Italy in Three Meals

Part I: Venezia

“Your brother got to Germany and he slept basically the whole first day.”

“Seems like a waste of a finite resource …”

“Ha! Exactly! So what do you want to do when we get to Venice?”

“Anything. Everything!”

And then, Day One: lunch and wine; sleep for 4 hours; dinner and wine; sleep for 8 hours.

We took on a tenor of relaxation in Venice. Competetive nature of tracking daily steps, checked mostly on our “interim” stops for a glass of wine. Wine evolved into a newly discovered Spritz (prosecco, aperol, soda), and we had one at every stop along the way. Oh look, there’s another street corner – we should stop for a drink! Sometimes it became hard to tell if we were still exhausted or just pleasantly processing our second or third vino of the day. Prosecco in the sunshine on the Piazza San Marco? Why would I choose anything else in life? I think we knew this is why we were here – sit somewhere beautiful, drink something delicious, snack on olives, watch the people.

Did you know Venice was built upon the water? Did you know there’s a wonderful breeze that blows off the waterfront as you wander? Did you know that Venice is beautiful, and quiet, and full of twisty dark streets like its fucking Diagon Alley? I don’t know what I expected, but it wasn’t this. This is vastly better.Venice Evening 2

I asked our gondolier (because how the hell you going to NOT take a gondola ride in Venice) … I asked our gondolier if he’d ever heard of the place?

[Italian Accent] “Alla Madonna? Is very good! Very traditional, family place. Very honest! Good price.” [/Italian Accent]

Directions: cross the Rialto from San Marco, head down the street on grand canal. Turn down an alley called calle della madonna. It will be there (said in a tone that implied that maybe, perhaps, just maybe it won’t actually be there?).

It will be there.Venice Ristorante

Venice is built on the water. Did you know that? Venice is known for its seafood.Venice Fish

This was a family place. The tables around us were Italian families with their grandparents, their children. Dad ordered an entire sea bass, grilled whole and served with the head on. I tried sarde in saor, of which I’d never even heard (much less conceived could exist or put me into such a confused bliss and contentment), and a seafood risotto which does not require memorandum beyond recommendation.Venice Sardines We bragged about our mastery of the water taxi system and we joked about the Murano glass factory tour ending smack dab in the glass shop like the Hersey Park factory ride. Everything was fresh and new to us, and we laughed and drank our newly-discovered spritzes and ordered wine and caffe and limoncello. On that night, Venice was the start of something new, something undefined but taking shape, and I proudly navigated us through the back streets and alleys leading to the shop near our hotel, where we bought a beer for my brother and bottle of wine for my father and for me, and the pathway home was lit as much by the moonlight as by the yellow street lamps and the reflections off the wet stones.Venice Evening


Part II: Firenze

When you spend 45 minutes climbing steps to reach the top of a hill to catch the most spectacular view possible of Florence, you deserve to treat yourself to a gelato and a glass of vino. The spritzes were beginning to lose their inital luster, but damn if they don’t quench your thirst in the Tuscan sun. When we stop at the caffe, we do so because of the promise of free wifi. We post our pictures of the day’s hike, of the Uffizi, Piazza del Duomo. We interact more on FB than we do across the table from one another. Accompanying our drinks are complementary olives, bruschetta of three varieites (chicken liver being my preferred), small pannini. Order three drinks and an entire lunch comes gratis. I like Florence. A lot.

Our hotel is around the corner from Ufizzi, down the street from Duomo, 5 minutes from Galleria dell’Accademia. Compared to Venice, the streets are packed. Everything is in plenty, including the tourists, but its a pleasant kind of bustle. Almost. And no one can stay anxious when presented with vino and free bruschetta.

The day prior, I’d asserted a god-given-right to walk the streets of Florence alone for an hour. It felt good to move towards some quiet, to walk away, on past the people, past the tours, past the Sites and Sounds, to just keep walking until I found myself in a walled-in garden in the middle of the city, where I could smell flowers and, despite the proximity of the Actual City, I don’t think I heard a single car or person. Or maybe I’m just remembering it that way.

