About Me

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Washington, DC, United States
I don't write here nearly as much as I should, but when I do, I'll try to make it count for something.

Friday, June 24, 2011

Travel Is My Religion

So it's been a few months, but I haven't given up on you yet, blog. Updating this thing is difficult in the spring and summer because I'm always out doing things and when I am home, I spend my time either catching up on my favorite shows (what up, Treme and Games of Throne!), sleeping, or trying to get rid of this beer belly that is refusing to go away (probably because I refuse to stop drinking beer?) - so! Here we are.

Well, here I am, anyway. Enough idle chit chat and let's get right down to it. What exactly have I been up to the last few months?

  • Went on a kickass trip to San Francisco in May
  • Went on a 3 day beach trip earlier this month to Chincoteague, VA
  • Attended a wonderful baby shower
  • Visited NYC this past weekend
  • Went to various movies & happy hours

So that's a lot for an older timer like me. And I don't want to bore with all the details of every event that has taken place so I'll point out the highlights:

San Francisco was wonderful. The weather was also a fantastic change from the humid sticky fog that is DC in the spring/summer seasons. I went for work, but through work was able to do some many fantastic things, like take a cruise around the Bay, go on a bike tour across the Golden Gate bridge, stay in a resort & spa in Sonoma Valley, attend cocktail events in City Hall, Alcatraz, and the California Academy of Sciences. Hung out around Haight & Ashbury (which was oddly disappointing, despite the engaging conversations I had with the locals and homeless citizen of the neighborhood) and checked out the Painted Ladies, which resulted in a lot of jokes about Uncle Jessee and the Rippers. I asked several people if they knew where the Smash Club was located.... I'm pretty sure I wasn't the first jackass tourist to make similar jokes as no one really found my comments hilarious.

I could go on and on about many wonderful aspects of San Francisco, but all I will say is the food was wonderful. I went on a foodie tour (of course) and had some of the best meals of my life. I let too much time go by before posting this so my memory of it all is fading but one place I could never forget about is Le Colonial. I had the Ga Roti XaoX (Lemongrass roasted chicken with shittake mushrooms and the most flavorful fried broccoli I have ever tasted) and shared it with my friend Sarah, who ordered the Thit Bo Nuong (a NY Steak in truffle sauce and caramelized onions). Join that with a couple bottle of a rich, bold blackberry-infused Cab Sav/Merlot blend, spicy roasted brussel sprouts (yes, they were YUMMY) and an apple crepe in mango sauce... and man, I was in foodie heaven. 

So the trip was a week long roller coaster - lots of work, lots of play, very little sleep. There was a piano bar where I rocked out to "Rocket Man." There was a Mexican cafe where I had the best spicy hot cocoa I've ever had in this country. Then there was the time I went on a midnight tour of Alcatraz and nearly peed my pants in fear. It was all very delightful.

As a SoCal girl, I was pretty much raised to hate all of those crazy hippy Northerners, but I gotta tell ya I couldn't have been happier with the city. 

And so I returned. And continued to be busy and live without sleep. And finally finally was able to relax with a beach trip with my girls - they know who they are - and had a blast. Nothing like the ocean and the sunshine and wonderful locals to make you feel right with Life. I drank too much, slept too much, laughed too much, and ate too much. So basically, I didn't everything I love in the world, and with a few of my favorite people in the world.


Two more beach trips planned this summer. And then another trip to SD planned in the fall. See above comment.

Other upcoming trips: Salt Lake City, Austin, and Chicago. 

It's a hard knock life, you know?

But seriously, things are swell. Tonight I am visiting a newish restaurant and club in the Foggy Bottom area called Bayou - a New Orleans-style jazz joint that I have been dying to visit for weeks. Also, a plus - my favorite DC Chef, Rusty Holman, is the executive chef there! I will be eating/drinking/singing my heart out tonight. Hopefully I will remember to post about my experience there.

That's all for now, folks. Time to get back to work???? Or go for a walk around the block for froyo. Yep, the latter.

Monday, February 7, 2011

"The thing that makes Woody special, is he'll never give up on you... ever. He'll be there for you, no matter what."

I love Toy Story 3. It's weird, I like it more every single time I see it, and it always seems to mean more with each viewing. It's so nice to see a story like that, a story I grew up with, come full circle in such a poignant way. So fantastically done - and it remained honest and true to the characters, had a big heart, but didn't try to drown you in sentimentality. I wish Pixar made all animated films, I really do. (And this is not to say that I think this movie deserves to be nominated for best pictures at the Oscars, but I still love it nonetheless.)

As a result to re-watching the movie over the weekend, I also decided to rewatch one of my favorite movies from my childhood: The Land Before Time. I used to watch that movie endlessly. I would talk along with the characters' lines. I'd sit in my Sunday dress and just watch it on repeat on Sunday afternoons. I'd talk about it at the dinner table all the time, retelling the adventure of Little Foot and his friends to find the Great Valley. When I was 7, my mom gave me a plush Little Foot Doll for my birthday and I still have it to this day. When Andy hesitated in giving Woody away at the end of Toy Story 3, and when he was describing him, I tell ya - that always chokes me up, because that's how I felt about Little Foot. He was with me through so much, and I loved him, honestly, and I know it's stupid to love inanimate things or to care so much about toys as an adult - but even though I don't play with Little Foot anymore, there's something comforting about him. He makes me feel safe and loved.

Funny the associations we keep over the years, and the memories. I remember seeing The Land Before Time in theaters as if it happened yesterday - and that's what I really miss the most about being a kid. Being that excited and having the capacity to feel so much joy over something so little. But I guess sometimes I feel like that - like, around Christmas or on the first days of Fall. Whenever I listen to an album by The Bangles. Whenever my mom calls just to tell me she loves me. There's so much negativity everywhere, that sometimes it's important to tap into that pool of childish joy that's normally buried too deep within ourselves to touch. And sometimes, we can't quite reach it, but boy, when we can... what feels better than that?

