Dirty Knees


Dirty knees. 

Francesco and I were driving from Cassino to Atina when I looked over and saw a kitten, maybe three weeks old, sitting bewildered in the middle of a parking lot driveway. I screamed “stop!” And jumped out of the car. While running over, a family (of dipshits) drove over the kitten and stopped to wait for traffic. I ran to their car and looked under. No sign of the kitten, but I could hear it mewing. I jumped up and screamed “PUT YOUR CAR IN PARK!” They did. And stayed in the car because they were seriously weird. 

I’m on the ground in Cassino, desperately looking under their car for the kitten. A few men come running over to see what I’m doing, flailing on the concrete. “There’s a kitten somewhere!” I tell them. I scream at Francesco to “Come and help you jackass!” because he’s still in the car, watching. He gets out of his mothers Fiatt and comes over. We find it, it’s climbed up into the wheel well and is hanging out there. After 10 minutes of rolling around on the ground, I finally reach the kitten and pull it out. The people inside of the car are still sitting there, with expressions like they’ve just taken a heavy dose of morphine. One is eating a sandwich. I’m holding the kitten and tell the people in the car to go. The driver shrugs and pulls away. One of the men who helped says that he knows where the mamma cat is, “she lives right there,” he points, “give me the kitten and I’ll take it to her.” I shake my head no. “I’m taking it to the vet.” Francesco says “give it back to the mom.” And they pry the kitten, who I already love and have quietly named bob, from my hands. The old man walks away with Bob, and I get into the car with Francesco. 

My knees are filthy and I realize I have Feral kitten germs on my hands. “Ew,” I stare at them. I turned to Francesco, “we saved a kitten!” 

And he says, “next time you jump out of the car, shut the goddamn door.” 

Dinner With Friends

People are people.   Let’s try that again. In every country in the world you’ll find assholes and, if you dig deep enough, you’ll find incredible people who inspire you and who you’ll bond with and get all excited when you see them. Friends, is really what I’m getting at. You’ll find friends.

Recently, we went to dinner in Cassino with a group of friends from the area. Most of them grew up with Francesco and have known him since his two front teeth fell out and were replaced with oversized bunny teeth until his head finally grew into them, through puberty, and his first kiss.  We met around 8:00 p.m. at a place in Cassino called Santo Bevitore, a restaurant with an incredible wine list and a sexy, almost musty scent from the thick stone walls and mossy exterior. It’s like many places in Italy, a marriage between the old and the new, the traditional and the modern.

Francesco and I arrived a little late with another friend, P. I ran ahead of Francesco to hug and kiss the other four we were meeting. We took a seat and P sat to the left of me, after pausing to kiss me on the top of the head. Another friend leaned over to rub my arm. But are you warm enough? What do you want to drink? How was your day? They asked all of their usual questions. The intimacy always reminds me of my dad, who is Persian, sits extremely close to you on the couch, and periodically leans over to kiss your face or to randomly say, “love you, baby.” While I read the menu, Francesco talked about our day at his parent’s home, eating. “But you’re staying with your in-laws for TWO WEEKS? One asked, “Ma Che Palle!” Everyone laughed. I read the menu: Cod, Tagliata, Ravioli and a few other standard items. P rubbed my back, and asked what I’m getting. A moment later he’s talking 5 inches from my face, enthusiastically, while gesturing like a maniac. It’s adorable. The warmth was contagious and I wanted to jump into his arms and get carried around all night in one of those little sheets that you use to strap babies to you.

We ordered wine. White wine for the fish eaters, red for everyone else.

The mood was light and jovial and, as it often does, the conversation followed a winding road with many stops. It started with small talk, the weather, eating (always eating) and evolved into teasing. Francesco made fun of me because I’m always late, but mostly on purpose, and I’m a terrible traveler despite how frequently I travel. For example, two weeks ago I went to hop on a flight only to realize my passport was expired and I had to get an emergency one (but that’s a different story). Our other friend jumped in to make fun of his wife for her travel antics, “we always come close to missing our flights!” He laughed. Francesco jumped in, “That’s how she is,” he gestured to me, “she likes to board the plane last! Her PASSPORT was expired and she wasn’t even worried! She had fun staying in NY to fix it!” The other guy laughed. They continued exchanging stories about us, while we teased them for always being too early. Then, the entire table jumped in, everyone laughing so hard they were crying.

