Sometimes all it takes is the sight of a little kid washing his flag to remind you to slow down, ease up and smile.
i fear you’re going to eat me alive.
i let you inhabit the deepest parts of my brain, knowing, always knowing, that you don’t deserve to be there.
you feel your way through my memories, pushing aside pleasant thoughts, swatting happiness away as though it were a mosquito,
and still, i let you stay.
you make your way down, from my brain to my eyes, and you dye the world I see with your moody tincture.
you carry on until you reach my throat and there you get stuck.
words that once flowed like wine are now molded over and rotting.
words that won’t escape unless forced.
words that, when they do slip out of my mouth, sound like a jack hammer.
a jack hammer in my mind.
and then you continue your journey down to my heart, and there you find very little space where vacant land was once available.
i am not new to this. this is not new to me. i won’t let you in my heart.
and so, you move on
to my stomach.
and there you sit like a bad meal. spinning and twisting and turning around. inflicting nausea. mi fa male.
but i know that by the time you’ve reached my stomach, the worst of it is over.
soon i will open my eyes and once again see the world the way i like to see the world.
i will wish for you to never return to touch my heart or body or mind again.
i will hope with all of my power that you are just a bad dream that i’ll eventually forget.
but still, i know that you might creep back in one day.
it might be when the world turns so dark that i can’t see what’s in front of me.
it might be when i don’t have the strength to ignore your steady knock on the door of my mind.
and a battle will ensue.
and i will win.
Lets take a minute to talk about bad boys, shall we?
How do you define a bad boy? He might cheat on you, he might make false promises, he might break plans regularly with lame excuses or none at all, he probably dates multiple women at once because he can. He is often scared of relationships and so seeks out meaningless encounters with easy women. He is tall, dark and handsome – or not. He probably smells nice and likes leather -or not. He’s cocky. He’s charming. Or not. He could just be the most unassuming, innocent seeming man out there. Are you picking up on a problem here?
The 1950s image of James Dean straddling a motorcycle, leather jacket unzipped and cigarette hanging out of his mouth with a face that says “I don’t give a damn, but I’m a damn good kisser,” no longer defines the bad boy. Parts of him, sure, but the game has changed since then.
The bad boy has grown up, or, more accurately, mutated into various species of men. This poses a problem because most of the time you can’t even recognise the badness until you get involved with him, and then it’s almost always too late.
Since this is a blog about my life in Italy, I admit that I haven’t done much dating in Rome. I hate dating. I hate it even more in a foreign country where the rules are a little different and I am even more clueless than I am normally.
This isn’t to say that I wont date, I just don’t seek it out.
Anyway, in my own experiences with Italian men, and in hearing the dating stories of my Roman and American friends here, I have to say that the bad boy is very much alive and well in Italy. He smells good, he looks good, his shoes are nicer than yours and he will probably either cheat on you or cheat on his girlfriend with you.
Cheating is common here.
Not that cheating doesn’t happen everywhere, but it seems to be a bit more out in the open, and maybe even a bit more socially accepted, in Rome. When cheaters (and to be fair – they’re not only men) hit on their accomplices here, they often do so by alluding to the fact that they have a girlfriend right away. They try to justify the cheating by being honest about it upfront. It’s an interesting angle.
“Bella, yes I have a girlfriend, but she’s not here. Right now, it’s just you and me”
Can’t blame a guy for trying, right? They do it with such charm and conviction that it’s not as easy as you would think to scoff in their faces and walk away.
The Italian lover with his sexy accent, Roman god-like face and smooth moves is your stereotypical latin bad boy type – but as I said before, they’re not all so obvious. In fact my friend Chris – a smooth talking, guitar playing ladies man in his own right – recently divulged to me that almost every man is “bad” until they meet the girl they’re willing to be good for. And even then, he says, the good usually doesn’t last forever.
Now I’d like to believe that this is bullshit. Call me Disney, but if experience and Gabriel Garcia Marquez or Paulo Coelho novels have taught me anything it’s that love is a world unoccupied by reason or science or bad boy theories. Love just is. It’s a lawless battlefield – and we can’t really place blame when things go wrong in love, because we enter into it knowing that there are no guarantees.