So for dinner on that last evening, we moved away from the crowds, down to Piazza San Spirito where, the Book tells me, the sun sets on Bascillica de San Spirito and the long shadows create a beautiful sight and where, the Book tells me, I will find cats aplenty roaming the back streets and where, the Book tells me, I should dine at Osteria San Spirito. Thus far, The Book has been right about an unbelievable number of things.Florence Evening

Osteria San Spirito was on the corner of the piazza, and we are promptly seated outside in a covered area where the spring evening was temperate and the sun set at pace with our lavish meal. Tuscan cuisine promotes a heavier diet, full of game and heavy sauce and steaks as large as your head. What is it they say? When in Rome …

As we indelicately devour our decadent meal, the piazza begins to fill with people. Italians. Locals, walking their dogs, or meeting for a drink while sitting on a low wall. Street performers begin to play right outside our veranda. The table full of Study Abroad Americans laugh at some joke. We pour more wine and pour ourselves into our meal. The steak is huge. The rabbit is delicate. The gnocchi is covered in cheese. Everything is good, and we try it all. And the piazza continues to fill, but it seems less hectic than the tourist centers we’d been traversing. Despite all of it, so much of it all at once, the overwhelming sense was that this was exactly the right amount of Things and the sun sets on Piazza San Spirito and The Book is right yet again, and I feel entirely full.Florence Dinner

Perhaps, in truth, too full of it all.


Part III: Roma

Too much. Too much people. Too much austerity. Too much humidity. Too much options. Too much with everyone.

That sounds so unappreciative.

It wasn’t too much. It was just … the crowds. The jostling. The warning that you WILL get pickpocketed. The nerves were shot, the anxiety high. Do you know what it’s like to stand within a nearly 2000 year old building? Do you know what’s its like to stand upon the tallest hill in the oldest empire, and to see the grandest and largest church ever built looming across town? Do you what its like to come face to face with legitimate, actual history? Do you know how disappointing the Circus Maximus is?

Seriously. Its like an abandoned lot behind an abandoned shopping mall.

Too much. I had my fill. I was full. Full of awe, full of inspiration, full of knowledge, full of human interaction. 6 days and only an hour alone. Introspection and the tackling of Life’s Issues while sitting silently at a cafe, a bar, a ristorante, but constantly with others.

So, for one night, under less than amicable conditions, I struck out on my own. By my third step from the hotel, my resolve was found.

The Piazza Navona stands a tribute to whatever the exact opposite of the Piazza San Spirito might be. Touristy, loud, noisy, crowded, leaning more towards cheesey than authentic. The middle of the piazza is filled with fountains and vendors of every type. Selfie stick. Water color. Selfie stick. Selfie stick. Grand Theft Roma t-shirt. Apron with the Privates of David. Do they even know the David is in Florence?

I should go back to Florence.

I walked alone, navigating the streets with my map held folded and close, searching for a recommended restaurant which, even when I conceded and busted out Google Maps, eluded me. I ventured further from the piazza, down bright and lively streets filled with outdoor restaurants. And then, rounding a corner and heading down what looked like an empty alley – is that a restaurant?

Dark corner. No foot traffic. No other restaurants. No other doors. And yet, almost the entire patio was full. This. This is what I have been aimlessly looking for.Roman Dinner

I dined alone, on ossobucco and a liter of red wine. There is an amount of wine that is too much for one person. I determined that a liter of wine is less than that amount.

Across from me, a couple on a first date. She from Moscow. He from Rome. English their shared language. Small talk is difficult in a second language. Discomfort is a universal. As she smoked cigarette after cigarette, as he drank glass after glass of wine, as the conversation got no less stilted; from the other side of me:

“How about you sir? Are you Italian? Do you know what tomorrow’s holiday is?”

No. No, I am not Italian. I’m from Washington, DC. You’re from Seattle? I love Seattle! How long have you been traveling? You’re going to Florence next? Then Venice! I know some restaurants you simply have to try …

I’d spent amost the entire evening hiding in plain site, enjoying the fact that I do not speak the language and no one had asked me to speak at all. Perhaps the scowling was a deterrent.

I loved being alone.

But I think what I really loved was having this thing, this one prescious, mundane, unique to me moment. This here, even as I drank my liter of wine and turned my chair to face my new friends – this thing belonged to me.

To only me.Roman Night


On (in) Love

I have been thinking about this post for weeks now. Amidst fevered sickness and echoing despondence and nearly equal resonating Happy Moments, because if you capitalize words they become more than just fleeting things but an actual class of Things, and, with life and all feeling so schizo-frenetic recently, I can’t say from whence this comes; the wistful or the joyful. Or, as I am sure others might suspect, perhaps there is no separation of the two for me but rather some interwoven strands of emotional DNA that make up the code of me. Though that’s a silly analogy. But I do find my brain living right in the middle of nostalgia sometimes; even present-sense nostalgia; nostalgia for a Thing as it’s happening; nostalgia from the recognition of a moment as it is momenting, which isn’t a word at all, but when you start to talk about Living in the Moment, you get into the kinda of huggy lovey bullshitty pseudo-psychological phrasing of the Western Yogi, so I’m actually going to be proud of inventing the word “momenting” in this exact moment.

