samedi 10 mai 2008

un jour férié

The French have 11 national holidays. And 5 weeks vacation time compared to the U.S.'s 14. Awesome. As a result, I did not have class this past Thursday. I made a lunch date with Lucia, and we also planned to see "Iron Man" after. I was dying to see this film after reading a post from the Sickness (see the sidebar for the link to his blog).

Woke up, sun streaming into the room. Lovely day. Jeans, tee, sandals, and my bag slung over my shoulder. Walked towards Notre Dame, to my favorite touristy cafe. It's around 10H30. Lucia said she'll be late, coming around 12H. No worries.

Sat on a comfy leather chair facing the street. I love how the walls of cafes can sometimes open out like sliding doors. I didn't want my feet trampled on by tourists outside, so I sat semi-inside outside. Waiter was so cute with his crisp, white shirt rolled up to the elbow. He was young, maybe 18. I order a café crème.

Boys on scooters and bikes pass on rue Lagrange, the street I'm facing, coming towards the Seine and Notre Dame and turning left. Then a family on bikes. My coffee comes on a mismatched saucer that makes me smile.

I like the way tourists look and see things for the first time. The look in their eyes is money. Pure gold. It's like the moment before the tears of joy and happiness. Without the tears. They snap a photo, and it's theirs. A flock of nuns pass by. "Flock" because they looked like geese with white fabric draped over their heads and under straw hats. I quickly draw a picture with my fountain pen.
I can't get over how happy I am. And yet I hate myself for thinking, for even having the feeling that if I had a reason to stay, I would. I hate myself for lying to people and telling them that I miss my family when they ask because that's a normal, appropriate response. And I want to seem normal, I don't want people to be put off ease by me. I'm already weird to begin with. I love my family; they're with me always. So what is there to miss? Fred talked about this at the Peace Corps talks. He has no problem missing things. We're alike that way.

I thought about my friends. How I severed most connection from them because that's what I wanted. I sent postcards and received Facebook responses. I wondered if they'd still like me, the new me, or if I had to start over again. I got that feeling after one friend's visit, the one that called me "mean". I told my Paris friends about what had happened, and one of them said that "that should be a compliment". That made me feel good. If I lost all my friends back home, if they didn't like me anymore, then at least I had my expatriates.

An hour passed and I drank my coffee, and I thought about how long it took for me to get here, and how hard and painful it was in the beginning, but I made it and all that was worth it and it all led to me sitting at this perfect cafe at this moment now. The waiter continually drops change and it makes me laugh. I put my money out, and he comes towards me. He fumbles with the change, but doesn't drop any. We smile at each other and bid goodbye.

vendredi 9 mai 2008

Outside Roma: Day 8 and 9

Day 8
Andrea planned for us to go to Tivoli today. He's a really good planner. He doesn't talk a lot, and we're alike that way. He would just subtly suggest things that he thought were good ideas. Like the day before Tivoli he said, "You know, it's so nice out we should have a day trip to Tivoli--you don't have to spend all 4 days in Rome. We can go to Tivoli, and my friend is having a picnic at a lake and we can go to that too. You don't want to be stuck in museums on such beautiful days." Boy was he right.

Went to Tivoli to see Villa Adriana, a city created by the Roman emperor Hadrian in the 2nd century AD. It's also on the UNESCO World Heritage List. I kind of want to see everything on this list. There's 851 properties.We enjoyed this sunny, breezy day walking through ruins and gardens. It's crazy to think that it's all still there, standing. Not in perfect condition, but the remnants are there. Today, we destroy everything. We leave nothing behind anymore. Maybe because it has no value. What does that say about us? No one will ever know someone lived in that building or something or other because it's no longer there, it's a Target now. Some of us will remember and reminisce, but we'll soon forget because that's Target, and they're having a sale on dvds.

Afterwards, Andrea drove us to Lago di Martignanno (I think that's the name). It was really hard to get there, way out in the country. I'm talking dirt roads and minimal signs. We got lost, and he had to call his friend to give him directions. There were two lakes, one bigger one and a smaller one, and we were going to the smaller one.It was a nice lake. Andrea had said, "In America, you like big. We like little." The lake was "little", but still big to me. And it was surrounded by green, and people were playing soccer and having picnics and sunbathing. It was nice. We met the guy hosting, his friend Carlo, who's super nice and reminded me of my friend Vilaska. The Roman version of Vilaska, haha. He offered us barbecue meat and bread and wine. We talked to an American girl who's teaching in Rome, a Spanish girl Marta, this hilarious guy Giovanni who kept giving us more wine, and other really nice Italian people. It was really cool. We raved how amazing Italian people were compared to the French, and Marta said, "When Italians love you, they love you forever. When they don' out!" A storm started to come, so we left right before the downpour.

