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Moments In Italy By Lauren Pricer

written by M.E. Evans March 4, 2015

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18 Years Old: Beware

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We entered the country with stereotypes and warnings ringing in our heads:

“Beware the Italian men.  They will try to charm you.”

“Don’t open the windows on the train!  Someone could throw in a gas bomb and then steal your backpacks!”

“There are gypsies!  They will throw their babies at you so you drop your bags, then they will steal them!”

“Pickpockets are everywhere.”

“Beware the Italian men.”

First local stop after we crossed the border, a knock at the door of our cabin.  “Ah, scusi, hello.  May I sit a-with you?”  We exchanged knowing glances.  The young man was dressed impeccably and his eyes were gorgeous pools of deep brown.  He seemed polite, modest, and utterly harmless.

But, beware the Italian men.

“I am, ah, learning English?  And if we talk, it will very much help me with my English?  Si?  Yes?”

I rolled my eyes and let out a long sigh.  “O-kay, I guess,” I said.

What started out as a somewhat awkward exchange of pleasantries turned into 45 minutes of enlightening conversation with this intelligent, kind man.  He was studying at university.  He wanted to be an engineer.  He had a serious girlfriend.  He wanted to wait until marriage before having sex (maybe he was lying?).

Clearly there must be some sort of exception to the rule.  Si?  Yes?

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A Visit To The Central Market In Florence, Italy

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Central Market Florence Italy

Central Market Florence Italy

Central Market Florence Italy

Central Market Florence Italy

Central Market Florence Italy

Central Market Florence Italy

Central Market Florence Italy

Central Market Florence Italy

Central Market Florence Italy

Central Market Florence Italy

Central Market Florence Italy

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Giotto Blue

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There is no blue quite like the one found inside the Scrovegni Chapel.  I call it Giotto blue, for of course it was Giotto who painted the color all over the ceiling of the tiny church in Padua.  Upon entering, I looked up and saw that it was even more perfect  than in the art history textbooks.  Blue.  So blue.  With gold stars.  I wanted that sky to envelop me.  I wanted to bring it back with me to my bedroom and put it on my own ceiling.

Sometimes even now when I paint, I attempt to recreate Giotto blue. But I cannot.  It is bright but calming, rich but chalky.  I believe it exists only in the tiny chapel in Padua, where it has somehow lasted for 600 years.

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PIENZA, ITALY

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Pienza Italy

Pienza Italy

Pienza Italy

Pienza Italy

Pienza Italy

Pienza Italy

Pienza Italy

Pienza Italy

Pienza Italy

Pienza Italy

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VENICE AND BURANO

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It was May.  It was Venice.  We had come directly from Innsbruck, where winter had just barely loosened its grip.  But here, the sun shone brightly and we donned short sleeves as we sat on the warm, scratchy concrete that edged the Grand Canal.  We eagerly wrote our first sets of postcards and were happy just to be.

The old men sat outside of cafes all day long.  Talking, or not talking.  We ordered “personal pizza” expecting something only slightly more refined than the oil-ridden traingles tossed onto cheap paper plates back home.  What we got was simple to the eye but lovely to the palate.

The morning had brought us through winding street after winding street, all nameless,  until we threw our map into the garbage out of frustration.  Yet at the same time we felt slightly more empowered, even venturing to use “essential” Italian phrases from our guidebook.  We wandered into a more residential area.  We got lost, but in the best way possible.

After pondering for a good 15 minutes early in the afternoon we shyly approached what we deemed the very most handsome of the gondeliers to ask for a ride.  As he steered us through the narrowest of passages, he explained this and that in his broken English, while we dreamed of what might be happening inside the pastel-colored buildings whose front doors opened directly to the water.

Later, we watched children walking home from school.  I thought about marrying an Italian and having little babies.

I savored the last crumbs of my pizza.  The sun was setting.  The light turned from white to yellow to gold to pink, bright but soft all at once.

And that was the very first of what would amount to dozens of moments that I strongly considered never going  home.

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26 Years Old: Tired In Rome

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She was my very best friend but we were so tired.  And it was raining, and the area around the train station was seedy.  Also, she was hungry.  She was testy when she was hungry.  We yelled at each other loudly.  I cannot even remember what the argument was about.  It didn’t matter, because it was really just about jet lag and rain and our rolly suitcases tripping themselves over the cobblestones.

After a check in at the hotel, showers, and a little rest we prepared to go out.  IN ROME!  Finally!  We could hardly wait.  I wore tight black pants and a shiny silver top.  Too shiny … a reflection of my overeagerness.

We had selected a restaurant that was inexpensive but tasty.  It was packed.  And we sat family style at long tables.  The house wine was cheap and we polished it off quickly.  In typical fashion, our meal was simple but delicious.  Onto the bar!

It had been described in the guidebook as cheap and filled with drunken Americans.  Sounded fantastic to us.  Well, except for the Americans.  Maybe we would only stay a little while.  As we walked in the door the bartender shouted “shots!  cheap!  for all you Americans, that’s $1 each!”  We couldn’t get over there fast enough.  Shot.  Another.  And another.  Our fate was sealed.

Quickly, two surly men appeared at our side.  Not American.  Aggressive.  Pushy.  Creepy!  Beware the Italian men?  But not Italian either.  My friend spotted two empty chairs at a table with two young guys already seated.  She dragged me over.