Wednesday, February 2, 2011

Rhyme & Ramblings: Music and thoughts inspired by Black History Month (and more)

First off, I would like to apologize: I implied that my next blog post was going to be about my restaurant week shenanigans but to be honest I only had one truly amazing meal out of the three restaurants I experienced, and even that was – while very good – not so memorable, that I can speak to it now, weeks later. So this post will not be about restaurant week after all. But, as a side note, the weekend of Restaurant Week, I went to Firefly in Dupont Circle (with my bestie) and had what was perhaps the best brunch I’ve had in a long while. And $1 mimosas! And the best turkey sausage ever made by man! And the most amazing French press coffee I’ve ever had! So yeah, I’m going back there….

….But not for a while. Following the footsteps of my friend Lindsay, who is an inspiration in many ways, I have decided to stop spending money and going out. It’s hard because I love experiencing new restaurants/bars/etc… but the thing is, I want to travel this year – out of the country – and I’m now abundantly aware that this will not happen if I don’t get serious about conserving my finances. So I need to find more “free” things to do in DC. Allllllll suggestions are welcome! The one thing I won’t give up: taking myself to the movies on Sunday mornings. It makes me so happy, and it’s not part of my regular routine, and I go more like every other Sunday, so that’s only like $20 a month. I think I can spare that, right?

Anyway, onto more interesting topics: African American History Month!

So every year, I make a playlist in celebration of musical contributions from the black community. I know I don’t talk about race often, because while race is real and it’s still as hot a topic as it ever was, I see myself as more than just a black woman. I don’t like to define myself by one thing – I am a lot of things, some great, some not so great. And honestly, I feel like race is used so much as an excuse – like, well, I’m black and live in an under privileged neighborhood, so I don’t stand a chance in this world or the people that still can’t look beyond a person’s cover to see what a beautiful story is written inside. And like I said, race is real – RACISM is real. And of course, as a black woman living in this country, I’ve definitely experienced it. But why should I let that hurt me or stop me or bring me down? I know that I am talented and beautiful and smart. I know that I am going to be a force to be reckoned with. I know that I matter, and I will make a difference. I’m not worried about the ignorance of people who can’t remember what era we’re currently living in. I won’t let those people have control over my life.

But back to the music! I created a playlist in iTunes and it’s a list of about 300+ songs and don’t really feel like posting it, but here are a few of the key songs that I think are ESSENTIAL to any Black History Month list (and no, not ALL these songs are about fighting oppression, and in fact most of them are about the simple joys and pitfalls of human emotion, and the mere celebration of music as an art form – or it’s just some sweet, kickass raps):

· “Little Wing” – The Jimi Hendrix Experience

· “What’s Happening Brother” – Marvin Gaye

· “It’s Only A Paper Moon” – Nat King Cole

· “Beat It” – Michael Jackson

· “Heave Wave” – Martha Reeves & the Vandellas

· “In the Basement, Part One – Etta James

· “Rhymes & Ammo/Thirsty” – The Roots

· “Redemption Song” – Bob Marley

· “Get Down” – Curtis Mayfield

· “Love Child” – Diana Ross & the Supremes

· “Thriller” – Michael Jackson (yes, I love MJ, so sue me)

· “My Baby Just Cares For Me” – Nina Simone

· “Hip Hop Saved My Life” – Lupe Fiasco

· “Thieves in the Night” – Black Star

· “Buffalo Soldier” – Bob Marley

· “Strange Fruit” – Nina Simone

· “You Can’t Hurry Love” – The Supremes

· “Fallin’” – Alicia Keys

· “Nasty” – Janet Jackson (which I am currently rocking out to)

· “Black or White” – yes, you guessed it, more MJ

· “Flyin’ High (In the Friendly Sky)” – Marvin Gaye

· “Purple Haze” – The Jimi Hendrix Experience

· “I Never Loved A Man (The Way I Love You)” – Aretha Franklin

· “You Ain’t Fly” – The Roots

· “You Don’t Know Me” – Ray Charles

· “(Your Love Keeps Lifting Me) Higher & Higher” – Jackie Wilson

· “Papa Was A Rolling Stone” – The Temptations

· “Scream” – Michael & Janet (this song is so kickass)

· “Surprise” – Gnarls Barkley

· “Try A Little Tenderness” – Otis Redding

· “Midnight Train to Georgia” – Gladys Knight & the Pips

· “RE: DEFinition” – Black Star

· “Having A Party” – Same Cooke

· “Brown Skin Lady” – Black Star

· “What’s Going On” – Marvin Gaye (how can I not add this, right?)

· “I Love You, Porgy” – Nina Simone

· “Ain’t No Mountain High Enough” – Marvin Gaye & Tammi Terrell

· “Who’s Gonna Save My Soul?” – Gnarls Barkley

· “Use Me” – Bill Withers

· “Empire State of Mind” – Jay-Z & Alicia Keys

· “Ghetto Musick” – Big Boi

· “Smile” – Nat King Cole

· “Stand By Me” – Ben E. King

· “Wild Is the Wind” – Nina Simone (a personal favorite)

· “Let Me Blow Ya Mind” – Eve (out of left field? Whatever, I love this song, reminds me of high school but in a good way)

