Blast from the past: Nine Years Ago Today

This is a special posting that I wanted to make about my month in Italy, which I have just returned from. I kept a detailed journal while I was there, trying to write nearly every day, recording my experiences and observations. I did not have much access to the internet, and so I could not keep a blog updated.
My thought is to take an excerpt from my journal for each day and post it as a sort of mini-blog. That way everyone will be able to read about my adventures and see the many amazing places I was able to go, in addition to the usual Facebook photo albums. The pictures in the albums go along with this beautifully.
I want to warn those who want to read this that it will contain some swears, references to alcohol, thematic elements, and overall adulty-ness, so prepare yourselves. Like you would for a PG-13 movie. Italian will inevitably work its way into the writing, and I may forget that not everyone can read it (or just think that I am writing in English), so please use google translate or to help get the translation you need. And it’s long.
So here it begins!

24 Maggio 2010 Between Denver and Italia

I’m finally on the plane to Italia! Andiamo! Ciao Stati Uniti.

The plane is showing Invictus as the in-flight movie. Nothing like forcing people to deal with racism in a metal tube when they’re stuck with each other for the next eight hours.

25 Maggio 2010

Dear US Airways,
You suck. You can’t even call out boarding zones correctly. Your attendants are surly and downright rude (And I quote: “You turned up your nose at our sandwich like someone had passed gas”). Thanks for the “service” and the shitty, concentrated, lukewarm tea.
Much Love,
Coleen (Who hopes to never fly with you again)

I need to make myself a list of the goals I have for this month.
-Reclaim myself as a global traveler
– Watch the USA vs. England match
-Have one costly, amazing meal
-Do one thing every day that scares me
-Make at least two friends that I can keep in touch with
Mozzerella. Vino. Un po’ del sole. Basta.

So I had an interesting afternoon. I got in on time and took a cab to the bed and breakfast that I was supposed to stay at, but after an hour they still had not shown up. In the meantime, their Laotian neighbor let me into the lobby and fed me cheese and coca cola, showing me his pictures from his world travels. Eventually I decided to leave and try to find a hotel. I put my sunglasses on so no one would be able to see how lost I was and stepped out into the city without a map or phone, and with no idea where I was or where I was going. I went through a super-creepy heroin tunnel and began crying because I was so lost. I asked Saint Anthony (patron of lost stuff, so he must have a hand in helping lost people too, right?) to help me find what I was looking for. About ten minutes later, I stumbled into the posh lobby of the Hotel Roma, begged in exhausted and rusty Italian for a room for the night, and stumbled up the stairs to take a shower.

26 Maggio 2010 Bologna

I’ve missed odd things about Italy. The way people dress, the architecture, the total lack of personal space, and above all the smell. I’m not sure what it is, but it seems to be a mixture of old buildings, good food, and cigarettes. And high-class perfumes. It smells like home, really.

27 Maggio 2010 San Martino

Ferrara is relatively unchanged. I feel so much like I’m home!

28 Maggio 2010 San Martino

Oh my God so tired.

29 Maggio 2010 San Martino

Dinner with Carmen and both of her parents after having eaten pizza at Estebar in the afternoon. Too much food today.

30 Maggio 2010 San Martino

My hair smells like mildew, which is disgusting and I’m unsure how it happened.

Oh my God more tired.

31 Maggio 2010 San Martino

I don’t remember being this happy in a long time. Punto.

Yesterday was very interesting. We had brunch at Ombretta’s house with a bunch of her friends, with tons of food and wine and gesticulating. As usual, the discussion went from pleasantries to school issues to a lively political discussion. I LOVE that about Italy, even though some of the people seemed to be blaming Laura and I personally for things far beyond our control (i.e. the whole BP situation and how Obama “non ha fatto niente fin’ora” or the fact that we’re called “Americans” and not “United-statesians”). I mean, what are we supposed to do, go to the gulf of Mexico personally and stuff our socks into the bursting well? Or change 200+ years of rhetoric about “Americans?”

Then, the Palio. It was long, starting at about 16:00 and going until 19:00. First was the massive procession of all of the neighborhoods, which took about an hour and a half. Then the boys’ footrace, the girls’ footrace, the ass race (which was hilarious) and finally the attempt to start the horse race.

It took about a half an hour of the announcer yelling at the various riders and total chaos, culminating in a false start. Then about fifteen more minutes of yelling and confusion, and then they were off! Santa Maria in Vado’s horse (our neighborhood) was facing backwards. At the last turn of the first lap, one horse threw its rider, who was nearly trampled. Borgo San Giorgio won, and Santa Maria in Vado somehow managed third place. Now we’re gonna try to go see Laura’s grandfather’s cousin, Bianca.

