had I forgotten how much wine I can consume in Italy before sundown – and how to take a shower in a country where shower curtains don’t exist. 

This morning, Layne, who lives in Rome, took a shower first and when I went in the bathroom after her, there were just two or three drops of water on the floor. After my shower, it looked like Hurricane Katrina had blown through. Water everywhere. But I do have a very long bathtub so maybe I will stick to that.

Not only do I have a great bathtub (most of you know how important that is to me), but a partial sea view from the wrap-around terrace and a nice view in general from all three bedrooms.

There’s no lavatrice, or washing machine, but that was fine with me once I found out there was wireless internet in the apartment I’ve rented for a month.

The apartment was pretty much what I expected having seen photos online. Very bare bones and a lot of wasted space with long, wide corridors. Pretty tile in the kitchen and bathroom but furnishings so sparse they would seem luxurious in dorms at USC. But the bed is comfortable, the water is hot with good pressure and everything seems to work just fine – for now. I don’t even mind the 73 steps to my front door in this fourth floor walk up.

No sooner were we outside today that we encountered two elderly American men with cameras around their necks wearing white socks, tennis shoes and shorts, one in a Hawaiian shirt and matching caps, looking at a map. Frank and Rick, or Francesco and Ricardo as they wanted to call themselves, were from Sarasota, Fla., and staying in a nearby town. Their guide had dropped them off in Tropea with a map and they were exploring for a few hours. While the four of us chatted – they were most impressed with Layne being a lawyer in Rome – an Italian man walked by smoking and handed us fliers to a restaurant around the corner.

We parted ways with the senior citizens and eventually Layne and I decided to check out the restaurant. We were shocked to find out that Carmine, the guy who had given us the flyer, thought we were the wives of the old geezers! “We can do better than that!” I said, not bothering to speak in Italian as I have been doing to the locals.

Although we questioned Carmine’s intelligence (that’s him above with Layne), we did take him up on his suggestion to try n’ duja, a spicy sausage mixed with pepperoncini and pepperoni, with our bread. There it is below.

Our lunch dragged on for a couple of hours because we had a huge jug of wine to consume, a starter, pasta, dessert and grappa. And to think, the jug Layne holds below arrived full to the brim.

And I had to eat all of my ravioli scoglio.

 After lunch, we explored the town some more, stopped for another glass of wine at a nearby bar then made a trip to the mercato to pick up staples like dishwashing liquid, water, toilet paper, paper towels, Martini bianco and, you’ve got it, bottles of wine.  We rolled the dice and took the butcher’s suggestion for the hygiene-challenged olives left in the open air in a less than clean area rather than the ones in plastic containers. They were tasty!

Back at the apartment, we enjoyed sunset on the terrace and munched on mortadella (not Layne, who turns up her nose at swine), olives and nuts I brought from St. Tropez. We washed it down with another full bottle of wine, which knocked out both of us.

It doesn’t look like Layne will get up so I think I’ll call climb back in bed even though it’s not even 11 p.m. We’ve had a lot of wine today and tomorrow is another day. Undoubtedly, one filled with wine.

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Filed under Dining, Italy, Lucy, Travel, Wine

Embracing my inner Italian

firenze apartment building

Open my freezer and you’ll likely only find ice. I haven’t bought a loaf of bread or salad dressing in over six years. I go to the grocery store once or twice a week, buying only what I need for the next couple of days. I take daily naps. I believe wine is a food group. When I cook dinner at home, I eat my salad after my main course. A stick of butter lasts me for weeks yet I can go through olive oil by the vat.

These thoughts come to my mind after reading a post on my friend Maureen Jenkins’ UrbanTravelGirl blog about her inner Italian. Maureen and I met a few years ago when we both lived in Italy. Sadly, both of us returned to the States for financial reasons after begrudgingly accepting the difficulties in earning enough money as a freelance writer to live in the manner to which we had become accustomed. And sadly, neither of us found un bello ragazzo to marry and hopefully take care of us. Not for lack of trying and not that it was our priority. But that’s a post for another day.

Sharon Sanders, a friend of Maureen’s, spotlighted Maureen in her award-winning blog “Simple Italy: Italian Food, Culture, Lifestyle and Travel. ” Her blog is for “all those who embrace la bella vita.”  As she writes, “Even if we don’t live in Italy, Italy lives inside of us.” (For me that is so unbelievably true.) At the end of the post, Sharon, who lived and worked in Firenze (Florence) many years ago, asked the question: Has Italy changed your life in a profound way?

That question brings me to how I began this post. It’s about how living in Italy changed my life. I’m still amazed that our stores have oodles of shelves of salad dressing when olive oil (and sometimes vinegar) will do just fine. I don’t believe in buying a shopping cart full of groceries and freezing fresh food. I wonder why waiters look at me strangely when I ask for a wine list at lunch time.

When I left Los Angeles for Italy in April 2003, I did so with the intention of never returning to the States. Or at least now for a couple of decades. Not that I dislike the U.S., although with all of these senseless shootings I do sometimes wish it were harder to buy guns like it is in other countries. I love my country but also get a kick out of growing (not taller because I think 6-foot-1 is tall enough). Outside of prison, where I have no plans to go, there is no better way to learn about oneself and test one’s limit than to live in a foreign country. I just figured I would grow old in Italy, either alone or with a husband, and preferably not someone else’s. Although I didn’t want to return to the States in 2005, I like to think I did so a wiser soul with more patience and tolerance being that I know what it’s like to be an immigrant barely able to speak a country’s language, more of an ability to appreciate the simple things in life and with a polished palate.

I don’t miss living in New York just yet but I daydream about returning to my simple life in Italy, where stemware wasn’t a priority when I drank wine and I really didn’t mind when my heel got caught between cobblestones while walking down a charming, dim street. The other night I had a chance to reminisce about those carefree days when I enjoyed a delicious Italian meal at Cafe Angelino with author extraordinaire Tracie Howard, whom I had the pleasure of meeting when she traveled through Firenze with a mutual friend and others. Tracie, whose latest must-read book is Friends and Fauxs, and her crew sailed through Italy in July 2003. I was still a newbie and under the belief that I was in my adopted country forever, thinking my oh-so-Italian apartment (one of the ones whose windows you see above because my bedroom and living room faced the Arno River) was going to be mine until the end of the time. Or until I married, whichever came first.

Maybe one day I’ll have the chance to move back to Italy, a country full of faults and pleasures. Until then, I have to embrace my inner Italian from here and try not to weep in my vino rosso when I look at old photos like these:

living room in firenzeThis was my first apartment in Firenze. An American neighbor eventually loaned me an expensive, antique desk from which to work but initially I sat at the dining table, which faced the Arno, and wrote masterful stories. Yes, that is a USA Today on the coffee table!

lived next to ponte vecchioI lived right next to the Ponte Vecchio, which means “old bridge” in Italian. It used to be full of butcher shops but today has an excessive number of jewelry stores. The Germans spared it, but not the other bridges, during WWII.

first meal i cooked in firenzeThis was the very first meal I cooked in Florence, when drinking wine from a tumbler suited me fine. I wish I had that ravioli and sauce now.

clothes drying in firenze apartmentClothes dryers were uncommon in Firenze so I used a clothes rack after washing my clothes in my little washing machine that took hours to go through one cycle.

lucy in firenzeLucy‘s name was changed to Lucia when we moved to Firenze. She looks evil here but really she loved living in Italy because she likes to hear the Italian language. Just like me!

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Filed under Italy, Los Angeles, Travel, Wine