· “Shop Around” – Smokey Robinson & the Miracles

· “Cold War” – Janelle Monae

· “Hot in Herre” – Nelly

· “Quiet Dog” – Mos Def

· “I’ve Got A Woman” – Ray Charles

· “Lean On Me” – Bill Withers

· “Living In the City” – Stevie Wonder

· “You’ve Really Got A Hold On Me” – The Miracles

· “Love & Happiness” – Al Green

· “Superfly” – Curtis Mayfield

· “When Will I See You Again?” – The Three Degrees

· “Save the Last Dance” – Ben E. King <3

· “Giving Him Something He Can Feel” – En Vogue

· “Mama Said Knock You Out” – LL Cool J

· “It’s A Man’s, Man’s, Man’s World” – James Brown

· “Feeling Good” – Nina Simone

· “One Love/People Get Ready” – Bob Marley

· “I’ve Got Dreams To Remember” – Otis Redding

· “Runaway” – Janet Jackson

· “Purple Rain” – Prince

· “Let’s Call the Whole Thing Off” – Ella Fitzgerald & Louis Armstrong

· “Creep” – TLC

· “Die Trying” – Cee-Lo

· “Rhythm Nation” – Janet Jackson

· “These Arms of Mine” – Otis Redding

· “Wonderful World” – Sam Cooke

· “Love Is My Religion” – Ziggy Marley

· “Mean Old ‘Frisco Blues” – Muddy Waters

· “The Wah Watusi” – The Orlons

· “You’ve Got To Earn It” – The Temptations

· “How High The Moon” – Ella Fitzgerald

· “The Swinger’s Jump” – Duke Ellington

· “I’ve Been Loving You Too Long” – Otis Redding

· “Night In Tunisia” – Dizzy Gillespie

· “Check Yo Self” – Ice Cube

· “Rollin’ Stone” – Muddy Waters

· “Red Hot” – Jurassic 5

· “Come Rain or Shine” – Ray Charles

· “Baby-Baby-Baby” – TLC

· “Mathematics” – Mos Def

· “Change Gonna Come” – Otis Redding

· “100 Days, 100 Nights” – Sharon Jones & the Dap Kings

· “How Long Has This Been Going On” – Dorothy Dandridge

And no, that’s not all but that’s all I’ll list here – I wouldn’t even say these are the only essential tracks, but these have all either been big songs in the black community or they’re songs that have special significance to me. So there you have it. I love every single one of these songs from “Baby-Baby-Baby” to “Strange Fruit” and judge me if you will, but I adore this list and feel that others might too.

Also, I didn’t intend to list as many songs as I did, I get carried away – as I always tend to do when music in involved. Mea culpa.

So this month I will listen to my tunes, and I will take the time to think what more I could be doing to further help out the black community (throughout the year, not just during the one month that forces us to think about it), and I will keep building up my life to where I’d like it to be. I am so grateful that so many people have fought and even given their lives so that I could have the opportunities that I hope I don’t take for granted today. I wouldn’t be able to have the job I have and shine the way that I do if it weren’t for all of those heroes during the Civil Rights movement and beyond – and wherever they are, thank you so much for fighting the good fight. And a special shout out to Langston Hughes, MLK Jr, and Nina Simone – outside of my family, no one else in the black community has influenced my life more than you have. If Heaven exists, there’s no way you’re not there.

It’s good to be proud of your roots and reflect on that, and very important as well.

And here’s wishing you all a fantastic month and a beautiful day!

Friday, January 14, 2011

The Winds Grow Colder, and Suddenly You're Older.

First of all, and most importantly, I love Judy Garland. I don't think "love" even fully explains it, actually. I feel CONNECTED to her. It's like, she was this force - and even though her life was a mess, and she was clearly deeply saddened throughout most of it, there's something about the joy and brightness that springs from her eyes and her every step and that Voice every single time she was on screen. I recently re-watched A Star Is Born for about the millionth time and I never tire of that film. How can anything be so incredibly melancholy and hopeful at the same time? And the fact that it was filmed during one of the most troubled times in her life, and the fact that she was still able to exude such... charm and such bliss, at times, despite it all is just incredible. And the agony when she tells her manager about how much she hates her husband for all this alcoholic and emotional problems and herself for not being enough - wow. I feel like I connect with her so much because she could put on a smile and laugh so easily but inside she had a constant ball of insecurity knotting up and preventing her from making decisions for just herself. Plus, every single time I hear her sing "The Man That Got Away" and "Get Happy" (the latter from Summer Stock, another favorite), I am overwhelmed with... all kinds of wonderful emotions.

Anyway, if you haven't seen A Star Is Born, please see it right away. Seriously. It's awesome. (Though, if you're a film geek - like myself - the shoddy editing might bother you. I, however, love Judy too much to care about that).

Aaaaaaand now I'm on another show tunes kick. Feel sorry for my co-workers. Ha!

Next blog: Restaurant week shenanigans. It's gonna be a big one. <3

Thursday, January 6, 2011

Get Behind Me: The Year I Stop Getting In My Own Way

Now that a few days have passed and I have had more time to reflect on what I want to accomplish this year, I have come to this belief: New Year’s resolutions are for the birds.

Here’s the thing, any way you slice it, you’re probably just setting yourself up for failure and disappointment. And why would I want to do that? While at the same time, I feel like the idea of a fresh start or perspective is the best way to improve one’s life… so here I am, wanting to move forward and kick my life up a notch, but not wanting to set myself up for disaster. And this is not to say that having goals is a bad thing, but I feel that whole “New Year’s haze” makes us reach for big things but then stamp an expiration date like, “Uh oh if I don’t make this happen by December 31st, then the last 365 days of my life have been a WASTE!” With each passing day, there’s the tick tick tick of impending doom. And KAPOW!!! AN EXPLOSION OF NONSUCCESS!!!

But maybe I’m being dramatic. And actually I like having goals, I just don’t like giving myself more pressure and deadlines than I already have in my everyday life. So instead of making the type of resolution where I “change” something about myself – lose X amount of pounds, make X amount more money, etc, etc – I think instead, maybe I’ll add something that I do not currently have or do. Like… go to at least one foreign country or city that I’ve never been to. Or read more books outside of my comfort zone. Or… I don’t know, something.

