Sunday, July 27, 2008

Obsessions & Compulsions: Home Edition

I'll be the first to admit it: I am obsessive and a little compulsive. Since I was a wee PhDini, I've been very particular about things. Barbies were always put away in the chronological order by which I procured them. My closets were arranged in a specific chromatic order that my poor, frustrated mother kept getting wrong (she was a more than concerned about her little head case). Once I became interested in a topic--say the Beatles, phantom-limb phenomena among amputees, hairstyles of 1920s Hollywood, or the differences in table manners around the globe--I would create a file for it, which I would fill up with all of my research.

Anyway, this proclivity for order and thoroughness has worked wonders for my career and for my hobbies! Especially, home decor! My hubby introduced me to mid-century modern design when we first of the major draws to the West coast for him as it is a mecca for this style. I was more of a Spanish colonial, eccentric, integrationist kind of gal when it came to matters of the home, having an appreciation for the old with a new twist--like a Louis XIV chair with plum velvet fabric. As the daughter of an Italian upholsterer (an artist, really), home furnishings were like playing catch in the yard for others--just a part of everyday life.

Marry my obsessiveness and a love for home stuff and you get a list of some of my favorite home/design sites:
1. Apartment Therapy (all offshoots, especially
2. Mighty Haus
3. DaWanda
4. Design Sponge
5. Huset

Virtual Head Shrinking

Through the magic of technology, I've been able to get in touch with so many people that normally hear from me only on major bank holidays and birthdays. With family and friends all over the world, I just couldn't keep up with staying in touch with everyone and having a life. Solution: Skype. I downloaded the program the other day at the behest of my younger cousin, whose been more like a brother to me than a cousin. It was really easy and basically installed itself. I checked out the "control panel" window, but still didn't really get how this whole Skype thing worked. Oh well, I thought and just kind of forgot about it. Since I don't have a headset, I figured I couldn't really benefit from the program and would use it for instant messaging kind of chatting.

A day or two later, while working on a conference presentation I'm to give the in the coming weeks, my attention became divided between my writing and an ambiguous squeaking noise. I continue on and the noise gets a little's a voice. Great, I am hearing voices. You sometimes hear stories about people losing it in grad school, especially after learning so much about psychosis. Am I meeting criteria for a psychotic break? The voices continue...was that Spanish, I heard? "What the hell?" I continue to work, trying to quiet the building anxiety the little voices are illiciting. "Mijita! Mijita! Es tu tio!" Whoa. Finally, I put it together and took a look at the Skype window. My Ecuadorian uncle apparently "called" me and I guess I must of hit a button and answered. "Oh, it's my uncle...Oh shit. I don't know how this works. Whatever." I ignore the call because I figure that I don't have a headset so he won't be able to hear me. "I can hear you but do you hear me?" he says. Clearly, my new laptop came with a built-in microphone. Would have been nice to know--it's a good thing he doesn't understand English.

Since then, I've been Skyping with folks all day long. My favorite was a late-night video chat with my cousin, a Marine who spent considerable time in Iraq. We were trying to see if he has PTSD--I read each symptom from the Diagnostic Manual as we debated whether each one fit. "Blunted emotional response....What do you think?" I asked. "Yeah, I guess I do." he'd reply. "Really? But you've always kind of been like that. I'd say no." I'd counter. "Okay, fine." Not really an ethical nor empirically based method of psychological assessment but whatever. Now, if I wonder if this would count as hours towards my clinical license?

Wednesday, July 23, 2008

La Dolce Vita: Mind the Roman Aunts

Our arrival to Rome is really a blur to me now. We reached my Zia Elma's apartment, with my cousin, her husband, and Maurizio in tow. Zia Elma lives in an area that the natives call "Via Marconi". She actually lives on a small street call off of Via Marconi but I don't argue these details. As I've always known, and hubby was soon to learn, Italians are not keen on details--just estimations, generalizations, and approximations. If you ask for directions to the Colosseum, no matter where you are, you'll always get sempre dirit (pronounced DEE-REET-eh), which roughly means to keep going straight. If you want to know how to get to the hip and happenin' Trastevere are, you'll get a bunch of points to move towards but no specific street names, rights or lefts. I'll get to the numerous navigational adventures we experienced in due time. Now, it was time to mangia!

