Tuesday, May 12, 2015

Take It To Heart

We suffer, often unknowingly, from wanting to be in two places at once, from wanting to experience more than one person can. This is a form of greed, of wanting everything. Feeling like we're missing something or that we're being left out, we want it all. But being human, we can't have it all. The tension of all this can lead to an insatiable search, where our passion for life is stirred, but never satisfied. When caught in this mindset, no amount of travel is enough, no amount of love is enough, no amount of success is enough... The truth is that one experience taken to heart will satisfy our hunger. | Mark Nepo

Saturday, March 7, 2015

A Short Letter To Rome

Ahhh Roma, what have you done to me?
 I will never be able to exactly put it into words because it is more of a feeling than anything else.  I've spent two weeks now wondering your cobblestone streets, getting lost in your sounds and your smells, letting myself indulge completely in being.  Being alone, being myself, being happy, being content, being everything I've always wanted to be.

You've shown me that I can be alone but that I don't have to be.  You've taught me to let go and experience, to let things just happen the way they will.  You've made me feel small, so small.
Standing next to a monument or church that is thousands of years old, basking in your beauty, I felt so young and so insignificant, yet at the same time you helped me to feel a part of something bigger, something greater- a piece in the puzzle of this earth, a true citizen of the world.

Coming here and experiencing you allowed me to realize what I deserve and more importantly, that if I really truly want something and it is right, it will become, it will manifest itself.

Roma, you have changed me, but more so than anything you have allowed me to continue to become the person that I am meant to be, and I am forever grateful for you.

Friday, March 6, 2015

Letters From Roma - "Thoughts On Becoming"

“Someone give this girl some more lemon for her artichoke” he said pointing to the cutting board in front of me during cooking class.  
“Ah, Alan, have you made carciofi before?” Chef Andrea asked the older man next to me. 
“No, but I’ve eaten enough of it to know that she needs more lemon on her artichoke or it's going to burn.  I’m a bit of a chef myself, you know” he responded with an air of superiority. 

I put down my knife and looked at the short, 60 or so year old, self-proclaimed writer across the kitchen from me wearing dark rimmed glasses, a black mock turtleneck and a black beret, and I knew right then exactly the type of person he was.  Four hours and a lot of hearing his voice later, we had all listened to Alan’s entire life story.  Twice.  
Alan is the tried and true definition of a know-it-all.  From how to cook traditional Italian food to gun control to what cities foreigners should visit in the US (“don’t go to San Diego” he told them, “there’s no culture there”), he had an opinion on everything and made that opinion very well known throughout the entire day.  I sloughed off his comments for the better part of five hours, but as we sat down to eat with the group after our cooking class, I just could not bite my tongue any longer.  

“This would never happen in America” he stated loudly as the nine of us clinked our glasses together in cheers and accomplishment over the meal we had spent the entire day preparing.  “What do you mean?” I asked him, confused and starting to feel a bit defensive.  
“Well, you know Americans” he responded casually, “No time to sit with friends to eat and chat, Americans are always racing for the next best thing, the next promotion, the next money maker, the fastest way to get to the top.  As a culture we have no regard for spending time with each other and slowing down to just be.  That’s why I moved here you know, to get away from it all.  America is just so toxic and that’s what I mean, we would never sit down with friends around a table like this in the US, wouldn’t you agree?” 

All eyes at our table were on me as I swallowed a GIANT sip of red wine and took a deep breath, gearing up for my big moment in the spotlight.  “Well no, Alan, actually I wouldn’t agree with you on that one.”  I replied, challenging him in a way I don’t think he had been challenged in a long time. 

“I know you come from New York where everyone is constantly hustling everywhere, wanting only to go up, to get to the top, to grow as high professionally as the sky scrapers reach.  People want to be known for something there and maybe in that city or in your group of friends, you never found the time to sit down with people that you love to enjoy a meal and a good conversation, but where I come from that just isn’t the case.  Where I come from and where I have been living in Colorado for the past five years, there is so much land and space to grow, there is room to become the person you want to be because there is room to expand not only upwards, but outwards.  And more so than anything else, there is time, there is so much time to do that.  I have had some of the best nights of my life sitting around a table like this with friends or family, laughing and talking about life and love and loss.  So I actually have to disagree with you Alan, because your statement is not only a generalization of an entire country of over 300 million people, but it is incorrect and I feel sorry for you that you did not experience the type of growth and community that I have in our amazing country.”