That being said, I’m feeling good about this year so far. Right now, what I’m all about, is reconnecting with old friends that have fallen to the wayside (completely due to my own negligence, for the most part). There are people in my life that mean a lot to me and who probably don’t feel like they do because I’ve been such a non-presence in their lives. I commit to so many things, because there is so much I want to do, and I always think I’m super woman and I can do it all – but then all I do is end up making people lose faith in my ability to just *be there* and also exhausting myself to the point of sickness. So I want to do better by my friends, and also learn my own limitations a little better. We’ll see how that goes, because let’s face it, it’s me, and I don’t know how to not push myself. But this goes back to the whole “not giving myself more pressure and deadlines” than I already have. As lovely as my job is, it’s very stressful at times, and I don’t want that stress to spill over into my personal time. Spending times with the people in my life shouldn’t be a burden; it should be a shining light, a cause for joy and merriment! So here’s hoping…

Though, speaking of my job, I am currently feeling like I need new challenges. I love the work that I do, don’t get me wrong, and I can’t imagine working anywhere else, but lately I’ve been feeling like I need a little something else. I’m not sure what that “something else” is but two internal job openings have surfaced and I am applying for both. One job (this one is the long shot, folks) is a managerial position in Research and it would require me to travel a lot – which is the biggest draw for me, honestly – and I would be overseeing the entire research team out of our office. It’s big, and daunting, and scary, and really exciting, and I honestly don’t know if I would be more freaked out or honored if I actually got the job. However, I don’t know if I quite have the experience yet in Research that they want, but hey, you’ll never get anything if you don’t put yourself out there, right? The other position is for an Associate Researcher, the same position that I currently have, but for Arts & Music. As much as I have enjoyed the excitement and the hustle and bustle of the Politics & Crime beat (and will continue to enjoy it, if neither of the aforementioned positions pan out), it would be nice to cover something different – and I feel like Arts & Music would be right up my alley! Plus I’d get all kinds of free tickets to shows and gallery openings in the area and for a gal like me, that’s one hell of a perk! I also think that the fact that I am already an AR and I have personally worked with NPR Music as a PA, should make me a shoe-in, right? I’m trying really hard not to want this too badly, but the more I think about it, the stronger the pull becomes. OK, change of subject?

Oh, one last job-related topic before switching topic: I just found out, that either way (whether I get the above jobs or not), I’ve been chosen to attend USTA’s annual International Pow Wow event as a research liaison as I attended last year (as an assistant) and I’m already familiar with how it all works. And it’s in San Francisco. And I’m REALLY jazzed about it – it’s a ten day trip in May, with only two real days of work. NPR, thou art grand.

Anyway, enough bragging, and onto bigger and better talking points, such as…

This year, one of my best friends is having a baby. Another close friend will be getting married – a wedding for which I will be the maid of honor. Everything seems so full and optimistic that there’s always that nagging bit in the back of my mind that keeps telling me “the universe has to balance out all this joy somehow, watch out….” I am not, as you may have gathered, a natural idealist and always feel the need to mentally prepare myself for catastrophe. Neurotic though that may be, this outlook has often kept me from falling into deep depression when faced with great adversity. But sometimes I need to just relax and allow myself to be happy that things are going well, and that I’m surrounded by so much love.

Goodness! These last couple of posts have been (for the most part) so uplifting, I feel like when I finally discuss something of a darker nature, people – um, if anyone is actually reading this? – will think that I’m bipolar or something. Hmmmm…. Perhaps my next topic will be about hate-mongering.

(Though, on one serious note, I am still very very upset about the new proposed change to Huckleberry Finn. I haven’t been able to get it out of my mind for days now. Sometimes the power of ignorance truly astounds me.)

Aaaaaand now I think I’ll go back to working while enjoying the musical stylings of Isobel Campbell & Mark Lanegan because I’m kind of in the mood for something dark and seductive and soul-chilling. I need something to even out all this lighthearted business.

With love,

Monday, January 3, 2011

Daydream Believin': A Tuscan Holiday & Italian (Cuisine) Affair

Well, folks, this is probably my 203,574th attempt to keep a blog and they all fizzle out due to laziness, lack of interesting topics, and… did I mention laziness? But maybe this time will be different! After my most recent trip, I felt like I was bursting at the seams with thoughts I wanted to share with the world: about food, art, family, wine, the kindness of strangers, etc (hey, Steven, if you’re reading this right now, I got it right this time! I now feel like I sort of deserve this Journalism Masters degree!)…. Oh, and just to clarify: this is not exclusively a travel blog. I know the background and title probably gives off that impression (false advertising alert!), however, I don’t think I travel enough to keep a travel blog. Sad, but true. I will attempt to do more this coming year, but I don’t want to make that a “resolution” because then it is destined to not happen as my psyche will buckle under the pressure.

Anyway, let’s get to it: my fabulous Christmas trip to Italy!

Now, this isn’t the first time I’ve been to Italia (or even the 2nd or 3rd) but it was I think the most adventurous one I’ve had so far. Every other time I’ve gone, I’ve been constrained and trapped to the schedules of others – I almost always go during the holidays and I have so much family spread out through Northern Italy, I never end up in one place for more than a day since everyone wants me to visit with them and, as a result, I don’t get to do much exploring. This time, however, I did quite a bit of exploring – and not just in Italy.