I have been bad in the past. I’ve unintentionally hurt people in love and I don’t feel good about it – but I think most of us have been on both sides of heartbreak.
We couple up, we ride waves together, we fall off, we get back up, we paddle out alone and look for another set to come in. We all try to find that person we can ride with, and even when we find them, part of the thrill is knowing that the wave won’t last forever.
I don’t know why I just used a surfing metaphor there, but it gets the point across.
I started this post wanting to give bad boys a piece of my mind, but I ended up changing my mind along the way. No one’s really bad unless we let them be. We can only control how we react to what happens to us.
Sometimes when I walk around Rome, I could swear that I feel the mighty pulse of the ancient Eternal City protecting and feeding my soul – but I know enough to know that even all the power of Rome can’t protect my heart. Nothing can protect the heart. And when you start trying to protect it, you miss out on life. That’s the beauty and the calamity of love.
Having said that, there are some men and women that are just bad. I’ve had the unfortunate experience of getting involved with more than one of them in my years on the dating market. It’s not fun.
These types should really come with doctor’s warnings à la cigarette packages. “Warning: this man is emotionally unavailable, makes false promises and snores.” “Warning: this girl is manipulative, controlling and yells a lot.” Or something along those lines.
In the end, aren’t bad boys and girls just missing out on love? Maybe we should all feel sorry for them and their unused, little, shriveled up black hearts.
Eat, Pray, Love. You think of it and see Julia Roberts sitting cutely on a bench in a gorgeous Roman piazza (Navona) eating gelato from a cup with a guilty look on her face like it’s a sin to eat gelato (from a cup, maybe).
The book was fine, a bit self-indulgent and narcissistic, and even though I didn’t make it past the Eat (Italy) section, I could see why people loved it. It was escapism meets a rich-white woman’s reality and it gave people hope, something to dream about – I get it. An author is entitled to write about whatever he or she wants to, and if I don’t like it, I don’t read it. No harm no foul. I’m also a fan of anything that gets people reading and thinking and discussing – because these are sadly dying practices in mainstream culture. So there’s me giving Eat, Pray, Love credit where it’s due.
However, a book like that is somehow turned into a cultural phenomenon, getting the Oprah crowd all hot and bothered, and then sparks a Julia Roberts led movie that is now being shoved into my face everywhere I turn – this is too much for me. Not every book turned movie bothers me – I have nothing against Harry Potter. There’s just something about Eat, Pray, Love that has been, well, eating at me, for lack of a better word.
Maybe it’s because of the comparisons I’ve gotten to the author, which go something like this: “oh I just read Eat, Pray, Love and it reminded me of you because you’re a writer too and you moved to Rome just like she does in the book!” Ya ok. Except I didn’t come to Rome to find myself. At 27, I had a pretty good idea of who I was. I moved to Rome because it’s something I had put on hold for years, and if I didn’t do it now it would have gone from dream to regret, and that’s not cool, baby.
The other similarity is, a couple of years ago, like Elizabeth Gilbert at the beginning of her novel, I did find myself lying on the floor of a bathroom crying in agony, but it was not because I had suddenly come to the realization that I was married to someone I didn’t want to be married to and there was surely more out there for me. No. I had actually just been locked out of my house by my now ex-boyfriend, who also took all of my money and my dog, so my friend’s bathroom floor was where I ended up after a long night of quelling the pain with too much alcohol. I digress…
Eat, Pray, Love, from what I gather, is a positive book and I agree with some of its message. I think everyone should strive to find what makes them happiest in life and try to carve out a path for themselves to follow that dream. It’s great that Liz Gilbert had the money and time to take a comfortable year-long soul-searching journey. What she failed to mention in the damn book was that finding yourself comes a bit quicker when you’re getting paid big bucks to write a book about it.
