Instead of Valentine’s Day, Why Not Celebrate The Pagan Holiday That It’s A Cover For?

A couple of years ago, I got invited to a “single ladies outing” on Valentine’s Day, which sounded good until said single ladies informed me that we’d all be getting together for an evening viewing of the romantic moving picture “Dear John.”

I declined.

There is no worse way to spend Valentine’s Day than crying over a second-rate version of “The Notebook” alongside other single women in a theatre full of couples. Valentine’s Day isn’t fun for single people, but there’s no need to make it worse by doing things like this.

I asked three single men what they do on Valentine’s Day if they don’t have a date, and they said they either go out to prey on lonely women at bars, or play with their Xboxes. Seems reasonable.

Some people base their stance on Valentine’s Day on their relationship status. I do not. I’ve come to enjoy the day for its chocolate offerings, and as a chance to throw shade on those canoodlers who put their love on display on park benches and at busy coffee shops; mostly though, while I am fond of love and romance, I dislike February 14th.

My disdain for Valentine’s Day started in the Second Grade, when, being the new girl at school and not privy to the ways of the Valentine’s Day card game, I arrived to class on February 14th with Mickey and Minnie “Be Mine” cards for everyone. We had all made little red paper heart cardholders and taped them to our desks the day before. As I went around delivering my cards, a pretty blonde girl named Lindsey I desperately wanted to look like and be friends with said, “You brought a card for everyone?” I found the envelope with Lindsey written on it and handed it to her. “Yes, here you go!” I said. She laughed and turned to her cool friends, proclaiming: “Carla loves Nathan!” Nathan was the dirty-faced booger eater who made honking noises during prayer time that I had just delivered a card to.

The world turned very dark the day I learned about the Valentine’s Day card hierarchy. These little monsters only gave cards to certain people, and they selected different cards based on whether the recipient was a friend, acquaintance, or crush. At the end of the day, everyone counted their cards, and the kids with the most were the Valentine’s Day winners. The kids who received the least cards either cried, pretended not to care, or did as I did and drew pink hearts being pierced by blood dripping daggers.

I got four cards that day. One was from my teacher, one from my friend Mary, one from Soon, who was also new to the school, and my last card was from Nathan, the booger face. He had made it for me out of black construction paper, glue, and white out after I gave him mine, and now we were officially “dating,” which meant he pulled my hair a lot and pushed me off the tall slide on the playground at recess.

Image

I’m my own Valentine, ok?

In the years that followed, the teachers adopted a rule that you either brought a card everyone in your class, or no one at all. I’d like to think that I helped instigate this change, but I did not. Valentine’s Day sucked for most of us. Imagine if your entire office had to bring everyone a Valentine’s Day card? It would be a brilliant reenactment of elementary school politics complete with the dude who totally forgot to buy cards and scrambles to make his out of used computer paper and highlighters.

I did some V-Day reconnaissance, because despite what you may have heard, Saint Valentine is not exactly a sweet, rosy-cheeked cherub with magical arrows.

Depending on who you talk to, St. Valentine was either a Roman priest practicing in the Eternal City, or a bishop in Umbria. He either got in trouble for performing Christian marriages, or for healing people while serving Jesus. Either way, Valentine ended up in a Roman prison circa 270, which wasn’t the best place for a Christian to be at that time. Emperor Claudius II was said to have taken a liking to the charming Valentine, but Claudius’s affection for V waned when the smooth talking priest tried to push his Jesus agenda on the pagan Emperor. Love might conquer all, but had little effect on Claudius. Valentine was soon bludgeoned and beheaded.

The patron saint of love has an exceedingly vague history, stacked with contractions. Seems about right.

So little is known about the details of St. Valentine’s life that it is widely rumored he was chosen by the Catholic Church for his relative anonymity to cast a Christian shadow over the Pagan holiday Lupercalia. Here’s were things get a bit more exciting, because wolves. This festival was celebrated from February 13th to the 15th each year as a way to ward off evil spirits and purify Rome. It also honored the she-wolf, who, according to Roman lore, suckled Romulus and Remus when they were wee abandoned babies. Romulus would go on to kill his brother and found Rome.