Let’s begin with the flight in. The one from Dulles to Heathrow (which was the Monday before Christmas) was uneventful. I slept almost the entire time and for once (miraculously) did not end up sitting next to a person with loud, messy children or a chatty Cathy or a person who was giving off a noxious odor. Huzzah! But then I arrived at Heathrow, and for anyone who was watching or reading the news these last couple of weeks you can probably imagine what it was like. I cannot express to you how hectic and mob-like it was. Flights were cancelled and delayed all across the board, a few people had been sleeping there for a couple of days already in vain hopes that they would be able to get on a new flight, the crowds were heavy and frustrated, everyone was exhausted and afraid that they were going to miss seeing their loved ones for the holidays as most airlines were saying that nothing would be coming in or leaving until after the 26th of December. I was very worried that I was also going to be trapped there – especially when my connecting flight to Florence was cancelled... Folks, I tell you now that I was ready to shed a tear or two. England is great and all but I didn’t want to spend my favorite time of year alone in a foreign country where the only people I know are friends from college that I haven’t really spoken to in years. So after waiting around for a couple of hours and becoming increasingly desperate (and making a few frantic phone calls to my mother), a miracle happened – one of the representatives with British Airways offered to some of us who were willing, alternative flights coming out of Edinburgh – if we could get there.

I’ll skip all the harrowing details as I want to get to the interesting parts of my tale (read: the food and booze and people) and I will just tell you, after pushing my credit card to the limit, I was able to obtain transportation to Edinburgh and I arrived at the gate a whole hour and a half early to catch the flight British Airways was putting me on… only to discover that the flight was delayed. Well, a girl can only fight so much before she gives up, finds an airport pub close by, and plants herself there while she enjoys a couple pints, a few crowdie bites, and the company of fellow travelers who have also chosen to accept that waiting is all there was left to do.

After a few hours (4? 5? 6? Who even knew anymore?), I finally got on a flight. And of course, life being what it is, of COURSE it wasn’t a direct one. There was a layover in Paris, which if you know me and know my feelings about Paris – well, I wasn’t crazy about the fact that my layover was from 11pm (this was Tuesday night, by the way) to 7am, which is when my flight to Florence was leaving.

So I could have just napped at the airport, stayed put, played it safe… but what fun would that be? So I gave Paris, a city that has disappointed me time and time again, another chance to change my mind. I headed into the city to the infamous Boulevard Saint-Michel (the only area of Paris that I’ve ever remembered fondly) and went to the first place I could find that was open: an Irish pub called Le Galway, in Quai des Grands Augustins. It was fun, filled with tons of university students and travelers and locals. It was low key, inexpensive, fun – the bartender spoke a fair amount of English, and was friendly, though I think it helped that instead of just speaking English, I prefaced the conversation (as I have learned to do with ALL Parisians) by saying, “Je suis désolé, je ne parle pas français. Parlez-vous anglais, peut-être?” It is the one phrase I can say with expertise, as it is the only one that doesn’t result in rudeness and hostility.

I had a great time at Le Galway and stayed until 2am or so. It was hard to convince myself to leave but I hadn’t eaten since Scotland and that meal hadn’t been all that substantial. So I left Le Galway (and bookmarked in my mind its location in case I ever return to Paris again – for a layover or otherwise) and I went in search of food. The bartender (whose name is escaping me, but I think it was Denis, though maybe I’m just thinking of the Blondie song since I listened to it recently), he recommended a number of places and gave me directions but you know me and directions. And I really didn’t want to waste the battery life on my Blackberry looking up anything so… I wandered along the Siene and the Place St. Michel and hoped for the best, but was happy just being in such a beautiful place in the still of the night. And then there it was: Le Depart Saint Michel, a 24 hour café! Like a dream, yet another Christmas miracle. I went in and found a seat and ordered a cappuccino and a pastry and I people-watched for a little while. It was nice and, due to the time, not quite so bustling. I was able to read a little and watch a few early riser walking to work or going for a morning stroll. My only regret is that I had to leave around 5am to catch my flight to Florence (yes, I was cutting it close, especially by my standards, the seasoned traveler that I sometimes believe I am) so I wouldn’t be able to see the sunrise. Heartbreaking, but Paris at night is, as cheesy as this may sound, tres magique!

So I left Paris, heart in hand, after an enjoyable few hours (never dreamed it possible), and I was soon at my destination, at last – Italia!
I apologize for my verbosity at this point, and if you’re still reading this, kudos. You must really like me or something. This is kind of where things are going to get hard because a lot happens from here on out and it’s difficult for me to keep all the details together as I wasn’t very good at keeping a travel journal on this particular trip. So! That being said… first stop: Toscana!

I arrived in Florence around 10am Wednesday morning and was picked up by my beautiful cousin Silvana (“Sil”), who works as a designer/artist in a tiny ad agency in the city and even though I love her, I also kind of want to hate her because she is gorgeous and lives in one of the greatest cities in the world and has an artistic sense that I have never been able to posses. Alas. I was hungry (again) and we went to Caffe Fiorenza, one of her favorite spots, and ate a late breakfast (early lunch?) of brioche and skewered sweet sausage and peppers. My first meal in Italy was, of course, delicious! The wine I had with this meal (and yes, of course I had wine, I don’t care if it wasn’t noon yet, I was in freaking Florence!) was a wonderful Castello Banfi sangiovese-cabernet-merlot blend and it was rich and had strong plum and blackberry overtones. Very Tuscan, very bold – probably would’ve been better with a heavier, meatier meal, but it definitely went quite well with the sweet sausage. Yum!