What I realized after moving to Italy was: you can run as far as you like, you can change your clothes, your friends, your hair, you can change your language, your job, your food, your church, whatever. You can change everything. At the end of the day, it’s still your own goddamn eyes you see when you look in the mirror. You’ve got to be ok with yourself, and find answers within yourself, wherever you are, because your location won’t make your problems go away.
Although I know it’s a true story, another thing that bothers me about Eat, Pray, Love is that she goes on this adventure to find herself as an independent single woman, and what!? look at that, she also finds the perfect man along the way.
I’m all for love. Really, I am. Love’s good stuff. But couldn’t the book have ended where she found herself? Because it just reinforces the damn stereotype that even if you’re on a soul-searching quest for self-discovery because you’ve spent your life going from one relationship to the next, your life still isn’t really complete until you’ve found the “perfect” man.
So go see Eat, Pray, Love, because I know you will anyway. Enjoy Julia Robert’s horn laugh and megawatt smile, enjoy the beauty of Roma, India and Bali. Let it lift your spirits or move you or whatever. Just please don’t tell me I’m missing out if I don’t see it. I’d rather try to live it in my own way. And you should too. Vai!
“Teach us Yoga, Carrrlaaaa,” yelled Leone, doing his best hands-on-knees Buddha impression.
After being schooled by these kids in an impromptu soccer game the day before, I was determined to redeem some sports-cred by showing them an activity I was actually sort of good at.
“Ommm,” chanted Javier, the best soccer player of the bunch. The 11 kids giggled as they performed imagined yoga moves for each other, which looked like dramatic tai chi.
Since they were all there to learn English at summer camp, and every interaction they had with me was an opportunity to do so, I demonstrated all of the poses we would be doing, while explaining in English. They seemed to follow along quite well.
“Alright follow me. This is a sun salutation,” I said, leading them through it. We end in downward dog.
“Now, lift your right leg to the sky!” I told them. Most of the kids looked great.
“Che cazzo!”(shit) groaned Leone, smirking at me through the curls of brown hair that fell around his eyes. His body struggled to balance the weight of itself on his little arms and leg, as his other leg hovered behind him, shaking.
“Watch your mouth, Leone. Ok, put your right leg down and raise the left one!” I said.
“Noooo,” he said, making his friends giggle.
After a few more sun salutations, a girl named Sara to Leone’s right looked up at me, exasperated.
“Carla, I’m dying. Is this yoga or Chinese torturing?” she said.
“That was good, Sara, but you say Chinese torture, not torturing,” I corrected her. “And no, it’s not torture, it’s yoga and it’s fun. Remember to breathe!”
I demonstrated Warrior One pose to the class. After five breaths, we went into another sun salutation.
“Nooo!” said Sara.
“Just one more and then we will sit down, ” I assured them.
In the middle of her final Cobra, Sara flopped out of the pose and onto her belly. Her friend Linda followed suit, and they exchanged looks of desperation.
“Girls, are you ok?” I asked.
“No, Carla, no!” they groaned.
“Ok, you can go to the pool if you want to,” I said. Yoga strictness isn’t my strong suit, apparently.
“GRAZIE! Thank you!” said Sara, as they gathered their towels and ran towards the pool.
The friends they left behind were looking at me with defeated exhaustion, so I waved my hand at them.
“You can go too, if you want,” I said. They did.
Left in my dwindling poolside yoga class were: Leone, Javier and a sweet girl named Camilla.
The next pose I demonstrated for them was crane pose. As I squatted and slowly leaned forward until my knees were resting on my forearms and the rest of my body was elevated behind me, Leone let out a whimper.
“Don’t worry, you can do this!” I told him. It’s not an overly difficult pose, but it requires concentration, balance and strength.
Camilla gracefully went into crane pose for a few seconds, fell out, and easily got back into it. Javier made a few attempts before getting it, frustrated that Camilla, who he totally had a crush on, was more yogically astute than him. Leone, bless his heart, couldn’t stay in crane pose for more than half a second, but despite his many dramatic falls, he kept trying.
When he finally held the pose, I could hear mutterings of “cazzo,” “che palle,” and “merda” coming from his direction, and I pressed my lips together to keep from laughing.