St. Valentine’s Day, celebrated on February 14th each year, under the guise of love and hearts and cherubs and romance, is actually the Catholic Church masking a much cooler holiday that featured feasting and used a wolf for a mascot. If you’re into folklore, or 80s animal t-shirts, or the film Moonstruck, a wolf says more much about passion and love than a curly-haired man in a diaper.

There’s a town in Italy’s Abruzzo region called San Valentino. You might think that San Valentino would be a town brimming with romance, a little love settlement in a country that lives for romance, but you would be wrong, because it’s basically the opposite of that. Every year, San Valentino hosts a parade called Festa dei Cornuti (the Festival of the Cuckolds), which honors, or mocks, men with adulterous wives by parading them through the streets.

As you know, despite this town, and St. Valentine’s sketchy past, Feb 14th has become a celebration of love.

Fine. Celebrate love on your made-up holiday.

BUT. Shouldn’t every day be a celebration of love? Not just romantic love, but love in general? You can’t just go around being cranky, stealing dogs, yelling at baristas, and kicking the backs of people’s chairs at movies, and then go buy your girl diamonds on Valentine’s Day like you’re Saint V’s gift to humanity.

I have nothing against the idea of celebrating love, and I like to think I do so in the way I live my life, day-to-day, so there’s no need for egregious gestures to make up for a year’s worth of ass-faced behavior come February 14th.

This year, instead of Valentine’s Day, I will be celebrating the Pagan wolf holiday Lupercalia. I won’t be sacrificing goats and dogs, but I will be warding off evil spirits and purifying my soul by eating a lot, praying to pagan gods, and drinking enough wine to happily howl at the moon.

Honor Valentine’s Day if you must. Go ahead and hand your wife flowers. Give your husband some chocolate, but also write your mom a letter and tell her why you love her. Call your dad to wish him a lovely day because you were thinking of him. Kiss your grandma if you can. Be extra nice to strangers. Hug a damn dog.

Whether you are single or not, make the day about loving everyone, including yourself.

If I had to do second grade again, I’d do it just the same. Cards for everybody.

Madonna’s Namesake

Madonna was born to offend you, now wish her a Happy 54th Birthday.

Every single Italian I met when I lived in Rome had the same reaction to my last name: “Ciccone, like Madonna!” They know that Ciccone is Madonna’s last name, what they’re not buying, however, is the Madonna part.

“Carla, what is her real first name?” my friend Massimo asked me. “Madonna,” I said. He laughed and shook his hands the way Italians do when they want to say, “mamma mia! Whaddaya talkin’ about?!” without actually saying it.

While they wholly embrace Madonna as her stage name, it’s unthinkable blasphemy that Madonna’s real name is Madonna. In Italy, that name is reserved for the one and only Holy Virgin Mother of God.

“It has to be Maria, Mary, Marie,” said Massimo, and after a trip to the World Wide Web proved him wrong—as she is indeed Madonna Louise Ciccone—he was left shaking his head.

Madonna had offended him. Not with her singing or stage humping or cross burning or boob flashing, but with her name.

Etched on her birth certificate, the seven letters that make up her bold first name contain within them an inherent contradiction. It represents the antithesis of what she is. If faced with the choice of being the Madonna or the whore, Madonna is the whore every time, and proud of it.

I don’t have to tell you about the impact Madonna’s had on music and culture. She ushered in the seminal music video era of the early 80s with so much sass that she transcended the corniness of the decade and transformed a generation of tween and teen girls (and boys) into lace sporting, multiple cross wearing, messy haired, gum chewing, cheeky little queens.

She was a fearless, fun, envelope pushing badass who challenged the norms of her Midwestern, motor city Catholic upbringing with so much gumption that, though many people were put off by her, they still believed her.

I remember my grandfather smiling down at me in the basement of his house in Toronto as he held up a poster of Madonna in 1987. He told me that we had the same last name as her and were from the same part of Italy, and I was in awe of the beautiful blonde woman with the dark eyebrows, red lips and mean face who, thrillingly, could possibly (but probably not) be my fifth cousin.

