Blame Laird

Think of a 70-foot wave.

It rises out of the water like a possessed mountain. If you close your eyes to it, your mind still sees it because of the ferocious sound. It curls, creating a perfect temporary barrel that plunges towards the shore with the weight of the ocean behind it.

There’s a tiny dot on top of this giant wave.

The dot glides gracefully over the top and down into the barrel, a little white trail following.

That dot is Laird Hamilton.

Part madman, part dolphin and part Achilles, big wave surfer Laird Hamilton was literally born into the environment that he spends most of his time in. His mother gave birth to him on March 2nd, 1964 at UCSF Medical Centre into an experimental salt-water tank that was designed to ease the pain of labour.

His watery entrance into the world was but the beginning of a life spent in the ocean. Growing up in Oahu, Hawaii, Laird took to surfing at a young age, with his stepfather, former pro surfer Bill Hamilton, teaching him the ropes. He was always an excellent surfer, but despite his obvious skill and natural talent, Laird never wanted to be on the professional surfing circuit.

Instead, he invented his own shtick.

In the early 90’s, Hamilton, along with friends like fellow big wave surfer Dave Kalama, frequently surfed the North Shore of the Island of Maui. Pe’hai, also known as Jaws, boasts some of the biggest and most powerful waves in the world. Spurred on by a longing to ride the massive breaks that they could see in the distance, but couldn’t paddle to with just their boards, Hamilton and Kalama began using a Jet Ski and a towrope to get onto those mammoth waves. This method, known as tow in surfing, would revolutionize big wave surfing.

What does it take to ride a wave bigger than your house? A blatant disregard for, or a superior understanding of, fear? Yes. But it also takes brute strength. With a neck the size of a large bull’s and a muscly physique built to take on waves that could literally wipe out cities, Hamilton, save for his blonde Ken doll mane, is a scary looking dude.

He’s a scary looking dude who has ridden the world’s biggest wave.

Here’s a video from the movie Riding Giants of Laird riding Teahupoo, an insane break off the coast of Tahiti. (The money shot starts about 4:20 into the vid)

Most of us will never even see a wave that large in person, let alone be in the water when it breaks, so lucky for us, Laird’s there.

Another technique made popular by Laird, and one more accessible to us regular folk, is stand up paddle (SUP) surfing. It’s an ancient Hawaiian sport called Hoe he’e nalu in Hawaiian. Instead of lying tummy-down on the board to paddle out, the surfer stands up, balancing with his or her core strength and a long paddle. The paddle is used to propel the board forward on the water and later to balance as you ride the wave.

SUP surfing is fun because you can see everything in front of you as you paddle out to the waves. You can also do it in calm waters and lakes as a more tranquil water activity. If you take out the surfing bit, it’s basically canoeing for those who can’t sit down.

I think Laird Hamilton is the greatest, but he isn’t without his haters. Some people say tow in surfing pollutes the ocean and has corrupted the sport of big wave surfing. A lot of surfers are also bothered by Laird’s promotion of SUP surfing, mainly because it has turned into a trend of yogaesque proportions and is now a flavor of the week activity for rich businessmen and their spoiled kids to try while on vacation in Maui.

The “Blame Laird” movement was started by purest surfers as a way to accuse him of mainstreaming surfing and selling out.

He wasn’t opposed to being accused, though. Being the maverick that he is, Hamilton turned “Blame Laird” into his personal catchphrase (and business venture, as you can purchase Blame Laird merch from his website: www.lairdhamilton.com).

You surfed all day and forgot to call your wife? Blame Laird. You want to sell off all of your assets and move to a surfing village in Costa Rica? Blame Laird. You’re going to trade in the Armani suit for a wetsuit? Blame Laird. Go try your best to live the life you want, and if you get into trouble along the way, just Blame Laird

By branding Blame Laird onto stickers, T-Shirts, coffee mugs and the like, Laird’s giving us all permission to have fun at his expense.

My favourite part of the Laird video above is when he cries on his surfboard after riding that monster wave. Surfing is a sport where your strongest teammate is also your biggest opponent. Trusting yourself on waves that could kill you in an instant requires a zen-like understanding of both yourself and nature.

We’ve all had moments of this. I’ve cried while looking out at Rocky Mountains on a sunny day. I once had a spiritual moment with a goat farmer in the hills of Tuscany. I’ve felt totally embraced by and at peace with the ocean while swimming in it. I’m not totally a part of that world, though. To really be a part of it, you sort of have to live it and be it, full-bore.

This is why Laird Hamilton isn’t just a big wave surfer. He’s also a big wave.

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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Mean Girls and Widowers

Back when I was in high school, when dinosaurs roamed the earth and before digital cameras took over the world, I worked in a photo shop. I worked mostly at the front, helping customers who dropped off their film and then collected their pictures.