“Help,” she said to them breathlessly.  “Can we sit here?”  We sat before they could even answer.  Looking somewhat startled but also pleased, one of them started up a conversation in no time, then pulled my friend onto the dance floor.  His friend and I stayed put.  “Parla inglese?” I aksed.  He shook his head no.  Hmm.  I pulled out my phrasebook.  My accent was atrocious.  I spent several minutes single-handedly destroying his  beautiful language.  I needed water.  We resorted to simply pointing at words in the phrasebook.  He got me water.  He was very polite.

By now my friend and her new boyfriend were making out on the dance floor.  Really, really making out.  We’d both gone from zero to 100 way too fast.  I have no recollection of even a passing concern about letting them drive us back to our hotel.  Not a smart choice.  Beware the Italian men.  But luck was with us, and after an exaggerated goodbye in the back seat between my friend and her Romeo, we got out safely and stumbled back into the hotel.  Oh, we could hardly walk.  We fell down.  We crawled.  We laughed and laughed.  The concierge looked at us disapprovingly.  We were American girls behaving very badly.  The embodiment of our own stereotype.  Apparently I threw up.  I have a vague recollection of us both sprawled on the bathroom floor.

We didn’t awaken until noon the following day.  I couldn’t move.  My head was a cement brick, my mouth filled with dry cotton balls.  She couldn’t move either.  Even to get water.  Or Tylenol.  We became truly worried we might have to go to the hospital.  “I don’t want to have to go,”  I cried.  “That is so scary!  We are in a foreign country!”  I pictured beds with thinning mattresses set upon creaking springs.  Dirty needles.  Surely this was far from the reality.  But still, No.

By 4 pm we were able to get dressed.  We ventured out for some fresh air.  We were pale and shaky.  The walking did us good.  So did the huge bottles of Evian.  By the time we got to the Trevi  fountain, we tossed our coins over our shoulders, already knowing we’d want to return.

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30 Years Old: Belonging

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Who in God’s name would bring a suitcase to the CFA exam?  If you know the exam, a 6-hour marathon with 3 different levels that takes a minimum of 3 years to pass and considered to be the most difficult in the world of professional finance, you already know the answer:  nobody.  First of all, you would certainly not be allowed to bring it inside – everyone is searched.  Calculators inspected.  Baseball hats not allowed (you could cheat by writing the answers inside the brim).  Water bottles not allowed (you could cheat by…well, I don’t know.  But just in case).  One wrong move and you are kicked out of the exam…and must wait another year to try again.  Another year to go through the months of studying, of not seeing your family, of extreme stress and pushing your brain to memorize more than one should ever have to, then trying to hold it in until it can finally be regurgitated on the first weekend in June.

But this is not about the CFA exam; this is about Italy.  The reason for my bringing a suitcase to that year’s test.  It was left outside of the exam room, of course.  But it was on the fringes of my mind even as I struggled to calculate the ROI of an imaginary company’s financials.

At the final half hour, I was done.  Brain could barely function.  Exhaustion setting in.  I sat and tried to double-check my answers but as each minute ticked away I was one step closer to vacation, my fiancee and my family.

When we were allowed to exit I rushed out the door with the other thousand or so “candidates.”  The majority of them would head straight to bars and proceed to drink heavily.  I, however, hopped onto the T and got myself to the airport, onto the airplane, and en route to Paris.  I could finally breathe.  The hard part was over.

I missed my connection in Paris.  I had been awake for  25 hours straight.  I blindly followed the instructions of the Air France attendants who were trying to find another way for me to get to Rome.  I called and left a message for my family, all of whom were waiting for me to arrive so that we could then make the twisty drive down the Amalfi Coast to Positano.  I waited and waited.  I tried to fix my hair in the bathroom.  I bought some french souvenirs.

When the second plane finally touched down, I ran out to see my fiancee (who had been working in Milan for the past several months), my parents, my aunt.  My happiness/relief turned to tears – a release from the pent-up anxiety I had been carrying around for too long.  The ride seemed endless and made me nauseated.  The memories from the rest of the day are foggy, as was my brain at the time.  I could not keep my eyes open at dinner.  I just remember that there was fish, and the fish eyes seemed to be looking at me and asking “Why don’t you just go to sleep?”  Later everything became hysterically funny.  I couldn’t stop laughing.  It wasn’t the wine – it was simply the sleep deprivation…or perhaps the giddiness that comes from breathing the Italian air.

And when I awoke the next morning, I was treated to a wonderful breakfast, and spent the rest of the day at the hotel pool, overlooking the lemon trees and mediterranean waters, chatting with those dearest to me, and feeling I was back where I belonged.

Author Bio:

Lauren is a wife and mother living in Vermont, USA.  While her background is in finance, she has always enjoyed writing and has been having a love affair with Italy for the past 20 years.  She will soon be opening an online boutique dedicated to fashion and home decor solely designed and handmade in Italy.  Follow her progress on Twitter: @appuntoUS !

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2 comments

Michelle March 4, 2015 at 2:51 pm

This was just lovely!

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Un po' di pepe March 7, 2015 at 2:52 pm

Lovely post full of wonderful memories Lauren. I’m not sure if you are an artist, but I’ve done some writing/research about Ultramarine (Giotto) blue too. Here is the link: http://unpodipepe.ca/2014/11/23/nel-blu-dipinto-di-azzurro-a-history-of-the-colour-blue/
In bocca al lupo for your new venture. Ciao, Cristina

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