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I read my previous post and could hear the voices in my head: wait, what? You don’t post anything from April to July and make vague noises about Italy? What happened? How did this happen? What is going on!

Perhaps I flatter myself too much and you, my reader, couldn’t care less about my doings over the last four months. But if so, humor my vanity while I relate the outline of my life in the last few months.

I finished junior year, ran home in a rush to pack for Rome and the beach, stayed a few days at the Outer Banks of North Carolina on a family vacation, and drove up to D.C. to fly to Rome. Exhale. And yes, it was quite as hectic a time as it sounds. But some how, miraculously, I finished the semester strongly and found time to plan and pack for my month abroad while planning and packing for the beach and putting my affairs (i.e. work) in order in the states. I also got to experience the rush and excitement of thinking I would not be going to Rome after all, when my flight was canceled due to the British Airways strike.

But I did get there. Along with five of my classmates, and we proceeded to take Rome by storm.

It was a wonderful time, as difficult as can be imagined, living in strange place with an unknown language and strange customs, but I did discover that my imagined affinity for Italy, stemming from my Italian heritage, is not quite so imagined as I once thought. Italy is wonderful and beautiful, often dirty, often incompetently managed, but certainly the most wonderful place I have ever been. The Italian way of life is very different from our lives in the states which are so often full of structure and regimes, driven by goals for the future. Italy is a land of Romance (literally. The number of couples making out on the streets was something my whole group struggled to become used to), of art, food, beauty, and the superfluous delights of life. Also, Italians are some of the kindest, most generous people you will ever meet. Whenever our group got into scrapes (and we often did) we were invariably rescued by kind Italians only too happy to translate, make phone calls, explain cultural customs, or simply chat about life in the states. In the end, I have fallen madly in love with Italy and am determined to go back one day.

But most of all, being in a foreign country with only nine other Americans forces one to come to terms with oneself. No group of people can live in such close and constant proximity without either killing each other, or becoming extremely close. And thankfully, though tempers at time rose high, we are all better for the wear and I know that I, certainly, learned so much about myself and what I want in life. There is nothing like being removed from all familiar ties to force one to prioritize one’s life!

But yes, the Vatican museums are incredible, St. Peter’s in breathtaking, Florence is awe-inspiring, Tuscany is a fairy-tale, and Cinque Terre is sublime. I shall never forget that month. It was perhaps the very best of my very short life.

Have you ever wondered what it means to be a die-hard girl? Picture this: laying the sun-burnt grass with mosquitos whirring in your ears while sweltering in the late-afternoon sun while wearing an evening gown. That’s torture. But also, in a very messed up way, it is incredibly delightful!

Viktorija asked me to model for her earlier this week and I, being the camera-whore that I am, readily accepted the invitation. But I did almost regret it, as I lugged huge bins of dress-up clothes down from the top of my closet and daubed incredible amounts of makeup around my eyes. I hate ladders, and I hate makeup, and I really hate itchy grass and midges and mosquitos, but vanity always wins. And, imagining the romantic shot of myself, staring dreamily into the clouds from my sheath of royal blue satin, I was prepared to endure much greater horrors than the itchy grass if only to have the chance of realizing the images in my head. Who knows if it worked, my imagination is quite demanding, but the real point is that, even at twenty-one, I still love playing princess. Give me a dress, a field, an old house, anything, and watch me run riot in my private imagination, if you can get inside.

This summer, in Italy, my princess fascination was particularly indulged by a short stay in a Tuscan castle. What was that? You heard me right. A castle. In Tuscany. And no, it doesn’t get any better. Sadly, however, while I had packed plenty of skirts, there were no evening gowns to be had. Beautiful, gorgeous vistas of mountains spreading out from the shadow of olive groves, and the pale blue of the Mediterranean in the distance, but no evening gowns. There weren’t even any bugs. Except for fireflies, and fireflies are such innately romantic bugs that they don’t even bear mention because they only add to the lovely surreality of the experience.

