[one’s idea]

one’s idea
of paradise
is a matter
of perspective:
one day
it’s a little town
on a hill
by the sea
in Italy…
then one day
it’s as simple
as anywhere
with you.

T.O. to NYC: Flipsides

She took a step and didn’t want to take any more, but she did.
― Markus Zusak, ‘The Book Thief’

Last night, I switched on the tv and there was a movie about Rome on. It reminded me of my last trip there and I started to hyperventilate because I was gripped by this indescribable, irresistible, powerful, almost manic urge to go back. I whipped out a notebook, grabbed a pen, started to look at my budget and calculate how much I will need to save every month to make it there ASAP this year…

It’s unfair, I thought when I moved to New York two weeks ago, that I have to start all over now when I spent the last so many years building a life in Toronto. But I know when I was there I felt I was waiting for the other shoe to drop. Because I was going to move to the US soon, so there was much I kept on hold. For instance, I didn’t move to a nicer apartment because I didn’t want to be stuck in a lease in case my immigration came along and I needed to leave. Or I didn’t invest in good, new furniture because it would only add to the hassles of moving when the time came.

Now that I’m here, I don’t have to worry about moving. At least not to a new country. There’s that bit of freedom. But when I moved in to my apartment, as I was setting up the place and waiting for furniture and assembling it and all that I felt upset that, for starters, I didn’t have any favourite places I could visit on a whim. I saw a pair of shoes that needed repair and I realised that I don’t know the best shoe-repair shop around here. (In Toronto, it’s “Shoe Therapy” at Bay and Charles.) I felt like getting some hot chocolate and I didn’t know which is the best spot for it. Sure, there are online reviews of pretty much everything, but it’s a different feeling when you’re actually discovering these places for yourself, from your own experiences, by trial and error, you know? And I’d already done all this in Toronto, found all my go-to spots for whenever I needed or wanted or desired any little thing. And I think what was upsetting me was that everything I’d done in Toronto appeared to be in vain because none of it mattered now or made a difference to my new life at this moment.

Then I added to this the fact that I have no friends here. The people I’d grown to love were north of the border and about 500 miles away. In this new city, I know no one. (Except an ex-bf, but that isn’t saying much, really.)

This new city is New York. Have you read of my adventures in Rome? There was something I’d forgotten about myself. My knee-jerk reaction to that movie last night reminded me of it.

If there’s one thing I absolutely love, it’s travelling alone. Solo. Discovering new places by myself, for myself, with no one else’s opinions to muddy mine, on no one else’s time but my own. I’m not afraid to have dinner by myself in a new (or favourite) restaurant. I’m not afraid to visit sights alone. I’m perfectly content in my own company, wandering the streets, people-watching, crowd-gazing, stopping for a bite every now and then, or just sitting down with a book somewhere until I’m ready to move again. Must this place be treated differently just because I happen to be living here now?

The real voyage of discovery consists not in seeking new landscapes, but in having new eyes.
— Marcel Proust

I love that I’m still single and I get to do all this when there’s no one to hold me back in any way, shape, or form. I don’t have to consider anyone else’s tastes or choices or preferences. That may sound selfish but therein lies a great deal of freedom. One doesn’t always need a companion on these adventures—except maybe if one is doing the tango but that’s a different story altogether. There also isn’t any shame in being a tourist in your own city, in my opinion. And I have yet to cover this one so I will be that tourist. I will try new cafés and eateries and be my usual foodie self. I will venture into old bookstores and grow fond of a few chosen ones. I will visit all kinds of jazz bars and, at some point, play favourites among them. Maybe I’ll be braver still and do brunch alone and find my most-loved spots for it in the city. Carrie Bradshaw did say in season 5 (…right?) of SATC, “You’re never alone in New York. It’s the perfect place to be single. The city is your date.”

The important and incredible thing is that this great city is mine to discover, to explore like I would the ones that I visit—with a major difference being that there is no cap on the time I have here. Isn’t that wonderful?! And to think…I’m actually home.

Though we travel the world over to find the beautiful, we must carry it with us or we find it not.
— Ralph Waldo Emerson

Of a Gazillion Flights, Beautiful Things, & Mishappenings

My kind, soulful, interesting, generous readers, lend me your brilliance.

I do not know what to write about. Is it a mental or writer’s block? I don’t think so. I did try writing, but the stuff that oozed out (yuck! I hate the word oozed. But it fits here.) was so personal that I didn’t think it appropriate to share for the sake of other concerned parties. And for the sake of my future sanity that would invariably be affected if those parties were to read it.