The video for 1989’s “Like A Prayer” featured a mélange of scandalous taboos at the time: interracial making out in a church, bumping and grinding, also in a church, and cleavage bouncing in front of burning crosses next to… a church! So it was perfect for a bunch of 7-year-old Catholic school girls to imitate at school.

My friends and I did so over recess one day, happily dancing and acting out the words of the song on a grassy hill. Life is a mystery… Watching us from her pious corner was the hawk-eyed relic of our Catholic elementary school, my second grade home room teacher, Mrs. Van Kant. Everyone must stand alone…

Van Kant somehow found out that Madonna the hussy’s last name was also my own, and pulled me aside before class. “You have the same last name as Madonna,” she said, her stale coffee breath assaulting my nose as she hiss-whispered through her teeth. “She is defiling the church. You better pray for her soul.”

Mrs. Van Kant was terrifying. All tightly wound white curls and high-collared, starched blouses, she constantly rapped a long, yellow pencil against the palm of her hand while patrolling our desks. She’d whack kids on the head with it for chewing gum, looking sleepy, or not praying loud enough. Madonna would’ve despised her.

Had I been 12 at the time, I would’ve been like “screw you, you tight ass bitch and hell yes Madonna CICCONE!” but I was not 12. I was 7. I was scared to death of teachers, hell and the devil and wanted nothing more than to be a good Catholic girl. Madonna was really messing with my elementary school God game, so after praying for her, I viewed her with severe side-eyed skepticism and hated her very much for three years. Until, that is, she became Mae Mordabito.

“A League of their Own” was the zenith of Madonna’s film career. The 1992 movie had a talented ensemble cast and was about women stepping in to play big league baseball for the masses while the men were off killing Nazis during World War II. They faced ridicule and sexism, they had to play in skirts, and they kicked ass.

Not unlike Madonna herself, #5 Mae Mordabito was lippy, feisty, and wicked. At one point, she poisons her team’s female chaperon Mrs. Cuthburt so the girls can sneak out to go swing dancing. More than anything, Madonna, and the rest of the Rockford Peaches (Geena Davis, fist pump!) made awkward prepubescent girls like me want to be sporty and play baseball, which I did, for a little while.

My musical tastes have always run more rock ‘n roll gypsy than pop princess, and I’d be the first to agree if you told me that Madonna’s songs, voice, words, face, performances, antics, or life choices have offended you, but love her, hate her, hate to love her, or love to hate her, Madonna has been the pinnacle of female pop stardom for the better part of the past 30 years. She’s sold over 300 million albums, which makes her the world’s top selling female recording artist.

Two years ago, I took an Alitalia flight from Rome to Sicily. I gave them my passport, and upon seeing my name, the attendant looked at me and smiled wide. She then called a coworker and said, in Italian, “I have Madonna’s niece at my desk!” They bumped me to first class and didn’t charge me for my extra heavy bag. I didn’t correct them. Madonna wouldn’t have wanted me to.

She’s been condemned and rewarded in grand fashion throughout her career, and in much more insignificant ways, I too, have been condemned and rewarded for my name-association.

As she turns 54, my wish for Madonna is to keep on living unapologetically, to keep on pushing (which she will, because she’s Madonna).

Fairground stripper, beret wearing rapper, new-age yogi, whatever’s next for Madonna, it’ll be provocative, because Madonna Ciccone was born to be a controversial anomaly fighting against the majority. I haven’t always liked or agreed with her, but I have always admired her.

She might have the name of a saint, but she’s got the balls of a lion.

Reminiscing about Roma

I was thinking today about  how I’ve all but abandoned this blog since moving back from Rome. Sure, Rome was a profound and unique experience for me, but it can’t stop there, right? Life can be profound and interesting elsewhere and I’m going to try to bring you profound and interesting things and keep this blog up better. Maybe I’ve been hesitant to blog because I know that nowhere can compete with Italy, at least for me.