Today wasn’t Tuscany. And it certainly wasn’t bug-free. But I figure you win some and you lose some, and at least this time around, I got an awesome dress.

Cheap Dates 101

Friday night Vincent took me out for my birthday.

About a month late, since we have been busy every weekend since, but it was a wonderful, wonderful night. I think that what I love best about our infrequent dates is their marked air of Starving-College-Student creativity (aka inexpensiveness). Friday Vincent and I donned our “new” Banana-Republic-via-Good-Will clothes, and with the help of hand-me-down duds and borrowed jewelry (for me, obviously) we both cleaned up rather well, if I do say so myself.

We arrived at the restaurant on-the-dot for our seven o’clock reservation and were ushered to our seats. Our poor waitress. Having long studied the art of eating out for at little as possible, and having worked in food service myself, I feel for the conscientious servers who anticipate the fat tip resulting from a romantic date and find themselves shafted by a couple who are more then happy to have a no-frills-dinner with extra bread service. Our waitress dutifully rattled off the list of fish, poultry, and drink specials, gave us an outrageously priced (to my three-buck-chuck way of thinking) wine-list, and pleaded with us to order an appetizer. But we stood strong. And ordered a family-size plate of spaghetti and meatballs (you must understand, these are no ordinary spaghetti and meatballs. These are the best spaghetti and meatballs that I, raised by my Italian family, have ever had) and a dish of penne tossed with broccoli, sausage, prosciutto and some kind of divine parmesan sauce.

I hardly need say that while the food was delicious, my escort, the epitome of attentive kindness, could not have been more gentlemanly. And keeping with his good breeding and his own experience in food-service, he tipped the waitress quite well, even though we turned down dessert and got a pint of Ben and Jerry’s from the grocery on the way home for half the price of the restaurant’s tiramisu. The Ben and Jerry’s was excellent, as always (can anything with that much cream, sugar and chocolate NOT be good?), but the greatest excitement was discovering that NetFlix now offers all three seasons of “Arrested Development” to watch on demand. I love my boyfriend. I have to: he has just introduced me to too many awesome things to not love him.

In all, it was a fantastic night. I won’t way it was cheap, because it wasn’t, but it certainly cut a lot of corners which we never even missed. My favorite part of dinner was Vincent, leaning across the table, watching the waitress’ retreating back, “Honey, thanks for not being an expensive date…”

I do what I can.

Saturday night we sat down to delectable Italian leftovers, the rest of that huge platter of spaghetti and meatballs. It certainly beat the caf…

Twenty-one is an extremely arbitrary age.

The stroke of midnight upon my twenty-first birthday found me in Asheville, washing dishes with Vincent, so that my exhausted family and friends (we had come in from Charlotte that afternoon) could could go to bed at a slightly-respectable hour. And really, I wouldn’t have had it any other way. Saturday, my birthday, we went hiking on the parkway and finished the evening with a wonderful dinner of serf-and-turf with a good bottle of wine.

Now, it is true that all of my friends happen to be younger then me by at least a few months. But still, I think it beat an evening in a smoky, loud bar, followed by a night hunched over a toilet. But the point is, today my sister was in Charlotte and she took me and Vincent out to lunch. I ordered a a drink for the first time. Yuengling, to be precise. And it was quite delicious, with my pub hamburger, dressed all the way with cheese and bacon… While the event was fun, yummy, and quite thrilling to sit there, boldly with a beer in my hand, the experience was shockingly arbitrary. I am twenty-one. Thus I can drink. Regardless of my personal responsibility or intelligence, I am deemed worthy of drinking myself under the table. If I so desire.

It is true, the fact that became a legal adult at age eighteen yet have been unable to buy a glass of wine when I go on a date has always bothered me. To think that young men can be drafted to give their lives for our country but cannot legally enjoy a beer seems… counterintuitive, to say the least. But the true arbitrary nature of the magical number 21 never fully impressed me until today, handing the waitress my license and thinking: wow, I am so NOT more grown up then eight days ago. It’s just a little piece of bitter irony to pucker my sense of justice.