It isn’t that I don’t have material to write about either. For instance, I was in India for a month, spent two weeks in Bombay (I’ve called it that my entire life, so I can’t call it Mumbai just to be PC.), two weeks in Delhi, and had a lot of drama. On the boy-front, on the home-front. I haven’t written about any of that yet.

The 2nd half of this year appears to have a lot of travel on the cards for me. I’ve been on 11 flights in less than 2.5 months. That’s quite a bit, wouldn’t you say? It averages to about a flight a week. Crazy.

So anyway, after coming back from India, I went to the US for a week, to get the green card process started. Fell terribly ill there (shivering, shaking, high fever), but came back to Toronto for a weekend, attended a friend’s birthday thingamajig at a popular lounge and guess what? My ex-bf’s friends were there too, at a different party. Some more drama ensued. I fell sicker. Collected Dolce from The Hydrant, where he was staying for the week I was gone, and somehow made it back to the US while being on the verge of fainting at every moment.

I was in the US for 4 weeks. My, what eventful 4 weeks they were! In that time, I recovered, managed a trip to San Francisco (to apartment-hunt, unsuccessfully, but what a wonderful realtor I have!), a trip to NYC (to get away from the awfulness that was NJ for me), and made my way back home, to Toronto, alone. It was the first time I’d ever taken a cab to EWR. Anyway, that was that. Also, it was Dolce’s first time in NYC and in a hotel! My little darling did so amazingly well. I should write about pet-related travel.

And, AND, in the meantime, I was so very generously given the Beautiful Blogger Award by Andy of Our Life in 3D! Could I have been more flattered?! I mean, have you seen his blog yet?! It is so cleverly written, it routinely makes me laugh (but there’s nothing routine about it!), and the Dylanisms he shares really take the cake. That is one funny child. I hope she stays that way forever. (But I don’t have kids, so I don’t know if that’s even possible.) Andy and I connected because of our shared love of traveling and, understandably, I grew a little envious of him when I learned that he and his family go away to sunny beaches during every winter! What a delicious life! But I was in Rome at the time, so I went shopping down Via del Corso while munching on pizza bianco (oh, the memories…) and got over it quickly. He has further honored me by expressing that he would totally do a travel blog with me and, given the traveler he is, if that isn’t one of the most flattering ideas I’ve heard in forever I don’t know what is.

As you can see, there’s a lot to write about. But I don’t know where to begin. Or maybe I don’t know what to think about first, what to deal with first.

It’s strange. Sometime in May I felt like my life was stagnating, like nothing was happening with me, around me. Now it feels like too much is happening, all at the same time.

I’m sorry I have nothing better to offer right now for your reading pleasure. I’ll get my thoughts sorted out and put together something a little more comprehensible.

In Rome: Untitled; or, a Sliver of Paradise

When I jaywalked in Rome I always knew that if I were to get hit by a car, at least the odds were that it would be an Audi or a Mercedes.

There was undeniable comfort in the knowledge that delicious food lurked at every corner and one could satisfy one’s palate while sight-seeing without getting weird looks.

There were countless shoe stores. It was a dream come true. Shoes made of real leather–vera pelle–were à la mode, easy to come by and could be smelled from a distance. Same with handbags.

I heard many people answer the phone with “Amore” which means “love”. How incredibly, incredibly sweet. For maybe the first time I didn’t gag upon witnessing such affection. Didn’t know it was possible.

Speaking in Italian was a challenge, but even my broken sentences helped me carry on conversations. They appreciate the effort made and communicate back in whatever little English they speak. But as I tried to formulate phrases and questions in Italian, a strange thing happened: As I tried to string a few Italian words together to get my point across, I found that my mind was able to construct sentences or phrases in French for whatever I wanted to say! I hadn’t realised how well I knew that language. It was an extremely interesting revelation.

Speaking in past tense is sad. Cappuccinos were the real thing. Food was hearty and delicious. Dessert was rich and heavenly.

Shopping was so great. Even the less expensive goods were fashionable, stylish and of good quality. Luckily, my second week there was when the sales started so I definitely picked the right weeks for the trip. I actually set aside two days for the popular via del Corso, Campo Marzio near the Pantheon and the trendy “ghetto” near Campo de’ Fiori just to make sure I don’t miss out on anything. Who doesn’t love a “Made in Italy” tag?!


Clothes could be decidedly classic or avant garde. I bought a camel-coloured cape with a dramatic collar, a long, sumptuous soft faux-fur-lined coat with an asymmetrical neck and hemline and a classic brown leather jacket.