Personally, I like what I did there.

Sometimes it feels like giving up on a thing. Other times it feels like letting go of a thing. Its the same Thing. Its always about perspective. But there’s a resonating idea right now, backed up by conversations with Cam, about love. Changing perspectives on love. Evolving ideas of what love is. Bear with me here …

Love was a thing that had a definite shape and smell and taste. And it happened. Christ, but it happened. And it looked and it tasted and it smelled exactly like love was supposed to in every imagined, hopeful, longing moment of my oft-misspent youth (misspent on pining for love above all else). I spent a long time in love, and trying (and failing) to cultivate and perpetuate that love. And it is sad, though perhaps not as Personal Failure as I can attribute on my worse days, that love was, indeed, difficult and fleeting and that thing that I imagined, some idealized version of it … it didn’t really stick. It didn’t keep.

It looked like this: Man and Woman, preferably the Man being me, like each other, spend time together, then grow to love each other and then end up together and get a dog and buy a house and have children and lean on each other and grow old together and, on some desperate, saddest day of all, one leaves the other behind to depart this life, leaving the other with a lifetime of memories and a remainder of longing and mourning and that type of sadness that always feels to me like the good kind of sadness. This is what we want. The movies told me so.

Except it wasn’t. It wasn’t what either person really wanted and, after the mess, life looked incredibly different. That thing right there, that ideal, that goal I’d had in mind for years. That wasn’t what I wanted.

Or maybe this is all some hindsight rationale. Because sometimes, on those worse days, sometimes it feels more like I don’t get to be that, that I am incapable of that.

It goes like this: I visit my college town, and I head to my favorite bar, and I pass a specific house. I was just describing the Ghosts to a friend this past week – they haunt the places I’ve lived. I pass a specific house, and I think “This is where one of my best friend lived. One morning she swore she saw a morning dove, and I kept teasing her it was a pigeon, and then she graduated, and I’ve only seen her twice since. One night, one year later, in the exact same room, this is where I had sex with someone for the first time, and then it got weird and emotional and we didn’t speak to each other for 2 years.” And I cannot, without fail, I cannot pass that house without thinking of both of those people, and how much I miss them, and how differently I would handle things if given the chance. There are ghosts everywhere I have lived. They aren’t the regrets of the past, but just deep engravings; permanent fixtures; tattoos rather than scars.

I think I’ve been stuck on it recently because, after 3 years of dating, I’m beginning to see Ghosts here in DC. Which is where the connection really began – these Ghosts, the reddit user whose name appears in orange because we’re ostensibly reddit friends because one time we had sex and then it didn’t work out but we definitely proved we were both mature adults by maintaining our reddit friendship. Or the Facebook profile I hide from my feed because I don’t want her to know that seeing pictures of her life, the choice she made to live that life without me, is too much for me to see in my feed. The young woman I tried dating and it didn’t stick and then I saw her on the metro and I was too chicken shit to say hello because I felt like such a failure. The myriad young women who I never called back, or never called me back, which is a passive but joint decision that We’re Not Right for Each Other. Which is fine, its just a grain of sand, and those don’t tend to pile up into something larger, right? This is where I had dinner with the nuclear physicist, and there was no chemistry. This is where I got cocktails with the non-profit lobbyist, and there was no chemistry. This is the picture I took and sent to the NIH doctor who was in Africa when we first started talking, because she didn’t believe I was real, and so I asked her to name a number, and I sent her a pic of me holding up that number, and we laughed a lot, and we talked every day for 3 weeks, until suddenly we just didn’t, and she just disappeared.

This is where and this is where and this is where and suddenly there’s a pattern emerging, a pattern full of absolutely nothing at all, which ends up having a surprising amount of weight to it. Some people get to fall in love. And the truth is, I already did, right? And so you end up wondering if this is something you deserve, or if this is something else.

But then there is Love. And I think I first thought of this not in terms of the evolution of Love in my mind, but rather in simpler terms of the flipside to those Ghosts. And that part goes like this:

I love life. Perhaps the thing I am mostly playfully/lovingly mocked for is how over-excited I get when I am in one of those moments. So how is it that I consider myself this version of incapable of love? What is it I am missing?