Everyone sat in silence as I finished my rant.  Taking another sip of my wine and catching my breath, I received a wink of support from my new friend Annmarie, a sweet girl from Glasgow as Alan still sat speechless across from me,  A few minutes later, I knew my point had been made when he finally spoke and surprised me by saying with sincerity, “You’re a smarter girl than I thought Danielle”.  And dinner continued. 

An hour later after the cooking class said our goodbyes, Alan caught my arm and roped me in for a hug as I was on my way out the door.  To say I was surprised is an understatement, but as he hugged me, the man wished me a good rest of my trip and thanked me for a memorable day.  And as I opened the door and turned to leave he said 
“Rome is like an onion you know, every time you come here you peel back a layer and you get closer and closer to understanding the heart of this city.  But never will you actually get there.  That is why time and time again, we all come back to Roma.  I wish for you Danielle, that you continue to come back to Rome and peel back it’s layers and when you do that, I hope you also peel back layers of your own.” 
“Thank you” I said as I walked out the door and stepped in to the sunlight. 

A week later and I am still mulling over Alan’s words and his metaphor for Rome.  Somehow with his simple statement, the writer redeemed himself in my eyes and in doing so, he sparked within me an internal conversation that is still on-going. 

I have been thinking a lot over the past week about the person I am and the person I am becoming.  So much of me is a direct result of my past environments and the people who have been the most important to me in my life (that means you, if you’re reading this email!).  I have been shaped by thousands of conversations, shared experiences and long dinners, and in particular, I feel very thankful to have had the time and the space to grow immensely as I did in Colorado over the past few years.   Another large part of me is the result of every past decision I have made for myself in my life.  Every path I have chosen to follow on my own that has led me to be in this exact moment, sipping red wine and a caffee latte in Rome.  

But more so than that, this week I have been contemplating a great deal about what this next chapter of my life will look like.  I have been thinking about the person I want to become.  Who is she? What is important to her?  What does she want for herself and for her future?  What experiences will she bring with her as she travels down the next path?   
These past two weeks clearly have been for me, an adventure in peeling back my own layers and growing closer to figuring out what makes up the heart of the person that I strive to be.  Dammit Alan, I absolutely hate to admit that you were right on this one.

Much like Rome in Alan’s metaphor, I am not certain that I will ever fully know or understand my own heart, as we are all a constant work in progress.  But being here in Italy has allowed me the time and space to check in with myself and get one step closer to figuring it all out.   The things I have experienced and felt here are priceless and I have a hunch that this two week exercise in self-discovery will stay with me for a very long time.  And if I am lucky, as the writer said, I will make it back to Rome someday to continue to peel back more layers of this city and of course, to continue to discover more about myself.  

Thank you for following me on my journey.  TO THE NEXT ADVENTURE!!!  

All my love,

Tuesday, March 3, 2015

Letters From Roma - "Alone But Not Lonely"

When I first decided to take a two week trip to Rome, I didn't think twice about going by myself.  I was able to create time in between leaving one job and starting another even with a move halfway across the country so "What the hell" I thought "Why not".  
I was ecstatic about the idea of spending 14 days in one of my favorite cities in the world and while I had never traveled alone before, I jumped at the idea of experiencing Rome in a way I never had experienced any other city. 

"But don't you think you'll get lonely? or worse- won't you be scared to eat by yourself?" a friend asked over lunch before I left I left the States.  "I don't know" I replied, "I guess I'll just have to see what happens when I get there". 