Shoes: I bought tall and simple tan leather boots and red patent leather heeled oxfords. Also another pair of tall and warm brown leather boots and a pair of black ankle boots, both of Manas Design. A pair of suede brownish-grey boots–the previously mentioned Clocharme. Two pairs of leather ballet flats, one in taupe and one in red. And a pair of flat, gladiator-style Roman sandals; the real deal, don’t you think?

Heretofore, I had very little brown in my wardrobe. Now I cannot believe how versatile and irreplaceable a shade tan is. How I managed without it before now, I’ll never know.

A new kinda love

Handbags. I bought one in Florence which was red leather and that was for my mom because God knows she loves that colour. A messenger style bag for my dad. For me, a slouchy tan tote, plus a smaller bag that could be turned inside out–tan brown suede on one side and black pebbled leather on the other–, plus a large structured dark brown handbag, plus a smaller caramel handbag. Also got a Liebeskind Berlin bowler-style bag that I love just a little bit more than the others. It looks like the one pictured here but is grey and black instead of olive and brown.

By the way, every place I shopped at, whatever I bought, the salespeople were always spewing fashion tips. I learned, in a city so classic, to take a few risks and, let’s be honest, European fashion is admired the world over.

Leather belts from Fellini. They shortened my dad’s belts too much though. Since belts are so size sensitive, it would make sense to let the wearer have the belts sized. I am a belt-gifting novice so I didn’t know much better and common sense did not prevail. They do fit my brother so he can add them to the rest of his gifts. Those included an authentic Manchester United tracksuit (on sale! Yay!) which was his favourite gift of all.

Christmas decorations were up until the day I left. Like I said before, my camera does not do any of the actual sights justice.

Piazza di San Lorenzo in Lucina
A sheet of lights over Via del Corso
The Fendi Christmas Tree
Via Condotti
Via Condotti - Home of Big Brand Shopping
The Mercedes Christmas Tree
Ok, Florence, but so pretty!
The Jewish Ghetto near Campo de Fiori
Street opposite the hotel leading to the Pantheon

Lots of Italian colorful tights. Can’t wait for spring.

Bright coral jewellery for my mother. A lovely cameo brooch for me. My first real brooch. I’m not quite sure exactly what I’m going to do with it but I think scarves are going to figure in the mix.

I got a great pair of purple jeans at a just as great discount: 50% off, because the  cute salesguy wanted to take me out at 10pm that night after finding out I was traveling alone. He asked me to meet him outside the store and I didn’t show up. Is that wrong?

I learned

  • that I’m not as anti-social as I think I am,
  • that technology can be very convenient sometimes and that we shouldn’t depend on it too greatly,
  • the difference between Renaissance and Baroque, and
  • that I prefer the dramatic realism of Baroque art to the classic idealism of Renaissance
  • Bernini and Michelangelo, among others, were gods.

There were astonishing, indescribable feats of art and architecture to be found everywhere and I didn’t get tired of marveling at them.

We always need more time, just one more day to take in the beauty, to soak it all up, to take mental pictures that will last forever. Two incredible weeks flew by in a handful of moments and memories. There’s never enough time to do every little thing one wants to do. That’s how it feels, at least. For that, one needs a lifetime.

In Rome: Arrivederci, Amore…

When I’d taken a flight to the US from Spain last year there was an extra security check conducted by US border security officials, after the regular security check and just before entering the gate. I remember finding it a real pain because they went through all your carry-on bags and you had to take your shoes off again and the line was pretty long. Based on the knowledge I gained due to this prior experience, I was prepared this time. Oh, yes, I was. I had a plan.

I was to get to the airport several hours before the flight so that I would be able to get the VAT refund before checking in. You see, most of  the many, many things I had boosted the Italian economy with were packed in my check-in bags. I had checked in online the day before and spoken to Alitalia about my second bag which I already knew I would have to pay for. So I’d given them my credit card information and I was told I would be charged for the bag right then so I wouldn’t have to worry about it while collecting the boarding pass at the airport. Perrrrfect, I’d thought. Then I would be able to be one of the first passengers to check in and I would proceed through security check early enough so that I could get through the next US security check without having to wait in a long line. Sound plan, si?

I got to the airport around 5 am and found that almost everything was closed. And the little tax refund booklet I had with me showed me no VAT refund points near me in that terminal. Also, remember how I said I spent my last €2 on gelato because I was so hungry? Well, I had no money for a goddamned cart for my luggage. And I had 4 bags. Two to check in and two to carry on. Somehow I managed to wheel all my bags down to the aisle listed on the screen for my flight and all the counters were closed. Of course they were closed! My flight was scheduled to depart at 10:10 am! I was more than five hours early!