Afterwards, exhaustion took over and we went back to her flat so that I could take a much-needed nap. I woke up early in the evening and we decided to go out for dinner (and by decided, I mean, I demanded) so Sil took me to another one of her favorite restaurants, Il Santo Bevitore – a place that she usually reserves to special occasions (see how ma famiglia loves me?) . I decided that I wanted the full Tuscan dinner experience so my meal consisted of zuppa Toscana dell nonna tina, a hearty cannellini bean soup with all kinds of delicious veggies and subtle hints of cloves and parsley; peperoni arrotolati ; an Italian bread salad with a slightly spicy red wine vinaigrette; Florentine-style spring peas tossed with pancetta; pollo al marsala con peperoni rossi; and for dessert, panforte di siena and a small glass of Vin Santo – I tell you, I felt about ready to BURST at the end of that meal, but it was a satisfying type of pain, a well earned battle wound that I was proud of. We went through two full bottles of wine (not to mention the glasses of dessert wine we had) and I can’t really remember what they were exactly but I know one of them was an amazing sangiovese with cherry undertones and with a very spicy kick to it. I need to ask Sil if she remembers what it was. The dinner was followed by a lovely stroll along the Lungarno Florence River, which offered views of all these old palaces and villas, and this was by far the most architecturally stunning sight I witnessed the entire the time I was in Italy (only my walk around St. Michel could compete) and I’m glad that I was able to experience it. The moonlight was so vivid, peaking through the clouds, and bounced off the water and all the snow was majestically arranged atop and around the aforementioned palaces we passed. I felt like I was living in some old movie or a storybook. Breathtaking is the only way to describe it.

The next morning, Sil had errands to run and needed to stop by her office, so I had most of the day to myself. I was actually quite happy about this because of all time times I’d been to Italy, never once had I had a moment to myself. I was always surrounded by people tugging me here or there and don’t get me wrong, I adore my family, but I’ve never been allowed to experience the country in a personal way – through my own eyes as opposed to the eyes of the people I love. This opportunity sounded fantastic!

So I headed out around noon (after lazing a bit longer than I should have) and went to Mercato Nuovo, a marketplace that’s been around for centuries and now targets mostly tourists. There were all kinds of locally made wines and jewelry and produce and knick knacks and even this elderly couple that sells hand-crafted pocket watches that they made themselves – and they were gorgeous and the designs were so intricate. It was a fun way to spend a chilly afternoon, and I surprised at how bustling the marketplace was despite the weather. At this point, it had been snowing and raining pretty mercilessly for weeks and the air was so icy, it hurt to suck in too much it too quickly. But it seems that, like me, people were willing to brave the weather and place comfort in the backseat in favor of a unique and beautiful experience.

While I was in that area, I also walked around Piazza della Signoria and saw Neptune Fountain, FINALLY, after several trips/layovers in Florence. It’s like visiting D.C. a bunch of times and never going to the National Mall or checking out the Capitol. It’s just… not kosher. But I popped my Neptune cherry (inapprop?) and I’m glad for that. Also, Piazza della Signoria was probably my favorite area of Florence. Palazzo Vecchio is so expansive, more of a Romanesque architectural style. All the buildings here were breathtaking in their architectural depth.

Sil met up with me for dinner, and we stayed in the area and had dinner at Ristorante Paoli, a beautiful grand old place with a 14th century vaulted ceiling and candelabra. What also stood out about this place was the service – the best I had while I was in Italy, and that’s really saying something. The food was very good (but not as remarkable as my previous meal at Il Santo Bevitore if I have to be honest here) and consisted of taglierini pasta with truffles. Sil and I split the strawberries and cream for dessert. It was light and not overbearingly sweet, and exactly what I wanted. We had a white wine with this meal that I don’t remember too well, but I’m fairly sure it was a Vermentino, which is very much a Tuscan white. I had a lot of this on Christmas.

The rest of the evening was spent walking around Piazza della Signoria a bit more, and Sil giving me tid bits of information (the sheer amount of facts that she knows about each room of the Palazzo Vecchio was kind of stunning/borderline obsessive) and we turned in fairly early. We were up fairly early the next day, Friday, to drive out to Empoli, where my mom’s house is and the hub of our Christmas celebration. Originally we were going to stay with an aunt of mine who lives in the outskirts of Empoli, in some tiny bordering village – but her house is much smaller and, more importantly, is not heated and as the weather had been fairly rough and there were would be children coming, her house was vetoed. I was actually kind of looking forward to roughing it for a few days… but realize in the grander scheme that this probably would have ended up being a catastrophe and I may not have enjoyed my visit as much. Plus I love my mom’s house AND she made sure I had my own room while I was staying there. Love that mama of mine.

Christmas Eve (day), we walked around town a little but everything was pretty much shut down except for one supermarket and a couple of cafes that were closing early. It was nice running into a few people who remembered me from my last visit and hearing my mom go on and on about her “favoloso” little girl who works for a big time news station in the States. I don’t often admit this, but I love the confidence boost a few words from my mother give me. I’m a total mama’s gal.

Christmas Eve (night) was spent at Midnight Mass at St. Bartholomew of Martignana. We arrived at 9pm and didn’t leave until almost 4am. I won’t lie, it was tough getting through it. I was just lucky that I’d taken a nap earlier in the day, or there was no way I would have stayed awake – but in any case, it was a lovely service in a beautiful cathedral (there was one particular stain glass window featuring Mary Magdalene embracing a crucifix that I found strangely moving, and I am not a terribly religious person, but that’s really a discussion for another time, I think). It was also nice speaking with so many people in my mother’s community and seeing just how involved she is and what a full life and social circle she has! I’m so proud of her for building this life for herself and surrounding herself with so much joy and with so many wonderful people. She makes me feel hopeful for myself and my own future.

Christmas morning: I was forced out of bed around nine for present-opening. It was as heartwarming and fun as anything could be, especially with all the little kiddos, saying things like, “guardate cosa ho fatto!” or “grazie! amo questo!” It was adorable, and it was boisterous and chaotic and wonderful and was followed by fresh biscotti and hot chocolate and watching the kids run around with their toys and books and electronic games. It was one of the most… full… and joyous times I’ve ever had.