Throughout this, every so often, someone leaned forward to check on me. Are you warm enough? Do you like the wine? Do you need more water? Want my jacket? Do you understand what he’s talking about? Let me tell you the backstory here…

The table next to us had children. We asked one of them to take a photo of us. I noted how everyone at our table spoke to the child like he was a person, not dismissively, but with respect. Now that many of us have children, I’m always interested in how Italians treat them as a culture. Kids attend adult things. People bring them to parties, or dinner, or to get an aperitivo. Nobody is like, “Ugh, a kid. Ew.” Instead, everyone is like, “HAND ME THAT BABY!” And everyone passes the baby around like a joint and tries really hard not to accidentally drip Prosecco on it. It’s nice. The baby is happy, the parents are happy, and everyone is jolly af. And that night was the same. The kids at the table next to us, including the one who snapped our photos, engaged with the adults, stole sips of wine and had a wonderful time.

The conversation eventually turned to politics and, of course, Trump. It’s never my goal to start a political debate on this blog, but I can’t avoid all political chat when I’m telling a story. Fact of the matter, Europeans hate Trump and Italians especially. Within five minutes of meeting anyone, they’d ask, “But you didn’t vote for Trump, right?” So far, even our very conservative uncle hates him. But any criticism that anyone dished out about Trump’s decisions or Tweets or speeches, were balanced by “well, we had Berlusconi.”

We talked about immigration. Two of our friends work with immigrants in Italy.  One woman who I just met (and adore) explained the “deep pain,” of working with an outcasted people. “I hear the worst stories in the world. People come from war, disease, famine, horrible situations, they risk their lives to escape. Then they come to Italy, and in many parts, are treated horribly. People won’t even speak to them in this area.” She leaned forward while she said this over her glass, her eyes blazing with empathy and I could feel how deeply she cared for these people.

We talked about marriage, family and life. I’m not exactly sure what it is but when big things happen, our friends, and Italians in general, seem to really take things in stride. I’m always impressed with the imparting wisdom, too. A breakup, a divorce, family drama, these things they deal with incredibly well. In fact, they deal better with large things than very small ones. Traffic? They’ll murder someone. A divorce? Well, that’s just what happens in life sometimes although it’s unfortunate. A breakup? “I feel bad but I know it’s temporary as are all strong feelings.”

We finished the night at a bar. I had a Moscow Mule, Francesco a Manhattan, and everyone else a Negroni. We sat under the stars, listening to the distant sounds of scooters and teenage laughter, and enjoyed each other’s company.

WOOT! Sound The Bells

So, after a turbulent three month fight with depression and anxiety, the clouds have parted, and I’m feeling GREAT. The meditation, vitamins, therapy, and very low dose of Gabapentin have be feeling more or less back to my self. Which is annoying for Francesco because he’s like, “Oh My GOD! How do you have so much energy in the morning?” And I’m like, “Shh, Franny, I’m over here writing the mayor (again) about some shit that I think we need to change.

Also, I’d like to take this moment to thank my doctors. You guys, I have an incredible therapist and psychiatrist. And also, I’ll never be skeptical of meditation again. THAT SHIT WORKS. I use an app called Headspace for ten minutes in the morning before I get my lazy ass out of bed. Seriously, try it. It’s totally not just for hippies. Also, I’m reading a book right now that my therapist recommended called, The Body Keeps The Score. Really good, kind of intense, but incredibly interesting. Have any of you read it?

In other news, I’m on my way back to Italy to do some pretty epic things. I’m hoping to hook up with some of my old blogging pals (Girl In Florence, anyone?) and be AWESOME TOGETHER. In other, other news: Oliver crapped himself the other day and me and F got into a HUGE fight because I wasn’t holding him “the right way,” over the sink. I’m sorry, FRANCESCO, but what’s the RIGHT WAY TO HOLD  A SHIT STAINED POODLE? And how do you have so much experience in this area that you’re somehow an expert? Seriously, I want to know. WE ALL WANT TO KNOW.