So I just waited there, patiently. There were many other people around, some sitting near the counters, some almost on the luggage conveyor belts, but they weren’t waiting to check in for the same flight. They didn’t even speak English. When I tried asking them if they were there for the same purpose as I was they responded in something that sounded like Spanish. Then they slowly left that area and started to line up at one of the desks that lined the wall of that huge hall.

I waited. Patiently. Until 6:30 when the Alitalia staff finally started setting up shop. Just as I’d wanted I would be the first to check in. Except that they couldn’t find the payment for my second bag. And I did not want to pay for it twice. I mean, it was €75 for one bag which can usually qualify as carry-on baggage but was just too heavy for it. So the girl helping me spoke to a colleague and then they both went to the ticketing office to find out more while I waited patiently. Honestly, what else was there to do?

When she finally came back she told me they had my credit card information on file, but it hadn’t been charged. I asked her if she was sure and she said she was. Fine, I told her, go ahead and charge it now because I really do need to check that bag in. She gladly complied. As I leaned forward to get my boarding pass from her, I saw a sticker on the counter about getting the VAT refund. It’s just around the corner, she told me. I had seen it before. The sign there simply said “Customs”. How in the world was I supposed to know that’s where I had to go!

So, anyway, I had to drag the checked in bags all the way there, but I was the first one in and it was quick and painless. The efficient person stamped my forms without asking to see the goods. (Thank goodness because only I know how I had to pack the stuff.) Then the bags had to be dropped off at a dedicated conveyor belt for VAT-refund-claiming persons. I get there and there’s no one manning that counter. How great.

I patiently waited for a few minutes, tried pushing a couple of buttons I saw near the counter and no one appeared. So I picked up the smaller bag, put it on the belt and almost immediately it started moving and took away my bag. Yay, thought I and proceeded to struggle with placing the bigger bag on the belt. And then the conveyor belt wouldn’t move. I panicked a little and ran up to an official asking him to please help my bags be together. He directed me back to that customs office. The nice man in there was controlling the belt. The second bag was whisked away a moment later.

My gate was in section G and the tax refund spot was in section H. Oh, yes, there was another step. The “customs” office had simply stamped the forms. Now there was the matter of actually getting the cash back. So I went all the way to H and was happily the first one there just as the counter opened. I got the refund back in USD, at a terrible exchange rate but I wasn’t going to argue, and then had to get on a train to get to G.

I found my gate fairly quick and guess what? There was no second security check. You see, at the main security check, they divided passengers into two queues, one for “All Other Countries” and one for US, UK, and, I think, another country or two, and that was it for the US security check. That line was quite short too, luckily enough. Or, well, as you know by now, I was just that early.

I was the first one at my gate and gulped down a cappuccino to keep me up until at least boarding the flight. Then my best friend called with news that jolted me wide awake and I spent the rest of the time while waiting to board talking to her. After I’d been at the airport for what seemed like ages, it was finally time to get on the cramped flight. The plane was really packed with people and the guy sitting next to me was a closet-jerk with a huge fake smile. One of the stewards was really nice to me who gave me more than my tasteless low-calorie meal when I was absolutely starving. That was the saving grace.

But this time there was no thrill. There was so much to miss. So much to want to go back for. The culture, the history, the monuments, the art, the music, the language, the food, the entire experience. I spent time getting to know the city, falling in love with it and all its little quirks and then had to leave it not knowing when I would return and when we would meet again.

It looked like I was leaving voluntarily, peacefully, content, readily, but my heart…it was kicking and screaming.

In Rome: Eat, Drink and, For Goodness’ Sake, Eat Some More While You Can

These posts are being back-dated, yes, but they were written in the leather-covered journal (nothing less for collecting memories of a city so lovely) I had carried with me on the trip when I couldn’t get to the Internet. This one was written as I stayed up on Saturday night to leave in the early morning, on Sunday, for the airport.

I ate to my heart’s content. A good, utterly satisfying breakfast in the morning. Then usually a slice of pizza on the go in the afternoon, for which I had to learn how to ask for it: portar via. I love their walk-and-eat culture. You’re looking at beautiful sights, just relaxing at the Spanish Steps or walking by the Pantheon or through the narrow cobblestoned streets, window shopping maybe and eating amazing food at the same time. How incredibly awesome! There was also usually some gelato here and there, also consumed on the go. A dinner of pasta or risotto or some more pizza or a calzone at night with some wine or, usually, prosecco. Sometimes while walking around late at night, I would buy some roasted chestnuts from one of the dozens of vendors near any major sight and amble along, prying them out of their crackled shells, munching on them  in the moonlight.