I love my Zia Elma for her strength, sense of humor, and kindness--her cooking, on the other hand, leaves much to be desired. Yes, how tragic? My poor hubby, in Italy for the first time with his new famiglia and where was the little old Italian lady making the pasta at 5 a.m.? Well, I hated to burst his bubble but it had to be done--my zia ain't that lil' ole lady. She's more like a forward thinking older gal who looks like my dad in drag. She doesn't wear black while sitting outside crocheting doilies all day. She wears Guess and watches American Idol-esc Italian television. Regardless, she had dinner all ready for us when we arrived: pasta (not home-made), salad (meaning only arugula), cold-cuts, chicken cutlets, and "pizza"--which is really more like a loaf of focaccia than actual pizza in the American sense. It wasn't bad, but it wasn't what you'd expect from a real Roman either. The pizza, though, was bellissima.

While we feasted, Zia Elma starred at me lovingly and kept commenting on how similar I am to my cousin--who really does look like me 15 years from now. We shared stories of old times, updated each other on family gossip, and stuffed our faces. "I got you mortadella and pizza because I know you love them so much," my zia said. My hubby laughed at this comment given that he is fully aware of my love for pizza and the strange cold-cut known as mortadella. My reputation precedes me. He also likes to make fun of mortadella, referring to it as Italian bologna. Granted, it's a weird lunch meat, with white spots of fat floating around in the lovely pink, uh, stuff. But I love it. He's also not the first to tease me about this. Growing up, I was the kid with the mortadella caprese sandwiches with Stella D'Oro cookies, while my contemporaries were consuming sad PB&Js and oreos. But for some reason, I was the weird one. Anyway, I'm digressing...

Zia Elma's apartment looks like the set to a 1970s Italian sitcom. The high ceilings, gilded with intricate molding, meet the wallpapered walls creating a yellowish tint to the light--kind of like the way old pictures look. The furniture is all great quality and old, too. Heavy wood that you know can stand the test of time. Pictures line most of the wall space--her daughter, her son, my uncle, my nuclear family, and, not surprisingly, Maurizio. Sadly, my cousin, Mario and my uncle, Crescenzio, are no longer with us. Mario was killed in a motor accident in 2001 and my uncle passed on August15, 2003. I remember this because it was the day after the massive blackout that affected virtually the entire Northeast are of North America. Mario, dark and mysterious, was a great guy and possibly one of the funniest people I'll ever know. My uncle was a wonderful man, too, a renaissance man. I was quite close with him and admired his numerous talents: writer, philosopher, musician, composer, poet, scientist, and crossword junkie. He's published several books of poetry and a couple of novels. He also could play any instrument he got his skilled hands on. It's always difficult for me when I first come back to Italy because of the flood of emotion that I experience when taking in all the photos. Zia Elma sensed this and put her arm around me when I got particularly nostalgic. She's been through a lot but she's always grateful for what she still has around: her family. Especially, Maurizio, who, as you can imagine, is the golden child, the second coming, and the light of the family. He's pretty cute, too.

Well, after eating and reminiscing, we fell asleep nestled in the hot, humid Roman night air. Zia Elma, like many Italians, does not have air conditioning. Our exhaustion from the 1 1/2 days of travel left us comatose through the night, not anywhere cognizant of how our bodies were literally in a slow roast.

Tuesday, July 22, 2008

Glam-or-ass: Power Lunchin' LA

One of the perks of having a writer for a hubby is getting to see places I would never otherwise set my flip-flopped foot in. The other day, we were got to check out the lunch scene at Spago, Wolfgang Puck's epic socialite bistro. It was a Thursday, a major power lunch day. Hubby got an assignment to take in "the show", as one of the hostess referred to it, and review the grub. I was quite excited. When else will I get to check out potential future clients? We all know those socialite folks are batty. Happily, we gussied ourselves up in our best California casuals and headed out to dine with some of Hollywood's heavies.