Day 9
We woke up early to leave for Pompeii and see the ruined city. Andrea woke us up by using his computer in the main room where we were sleeping. He greeted us with, "You know that lake we were at yesterday? Someone died at the bigger one when we were there. A boat capsized and a man drowned."

We stopped on the way for a coffee and cornetta (like a croissant or any other pastry) at a coffee shop. I love the idea of just going to a bar and enjoying a cappuccino while standing. Especially when you don't have the time to really savor it like the French. Keisha bought some Vogue magazines--I perused the decorating one--and we were off.Pompeii was huge, bigger than Villa Adriana and it's a UNESCO World Heritage site as well. I just couldn't believe how much they uncovered, and it was all an accident. A city lost for more than a thousand years due to catastrophe. Maybe someone will undercover what we ourselves destroyed and learn something about us one day. We walked around, at a lost for words. In the "Garden of the Fugitives" we saw the plaster casts of Pompeiians at their moment of death, adults and children. We followed Andrea up a hill that was clearly not made for walking up and sat at one of the highest points in the city and ate oranges. We didn't talk much.

After Pompeii, we drove to the seaside city of Sorrento. Andrea had never been there, but always wanted to. It was really hard to find parking, so Andrea parked in a parking lot for an apartment building, and he sweet-talked the owner, a nice lady, into parking there. He told her in his sweet sounding Italian, "We're just visiting. We're only here for a couple hours. Would it be alright if we stayed here?" And the lady ate it up. I noticed that he's really good at buttering people up and making them bend to his will.

We got lunch at an outdoor cafe. I had the gnocchi "Sorrento-style". We walked toward this cliff, and Lucia asked an Italian lady to take our picture for us. When Andrea saw the photo, he said, "Let's take another one. Don't ask those Italian ladies. I will ask that German man." And he went toward the German tourists and asked if he could take a photo. The German did so happily, and afterwards he added, "Tell me if you like it. I framed the ocean in it." He showed it to Andrea and Andrea said, "Wow! It's great!" And it was. So, if you ever need someone to take good pictures of you, a German tourist is the best bet.
On the way back to the car, we'd pass orange trees full of oranges. Lucia, being so tall, got some for us. Andrea just said, "I don't know these tourists." Got home around 7 and around 10ish we went out and got pizza cooked "Naples" style. It was really good. Flat, not too much cheese. We then walked around the city, and it wasn't crowded at all, and there were barely any cars, and we walked in the middle of the street like it was nothing. We just followed Andrea, not knowing where we were going--he likes to do that--and then we ended up at the Spanish Steps. Unfortunately, I went bagless and didn't have my camera. Oh well.

mercredi 7 mai 2008

my first parisien spring day

So, it's gonna take a while to get through the whole of my Italy posts so I just might interrupt the Italy posts with regular Paris posts. Plus I'm having slight computer problems with my lack of space for my photos which is annoying.

Yesterday was a good day. It was really warm and sunny out. It would be a crime not to be outside. Susie had called asking me what I was up to so we met up and I met her guy friend, Paris. Named after the guy from Greek mythology. He is hilarious. He's French but his English is really good. We got some food at Franprix and a baguette and we lounged and sunned at Place des Vosges in the 4th arrondissment. I got a nice tan while napping in the sun (wearing sunscreen of course!), and we ogled cute boys reading with their sunglasses on.

We then headed to H&M--Paris wanted some new clothes because he has a date that he's meeting later. It's actually kind of fun shopping for guy clothes. I wish I could shop for a boy. We told him what looked good and what didn't. He got a shirt. We then went to Pizza Hut, which is funny. Paris said, "Don't you feel like you're back in California?" He paid for the pizza which was really nice, and I bought him gum later that he wanted.

Not even 9:30 pm, and it was still light out. We walked and didn't have to wear jackets, and it was wonderful. I walked home from that area, and everyone was out eating or having a beer, and it was just nice. It made me feel really glad to be back home. And then it hit me that I can only call this place "home" for less than 10 weeks. Time goes by so fast.