“This is boat pose!” I said to them, as I got into the seated posture that sees your body form a V position, with legs up and arms parallel to the ground. Getting into this one was easy for them, but remaining there was a different story.
“Good job guys, remember to breath, ok?” I said. The kids were all shaking like leaves and looked like they were about to hit the deck.
As he struggled to maintain his balance in boat pose, which eventually makes your abs burn alla inferno, Leone snuck out a short, nearly breathless: “mortacci tua!” (“death to you!”)
The three kids collapsed to the ground in a fit of hysterical laughter. I couldn’t help but laugh along with them.
“It’s harder than you thought right?” I said to blank stares. “É difficile, no?”
“Si! Yes, yes!!” they exclaimed with the kind of enthusiasm Italians normally reserve for food and soccer. I told them they did great and could join their friends in the pool if they wanted to.
I glanced at the pool a few minutes after our class ended, and saw Camilla and Javier doing tree pose in the shallow end.
“Bravi!!!” I shouted, beaming with pride at my little Italian yogis.
“Look my yoga, Carla,” Leone yelled at me, barreling towards the pool before executing a perfect cannonball.
As water splashed my face, and I shook my head like a teacher should, I couldn’t help but commend him on his impeccable form.
On the sidewalk between a bus stop and a bakery, a slice of sunlight escapes from the shadows of the buildings that surround it.
There she sits, illuminated.
The top half of her face strains upward and inward, emphasizing the deep lines on her forehead and in between her eyebrows. Her lips curl down as her large brown eyes look up at the people passing by.
Her shirt, probably once white, is yellowed from too much wear, too much perspiration, and not enough washing. Ring shaped stains have dyed the underarm part of her sleeves a grayish colour. Hard earned sweat stains.
In her left hand is a dish with a few coins in it, which she shakes at tourists as they pass her. With her right hand she holds up a brown tattered pant leg, exposing her mangled right limb. It looks as though it was crushed into a million pieces years ago and never fixed.
The leg is flat in some places and curves oddly in others. It’s scarred and its colour is deeper and more pronounced than the rest of her skin.
There she sits, exposing her wound – her cross to bear. Which has now become her living. Her life.
This is a pretty common sight in Rome. Many people with maimed body parts beg for money in tourist-heavy areas of the city. It’s heartbreaking. It’s not something you get used to seeing.
I’ve been thinking about the lady in the slice of sun, and others like her, since I moved here. When I see them, I know I am in the presence of a bravery that I will likely never know for myself. I could never be that fearless. That honest. That naked.
What would it be like to expose your wounds to the world? The deepest, most painful parts of your being put on display for anyone to see. Is it demeaning? Is it cathartic? Is it liberating? Or is it simply a means to make a living?
While we don’t all have physical scars, nearly everybody carries some form of hurt on the inside, and most of us are petrified at the thought of anyone ever seeing it.
In Italy, they have a word that represents the facade, the image, the pretty faces we show the world, and the ugliness we hide from it – la figura.
The lady in the sun, displaying her pain in broad daylight, has surrendered her ego and her “figura,” but has retained her pride despite the hoards of people gawking at her daily. This is a nearly unfathomable vocation for most people.
Humans are fragile creatures. We come unglued easily. We hide our perceived physical unattractiveness with makeup, with workout regimes, with plastic surgery, with clothes. We also hide our emotional pain from ourselves and from those closest to us. Not because we don’t love them, but because we are afraid that if we share too much and don’t keep up this “bella figura,” we might expose that we are breakable. We might get hurt.
Ironically, this act of hiding pain away often turns the pain into frustration, sadness and hate. Eventually we become shadows of the people we were, or move farther and farther away from what we wanted to be.
The lady in the sun makes me want to cry, but she doesn’t need my tears. She’s braver than I’ll ever be.
I don’t stand on street corners saying: “Don’t look away – look at my wound. Look good and hard. It’s all mine, and now it’s yours too.”
But she does. With the grace of a ballerina and the strength of the ocean.
Maybe when someone surrenders to their own fragility, they become unbreakable.