Things you can look out for in the future from me:

  • The site is getting a pretty badass overhaul in a minute and I have a SURPRISE FOR ALL OF YOU THAT YOU WILL LOVE.
  • More cooking videos from me and F that actually look professional and do not appear to be filmed by crack heads.
  • A travel coffee table book of images I took in Italy along with tour information and anecdotes. I promise, it will be funny and not at all stuffy.
  • More shit from Dwayne. ONE DAY! ONE. DAY.
  • MY MOTHER F#$&ING BOOK! I’m sorry, I get a ton of emails about this but it took me much longer to write it than I ever anticipated. It was hard, guys. Really hard.
  • Tons more blog posts and travel stuff! I’m filling up my editorial calendar and you’ll finally be seeing regular posts from me.
  • A new blog! Well, many of you already read my other blog but that’s getting an overhaul, too. It will be about my day-to-day life, travel, eco travel, and eco beauty. I think that some of you will be pretty into it. Now, I just need a new name. Ideas, anyone?

Also, I love you guys. Thanks for being patient. Let me know if there’s anything else you’d like to see in the comments below and I’ll make sure to cover it!

Tanti Baci.

 

 

 

 

Italy Gave Me PTSD

Italy gave me PTSD, guys. 
Just kidding. Mostly. 

As you know, I’ve been struggling with what can best be described as a total mental breakdown that came out of absolutely nowhere. Or so I thought. Turns out, I’ve had symptoms that Indicated I havent been alright for a while but I didn’t pay much attention to it. Depression (not the usual sadness that people usually associate with it but a loss of interest in things I normally love and lack of motivation, feeling out of it, lack of concentration), debilitating anxiety (irritability, feeling like things are surreal, panic attacks, dark creepy thoughts that are super disturbing, insomnia, and all of that fun stuff). It all hit me full force about a month ago and so for the month of November until now I’ve been doing whatever I can to stabilize myself. I’ve been crying in the bathroom at work, rocking myself to sleep, and clinging desperately to Francesco, like a child who has had a nightmare. It’s been the opposite of a good time.  In fact, it takes all of my energy and effort all day, every day to feel okay. Which is annoying because I’ve got shit I want to do. I’ve got goals, damnit. 

I’m seeing a therapist twice per week, an acupuncturist, and a psychiatrist. I’m doing meditation, running, taking supplements and taking something to help me sleep. My “official” diagnosis is PTSD because my childhood was like, way stable. If you’ve read my other blog you know that by “way stable,” I mean, “not at all stable and weird as fuck.” Plus, my brother’s sudden death in 2008. When I told my mom about the diagnosis she was like, “Oh, a lot of people have that.” And I was like, “Yeah, those people are combat veterans.” 


My therapist said that it’s “amazing,” that I’ve been able to keep myself stable my entire life and that it’s incredible that I’m a functioning adult. Nobody has ever called me functional before so I’m feeling pretty good about all of these compliments.  

So, back to Italy. Italy didn’t actually GIVE me the PTSD but the stress, isolation, and overall self-esteem hit from the last few years and my in-laws, seemed to have made it much, much worse. Apparently, prolonged stress does some crazy stuff to your brain and adrenal glands. And moving back home, the reverse culture shock plus trauma, seems to have really driven the crazy home. 

Why am I writing about this? Here’s why: Because people never talk about mental health, and they should. “Normal” people have problems, and sometimes life is really hard and your brain can be an asshole and it doesn’t mean you’re broken. We all have bad months or bad years and sometimes we need help to get through it. Im struggling.  If you are too, you’re not alone. 

About Italy and moving abroad: If you struggle with unresolved trauma, depression, anxiety, (the symptoms of these are much different than what I thought. I thought that anxiety means feeling anxious and depression means feeling sad. Nope. Tons more symptoms and I had no idea) or a number of the disorders somewhere in this sphere, living abroad is still possible but you might want to mitigate the stress as efficiently as you can and make sure you have a strong support system to help you through the many transitions and added stresses. 

There are therapists that specialize in expat problems. There are therapists that will talk with you on the phone, Skype, or via text. The moment you begin feeling overwhelmed, stressed, depressed, or not at all like yourself, get help. I didn’t and I regret it now. Getting help when you’re stressed or lonely or feeling down is important because it can A) bring up previous issues and make them worse, B) Cause new ones. I’ve been reading a lot about loneliness and guess what? It actually changes the gray matter in your brain. So literally, feeling alone can alter your brain. It’s fixable, but it’s not fun. 

