Thursday, July 30, 2009

A great thing about living in Rome? The fountains.

There are close to 300 fountains in Rome. I know I haven't even seen half of them. Many times I'm running errands or on my way to meet a friend and boom, I "discover" a new fountain.

There is something soothing and even sexy about being surrounded by all these fountains.

In L.A. we have the fountain in Grove which is a big Vegasy thing in the middle of a mall. The owner of the Grove, like the founder of Starbucks, was inspired by his travels in Italy. I don't blame him. They are inspiring.

Some are more about function, some are works of art and they are part of the neighborhood. You don't have to go to a mall to see them.

I'm linking to Lola's great POST on fountains. She has a bunch of outstanding photos.

Lola grew up in Italy and works in film. Her mom is Italian and her father is American. She has spent a lot of time in States and it's interesting to read her POV on Rome, Italy, etc. She's an incredible writer and cook.

I you love Italy, Rome, food, or just excellent writing check out her blog.

Tuesday, July 28, 2009

Unfortunately, when my contract is up I have to leave my neighborhood.

Mini rant alert.

I'm done.

I love this tiny apartment. I do. Great character, lots of light, excellent design, close to public transportation, etc. However, the noise that spills over from Campo is out of control. I'm noticing more cafes/bars are taking over antique and clothing stores on my street and other streets around here.

I don't even live on the Campo but on a residential side street. Last night around 2:40 a.m., despite wearing ear plugs (which I have to every night when it's nice out), I heard a drunk American student screaming into a megaphone.

I was pissed. A megaphone...really? So I told him to please shut up!

He yelled, "live somewhere else."

"Some of us have to work in the morning."

"Whatever, you won't have a job tomorrow." This witty remark caused the girls he was with to giggle. Then when they were walking down the street, he continued to yell into the megaphone saying, "This is your wake up call."

I had to check my attitude because I was so angry I was tempted to throw on some clothes, walk out, take the megaphone and shoved it down his throat. Usually I'm not a violent person.

Excuse me, he and his dumb ass friends are guests in this city. If he wants to spend his parents study aboard money on getting wasted that's on him but I don't have to hear it on a Monday/week night at almost 3:00 a.m.

When I first moved to Rome I went to a party with G in Prati. I thought, "Man it's so quiet here. I expect to see tumbleweeds rolling down the street." G hates Prati. I don't care. ha

My neighborhood is only going to get worse. At least I don't own. If I had a place in the country or mountain like my neighbors I would stay but I don't.

My contract it not up for a while. Maybe I'll change my mind by then but I doubt it. I'm so over the crowds of students and tourists. So much so that Monti is out for me too. The American Apparel store opening was the start of the Apocalypse.

I'm going to look in Flamino and Prati (not the area close to the Vatican of course). Both are close enough to the Center. I would love to stay in the Center (there are some areas that are quiet like Via Giulia where G. lives) but those areas are out of my price range. I lucked out on my place, paying below market. Another reason I'm salty I have to move. I hope my next landlord is as fantastic as my current one.

Two American expat friends and I were having gelato and walked past Campo a few Fridays ago. I knew things were bad when both of them said, "How can you live here?" They come to Campo all the time but one friend lives near Pz. Vittorio by the train station which is not the quietest area and the other lives in a lively part of Monti.

I don't want to live anywhere near tourist attractions or American students. I want a building that's not above or next door to a cafe/bar/restaurant/karaoke place. Even a clothing store makes me nervous unless the zoning laws are air tight and no disco could be put there.

I know not all students come here and act a fool. But living so close to the Drunken Ship and Sloppy Sams has lowered my tolerance for stupid behavior.

Monday, July 27, 2009

Just What Rome Needs...

Another Burger King.

If this was going to be an In-N-Out Burger that would be good news. After reading Eric Schlosser's "Fast Food Nation" I avoid all fast food chains except In-N-Out. I wish they would expand but then I guess the things that make them stand out, fresh potatoes cut on the premises for their fries, higher wages, better quality meat, etc., would suffer.

The last time I flew home to St. Martin for Christmas, I got stuck in Miami International Airport during my return to L.A. The plane had to refuel in Puerto Rico. We all missed our connecting flights. I spent the night in the airport. The only place that was open was Burger King. I had a Whopper Jr. and some fries. I got so sick.

There are more MickyD's here than Burger Kings. Maybe BK is trying to catch up.