Don’t get me wrong, I love having a bottle of merlot displayed on my bookshelf, flanked by zany wine-glasses my art-major-friend present to me. It’s just that, privileges are things to be earned, you know? Drinking is definitely a privilege. But I didn’t do anything to earn it. My mother just happened to give birth to me twenty-one-years-and-eight-days ago. And that is wonderful: I’m extremely grateful that she endured eight hours of hard labor to bring me into the world and then raised me in a loving home. She deserves some good Four Roses bourbon on the rocks. But me? I happened to turned twenty-one.

Today, Rosi and I decided to visit the High Museum of Art.

So we headed off, gluten-free snacks and ipods in tow, trussed up for a day on the town. We found the museum on our second try, made it into the parking garage (we are both horrendous with directions), and after some season-pass confusion got our tickets and stopped by the ladies room before losing ourselves in the wonderfully sublime and elite joy of fine art.

It was in the ladies room that the going got tough. And it would happen to me: stuck in the middle of down-town Atlanta, my purse naively empty of tampons, and me in desperate need of something to staunch my feminine flow.

“Rosi….?”

Of course she didn’t have one. But there was, thankfully, one of those bathroom vending machines selling tampons for a quarter. Neither of us had a quarter. But the kind man watching the coat-room gave Rosi a quarter which the machine duly ingested, and kept, failing to produce the promised tampon.

“We’ll just have to find a Walgreens or something. Come on.”

I guiltily hemmed and hawed over this suggestion, not wanting to ruin our afternoon by searching for a tampon, but I really didn’t have much of an option. Mother Nature calls. On the way out of the ladies room I stopped a friendly-looking woman and asked if she would happen to have any sort of feminine product. “Sorry, no.” Same answer from the next lady I waylaid as we left the museum.

Hoping for some sort of brilliant miracle, like a sudden heavenly shower of tampons, we made our way across the street to Starbucks. Maybe it would have a vending machine. Maybe it would have friendly ladies carrying big purses stuffed with tampons.

I checked the Bathroom while Rosi bought us this-sucks-but-at-least-we-can-have-an-adventure-and -drink-Starbucks consolation coffees. No luck in the bathroom. So I turned to scout out the patrons. Now, I am from Asheville. I am used to slightly-sketchy people randomly asking for money, but I suddenly realized that it takes a lot of nerve to ask a complete stranger to shell out anything. At least I wasn’t straight-up asking for money, and had the universal “Women-Law” as justification for my actions. After all, every woma knows that it doesn’t matter who she is or how much you hate her, when another woman asks for a tampon, you give it! And really, all the ladies I asked were quite nice, though sadly lacking in tampons.

Finally, one of the Starbucks ladies directed me a to a bathroom in the shopping center which she thought might have one of those vending machines. It did. Sweet relief! Only this machine wouldn’t even take the quarter, let alone deliver a tampon. Ladies, I have decided that those vending machines are a thing of the devil! They lure innocent women into calm complacency and then, “Wham!” when she needs support most, she’s flat on her butt.

I was reaching panic-stage, not sure how much longer my jeans could hold out, randomly stopping women between stores, all of whom gave the same answer: “Sorry, no.”

I saw it then, a tiny little convenience store almost like a gas-station, “Oasis” in florescent pink letters. Aptly named. I’ve never been that happy to see the familiar row of little pink boxes, even if I did get robbed of five bucks for eight measly tampons.

We finally made it back to the High. And the art was pretty good. But I think my favorite part of the day was getting a picture in front of the Starbucks, clutching a box of tampons in the middle of Atlanta.

A Post for Rosi

Yes, it’s been a shamefully long while since I last wrote.

I would plead academia as my excuse, but then who doesn’t have mounds of homework or paperwork or some kind of pressing unpleasantness eating up one’s time? And really, compared to last semester, I have little to complain about.