When we arrived, we were immediately swept away by the posh young hostesses to a semi-shady table in the patio--also known as the lion's den. We had fantastic people-watching corner seats. At first glance, it felt like an upscale lunch room for active older adults. But a closer look reveled relatively old money, lots of new money, real estate gurus, mid-century comedy headliners, a few celebrities, and tons of "industry" folk working their magic making major deals. Of course, there were ladies lunching with faces stretched so tightly across their skulls that I feared one would snap off and land in my amuse bouche. They cackled as their jewels jingled and it was truly a merry old time. A woman who appeared to be Elvira's long lost twin sister glided from table to table, greeting anyone who was anyone as her gauzy peasant top flapped in the wind and her platform Louboutins clip-clapped against the brick floor. Her face, taught like the best of them, appeared mature with the suggestion of youthfulness that I'm sure her surgeon thought was convincing at the time. A sight to be seen, I assure you.

The food was as expected, good flavor and quality...but nothing to write home about. It was just fun watching the talent--kind of like the circus! The funniest moment was when the valet brought my car around to the front of the restaurant. In the excitement on the way over, I completely overlooked the fact that I hadn't driven my car in over a month. I left it in our car park only to collect massive amounts of dirt, dust and animal prints from nightly cat/raccoon parties that apparently only happen on my windshield and no one else's. The thing was filthy and the little paw prints didn't look so cute anymore--just kind of gross. The pièce de résistance: the Nissan emblem was missing from the front of the grill, the tragic result of a small fender bender two months ago when it was ripped off and wedged under the hood. I thought I heard gasps as the valet handed me the keys and slyly accepted the tip. Hubby and I cracked up the whole way home, as he spun the Nissan logo, that I now keep in the glove compartment, around his finger out the window. Stay classy, Sentra.

Tuesday, July 15, 2008

La Dolce Vita: The Adventure Begins...

After several months of planning, hubby and I finally nailed down a tentative itinerary, complete with hotel reservations and travel arrangements. This was mostly the work of hubby since he is way more organized a traveler than I am. I tend to just get the flights down and wing it when I hit the ground. I also have family all over the world so I usually rely on them to coddle me through my explorations. This trip is dramatically different. We'll be visiting places I've never set foot in previously, therefore, no nutty cousins acting as tour guides. We will be on our own.

As much of a laissez faire traveler as I may seem, I have one skill, a talent really, that trumps my lazy planning prowess: I am the best packer in the world. I welcome anyone to challenge me on this. I can fit a ridiculous amount of stuff in the smallest of containers. I'm like the Isaac Newton of packing. What proof do I have of this grandiose claim? Well, for a month in Italy, we did not need to check any bags...oh yeah, carry on only! What did we bring? A carry-on size rolling suit case and backpack each--well, hubby had a messenger bag since he wouldn't be caught dead wearing a backpack. I know you're probably thinking, "Well, they must be minimalists taking three outfits and 1 pair of shoes." No way, raggazi! I took 5 skirts, two sweaters, 5 pairs of shoes, a bunch of tops (t-shirts, tanks, and dressy items), a dress, three swim suites, 4 beach cover-ups (shorts, sarong, shirt dress, and flowy top), 3 pairs of pants, workout clothes, a ton of undies, 3 pairs of socks, toiletries, and so much more! Hubby did the same, only I think he took even more than I did! Fancy pants. He, too, was in shock at my gift from the nomad gods. "I just can't believe you got all of this shit into those two small suite cases!" I have to say, I was beaming with pride as we glided into planes, trains, and automobiles with so little baggage. No worrying if our stuff would make it through our layovers. No waiting on sad baggage claim lines with the other over-packed chumps. Oh no, not us! Now if we can make it through our 14 hour traverse across the continents (11 hours to London plus 3 to Rome), we'll be just bene...