In Rome, the beauty was in the buildings, the people, the trees, the air. You’re spoiled by it and haunted by it and most of all, mesmerized by it. I sometimes joke with people that living in Italy ruined me for life. All jokes are half true, you know? The experience of living in a place where Disney princess fairy dust floats through the air is indeed mind altering. In my old apartment in Trastevere, which is one of Rome’s oldest and illest areas, I’d work sitting by an open window. Everyday, like clockwork, the smell of fresh baked bread and the most delicious candy you can imagine would waft in on a gentle breeze. I’d look up at the little angel statue carved into the building across the street and the groups of ivy crawling up the wall beside her, and then I’d look down at those charming, uneven cobblestone streets and shake my head. how is this real?

I’m fully aware that Italy has more problems than not. Especially now. What I’m referring to has nothing to do with national debt crisis, or the backwards politics, or the illogical bureaucracy or the bunga bunga bullshit. It’s more the fabric of a culture that was built around living for pleasure. Once you’ve experienced living in a place where they want to enjoy everything they see, taste, smell and touch, it’s hard to come back to concrete sidewalks and frothy, burnt cappuccinos. 

It’s also hard to compete with the pizza. Pizza is the best thing Italians ever invented, in my opinion, and I do enjoy it in all of its forms. But I’ve actually been thinking about Italian pizza all day. The thin crust, the simple punchy tomato sauce, the mozzarella. I’m officially salivating. I will return to Italy one day and the first thing I’m doing is getting myself a pizza. 

Pizza Margherita, love of my life

Speaking of beauty and enjoying life, I just witnessed two construction workers have an uncontrollable giggle fit in my back alley. It was pretty beautiful. 

Roma

When I first moved to the city, Rome seemed like a feral she-beast waiting to rock me, rob me and rape me, but I gave her time, and with time, she opened me up to her, and in turn, she opened up to me.

Perhaps Roma is the ultimate symbol of a woman. She’s strong but feminine, beautiful but slightly wicked, lovely and sensitive but tougher than the rest. Although she’s been conquered, sacked, burned down and passed around by emperors, kings and dictators, she’s never really belonged to anyone.

Like the winding river Tiber that runs through her middle, she’s water. You can feel her with your hands and she’ll leave you wet if you touch her, but try to hold on to her and she’ll pass through you – leaving you changed, touched, loved – but leaving you, all the same.

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The Tweet, The Bruce, The Retweet

Last Friday night, I was at home working on my screenplay (my social life these days would bore my grandma), and I got hung up on a character who wasn’t quite saying the things I wanted him to say, which seems to be a familiar story with the men in my life, even in fiction. So when my iTouch started making that annoying “bleepity-bleep” sound it makes when I get a new email, it was hard to not become fully distracted by it.

I tried to focus and not check it right away, but I then received three more “bleepity-bleeps” indicating three more emails, and I could no longer ignore it. I’m really not that popular, so four emails in two minutes is kind of a big deal for me.

Expecting to see four forwards from my mom, I was surprised that the emails were all from this blog. They were notifications of comments made on one of my posts – that being the one about my serendipitous run-in with Bruce Springsteen at the Rome International Film Festival last Monday (I still can’t believe it really happened, and I’m still just as happy as the moment it did).

Usually my dad, a couple of my friends and a few of the people who follow my blog regularly write me comments (hi guys, and thank you!), so it shocked me to see that these comments were from people I had never heard of-or from-before.

Being the curious little sleuth that I am, I checked my blog to investigate my sudden popularity.

The Gypsy Lied gets a reasonable amount of views everyday, nothing out of this world, but I’ve been generally content with the numbers. On this day though, when I looked at the graph that shows viewership for the month, I saw this:

At first, I wondered what could be wrong with my blog. Clearly I hadn’t received thousands of views in a matter of minutes just because.

I clicked on the very tall bar, and it took me to a page that indicated that all these viewers had been referred to my blog by a certain website. That website being: www.twitter.com/springsteen aka Bruce Springsteen’s twitter page.

Look!

My name, my “tweet,” and a link to my blog were at the top of Bruce Springsteen’s twitter feed! Now, being the nerd that I am, I get excited when anyone retweets me, but when Bruce Springsteen does it, it’s like a full plate of happiness with a side of  “Oh My God” and Tiramisu for dessert.