Today after History of Paris class, got lunch with Lucia and Kathy at this cafe that prompted Kathy to say, "I feel like I'm Atlantic City." Just really 70s decor. I said, "I feel like I'm visiting my grandma in San Leandro but she's taking a nap right now so I'm going out to eat with my friends." Sidenote--there's a lot of old people in San Leandro, g-ma doesn't live there anymore though, and they have coffee shops like this.

On my way home, met up with Susie since she was in the area, and we walked up my street and looked at all the dogs that were out for walks. And there was a breeze and I wasn't carrying my purse, and I felt so light. I wish I didn't have to carry a purse all the time.

mardi 6 mai 2008

Roma: Day 6 and 7

Day 6

In the morning, Rosario drove us to the airport since he works there anyway. He hugged and bisoued each of us and said, "Ciao, bella." When an Italian says that to you, it really pulls at the heartstrings. And that wouldn't be the last time. We checked in our bags, got a bite to eat, and boarded our plane to Roma.

Andrea picked us up from the airport. Keisha didn't talk much about him except that he was a cool guy. I've met a lot of really cool people through Keisha so I trust her judgment. He studied at SFSU for a semester and now he works for Shell as an accounts manager. I expected to meet this European business dude that goes to restaurants with clients and meets other European business friends for drinks in the city. I was not wrong.

Andrea came out of his car wearing a button down and jeans. He greeted us with a total firm business handshake. He had curly hair and a strong nose. He looked like he could have been a Greek soldier or a Roman senator in his past life. He was totally cool though, making jokes and pointing out historical sites. He was on his lunch break so he dropped us off inside the city to wander around for the afternoon and then he'd meet us for dinner.The girls and I got a city map and walked along the Tiber and in front of Rome's only castle, Castel Sant Angelo. We then went to St. Peter's basilica and stood in awe in front of it before walking over to the Forum and the Coliseum. Rome is pretty small, it's awesome.We met up with Andrea and his friend Roberto at a metro, and they took us to go pick up pizza for dinner. Roberto was SO CUTE. He's a business man as well and had apologized for his suit, saying he didn't have time to change since he just came from work. His suit was perfection; I love it when guys wear suits that fit them well. He wore glasses and had a stubble like Jack from "Lost". And he drives a scooter! He speaks 4 languages as well. While we were driving around he'd tell us about the sights we were passing. When we passed a big church he said, "And that's the church where I want to get married...But I need a girlfriend first." We all laughed. Andrea added, "It's going to be a discotheque by then! Or a casino."

We ate pizza back at Andrea's apartment and Roberto lugged Keisha's luggage up 4 flights of stairs for her. Andrea had already brought Lucia and mine up. Roberto was telling me about some Italian movies that he liked after dinner, and we watched the tail-end of an Italian movie on tv while Roberto translated. His boss called him during dinner and asked him to stay later at work tomorrow. He was visibly upset after the call. I felt so bad. God, there's something about businessmen that just gets to me! He was really sweet, funny, and nice, and I was sad to see him go with his scooter helmet in hand. We never saw him again after that. I hope he's well. He's only 25, and yet he seemed much older, in a good way. Just really mature and pulled together, and it's nice to meet boys like that.

Day 7

Today, we decided to do the Coliseum and Forum. Outside the Coliseum are these guys trying to rope you into a tour. They offer the ticket and a guided tour in one price, and you get to skip the long lines at the ticket office. We got offered 25 euros for each of us, but told the guy that we were getting in for free since we had "European citizenship". Really, our carte de sejours wouldn't cover the free ticket that's offered to Euro citizens, but we were hoping the guy would give us a deal. He didn't.

The next guy though was different. He offered 25; we asked for 15. The thing is--you can barter here, especially on this kind of stuff. And Keisha and Lucia were really good at it. I am not. I think three people trying to make a deal is too much, so I just play the silent and mean card. And then, and it's kind of rude, we'd discuss in front of the guy about the deal in French so he wouldn't understand. It's kind of sneaky, but it's the only way. Finally, the guy said 20 for Keisha and Lucia, and that I can get in for free. Me! I think it's because I'm short, and I look childish. Of course, we split it three ways so 40 euros for three tickets!The Coliseum and Forum tours were really amazing. The guides were English speaking Romans. They had these cool books that showed pictures of how the site would look back then. It was pretty neat. I should look for that book. Altogether both tours took 3 hours or so. Afterward, we all took naps in this grassy part of the Forum. It was pretty sweet. We took a nap in the Roman Forum.We woke up and it started to rain so we decided to head back home. Lucia got a guy to bring down an 8 euro umbrella to 3 euros. Awesome. Tried to make it to the Bocca della Verita, but it was closed. Took a bus to the Fontana di Trevi and we threw in coins to ensure our speedy return to Rome.