It is exactly those moments. Its the times when I love other people so richly and so deeply that it, too, imprints upon my heart. And I think about times in these last 4 years when things have been so exciting or so profoundly felt. I think about all of the love that I have seen and I have experienced.

And this is where it feels more like letting go than giving up. Because maybe love doesn’t work that way for me. Maybe I don’t end up paired off and raising children and living in the suburbs and getting old with someone else. But that doesn’t mean I am not in love. It doesn’t mean that I haven’t experienced moments of being in love with other human beings in these last 4 years. Quite the opposite.

I loved you when you left your shoes behind at my place, because you needed more room in your luggage and you planned on coming back. I loved you when you agonized over the dinner you cooked for me, thinking I was going to judge you, and then we sat and you read poetry to me. I loved you when you left your plans early just to show up and have one drink with me and my friends, because you were so interested in being part of my life. I loved you when you invited me to Thanksgiving with your family. I loved you when you help me find a job. I loved you when you found me a place to live. I loved you when you set up a network of checking in on me, because I had just lost Love and you all knew how to take care of me, because you Loved me. I loved that you didn’t let me know that was happening when it was. I love that you and you and you and you all text me to ask about my health or just to let me know about yours; I love knowing the mundane details of your life and I love that you ask about mine, because that makes me feel like I am a part of your life. I love you for sticking around. I love that, after all of these years, you still aren’t gettin’ tired of my shit, and you still have an uncanny ability to recommend books and music and movies to me. I loved that day when we went to Eastern Market. That day we went to Union Market. That day you took me to the greatest meatball sub in the city. I loved you on that day when we were the only people at Hogo, and the bartender put on a sad Fugees song, and the whole place either shut the fuck up or sang along. I loved that you invited me to your wedding; you didn’t even know me that well. I loved you when you invited me to Halloween, to Thanksgiving, to New Years Eve. I loved you when we were very similar people. I loved you when you started our first gchat of the day by using my name in all caps. I loved you when I walked into your house and your children knew me by name, and were actually excited that I was there. I loved you when you insisted we were going out for my birthday, even though I considered it just another Saturday night dance party, because secretly I wanted it to be for my birthday but I was sad because my friend had just died and I didn’t want to ask to be the center of attention. I loved you when I didn’t think I was going to get through something, and then I did, and I never told you that it was because of you.

That’s the thing; the concept of love that I had just doesn’t fit my life anymore. Maybe I am broken and incapable of that particular thing. Maybe looking at love in those terms is something outdated, or perhaps I have simply grown away from that, not as a punishment for being me, but as a reward. Or maybe I am in the wrong place and time to find it right now.

But Christ! I am so in love right now. And it turns out I was the whole time.

How to be an Old Man

I’m in the middle of a couple of unpleasant things right now, but after writing this out in an email, I decided its better to be able to laugh about things than to wallow. So here’s a funny little anecdote for you (and apologies to those who have already heard it, but this is quickly becoming one of my favorite Stories)
So my leg was in shooting pain and my foot numb for a couple of days last week. No triggering incident, mind you – I just started having shooting pain in my leg, a swollen ankle, and numbness in my foot. My PCP referred me to an orthopedist, and in the interim, I was taking pain relievers and basically elevating my foot all night while at home. Not exactly state of the art care, mind you, but I was trying my darndest!
So on Saturday morning, I was hobbling about my apartment, puttering if you will, but mostly sitting on the couch taking in some Netflix and trying not to make things worse until I saw my orthopedist. Doc figured it is related to my back, given the fact that I have a history of back problems from my car accident years ago.
So anyway, coming back from the bathroom, I spot a squirrel on the fire escape …
Now, this is noteworthy for two reasons. The first is simply – what the actual fuck is a squirrel doing on my fire escape? That’s not a tree! There’s no snacks to sniggle from here! City life is weird. I think a rat would have surprised me less.
The second, though – I have some delightful fire escape herbs now. Parsley, sage, rosemary, thyme, chives, and basil. The basil and parsley are both growing incredibly tall already, but I have noticed that the basil has been looking a little chewed on and ragged.
So as I walk back to the couch, squirrel makes his way towards outside my kitchen window. I head into the kitchen incensed, years of deer eating my mom’s azalea bushes outside our front window coming back to me. So I head to the kitchen window, and that little fucker is sitting there with his face in my GD basil! So I tap on the glass, he stops and looks at me, and I mumble some kind of curse at him. He just continues to stare at me. So, I open the window, and he moves off a bit.
At this point, I obviously need to have some kind of final threat, so I lean out the window, watching the little bastard head down the stairs and run like a coward. What should have happened next was something ominous, like “Yeah, you BETTER run Mr. Squirrel! And you tell all your squirrelly friends –  I AM WATCHING YOU!”
… instead, I leaned out the window and HOLYMOTHERFUCKINGSWEEBABYJEBUS! My back!
So, backing out an a 45 degree angle from my waist to my head, I proceed to hobble around the apartment in excruciating pain in my back, my foot numb and my leg experiencing shooting pain. When I was finally able to sit, it was a long time before I was able to get up again.
But did the squirrel really win?
After all, he totally got off my lawn.