Revelation: Men cannot be trusted to lift the seat in the bathroom and not pee all over the place, so the trains here springload them.

I fully intend to live in my bathing suit for the next 5 days.

1 Giugno 2010 Albisola

This town is awesome. Beautiful water, relaxed atmosphere, nice people, and even a microbrewery.

Screw. Booking. Hostels. And trains. Seriously.

2 Giugno 2010 Treno a Vernazza/Arezzo

Bianca (my friend Laura’s cousin) is a doll. Allegra, direi. Yesterday we drove to another relative’s house in her car, which stays in a tiny garage underneath one of the buildings near hers. We had to go on the autostrada, which was an experience because she drove about 70 km/hr while 18 wheelers and a line of other cars honked their way past us doing 130. Finally we arrived, and Andriano (who was cute and 92ish and dressed up for the occasion) welcomed us into his house and we sat on the couches in the salon talking about the family history. Snatches of Lady Gaga floated in the open window, casting a surreal knowledge of the difference of epochs inside and outside the apartment like a shadow.

After a couple of days Bianca began introducing us both as her “American cousins,” so now I’m part of the family. Now we’re on the train to Vernazza, passing the beautiful Ligurian countryside.

Definitely though that was a lesbian couple and not just one with a super-effeminate boy. Che schif.

Mullet-dread-hawk. Fo sho.

3 Giugno 2010 Ischia

A massive line of tags on the walls near the Roma Termini, ranging from the usual “Hot Boys Cosa Nostra” to names (“Stan” and “Runa”). One massive “HUGE” written in 20 foot high letters. “Odio Napoli.” “Nemio.” “PWR.” A cluster of a million “fede.”

Ischia is wonderful. I want to live here. We had quite the journey to get here, with the 4-hour train ride from Arezzo, the one-hour boatride from Napoli (che nausea), and then the busride and the walk around the town of Forio searching for our hostel.

4 Giugno 2010 Forio (Ischia)

Massive storm at 5 AM. It had been a long time since I’d heard the sky-ripping sound of close lightning. So much! Must write bullets.

-We’re at Ring Hostel, run by a family with three brothers. Lorenzo is 26, walks with a massive swagger, and drives like a madman. Very nice, though.

-We went to the natural hot springs with 50 of our closest friends. I went out into the depth water through the rocks and saw an army of stinging nettles coming my way. In my haste to not get stung, I slipped on a rock and gashed my knee. All my Italian language skills went to hell as I came out of the water gushing blood, and all I could manage to the owner of the restaurant was, “Aiuto? Sangue, sangue!” (“Help? Blood, blood!”)

-I slipped on the bus as we were going around a turn and my ass ended up pressed up against some old Italian guy’s face. I couldn’t escape for about 20 seconds because of the centrifugal force. Afterwards I apologized and he put out his arm and patted it, smiling, “You can sit on me any time, my dear.”

Every moment is like a flower that blossoms and fades suddenly. There is no way to capture them all here, and I may be beyond trying.

6 Giugno 2010 Fuori Napoli

I’m on my own now. The Amalfi Coast is literally breathtaking. I honestly never thought that I would see something so beautiful with my own eyes. It is unearthly.

I went down to walk around in the piazza in Atrani and was immediately stopped by Lucca, who asked me out after literally two minutes of conversation. When I spoke to him in Italian, he did the usual doubletake and exclaimed, “Ma che culo che ho!” (“What an ass I have!” which is akin to “How lucky am I?”) Please, dude. You had no chance. You lost me at your stature and baldness.

An acoustic fiddle version of “Turn the Beat Around” is lilting up to me in the hostel’s open living room.

7 Giugno 2010 Atrani


Think of yourself a mere four months ago. Did you ever think that you would be here? Never. But hell yes.

9 Giugno 2010 Atrani

What a broad and beautiful life I have.

10 Giugno 2010 Atrani

Woke up at 11:30. Vespa ride all around. Ave Maria, piena di grazia, il Signore e’ con te. Minori. Hot-ass rocks on the beach. Lemons the size of watermelons.

On the bus ride back to Atrani, I flashed everyone because my sarong fell off. Everyone clapped, and I bowed once I got myself covered up. No point in being angry or embarassed that the whole bus full of tourists and locals saw my bathing suit-clad butt.

I’m not sure how I feel about leaving.

11 Giugno 2010 Ravello

Thousands of honeybees dripping nectar on me in their haste, like holy water. Or tears.

14 Giugno 2010 Atrani

Yes, I am still here.