Andrea took us out to dinner at a really good pasta and pizza place. He kept saying, "Eat! Eat! This is the Roman way!" while attacking the plate of appetizers. We walked around the city and ended up at the Pantheon.

dimanche 4 mai 2008

Catania, Sicilia: Day 3, 4 and 5.

Day 3

Lots of hanging out and lounging around. Big lunch at Adriano's grandparents. The grandmother cooked pasta, meats, and prepared salad, and we ate it in that order. I love how they have salad last. I'm going to start having salad last. It just feels right. I can imagine that going over well in the states, "Can you bring out the salad after my main dish?" Yeah, right. They'll think I'm a total weirdo. Adriano's grandfather was HILARIOUS when Keisha couldn't use the cheese grater correctly. The block of parmesan fell into Keisha's pasta and got sauce all over it. He'd put his hands on his head and laugh and mutter things in Italian. He tried to guess my nationality. "Spanish?" No, filipino. "Indonesian?" I just laughed.

Went upstairs and hung out with Enza and Maurizio's dog, Max for a while--we were all in a food coma. Then we took Adriano to the airport. He could only stay in Sicilia for the weekend. For the next 2 days it was going to be just us girls and the family.

Going around Sicilia is like being in the Philippines, almost. At least the Philippines I remember. A bit run down, but extremely beautiful nonetheless. Things are a little bit harsher, but we dealt with it, we didn't complain. That night we didn't have any running water--not in the shower or the kitchen. But we thought of it as an adventure, a small sacrifice. We called the family who was super helpful and slightly worried that we'd be in the country without Adriano. They said that maybe it would be on tomorrow. And it was.The house we were staying in is sort of...weird. The windows have iron bars, and then it has these shutters, kind of like the kinds that stores have that go completely over the whole front of the store when a store is closed. And then finally the glass window. The door, and there's only one, gets super, super stuck, and it it's hard to open from the inside. If there was a fire...well, it'd be really hard to get out. Lucia once said, after we tried so hard to open the shutters but utterly failed, "I don't like how we can hear everything going on outside and not see it." I said, "This house has the makings for a horror film. 3 girls alone in the Sicilian countryside and things go wrong right when the big strong man leaves." Lucia laughed uncomfortably at my reference to the water not running.
Day 4
Aunt Rosa and Uncle Rosario picked us up at the house. Rosario opened the door from the outside for us. We drove to Mt. Edna and walked along the Silvestri crater. It was really cool. On the ride, Keisha told Rosario that I studied film. He looked at me through the rear view mirror and said, "Fellini." I said, "Yes, Fellini" in Italian cuz I didn't know what else to say. Rosa made us sandwiches, and we pulled off the road and had a picnic near Mt. Edna. Then they drove us to Syracusa to show us the Greco theater there and the Ear of Dionysius. On the drive back to Catania, Rosario drove by the beach. He must've heard of our disappointment. We pulled of the road and into this small neighborhood by the beach. We got weird looks from old fishermen as we walked toward the ocean and took of our shoes to feel the water. Rosario and Rosa watched from the car, smiling.They took us home and Rosa had extra sandwiches for us to eat later which was really sweet. I'm just astounded by this family and how well they treated us. Since day 1 I was seeing all these similarities between this Italian family and most Filipino families and how they treat complete strangers as family.

Since there was still light out, Keisha and Lucia went to go look for the beach while I stayed in and drew and wrote.

Day 5
Our last day in Catania. Amara picked us up and we went shopping around the city center. Had my first taste of gelato: pistachio and coconut. So good. Baskin Robbins is garbage compared to this stuff. Amara showed us around the city. We went to Vincenzo Bellini's house which is now a museum. He's an opera composer from Sicily. Went to the Ursino Castle, saw some religious art, and I got my haircut at Enza's.For our last night, we stayed at Rosa and Rosario's house since Rosario can drive us to the airport in the morning when he has to work. Our place is hard to find and the whole family was worried about a taxi not being able to get there. We had our last meal with R. and R. and Amara and Eratzio. Chicken, potatoes, salad, and ice cream. Yum. We talked about languages and literature. Eratzio had said, "Why did God have to make so many languages?" Sometimes he would just speak to us in Italian and then when he looked confused he would ask Amara to translate for him. Rosario taught us some Sicilian words and proudly displayed his English skills. It was a great last meal.