Sometimes, though, my developing room coworkers would let me help them develop the photos, and I got to use all of the cool machinery, and touch the film and be in the dark room. It’s a process I’ve always found fascinating and romantic, so I was in heaven every time I would do it.

Anyway, one day I was working at the front counter, and a girl I went to school with came in to pick up a some pictures she had dropped off the week before. It was a batch I had personally helped develop, so I knew they had turned out and I flitted off happily to get them for her.

Only . . . I couldn’t find them.

I looked everywhere. In the back, in the black and white bin, in the special orders bin, in the developing room. They were nowhere to be found.

I sheepishly came back to the front counter and told her that I couldn’t find her pictures.

“I can’t believe this Carla, where are they? You lost them?” she said sternly – like she was scolding a child.

“Well, I didn’t lose them,” I said. “A lot of people work here, not just me. I don’t know where they are. I’m so sorry. I’ll keep looking!”

“You better find them. I’ll be back later,” she said.

I understood her frustration and spent my lunch break looking for her photos in a fit of panicked guilt. I even took to moving the large photo machinery, interviewing the other staff at length about where on earth the pictures could have gone, and crawling into a small cupboard to see if they had fallen behind a loose slat at the back of it. I never found them, and my coworkers thought I had gone insane.

After lunch, I nervously waited for the girl to come back. I was in a pathetic state. I looked around skittishly, paced the store, rearranged things that didn’t need to be rearranged. Confrontation is not my strong suit.

As I tried to calm myself by alphabetizing the pictures in the ready for pick-up bin, an older man walked up to the counter.

He had white hair, clear, kind blue eyes, and he wore a poppy on the left lapel of his grey jacket, even though it was June. (In Canada, we usually wear poppies in November in celebration of Remembrance Day, which honors our soldiers).

“Excuse me, my dear,” the older gentleman said.

“Hello, how can I help you? Do you have film to drop off?” I replied, rapid-fire.

“No, no,” he said, “I just wanted to give you this.”

He reached into a little white box he was holding and produced a beautiful pink and orange hibiscus flower, and placed it in my hands.

“My wife died five years ago,” he said. “She was the loveliest, most wonderful woman I’ve ever known. She laughed a lot, and she had an energy made people feel warm and happy.”

“I’m so sorry for your loss,” I said as I delicately held the flower in my palms of my hands.

He nodded.

“That there was her favorite flower. Every year, on her birthday, I buy one and give it to a woman who reminds me of her.”

I smiled at him.

“You’re not a woman yet, but you will be soon,” he said.

I nodded.

“Put it in water, ok?” he said as he squeezed my hand. “My dear, I hope that one day you will be loved and adored as much as my wife was.”

And with that, he let go, turned around and walked out of the store.

I watched him leave and then looked down at the flower in my hand. It seemed to be radiating happiness.

I felt like I had just witnessed some sort of miracle. That nervousness that had eaten at me all day was replaced by a light, still calm. Like I was on a beach in Maui, where these flowers grow so freely, on a perfect, sunny day. Tranquil.

When the girl came back later that day, I decided that if she had calmed down about the situation, I’d give her the gorgeous hibiscus flower the old man gave me and maybe it would brighten her day, too. Pay it forward, so to speak.

As she walked up, I told her that I had looked everywhere I could have looked and that I was very sorry, but her pictures weren’t here.

“You threw my pictures out on purpose, didn’t you?” she said.

“What? No, of course not!” I said. “This happens sometimes, it was just a mistake.”

“I’m going to come back when you’re not here and talk to you manager,” she said.

“Ok, fine, whatever you want,” I said.

“”You’re a bitch!” she snapped.

I looked down at the lovely flower under the counter, and then looked into her eyes.

“I’m very sorry for your loss,” I said as she shot daggers at me with her eyes.

Later that day, I gave the flower to the loveliest woman I know – and one I’m sure the gentleman would approve of – my mom.

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

Something for the Darkness

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.

21st Century Bad Boys (& Girls)

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 – Basta!

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!

easter

history. easter. rise up. grandmas. grandsons. granddaughters. uncles. aunts. cousins.

springtime. flowers. chocolate. warmth.

purple. yellow. crosses. death. resurrection.

getting drenched by the Priest’s “blessing” because  you’re sitting too close him as he walks by dipping leaves into water and then throwing the water onto the congregation. my cousin and i laughing too loudly as we get hit by the water. laughing even more watching others wince when the water hits them.

the leader of the choir is tone deaf. the priest is hard to understand. i wish the pope in Rome could be better. i don’t understand much of what this church stands for anymore.

but my grandmother is smiling, so it’s a great afternoon.

easter is always one of my favorite days.