15 Giugno 2010 Atrani


16 Giugno 2010 Leaving Atrani

Couldn’t sleep. What a bittersweet goodbye to this place, which has become one of my very favorites in all of Italia.

An Italian businessman in an Armani suit just farted ON me in the Salerno train station while negotiating a deal on the phone. WTF.

17 Giugno 2010 Assisi

OW. I got a new piercing, and I was not prepared for the pain that it would bring. I wanted and orbital with one ring and two holes, which seemed easy enough. With the tugging and pushing and the thought of the metal going through my ear, I very nearly threw up on the tattoo parlor’s floor.

Sky-blue-pink, moving quickly outside. Magic. Life is moving, and I am soooo happy. It comes from being confident, secure, and expressive. I finally love myself again.

Just raided my hotel’s kitchen fridge. Awesome.

18 Giugno 2010 Assisi-Ferrara

It never ceases to amaze me how close I am to certain death when a train flies by the platform doing nearly 40 mph, only 10 feet away. The wind is nearly enough to pull you under the wheels.

Jehovah’s witnesses. They’re everywhere, man.

Not a full-blown strike. More like a day of more laziness than usual that pisses everyone off by making us late everywhere. Low-impact, low-effort civil disobedience.

I forgot that the Ferraresi dress so well. The women dress in heels and jewelry to go to the supermarket.

Correction, they dress in heels and jewelry to go to the dollar store.

19 Giugno 2010 Ferrara

Today has been a lesson in changing one’s bad circumstances and letting them go. Very Successful. That is, except for the extremely loud, extremely cacophanous, extremely off-key concert going on in the piazza near the castle. That circumstance I can only accept.

20 Giugno 2010 Ferrara

Being here in Ferrara makes me remember a particular phase of my life, emotionally, that is now difficult for me to picture myself in.

35 bug bites. F****** everywhere. On my legs. The palms of my hands. My left eyelid.

21 Giugno 2010 Ferrara

My back hurt so badly when I woke up this morning, I could hardly move. I dropped my bag when I tried to lift it from the pain. Now, due to a combination of advil, some effervescent Italian painkiller, a heating pad, and holy water, it’s at least bearable. Today is a day of waiting.

Sitting as I am in at the end of a train car facing forward gives the dizzying impression that I am not moving, but instead it is the world moving around me. There’s a girl sitting across from me whose shoes proclaim VAG-abond. Ciao, Bologna.

I feel very safe in the Bologna airport even though something really strange happened at dinner. I was eating my gnocchi al pesto when suddenly a young man with terror on his face came and sat so close to me he brushed my knee with his out of the blue. There were plenty of other tables, and I was on the phone trying to talk to my parents, so I must’ve given him a look of shock and confusion. He didn’t say anything and instead began stuffing his mouth with risotto, bread, and gnocchi so fast that I was concerned. He pushed my book on the table aside and moved still closer to me. “Ma scusa,” I said, “Posso anche andare di la,” (“Excuse me, but I can also go over there.”) indicating that I could vacate the table for him. “No,” he mushed through a stuffed mouth, “E solo che c’e’ qualcuno di che io non voglio vedermi. Scusami tanto, eh?” (“No. It’s just that there’s someone over there that I don’t want to see me. Excuse me, ok?”) It was then that I realized that the reason that he looked so crazed was that he was hungry. In looking at his face again, I noticed that he had the sunken cheeks of real hunger, like he hadn’t eaten in days. He was hiding from the caffetteria workers, hoping to not pay for his meal. I let him stay.

He remained hidden until about ten minutes ago, when he came down the stairs singing a triumph song and doing a little happy dance. He gave me a thumbs-up and a smile, and then he went on his way.

All my clothes smell musty and faintly like B.O., and some I may simply have to toss. Towards the end I began spraying them with hairspray in the attempt to cover the backpacking stink.

3:30 AM. I just did my makeup in the bathroom for an hour, moving as slowly as possible, and then I found the downstairs bar to be open. I may need a coffee. And some pringles.

Pringles obtained. Sunset and sunrise at the Bologna airport.

And just like that, my Italia disappears behind the clouds. A circular rainbow is chasing our progress across the sky, and the Alps are rising above the fog. DAMNIT. Spilled hot tea all over my lap. It felt kinda good after awhile. All the benefits of peeing your pants without actually doing it.

Time has lost all meaning after 36 hours on the road. Almost there. Almost there.

One thought on “Blast from the past: Nine Years Ago Today

  1. So beautifully written. Such a lovely narrative. “Every moment is like a flower that blossoms and fades suddenly. There is no way to capture them all here, and I may be beyond trying.”

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