Yes, we couldn't take a direct flight. That would have cost us a fortune and we would miss out on what could only be described as the funniest airline experience ever: New Zealand Air (NZA). Picture this: We're on line for NZA, a snaking beast of a line that continues to grow as we all wait in anticipation for the one desk attendant to arrive from her afternoon tea or something. Hubby and I, can't help but crack up any time some of our line mates open their mouths--the accent is priceless. Clearly, we've watched way too many episodes of "Flight of the Concords". Our line mates are also traveling with the most bizarre cargo. One woman was standing next to this huge, flat box that apparently had a mountain bike in it. A large and red-faced man was carrying what seemed to be a scuba gear. Another man, with an actual dead animal as a hat--not a toupee joke-- had a cooler with a really weird symbol on it that kind of looked like a hazmat sign that had to be carrying either his most recent kill or black market organs. I'm thinking that it was organs. This other woman was wearing a pink boa. All I kept thinking was if we were on the plane to hell.

Speaking of hell and planes, since when did all of the airline companies get together and decide that the best way to provide service in the sky would be to sweat out their customers by jacking up the cabin temperature? We were so happy that this flight had interactive media for each seat (think Jetblue TV with OnDemand EVERYTHING) but I couldn't enjoy it because I was too busy trying to air myself out. There must be a conspiracy going on. I'm all for going green, but this really was cruel and unjust torture.

Speaking of torture, the food on this flight was maybe the worse than eating a Patrick Ewing's sport socks after an over-time game. Seriously, it was putrid. We, for unknown reasons, were mistakenly assigned a kosher meal and a low-calorie meal. Perhaps these were better than the normal menu? Wrong! They were bad. Bad, bad, bad. The chicken that I was allegedly served had a texture similar to Mack truck tire rubber. Don't even think about trying the fish.

Speaking of further torture, we apparently booked the "baby plane" for 12 hours. Yes, you can imagine what this was like. Screaming, whining, convulsing, puking, leaking babies...everywhere! No where to run. Yes, they're cute but not when projectile vomiting behind you. The smell that emanated from that green faced imp should be used by interrogators of terrorists. You think waterboarding is bad?

Needless to say, we made it to London with the help of magazines, OnDemand movies, meditation, and lots of drugs. While getting off the plane, I asked hubby how long our layover was supposed to be. He answered: 5 hours. I think after my 7th lap around the food court I was ready to lose my mind with the rest of the sad lot that was stuck in Heathrow. Formerly glamorous Europeans mutate into frazzled, glassy-eyed, boars while passing the hours in this international purgatory. It's truly an amazing process to watch...and to take part in. I felt so fugly on in the inside and the outside. Hubby passed the time on the internet. I stared at the ceiling and then starting playing the old "Euro, academic, or gay?" game while people watching--which is really challenging when in Europe.

The flight on Alitalia was short in comparison to the NZA fiasco--only three hours. But this plane was filled with grumpy, impatient, Italians who pushed and shoved their way to their seats, the bathroom, and anywhere they could smooth themselves into. The concept of personal space became a distant memory for us. After some more drugs and 4 glasses of wine (thank you, Mario, my savior and flight attendant), we landed at Rome's Fumicino Airport where we were greeted by my cousin, her husband, and the greatest kid to walk the face of the planet, their son, Maurizio.

Monday, July 14, 2008

The Gift of a Lifetime: La Dolce Vita

Now, you may hate me for saying this, but I have to just put it out there: I have the best husband in the world. (I know, I know...cue the eye-rolling and barf noises. But hear me out.) After watching me work myself into the ground with classes, teaching undergrads, seeing clients and conducting my own research, he decided it was time for me to take a break. He wanted me to take a real break and not one of those "today-I'll-do-something-nice-for-myself" breaks where I get a pedicure while writing session notes on my laptop. No, no, no. We're talking a REAL break. The kind of break I would never willing agree to because I wouldn't be able to work it into my schedule. The kind of break that would change my life.