I took another nap around noon (I was a heel and didn’t help much in the kitchen since I was so exhausted and my body was having trouble adjusting to the time), and woke up around 3pm in time to help set the table and put whatever finishing touches the dishes needed. Our Tuscan Christmas dinner consisted of:

· Crostini with ragu
· Tortellini al brodo
· Arista, a wonderful pork roast, mmmm
· Baked potato squares with garlic and rosemary and a salad
· Panettone (a sweet dessert loaf) and ricciarelli (sweet biscuits) with an almond sauce
· Dried fruit

The wine was overflowing, the talking was loud and overwhelming at times, people ate with their hands, jazz music was playing in the background, impromptu dancing occurred. It was surreal, and yet so real somehow, and afterwards I went out back with a couple of my uncles and cousins and for the first time I successfully smoked a cigar without wanting to vomit – and I must say, it was actually kind of delightful. The smell was atrocious and I would never make it a habit, but I still liked it way more than I thought I would. Paired with a small glass of brandy? Fantastico!

Christmas night, I forced one of my American movies on everyone (It’s A Wonderful Life, of course, which I must watch every Christmas, no matter what) and aside from a few of the younger ones, everyone responded to it very well. I love that movie, and how emotional it makes me at the end. I feel like if your heart doesn’t melt a little as he runs through the town, with a renewed love for life – HIS life, specifically – well, then I kind of feel sorry for you for being so dead inside.

Sunday, since the entire town was shut down and the roads were kind of atrocious, aside from going for a small walk around my mom’s grounds, I stayed indoors. A lot of my extended family left early on that day, so there wasn’t much of anyone left except for my mom, my aunt Delanna (Dee), and a couple of cousins that were just a few years younger than I am where were on vacation from university until after the New Year. More wine and more laughing and stories. More music and lots of leftovers. It was nice to have a slightly more relaxed atmosphere after the previous day of insanity, as fun as that insanity was.

Monday morning, after everyone else had left, my mom, Dee, and I hopped a train to Rome – that’s where Dee lives, and where I would be staying until I left for the States. My mom decided she wanted to spend Monday with us exploring some of the sights as she doesn’t go to Rome very often (though her definition of “not very often” is going there like twice a year). We arrived in Rome around 1pm, and immediately went to lunch at Piccolo Buco, which was a little pizzeria located on Via del Lavatore near the Trevi Fountain. This is one of my favorite areas of Rome, and Piccolo Buco is one of my favorite restaurants in the city. Their bruschettas and gnocchi is the best I’ve ever had ANYWHERE, and I really mean that. Combined with their vegetable soup, it’s a great winter meal.

Afterwards, to appease my mom, we toured Vatican City. We visited a couple of the museums, while my mom “tour guided” us through everything since she knows, very possibly, more about the Vatican than the Pope does. The most notable thing I saw while there was the Rituals of Life exhibition, which had artifacts displaying the culture of the Aboriginal people. I think the exhibition was fairly new, as it was my mom’s first time seeing it and she kept asking the security guards tons of questions about it. I also really loved the Vatican observatory, but I kind of have a thing for observatories so I’m a bit biased. The whole experience was nice enough, and there are parts of Vatican City I find quite beautiful, but I always feel a bit uncomfortable and find myself unable to push back from my mind the ugly historical side of the holy city enough to just take in the beauty. But those are my own hang-ups and plenty of people go there every day and I love it, and I certainly recommend it if you’re ever in Rome.

Around 7pm, we went to dinner at the Taverna De Fori Imperiali, which I liked mostly because it was located on Via della Madonna dei Monti, right by the Colleseum. The food was good, particularly the dessert – wine-braised pears stuffed with gorgonzola – but it was incredibly touristy and loud and we waited for a ridiculously long time for a table. Granted, it’s Rome, during the holidays, in one of the most tourist-grabbing areas in the entire city but still. And while the fettuccine was really tasty and so was the prosciutto and porcini mushrooms (why is that, to this day, the latter still makes me think of the soup nazi?), I’ve had better. And it was kind of overpriced. Just sayin’.

Tuesday, my mom went home to Empoli and I was really sad to see her go, but tried not to make it harder for her. I know she has a full life, but she barely sees her children anymore and I know how hard that is for her – have five kids, and coming from a big family. So while I did want to cry, I didn’t, and maybe it wouldn’t have made a difference but she already looked so pained to go. It was a pretty difficult goodbye to make.

Dee consoled me by taking me sightseeing around the Villa Borghese, where we also had lunch at La Bruschetta, a cute little place where they had a tasty gnocchi with a rich wine sauce that I am determined to recreate. After eating lunch, we walked around the Corinthian columns (which somehow I’d never visited before? What?) … we kept finding little shops and cafes to hole up in even though it wasn’t truly cold (I think it was in the mid-50s then entire time I was in Rome, which was a pleasant change from the 30 degrees of Florence and Empoli), I wasn’t really dressed appropriately for the weather. But I wanted to wear the red floral dress my mom had purchased for me from Milan (I told her not to buy me anything for Christmas, as she bought my plane ticket, but good lord I’m glad she didn’t listen to me because now I have an outfit from Milan!!!!) and it was beautiful but thin and I didn’t have the heart to button my coat all the way and cover it up. Yes, I chose vanity over comfort, and I don’t regret my decision one bit.

Next restaurant (and when I originally started to type this all out, I kept thinking I went to this place in Florence and then I couldn’t remember the name and I had to look it up but couldn’t find it, because I kept thinking it was in Florence and FINALLY I recalled that I went there with Dee because she kept commenting on how she felt like we were on a romantic date): Hostari Dell’Orso. Definitely the most picturesque place I ate in, they had these large open windows with views of the Columns and had a gorgeous candlelit ambience (hence the “romantic date” commentary). Dee and I both had their signature casseoula, an incredibly filling casserole with pork, cabbage, sausage, lots of fresh vegetables, and a white wine sauce, and a chocolate hazelnut gelato for dessert. We split a bottle of Fonterutoli Chianti as well, which resulted in going downstairs to the discoteque and dancing off at least some of the food we’d consumed over the last few days – well, until the overtures from the men became a little too much for me. Props, though, to my aunt for being aggressively off putting towards them, a skill I really need to acquire if I ever hope to move to Italy one day. I’m way too nice to gross men whose attentions I do not want, meaning I don’t normally get physically violent.