On my first night in Roma, admittedly I did feel uncomfortable and extremely insecure eating dinner alone and I definitely did not even try to use any of the Italian I learned in college.  "I wonder what they think of me?" I asked myself over a plate of carbonara.  Nine days have passed since I arrived in Italy and as much as easy conversational Italian has become second nature to me here, I now fully enjoy each and every bite of solo dinners, basking in the option to eat as slow or as fast as I please.  I have come a very long way in one week and two days.  

Traveling alone has allowed me to breathe easy and take my time.  I am able to stare at something for as long as I please, to sit in a basilica for hours on end if I want and to plan each and every day according to what interests me.  It has been quite the lesson in learning what I truly enjoy doing and how I prefer to travel.  And while this trip makes more and more sense to me everyday, the Italians still sure do not understand me at all.  

"You studying here?'
"No, i'm here for two weeks by myself exploring Rome"
"Two weeks?
"Yes, two weeks just in Roma"
"......But why?"

It's like clockwork every single time.  There's always an air of sadness when they ask me why I am traveling alone, as if I am harboring some super dark and sad past that prompted me to take a trip across the world by myself to leave it all behind me.  At first these interactions used to irk me a bit, but after having this conversation upwards of 30 times now, I get it.  It's rare for a woman my age to take a trip like this, but if they only knew or could understand the gift I have given myself, they would hardly feel sorry for me. 

To be honest though, it did take me a while to get to this point myself, and over the past 9 days I have really come to realize the gift it truly is.  Full disclosure here, I woke up one day early last week and felt a twinge of sorry for myself.  I knowww I knowww, how right?  It came the morning after a night out where I was determined to make some friends and came up empty handed at midnight.  As I left my apartment the morning after, it seemed as if everyone was so deeply in love or having so much fun with their friends, and I, I had no one and felt more alone than I have pretty much ever have.  

"Snap out of it!" I told myself over a cappuccino and a chocolate croissant.  
"Look at where you are, there is no time to wallow"

And after that one come-to-Jesus moment with myself, I did snap out of it for the most part. Sure there have been times where I have wished that someone was standing besides me to witness a street performers brilliant act or the glowing chandeliers of a massive church, and I would be lying if I said I didn't wish for a partner in crime at night to drink wine with. 

But there was a moment yesterday at the top of Monumento Vittorio Emanuele where it all came together for me, full circle.  I had paid 7 euros to ride an elevator to the top of the monument which is one of the highest buildings in Rome. Initially I debated over whether or not to pay because I had already seen some pretty spectacular views, but in the end I went with my instinct and of course, the saying "when in Rome" won me over.

The elevator up was an experience in itself as it was a bit rickety, completely glass and absolutely reeked on account of 3 large smelly frenchmen crammed in right next to me. I was thinking that the world was about to end after 30 seconds of holding my breath in the elevator, but when the doors opened and revealed a grand rooftop with one of the most breathtaking views I had ever seen, it was all worth it.  

I stood on that rooftop for the better part of an hour, breathing in the fresh Italian air and soaking up every building, every basilica dome, stretching my eyes to see for miles and miles.  Somewhere below, an accordion played and I could feel my brain filing that moment away in the depths of my mind.  

You know when you can feel yourself making a memory with someone?  You're at a concert or on a trip or laughing so hard that you just know you'll both remember it forever?  That is how I felt yesterday standing on that monument, overlooking one of my favorite cities.  Except it was different, because no one else in the world will have that moment.  No one will ever feel what I felt right then and only I will be able to conjure those images, those sounds, that feeling.  Which to say, is a pretty powerful thing, to have in your possession something that no one else has.  

And so, I am alone, yes, but I am not lonely.  I am seeing, I am exploring and more so than both, I am making memories, by myself and for myself and absolutely no one should feel sorry for me for that. 

All my love,

Friday, February 27, 2015

Letters From Roma - "Thoughts on Being Full"

"You no like?"  she asked with a hinge of sadness in her voice as she cleared my half eaten plate of truffle risotto.  
"No, no!" I clamored, 'I LOVED it, I'm just full"
"Oh" she sighed, adding a reassuring "good, va bene" before she turned on her heel and disappeared behind a curtain that separated the dining room from the kitchen. 