I just need to write this down

The thing I lost was my own little family. A wife and a dog and a cat. Maybe that’s why I became so close with my parents, my siblings, my nieces when it all came down.

This weekend taught me that I adore my family. I need them. They need me.

This weekend also made me feel like I am part of a community here, and I am loved as much as I love. I have such an extended group of amazing people. I am never alone.

This weekend I realized that the only family I have is somewhere else, and life doesn’t really seem likely to provide my own little family again. Not here.

And maybe I don’t want my own little family again. I wasn’t very good at it to begin with.

I just needed to write this down. I miss my family more and more. That’s not the same as being alone.

A Life, Alone

A few years back, when I first moved to DC, I was living alone for the first time in my life. To look back on it, I can admit it was incredibly frightening, and sad to me. I didn’t like it. I had been rejected and spurned, and I felt rather useless to other people. I felt like being alone was a punishment.

As I was going through the pics on my camera, I realized that I take a lot of pictures by myself. I do a lot of things by myself. I do a lot of things to entertain me, and only me. See, e.g., Unicorn Mask and Unicorn Cat. I am glad other people can find enjoyment from it, truly. But looking at this ridiculous mess of selfies and other things of interest of only to me, it occurs to me: I really like my life. I really have found a way to enjoy the time I spend alone.

So … these pics are of no interest to anyone. Its incredibly mockworthy and egomaniacal to post a bunch of selfies and think anyone will care.

But I actually think, looking at these … I think I actually have found some kind of happiness in being alone. Which is a complete disservice to all the people I have the honor of spending my life with. But I think I am doing really alright.

And also, I make me laugh.


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On a Time Now Passed

Ended up down a gchat rabbit hole tonight. Made a yeast starter. Needed to kill time. Somehow, this lead to an iTunes playlist of all 2002-2004 hits.

I am a nostalgic, sentimental moron. Acknowledged.

But I played some Postal Service, some Flaming Lips “In the Morning of the Magicians,” some Wrens “Ex-Girl Collection.” And I sang along to my cat, sitting in the chair next to my computer, staring at me.

And every time I leaned in to sing a harmony to her, she rubbed her face against mine.

Some part of me thinks she wishes she was there when we were that thing.

Another part of me just appreciates the non-judgmental affection for the staleness of my heart.

Are you eating chips?

On vanity

I reopened the OKC account last night right as I was going to bed. By the time I woke up this morning, I had 16 new visitors and 11 new “they choo-choo-choose you” notifications. And it felt good.

I am not even interested in meeting anyone right now. That’s the truth. Between just coping with life, trying very hard to get over a romantic entanglement very short-lived but incredibly intense (and leading to me being rejected)[and why do I keep getting thus entangled](and why does it still sting to think about it?), some part of me needs the superficial validation.

There’s this scene in Soapdish where Sally Fields, an aging soap opera star, goes to the mall “in disguise,” gets recognized, and is suddenly stormed for autographs and photos. Its done as a way to remind herself that she is still a star, that her fans still love her. It is completely feigned and affected and self-serving and deceitful. And it makes her feel good.

Four messages so far today, and that’s just from the pre-work and lunch rushes. Most of the time, these things happen in the 5-6 hour and then after 10, when people are drunk and lonely and start recklessly sending messages out to strangers who look attractive … or attractive enough when you’re drunk and lonely and its 10:00 and you have no plans for the weekend.

I have no interest in dating right now.

But the validation of feeling attractive to another human being …

Sometimes, at 10:00 on a weeknight, when you’re drunk and lonely … sometimes that feels good.