Wednesday, and my trip felt like it was quickly approaching an end, and yet I couldn’t bring myself to leave Dee’s apartment for most of the day. It was raining pretty heavily so I stayed in comfortable clothes, consumed obscene amounts of coffee, and did some reading. It was nice to just relax. I sat by the window and people-watched and draped myself in blankets. In the evening, Dee came home and forced me to shower and change, and we met up with a few of her friends at the Piazza Barberini (which is very close to where her flat is located) and had dinner at Colline Emilane – the culatello di zibello was ridiculous, and I was surprised because as it’s a cured meat not typically served in the winter months, and the pumpkin ravioli as incredibly flavorful. And, ladies & gents – please don’t even get me started on the affogato. Guuuuurl, it was the shit! We stayed, drinking wine, until the place closed and had a lovely walk home.

And Thursday… my last full day in Italy… I was sad that my trip was coming to a close, but determined to enjoy every minute left, soak up everything. I went back to the Trevi Fountain, and went into whatever shops and boutiques in the area that was actually open. I had lunch at Piccolo Buco again, because good grief that place is awesome, and this time I actually ate pizza, which oddly is the first time I’ve ever had it there. It was topped with these yummy fire-roasted peppers, and I instantly regretted waiting so long to try it.

Afterwards, I decided to take a detour, and took a cab to Trastevere (where I spent NYE two years ago) and was glad to be in a more youthfully vibrant area of the city as it’s located close to a few universities. I holed up in a café for a little while, and then visited the Palazzo Corsini, which is the home of the Galleria Corsini – and it has a this incredible museum on the first floor. I found the Nativity by J. Bassano pretty moving, but I’m a sad over the nativity tale because to me it represents, at it’s very core, the importance of hope and miracles and faith. I’m not even sure I believe in “miracles,” in the traditional sense, but I like the idea that there was an event (whether it’s true or not) so deeply rooted in the belief of better days ahead that I can’t help but be touched by it.

After wandering around Palazzo Corsini for a while, dinner was had at Tony’s and I actually ate their special, which was risotto alla pescatora – a surprising choice considering how much I normally don’t care for seafood – and I found it rather enjoyable. Clams, mussels, octopus, and prawns made up most of the dish. I was creeped out by the idea of eating prawns for some reason, at first, and I don’t remember why, but that certainly evaporated the second that first bite entered my mouth. While there, I met a couple of students who stayed in town to celebrate NYE in Rome (can’t blame them, it’s an amazing experience) and thought I was crazy for leaving before the celebrations commence. They had tons of questions about where in America I was from, and it was funny to watch them react when I discussed Washington, DC. I’m used to having Italians react with polite disapproval (and sometimes not-so-polite disapproval) so it was refreshing to watch someone actually seem impressed or (shock!) interested in hearing all about the States. One of the boys, Paolo: “That movie, what is… Inception! It was so hardcore!” – (the word hardcore has never sounded so cute before and never will again, probably) – “It was a great American film, yes?” I didn’t have heart to tell him that Nolan is an English director. Oh, well. It’s still an American film, though, but the compliment was so cute I didn’t want to ruin it.

After meeting my new friends (whose contact information I took, and I am determined to actually keep contact), I headed back to Dee’s. I stayed up later than I should considering how early my flight was (6am, boy oh boy) and just sat by the window taking in the lights and the walker-bys and the water and the snow sprinkled about from last week’s snowfall and I realized I was about to leave one of the most beautiful countries the world has ever known, and while I was sad I was so grateful for the opportunity to really be here and see it and live it for a brief moment in time. Life is moments, and the experiences we take from those moments is what creates a flavorful life. And I know that’s what I want. I want to taste every bit of life I can, and feel it in my skin. I want to feel the sun’s warmth and the winter’s chill in every single pocket of the world. Is that too much to ask? I have a life’s dream, and dreams are what keep us moving, right?

So I left Italy Friday morning, and I wasn’t sad or upset about it. I had enjoyed my time there, and I knew this was a “see ya later” and not a goodbye. Plus it gave me a lot to reflect on.

Being in another place tends to make you look at your own life, your “real” life, more closely. And what I saw… was a life that I actually do love. I love it. And I don’t think I’ve ever really said that before and meant it. I think I’m always so busy chasing things and believing that I should have this or should have accomplished that in this particular stage in my life. But who says so? I love my job. I adore my friends. My family, they’re my rocks. I have a wonderful dog who keeps my life interesting. I live in a city that I don’t think I ever fully appreciate, but is oddly starting to feel like “home” – a concept that is difficult for me to buy into most of the time. I am able to go to all kinds of interesting places – yes, even you, Detroit – and some people don’t have that. I have easy access to NYC and can go almost any weekend I want if I need to escape. Or I can hole up in my brother’s house in Woodbridge and hide in the suburbs for a few days. And there is San Diego, my home away from home.

I guess I don’t know where I’ll be in five years from now, and sometimes it’s scary – but I think once I was able to let go of expectations and just started taking in each day as it is and not compare them to “shoulda woulda couldas,” things finally started to fall together. And sometimes it takes you stepping outside of yourself for a minute to see that.

Anyway, I will close this very long post by saying that I love all the people in my life, and that I am so blessed to be surrounded by so many things that are beautiful and warm. I have some thoughts on New Year’s and some of my more specific… aspirations? But that will, clearly, have to wait until another time.

To be continued….