Sitting in Piazza Santa Maria last night, live music orchestrating the soundtrack to my evening, I stared down at the empty table before me and I couldn't help but think about how full I actually was, how full I truly am here.  Rome makes me feel full.  Full of life, full of adventure, full of wine, full of culture and certainly, full to the brim of truffle risotto, amongst other incredible dishes.  

Today I attended a 6 hour cooking class which quickly proved to be my favorite thing that I have done thus far in Roma.  The class was a short five minute walk from my apartment, in an unsuspecting building down a quiet old alley.  Andrea was the chef, classically trained of course and as an added bonus, extremely good looking.  There were 8 other people in attendance besides myself; a couple from London, a girl and her aunt from Glasgow, two Italian men, a woman from New York and her friend Alan, a writer, who is a New Yorker by origin but has been residing in Rome for the past twenty years (so much more to come on him at a later date).  You couldn't have chosen a more different line up, as we were quite the motley crew of people, but six hours in a tiny kitchen is sure to bring people together in one way or another, and in this case, it absolutely did.  

With Andrea as our fearless leader, and the ultimate fixer of our mistakes (including a small incident I may or may not have had with a giant knife while separating a chicken bone from its skin), we completed a six course, traditional Italian meal inspired by the Lazio region.  Beginning with a Roman style artichoke, followed by homemade cavatelli pasta with fresh tomato sauce and basil, then a chicken rolle dish that was stuffed with smoked provola, spinach, sausage, bacon and kale, followed by roasted potatoes and roman style broccoli as side dishes, and finishing with a chocolate and pear soufflĂ© (hungry yet?!?!).  

In between slicing, dicing, and rolling fresh pasta, conversation easily flowed like the wine we were given.  You really get to know people whilst kneading dough for pasta and swapping stories. And it dawned on me halfway through the class, as I found myself really, deeply laughing at something Jani from England said, that I had missed this.  In my normal everyday life at home, I am constantly surrounded by people, intentionally so.  It has been rare for me to spend much more than one evening alone ever and I tend to thrive off of social interactions.  Yet, over the past five days being in Rome alone, I have spent a lot of time with myself, just listening to my own thoughts.  And while I think I can be rather funny and interesting (at times), today was refreshing in that, I didn't realize how ready I was and how much I needed some true human interaction.  I was craving some real conversation and something that ran deeper than the general, surface-level greetings I have grown accustomed to thus far in Italy. I missed chatting and laughing, and it felt good to be in the presence of people who became familiar to me.  Which may only make sense to someone who has also traveled alone for an extended period of time, being okay with being alone isn't always easy! 

Anyways, needless to say, our food turned out exquisite and while Andrea confessed that he would NEVER serve the artichokes we had made in a restaurant setting because they weren't up to par, we all raved about them and promised to take the recipe back to our respective homes and share with others.  As we broke bread and chatted about life and love and more politics (blah), I couldn't help but feel so so full once again.  

Six courses will definitely have that effect on you, but this was a different type of fullness.  I have come to realize there is a space within me that I didn't know was empty.  However, after five days here in Rome, I feel it slowly filling.  Filling with my own thoughts, with sights, with sounds, with tastes and more importantly, with experiences, whether shared or my own.  

So when I thought I was full last night, bursting at the seams with truffle risotto, this cooking class surely put me over the edge.  I am so thankful for the moment in time spent with that particular group of people.  I am thankful for their stories, for their culinary skills (or like me, lack there of), for their humor and for their company, as their presence filled me more than anything.  

I continue to find magic around every street corner here and though I am currently in physical pain because of the amount of food we ate this afternoon, I have no doubt that somehow I will make space and Italy will continue to fill me.  

All my love

Wednesday, February 25, 2015

Letters From Roma - "Italia"

Ciao from Roma!

What an incredible past few days it has been exploring the city and getting settled in my little neighborhood by the river!  I woke up Monday morning and had to pinch myself because I honestly could not believe I was in Rome and that one of my greatest dreams had finally come true.  Two weeks in one of the most historic, beautiful and inspiring cities on the planet- what in God's name did I do to deserve all of this?!  