While candy rainbows and magical unicorns collided to create blinding fireworks in my happy little head, I did what I always do when I’m at home on a Friday and Bruce Springsteen retweets me. I called my mom.

The conversation went like this:

“Mom!”

“Who is this?”

“Carla… your daughter.”

“Why are you calling? What’s wrong?” (I need to call my mom more often)

“Nothing’s wrong. I just got retweeted by the Boss! Bruce retweeted me!!!”

“I don’t understand. What’s a retweet?”

“Ok – I tweeted a link to the article I wrote about my Bruce encounter the other day, and he – BRUCE SPRINGSTEEN – retweeted it. That means all of his followers can see my tweet!” (The generational digital divide is not going to interrupt my elation, dammit!)

“Ohh that’s wonderful! Did he say he liked your article? Did you talk to him?”

“No, I don’t even know if he saw it, probably someone who works for him did, but my blog is exploding!!!!”

“Is it going to be ok?!” (Damn you, generational divide!)

“Yes. It just means lots of people are visiting my blog.” (My mom and I clearly need to have a chat about Twitter, blogs and the like so this conversation goes a bit smoother if it ever happens again)

I got off the phone and did a little happy dance, jumped around a bit, ate a cookie, sent an incoherent email to my sister that looked like this: “THE BOSS, RETWEETTTTED, SO HAPPY, BLOG,” and that was that.

I realize that Springsteen probably doesn’t man his own Twitter page, but the fact that whoever does it for him saw my tweet, read my blog and liked the story enough to retweet it, well that’s just awesome. Here is the post, if you haven’t read it and you’d like to:  http://tinyurl.com/65phusy

A huge thank you Bruce Springsteen and to the guy or gal who runs his twitter page for retweeting me and giving my blog such a nice plug. You made my day. Ok, maybe my year.

Springsteen’s in Rome – I think I’ll Meet Him

Italy is a country blessed with beauty, food, culture and an incurable disorganization that boarders on humorous, even when it messes with you. Like when you’ve been waiting for the bus for an hour in the rain, only to find out from a passerby that the transit workers are on strike for the day because they collectively decided they needed to watch the football match instead of go to work.

Things in Rome seem to work by not working. They fall apart so obviously and dramatically, and in the end, they come together so calmly, like: what do you mean you were worried? This is Italy. Living in Italy is like watching a never-ending soap opera, full of stress and emotional highs and lows. But when it counts, Italy usually comes through.

Such was my experience when my friend Ale and I decided on a whim that we should go meet Bruce Springsteen at the Rome International Film Festival. I knew he was going to be there. Did I think I would see him? No. Did I think I would meet him? No.

I’ve never been to a red carpet situation before, (the Calgary International Film festival doesn’t count…sorry Calgary, love you!) so to pop my red carpet cherry with the premiere of the Boss’s new film The Promise: The Making of the Darkness on the Edge of Town was like losing your virginity to Ron Jeremy. There were lots of people, lots of press, and lots of excitement.

We just walked up, stood at the barricade for about a half hour with a whole bunch of enthusiastic Italian men, and some women, and then, there he was. Il Boss.

The Boss

If cool was a man, he would be Bruce Springsteen. There’s no pretense there. There’s ego, obviously, but it’s contained within a soul that’s so sincere and deep, the ego’s a warm one. He talks to his fans, engages them, signs everything they put in his face. This would have been a bonus for me, being that the people around us spoke to him only in Italian, however when my time came, when the Boss himself was looking at my face, the only words that would come out of my mouth were: “Hi Bruce, Ciao Bruce, Hey Bruce… Bruce!” Words, which ironically are my livelihood, seriously failed me. But he didn’t mind the blubbering. He just smiled and said “hi sweetheart,” and then after he walked away, he turned around and smiled again and waved, and I’m going to say he was waving at me, because to me, he was.