Last semester, English ate my soul. This semester, John Steinbeck’s “Of  Mice and Men” robbed me of life. By life I mean time to sit around on my bum and do whatever it is that college students do when they want to feel that their lives are terribly important, like surf wikipedia.

But I do love to step back and admire the contrast of life-lessons that I gained last semester as opposed to this semester. In the fall, I fell desperately in love with Dostoevsky and Russian literature in general. This semester, I learned to apply 1930′s makeup and be a whore. I enjoyed both experiences immensely. And on a wonderfully ironic note, I played a whore across from my lovely boyfriend who hated my whorish guts.

I was “Curley’s Wife” (please note the purposeful absence of a proper name), a star-struck, desperate young women who married a man she hates in order to escape her terrible home. At the end of the play the mentally challenged Lennie accidentally breaks her neck, causing the story’s tragic denouement. So, not only did I get to be a whore, I got to be dead whore, which involved laying in the hay for about fifteen minutes without moving. Oh the discomfort of playing dead…

And so, that is where I have been this semester, in the Haid Theatre learning to swing my hips and play dead when not writing papers between scenes. And when I get back to school after Spring Break I know that I won’t have the slightest idea of what to do with all my extra time.

But for now I am happily in Atlanta with Rosi and her wonderfully crazy Cuban family, feeling terribly ignorant that I only speak English. I can only imagine how ignorant I will feel in Rome this summer…

Life Isn’t For Whimps

There is snow topping the mountains outside my window, and twilight touching the snow, and the effect is quite lovely. Still, I am ready to go back to the Abbey. When life sends its inevitable questions and conundrums one must have a place to go for refuge and clarity to take a minute and sort everything out. And life needs sorting.

One of my professors once said, “Decisions are a bitch. And if you decide to not decide and not do anything, THAT is a decision!” It’s true, you know. And while I feel the weight of life decisions more heavily now then ever, (more than half-way through college, in a serious relationship, trying to choose a career path, etc) I know that weight will only increase with time. I have one life, and I have only one chance to live it as beautifully or pathetically as I choose. How’s THAT for drama? If anyone ever sees life as boring or mundane, they obviously don’t understand what they are dealing with!

As for myself, I know what I want. I want the same thing every person on this planet wants: true, deep, peaceful happiness. It is when one tries to determine the best path to happiness that things get sticky. Every war ever fought comes down a basic disagreement regarding the nature of the best path. Similarly, I think one could claim that every broken home and broken relationship stems from the same disagreement: what IS the best path to happiness?

And so that is my mission this year: to find the path to true happiness. I know this cannot be achieved in a year, in twenty years, even a lifetime. Happiness is not something that can be found and then treasured in a box under your bed for years afterward. I think that happiness come from its pursuit, from the satisfaction of knowing that you are doing what is best and most meritorious in this very messed-up world. And to me, what is best and most meritorious is to love. It’s nothing very earth-shattering or difficult to think up, it is only difficult to put into practice. That is the ironic part. You would think that I would do anything necessary to achieve this peace and contentment, but I don’t. It is difficult to love because love, despite what any chick-flick might try to say, comes down to sacrifice. And sacrifice hurts. Sacrifice is scary shit.

But even once I swallow the icky reality of sacrifice, then I hit another problem: alright, I must achieve happiness by loving others. But how to love them? Well, that is what I have to figure out. It is what you have to figure out. No one is called to love in the same way; we are each given unique gifts and abilities and must use those gifts for the good of others. So that is my problem. What precisely are my gifts and how are they best used, once I even figure out what they are? This is the weight of life, the weight of freedom and it’s enormous responsibility. Life isn’t for wimps.

So, yeah. I want some time to sit and think and get my life in order. Sadly, life doesn’t hold up to give anyone time. It just keeps coming. I guess I have to learn to live with that, and take it as it comes, and love all the while. That’s why we need God, folks, because no one can do successfully do all this on their own.

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