And some dessert, in the afternoon or evening or at night, or, you know, several times a day, such as a lovely dark chocolate cake or torta di pera e cioccolato (pear and chocolate tart) or tartufo or the most famous Italian dessert of all: Tiramisu! The real version of that is extremely rich, delicious and absolutely sinful. And maybe some more gelato. Or a Nutella crepe at Piazza Navona. Or a Nutella ciambella maybe. Each vendor in that piazza had these gigantic jars of that heavenly stuff displayed at their small stands. Nutella was present everywhere. They had those Nutella-to-go sticks: A small container of the delicious hazelnut-and-chocolate-y goodness was attached to the box of sticks which you’re supposed to dip into the Nutella. There were bowls full of little Nutella packs at breakfast every morning.

Just thinking about it all makes me hungry. I had the most amazing gnocchi in the world. And a very, very interesting smoked cheese pizza. None of it was expensive. If there’s anyone who claims it isn’t possible to eat without emptying your pocketbook in Rome, I will refute said claim.

I’m on vacation, I reminded myself again and again and stuffed myself without guilt. Then again, of course, I was walking all the time so I’m sure I kept walking it all off. Once one goes back to sitting behind a desk all day long one cannot do the same. What a horrible, nasty shame.

The night before I left, I had spent all the cash I had in euros, leaving just enough for a car to the airport (the hotel’s car) and some coins. I had about €2 in coins. It was late. I was hungry. So I went in search of something quick and cheap. There was this really great pizzeria/cafe/bakery right opposite the hotel. It was closed. Did I mention this was late at night? So I went to the Campo de’ Fiori neighbourhood which was just behind the hotel. I found a couple of ristorantes that were open. But they would be too expensive for my modest €2 budget. I remembered a little creperie/gelateria I had seen in a small piazza around there. I managed to find it.
“Crepe quanto?” I asked in my broken Italian.
Quattro,” he said. I was good with numbers. Didn’t need that translated after all the shopping I’d done. (More on this later.)
E gelato?” I asked
Due.” Mission accomplished.
“Um, pera.” He scooped that into a decent-sized cup. “E cioccolato.” He filled the rest of the cup with dark chocolate.
And that, folks, was the last meal I had in beloved Rome.

Now, I desperately need to know: Where can I find the sensationally simple pizza bianco in Toronto? Or do I have to do my own baking now?

In Rome: Where the Skies are a Different Shade of Blue

Waking up early feels good when you have the freedom to make the choice to wake up late. I wake up early because it can give me plenty of time to get ready, have a leisurely breakfast at the hotel and head out to a bright, sunny, cheerful morning. But neither museums nor shops are open before 10 am. Mostly. So that gives me time to take a stroll on streets which are considerably less crowded that early. When it’s evening and throngs of people are on popular streets, strolling isn’t as much fun. Especially not when it’s raining, which it eventually did that night. Not fun. I may have almost taken out an eye or two with my umbrella as I strode down Via del Corso, trying to get to a quieter space.

During the day, the Roma Pass allowed me to skip the long lines when revisiting the Colosseum and Roman Forum. Those open as early as 8:30 am. The Pass also gave me three days of unlimited travel in the city’s subway and buses, but I walked everywhere, so I didn’t use that. But I used it for the Capitoline Museum and for a discount on the Baths of Caracalla which I really wanted to see.

They were amazing. I was surprised by how huge the structures were, how large an area they covered, and the mosaic floors! Real mosaic covered the floors of the giant public baths. How painstakingly they must have been placed. They didn’t do a half-hearted job at anything. There once were statues within that building and different rooms for cold baths, warm baths and hot baths. Baths created for the public, for the people of Rome. Just like the baths in Pompeii–which were built 2000 years ago!–these baths were centrally heated. Central heating in those times! Can you imagine that?! It surprises me, really, to know what they were capable of all those centuries and, in the case of Pompeii, millenia ago.

After visiting the Capitoline Museum I stopped at the top of the steps leading up to it from Piazza Venezia and looked at the blue sky. There were clouds floating about here and there, but, my goodness, it was a gorgeous sky. I wondered why it’s so much more noticeable here. Is it because being on vacation makes everything more beautiful? Or is it because we don’t take the time or have the time to look up for a moment and enjoy that beauty? There are lots of tall buildings in big metropolitan cities, yes, but what about when we’re in suburbs with not-so-tall houses around? Or when we’re driving through open fields? Do we just not notice it? I stood there, taking it in, sighing, inaudibly exclaiming at the sight. Not the man-made ones this time.