I still haven’t processed the evening. I don’t know it’ll ever really sink in. It was magic. I felt like a child. Yes, I choked in front of a man I call Uncle Bruce because I’ve known and loved him for my entire life, but it was a such a calming, transcendent experience that I don’t even care.

I’ve been getting asked a lot lately if I’m into older men because of my Bruce love. To clear this up, I have never thought of him in a romantic way. He’s the same age as my dad. I look at Bruce as a sort of “favourite uncle” who I’ve known through song since I was three and who just happens to be the world’s best rock star.

My Aunts and my mom’s friends keep emailing me about how lucky I am to have met the Boss and how sexy and cool they think he is. Even at 61, there’s no rock star on earth that has what he has.

Springsteen is the last of the great rock performers. The ones who did for the love of doing it. The ones who did it, who do it, because, in his words: “More than rich, more than famous, more than happy, I wanted to be great.” And he’s kept that promise to himself and to his fans throughout his over 30-year career.

He treats his fans well. This is something not all rock stars do because they don’t have to. The Boss is a man of the people, by the people and for the people, so he gives to his people.

One of the loveliest things I have heard him talk about is the conversation, the dance, he’s had with his audience for all these years. Like we’re all talking shop with him in a dimly lit watering hole in Jersey. We’ve all been with him on this crazy ride. In the world of selfish, narcissistic rock stars, this is an acknowledgment that makes lifelong fans smile, reassured that they’ve picked a great artist to dedicate their time to. And it makes his music more enjoyable because you know that he’s not lying to you. He’s there with you.

So yes, meeting Springsteen was the realization of a dream for me. I still can’t quite believe it happened. It would be like my devout Catholic Nonna meeting the Pope… or, better yet, Jesus himself. Being that I named my beloved little blog after some of Bruce’s song lyrics, I felt I needed to share this experience with you.

I don’t think it will be the last, however. I think I will meet the Boss again in a setting where we can talk about music and life  (delusional self-confidence is my new thing), but for now, I have a smile, a wave and a hello from him. For now, that’s more than enough.

For all the bitching I’ve done about Italy, I really do love it here. It is as much a part of me as my love for Bruce is. And I truly believe that this experience could have only happened here. Only in Italy could you walk up to the red carpet at the movie premiere of the world’s biggest rock star a mere 30 minutes before his arrival and have this kind of experience.

The reason it all happened so “smoothly” was because it was raining, and Italians don’t like rain, so only the diehards “braved” the weather. Please, I’m from Canada!

I also think the experience was able to happen because security here is more like a relaxed conversation between drinking buddies.

“Security, what do you mean? Nah, we don’t need much security. Not to worry.”

“True. Who would want to hurt Bruce Springsteen, the Boss? We love him!”

Really. That’s the logic here, which goes back to what I was saying before about how things seem to work by not working. Because Italy is a country shaped like a boot, and the head of the body it belongs to is in the clouds, among the stars.

I also decided that I don’t like men who like Bruce as much as I do, which is pretty funny, but apparently three’s a crowd in my lifelong love affair with Springsteen.

Me and Ale

For everyone who has written me about how lucky I am to have met him – thank you. It was a thrill and an amazing experience. However, I’m a big believer in going after what you want. For me, this was something that was always going to happen. To borrow a quote from the Boss himself: When it comes to luck, you make your own.

From this Gutter, we see the Stars

To say that the traffic in Rome is chaotic would be an understatement. It’s Vespas weaving in and out of messy lines of cars, riders scraping their knees on the sides of buses as they squeeze by; it’s old women not stopping at red lights—not because they couldn’t see the light—because they saw a chance to go; it’s honking, yelling, arm waving craziness.

And so, Roman or not, Italian or not, if you come to Rome, you must acquire certain survival skills, if only to successfully cross the road.

A little puppy named Blackie knows this all too well. At two months old, she comes when she’s called, sits when she’s instructed to, and she waits patiently (and with aching cuteness) when her owner steps inside a bar to punch back an espresso.

Following her owner, and with no leash on, Blackie cautiously navigates through pedestrians and traffic. She looks up at her red pants wearing guide as they cross the street, her clumsy little puppy paws swiftly hitting the pavement behind him. She waits patiently by his side when he stops to chat with someone on the street.