It was March, the morning of my birthday, and I woke up alone. I let myself sleep in to 8:30 AM (yes, born to be wild, that's me) and thought for sure that I would be showered with gifts and indulgences from the moment I cracked my lids open. But there I was, lying in my college T-shirt wiggling my toes, alone. Where's my birthday breakfast in bed? Where's my spa gift certificate? Why isn't the phone ringing off the hook? Don't I even get a cupcake? Humph! After hearing me stir around in bed, my husband appeared in the doorway of our bedroom, looking a bit worried.
"What's wrong?" I asked, still a bit groggy.
"Oh, nothing. It's just your birthday gift. I'm afraid you're going to be mad at me."
"What? Why would I be mad at you?"
"I dunno. I just think you will be." His face exposed a mixture of concern and giddiness. "It's kind of a big deal."
"Ugh. What the hell? Did you legally change my name or something? What's going on?"
"Fine. I'll tell you. Uh, I got us tickets to Italy for a month." He said this as quickly as he could while wriggling up his face the way a little kid does when admitting he did something wrong but knowing that his parents won't do anything to him because he's just so darn cute.
"What?!?" I'm sitting up now, eyes and mouth wide open. I am a fright.
"Italy for a month...for you! And me, I guess." He was ducking his head as if bracing himself from a blow.
"A MONTH?!?! I can't do that?!?! Are you nuts?" The rise in blood pressure and heart rate associated with extreme panic kicks in. I'm starting to sweat. My face is hot with redness.
"Well, I can't do anything about it now. It's non-refundable, " he said, shrugging.
"I can't believe this! Jeez! How the hell am I going to do this?"
"I'm sorry." He was laughing at this point.

I lied back and stared at the ceiling. I started my anti-panic mantra I inherited from my eternally optimistic Italian father: Don't worry; it all works out. Don't worry; it all works out. Life is beautiful. Don't worry be happy. La vita e bella. "Okay. Okay. When did you get them for? Maybe I can work something out..."

He said the dates and I quickly flipped through the planner in my head and assessed the damage. "Okay, well, technically, classes will be over by then so no teaching or office hours. I can work on my research when I return, I suppose--to the disappointment of my advisor but I'm getting used to that. But what about my clients? I guess I can also put my clients on hold until then--I'm a student after all. Hmmm. This could actually work." I was processing all of this information out loud and hubby's eyes brightened with each scheduling solution. "Alright, I guess I'll have to make this work, right?"
"It's not like it's a horrible thing to have to work in your schedule. It's freaking Italy!! For a month!!" He's laughing now. The wave of panic I was experiencing began to wash away and a new, stronger wave of emotion swept over me.
"AHHHH! ITALY FOR A MONTH!! WOOHOO!! Thank you, thank you, thank you!! You're the best!! I can't believe this? How did you swing this?"
"Yeah! It's you can do it, right?"
"I guess I have to!"
"Great. Well, there's another surprise."
"Another surprise?! Holy shit! What else could there be???" I'm rolling around in the while fluffy cloud that is our down comforter, while giggling like a 2 year old.
"Well, now I have to actually buy the tickets," he said, with that wrinkled up look on his face again.
"What? You didn't get the tickets?"
"No, I wanted to make sure that you could do it before I bought the tickets. They're non-refundable, you know."
"Arrgh! Are you kidding me?" Hubby is totally cracking up now. Semi-relieved, I went on, "Well, maybe we should go for two weeks instead. That might be easier. How are we going to afford a month there anyway? Do you know how shitty the Euro is now?"
"No! You said you could do it and I'm going to get them right now. It's all set up. I just have to hit confirm purchase on the website." He started to head for the living room. I leaped up out of the bed and chased him. We're now running to the couch where his laptop is sitting waiting for further instruction. If I were the laptop, I'd would have been petrified at the sight of my hubby and I sprinting towards it looking like rabid beasts. He, of longer limbs, got there first and hit the space bar. It was done. Purchase confirmed.
"How could you just throw away a trip to Italy like that? Are you nuts? And don't worry about the costs, I already have some sweet travel assignments that will cover some of that." he said, a little annoyed now.

Dazed, tired, and a little hungry, I stared at him for a moment. He looked like a deer in headlights. After all, his certifiably insane, workaholic wife was staring at him like a lion casing a cattle farm. Then flatly, I said, "I guess we're going to Italy for a month. Holy shit. Well, that's just great. Let's get breakfast."

And that's how we ended up in Italy for the last month. As you can imagine, fun, adventure, and hijinks ensued--reports of the more memorable moments will soon follow. Ci vediamo pronto!