I would say that my situation in Italy was unique because I had a unwelcoming and cray-cray family situation, but I get sooooo many emails from people in the same situation every single day that I know that my situation in Italy was unique but also kind of common. There are a lot of you out there struggling right now. 

What I’m NOT saying here is that you shouldn’t live abroad because it’s hard or you shouldn’t live abroad if your childhood sucked. Mine was basically like Stranger Things if Wynona Ryder wore camel-toe pants and married the plant monster. I’m also not saying that living abroad is hard for everyone. Every situation is different and sometimes getting away and moving to another country can be healing. My first two years in Italy were like a wonderland la-la fest and the best time of my life. The subsequent three years were filled with stress, anxiety, and feeling more alone than I ever have in my life. What I’m saying is this: Prepare for the struggle and get help when you need it. It’s okay to ask for help. It’s okay to need it. And honestly, getting help really helps. 

And, if you’re experiencing anxiety or depression, don’t wait. Get help from an expert. Also, try these things. They’ve been working for me: 

Guided meditation for anxiety (you can find a great audio on iTunes by Bellaruth Knapperstack)

Exercise (running has been a game changer for me) but my doctor says I can only do it a few times per week as to conserve my cortisol.

SLEEP (if you’re experiencing insomnia, find something to knock you out. Be it melatonin or an OTC sleep aid. DO NOT DRINK ALCOHOL WITH THEM and also I’m not a doctor so talk with yours before listening to me). 

Talk with a therapist asap

See a psychiatrist who can make sure your body is in top shape. Mine ran a million tests and turns out a bunch of my vitamins are low. She said this stresses the body so I’m on so many supplements right now. Like, so many. Like and elderly woman amount. 

Acupuncture. My lady is German and adorable and so good I don’t even notice that I’m being turned into a pin cushion. 

Lavender essential oils on everything. I put it on my pillows, on my person, in the shower, in my smelly maker (the thing that puffs out water and scents…what’s it called?) 

Supplements. Again, I have a holistic psychiatrist so she’s super big on supplements and health before medication. But, if medication is necessary, don’t be scared. It can be life saving. 

Support system: Lean on friends or join a group of people you can talk with and be around who are uplifting and positive. Don’t be afraid to tell people how you’re feeling. If someone isn’t supportive, fuck them. Tell them they’re an asshole and move on to someone who will be there for you the way you deserve. 

If someone you care about is showing symptoms of anxiety or depression, encourage them to get help and try to support them in the best way you can. Don’t be a judgy fuckstick. Read about it before you get up on a high horse and decide it’s not a real problem. 

Have any of you experienced culture shock, reverse culture shock, anxiety or depression when abroad? Or in life? How did you manage or cope? What’s your experience been like? Share your experiencing below and help others who are struggling now. 

Tanti Baci to the moon and back. 

Have Questions About Moving to Italy?


This Sunday at 9:00 am Mountain Time I’ll be hosting a live Q&A on FB. You can ask just about anything related to my Italian experience or any questions you might have about studying or moving to Italy yourself.

You can find the event on my FB page, let me know if you’re attending, start a discussion. And come hang out this Sunday. Seriously, I totally don’t want to be hanging out and talking to myself. More than I already do. 

Authentic Italian Cooking With Francesco: Ragu And Tagliatelle

Hello all!

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So, many of you already saw our instagram announcement that Francesco is making a series of cooking videos. Well, the first two are now live on Youtube. Woo-Hoo!

How To Make Authentic Italian Ragu

How To Make Tagliatelle By Hand

We will be using more professional cameras (if you’re wondering why I did a vertical shot, it was the only want to capture his head and what he was doing at the same time) in the future BUT for our first run it’s not nearly as insane as it could have been. And, how cute is Francesco!?

Since he’s shy and it’s his first foray into the public eye (he doesn’t even like Facebook), it would mean the world to me if you guys would head on over and offer some words of encouragement. Also, if you’re feeling super charitable, go ahead and share with your friends!

Questions or Comments about the recipe? Put them in the comments on Youtube and he’ll answer them asap.

Thanks so much and tanti baci!!!