He’s stern with her, but loving, bending down for a cuddle as they wait to cross the road again, and as he does, she becomes the 2-month-old puppy she is, jumping onto his lap, licking his face and getting his red pants all muddy while he laughs. Blackie knows that she’s lucky to have such a great Roman tour guide.

For the rest of us, though, Rome is an ancient urban jungle without a kind navigator leading the way. The city will open her loving arms to you, but you’re not safe to rest there for long. It’s transient. If you don’t move with it, you’ll be swallowed up by it.

You can be amidst the most mind-boggling chaos, noise and confusion on the street, only to walk up a hill for ten minutes and find a serene rose garden surrounded by an enchanted city view that’ll make you thank God, even if you don’t believe in one. This dichotomy is nothing new. It’s everywhere in Italy. In the landscapes and the people.

They are both saints and sinners.

Rome will kiss you as she kicks you.

As it is in Rome, so in life. We have to walk the gritty streets, eventually climbing out of them to gaze upon a lovely vista. And there’s good and bad both above and below.

Some people are born into easy, or seemingly easy, lives. They walk through the great big building that is life and doors open for them as if by magic. People smile at them. They go to school, they get good jobs, they find love. They make it all look so effortless.

Other people are born into lives that seem stacked against them from the start. They fight for breath on the day they’re born and they scrape their way through: banging on locked doors, clawing at walls, screaming and spitting and struggling for a chance to prove themselves. Prove themselves great in whatever form of great they dream of.

But whether we’re blessed or cursed or, like most humans, somewhere in between, nobody goes it alone.

Even the most successful, self-made people would not be so if it weren’t for the help of others. Be it the teacher that tells his student that she’s good at math, or a soccer coach who recognizes and nurtures a young athlete’s potential, or a manager who takes a chance on an inexperienced employee who has the drive, but nothing to show for it yet. No matter how hard we work and how ready we are – we succeed or fail based largely on the support of a few.

Seneca, that wise old Roman, said: “luck is what happens when preparation meets opportunity.” We learn, train, and get ready for battle, and when one comes, we go for it – con la forza (with force) – and hope for the best.

I find it hard to explain, but being surrounded by Rome and her vibrant Romans has lead me to think about personality and where it comes from. How everything we do and see shapes who we are and who we are becoming. Ultimately, it’s what we do and how we do it when the cards are stacked against us, when we’re staring into a loaded gun, when we’re trying to cross the street and cars are honking and nearly hitting us and people are yelling, when we’ve fallen down so many times we’re not sure it’s worth it to get back up again. It’s how we handle these moments, not those moments when the sun is shining and roses scent the air, that gives us integrity and character.

You can be the most beautiful person in the world. You can have the best job and the most money and the nicest clothes and the perfect family. You can have houses in France and Hawaii. You can know the difference between Chateau Rothschild and Domaine Leflaive – but if you don’t have much character, you don’t have much.

Lately, this city has been kicking my ass. Nearly a year of being away from friends and family, order, politeness and consistency, and living among the madness, rudeness, and illogical entertainment that is Rome has begun to transition from fun, new, and touristy to real, draining, and unstable.

I’m not giving up, on myself or on Rome, but when I saw Blackie, the little puppy following her owner with the undivided attention of a much older dog, it reminded me how much we – dogs, people, beings – need each other. Need to be loved, hugged, cared for. We need kindness – from strangers, from friends, from family, from lovers. We need to draw love out of wherever we are, and whomever we’re with. Italians go for this love thing with reckless abandon. They love their lifestyle, they love their food, they love their cities, regions, and country, they love themselves, and they love each other.

Someone once told me that if you love Rome, she will love you right back – and this is true.

It’s in the way the sun always makes her buildings twinkle as though they’ve been bathed in fairy dust. The way even her most ruined of ruins beam with haunting, ancient beauty. It’s in the way, right now, the soft sound of a classical piano music slices through the abrasive street noise—motorinos, booming voices of arguing Italians, sirens, the hum of water running from an outdoor fountain—like a silk scarf falling slowly over a sharp sword. Watching it happen was so beautiful and so peaceful, that you hardly care that your scarf is now on the floor in two pieces.