As I write this email, I am sitting at the table in the living room of my apartment, staring out the tall windows into a beautiful courtyard.  This morning for the first time I tried my hand at making Italian espresso and while it pretty much tastes like dirt, it sure does wake me up!  I truly couldn't have asked for a better apartment and I get up every morning in awe of the tall ceilings, giant chandelier and huge shutter windows in my room that open to the bustling Roman street below.  I feel like I found a secret gem of a sanctuary hidden behind a busy street corner, and I constantly have to remind myself that I am not the first nor last to stay here - although I am currently trying to devise a business plan that would allow me enough cash flow to buy this apartamento from Alessandra, so that I can have a summer home in Italy.  

My days thus far have been filled with walking, walking and more walking!  I have yet to take public transportation as I love wandering the cobblestone streets and bopping into any store or bakery that entices me.  After two days, I finally got a grasp on the Trastevere neighborhood, which is where I am staying. It is an incredible area and there is always something happening, from live music to mass to the most incredible people watching.  I can sit for hours in Piazza Santa Maria just watching life go by, and I have.  

Yesterday, I spent the better part of 8 hours in Vatican City on a tour of the Sistine Chapel, the Vatican Museum and St. Peter's Basilica.  The tour I paid for started at 8am and naturally, I walked from Trastevere along the river to Vatican City at sunrise.  When I came upon St. Peter's Square it was 7:30am and there was barely a soul in sight (which is somewhat of a miracle).  I was able to sit in the square in total silence and just take in the view, which was an experience I will forever be thankful for.  After, I met up with my group that consisted of 2 british, 2 dubliners and two Americans, plus myself.  My tour guide was Talia, a quirky Italian from Naples who somehow made 4 hours of history extremely fun and informative.  Major take aways from her tour of the Vatican include: the fact that Michelangelo was gay, Raphael died from Syphilis and most of the early popes had children that they masked by calling them nieces and nephews.  I enjoyed the tour so much, that I booked a tour of the Colosseum for Sunday with them as well.  I highly recommend Talia and Italy With Us tour company for anyone coming to Rome! 

After Talia's tour, I spent another two hours exploring Vatican City by myself.  It is such an awe-inspiring place and I felt like a better person for being there.  I reserved a ticket for the Pope's speech next Wednesday morning and I think I actually might faint when I see him.  Much like in the rest of the world, Pope Francis is very well received in Italy as being progressive and the change that the Catholic Church needs to move forward.  I heard quite a lot about bad Popes during my tour of the Vatican, but I have a feeling Francis will forever be regarded as a good Pope and I cannot wait to see him in real life, even if I won't understand a word he says.  

In addition to learning a lot about history and Roman greats, I am learning a great deal about myself as well.  It is quite the experience to travel alone in a place where you know no one.  I love the feeling of being anonymous in a city and I can't even begin to describe the sense of calm that comes from having no agenda, no schedule and no set plans.  Everything is heightened for me here, my curiosity, my appreciation for life, and  of course- my senses.  Coffee smells richer, music sounds more harmonious and the wine - the wine tastes so smooth.  

I first read this quote a few years ago and while it did resonate with me, I didn't fully understand it's true meaning until I arrived in Rome.  It came to my mind the other day when I was staring at a whimsical sculpture in the middle of a courtyard I stumbled upon and I have been thinking about the quote below a lot over the past few days because it feels so applicable to my life at this moment and because (guilty) the beauty here quite often literally brings me to tears: 

"she cried at least once each day, not because she was sad, but because the world was so beautiful and life was so short"  - Brian Andreas

I feel extremely blessed to have this experience and this time to live and learn and process.  I am eternally grateful to my family, friends, co-workers, and even the random strangers who supported me in my quest to get here, to get to this point.  It is nothing short of a miracle how everything works out and if there is one thing I am sure of here in Italy, it is that I will not take one moment for granted.  

All my love,