It’s in these moments that I don’t want to ever leave Italy. When I hear that piano played so delicately, so masterfully, producing sounds so cutting and so sweet that they leap into my stomach and writhe it until my eyes are watering and my heart is aching. I picture the pianist weeping, tear drops spilling onto the keys as his fingers bounce delicately over them – long and lithe. Like Rome, he makes me smile and cry at the same time. I can’t see where this beautiful sound is coming from, but I can feel it all around me, inside me. It’s always there. Just like Rome.

“We’re all in the gutter, but some of us are looking at the stars.” ~ Oscar Wilde

Mosquitoes and Men

Last night, I dreamt that I was sleeping and then woke up (waking up in a dream while still dreaming is always trippy, no?). I woke up in my dream to find a mosquito resting on my breast while I was laying in bed.

It was one of those very large, talking mosquitoes that you sometimes meet in dreams. So, I started talking to the little fella, who said his name was Fred.

“I’m finished with your country and I’m leaving,” Fred said to me in a very deep, raspy voice with a hint of an accent. It sounded like Javier Bardem meets Tom Waits. Save for the fact that it was coming from a mosquito, the voice was actually pretty sexy.

As I lay there listening, Fred, that little bastard, proceeded to sting me before flying out of my window, leaving behind an itchy red bite on my right boob.

Now if this dream were really about a mosquito, we’d be good. Weird dreams that you can remember when you wake up make for quirky, entertaining stories you can tell to your friends and laugh about.

But this dream was not just about mosquitoes. Apparently my unconscious mind has created a hybrid of mosquito and man for me to dream about and made it an actual metaphor for my experiences this summer. Clever little unconscious, isn’t it?

Actual mosquitos have feasted on my flesh all summer to a ridiculous degree. They have stung me everywhere, repeatedly.

And men. Well, the experiences I’ve had with them over the summer have been about as annoying and as gratifying as mosquito bites.

I think Fred the Mosquito man was trying to tell me something. You see, while some girls have a “bad boy” problem, lately, I have a “project” problem. I seem drawn to those men who are lacking something within themselves and haven’t realized their full potential. Unfortunately, most of them don’t even have a full potential. These blood-sucking selfish specimens need constant ego stroking, pep talks and tending to and usually, when they’ve got what they needed, they sting me. I’m sure this habit of falling for ‘not quite right’ men says something about my masochistic personality, but that’s a whole other issue.

I’m not using stinging as an analogy for sex, either, because that would be a pretty awful way to describe sex. By “sting me” I mean they tend to do damage, emotionally.

I am now taking full responsibility for this. I have been too nice, too accommodating, too understanding. Too stupid. I’ve let those damn mosquitoes sting me over and over again.

There was a (literal) mosquito hiding in my room for the entire month of August. He was hungry for blood and when he got tired of dotting my body with his itchy red markings, he bit my forehead while I was sleeping, which is just bad manners. When I finally killed that fucker with my Breakfast at Tiffany’s novel, the mess its squashed carcass left behind was thrillingly disgusting. A huge bright red splatter of my own blood strewn across the wall. Never have I felt such joy after killing an insect or at the sight of blood.

Unfortunately, in real life, men are not mosquitoes, and most don’t have Javier Bardem/Tom Waits voices. You can’t just swat them away and when they sting you, they leave behind real emotional pain, which is harder to get rid of and way worse than an annoying red bump that fades in a week or so.

Even if I wanted to, I can’t kill any real men using a classic novel as my weapon, as I did my mosquito, but if I were a superhero, that is totally what my weapon of choice would be. I’d be called the Lit Bitch or something like that. What I do want to do is make a conscious effort to stay away from those men who I already know are “mosquitoes.” Lets face it, girls, deep down, we ALWAYS know when we’ve met one.

I’m also going to be more open to dating Italians here in Rome, because so far, I have pretty much avoided it. They can’t all be Don Juan style mammas boys who dress better than me, right?