Thursday, July 23, 2009

A great thing about living in Rome? Being single doesn't suck.

Of course there are times I wish I had an amazing man in my life. However I feel less pressure here to be “coupled up”.

There are no commercials for, E’Harmony, etc. You walk into a bookstore and there isn’t an entire aisle of relationship books with titles like, “How To Find A Man,” “How To Keep A Man”, “How To Get Married after 35,” etc. etc.

In the States we move so much and many of us live far from our families. Is this one reason why being part of a couple is so important? Too many people think something is really wrong with you if you’re over 35 and never married. It’s better for a woman that age to be divorced. I'm tired of explaining that for my demographic, college educated, professional, black woman, my situation is the norm so stop bugging me about my single status.

My Italian single girlfriends are not sitting at home wallowing over Cathy cartoons (is there an Italian version?). They travel, have dinner parties and while they would like to date don’t seem to be having meltdowns about being 30,40, or 50 and single. They are part of something bigger, their families. They’re not alone. And while they have to deal with some concern from their moms, being single is not the number one topic of conversation when we get together.

One year in L.A. my core “posse” all had boyfriends at the same time. I never saw them. I met one of my closest friend’s boyfriends only once during the year they went out. They hung out with other couples or just the two of them.

I notice here couples and singles mix more. I get invited to dinner parties and aperitvi all the time by my married, or in a serious relationship, friends.

I don’t obsess about being single in Rome like I did in the States….probably because now I actually have a life. I’ve been more social in the past year and a half than the previous 10 years.

Men flirt here even though nothing will come of it. I’m not talking about crass remarks or anything like that. I’m talking funny, witty comments. In Los Angeles I was completely invisible. I’m not exaggerating. Thank god I had to go to NYC once in a while for work or I would have felt like Jabba the Hut 24/7. Los Angeles is truly no country for old ladies. In all the years I lived there I can count on one hand the times someone flirted with me. One guy was British and the other person was a lesbian film exec who was trying to convince me to go out with her despite me telling her several times I was straight.

I’m not saying I need outside validation to feel good about myself. But when you live in a culture where how you look is, to be blunt, considered ugly it’s tough. Add the age thing and it’s no wonder so many of my peers are getting Botox, hair extensions, eye lifts, brow lifts, tummy tucks, etc.

I’m appreciate living in a place where men from the ridiculously good looking, to the geriatric (gramps you gotta be kidding me. No, you are not trying to mack), to the butcher who calls me Ms. Hollywood, flirt.

Before move to Rome I felt as sexy as a cardboard box. Although I haven’t gone to the other side and started dressing like Cleopatra Jones meets Sophia Loren I notice I don’t leave my house looking sloppy anymore. I will put on lipstick just to run to the bakery.

So yes, I’m still single but at least now I don’t feel like this:

One of the best opening credits ever. "You have NO messages." Ha.

Wednesday, July 22, 2009

Knowing our Prime Minister doesn't wear condoms might fall under TMI, just sayin'.

I'm going to take a break from Italian political news for a moment as well. I really didn't need to know that Berlusconi doesn't wear condoms. WTF? Signor, wrap it up.

His polls numbers are dropping. I'm not surprised. He needs to focus on Italy's problems and quit fooling around.

Article from the Times UK.

Tuesday, July 21, 2009

Professor Gates' arrest...I thought America was "post racial" now.

Clearly the Cambridge Police Department didn't get the memo. Also, I guess they don't watch PBS or read any newspapers. Professor Gates is a pretty well known scholar. I didn't know accusing a police officer of racial profiling could get you arrested.

I know all about DWB (Driving While Black) and SWB (Shopping While Black) but now some of my relatives and friends back in the States need to worry about Being In Your Own House While Black?

Anyway between this, the pool incident in Philly and Mr. Pat Buchanan saying since white men "built" America they deserved more, I need to take a break from the Stateside news for a minute.

And p.s. America is not "post racial" whatever the heck that means.

Monday, July 20, 2009

A perfect Saturday in Rome: friends, prosecco, cake, scooters and a crazy man yelling into a non-existent cell phone.

Finally the weather cooled off this weekend. Saturday I went to a ladies’ birthday brunch for a friend at the vegetarian restaurant Il Margutta. Everyone got dressed up and the food was very good. A. cried when we surprised her with her gift. We had a great time.

After brunch we went to Monti for coffee, window-shopping and to stop by Contessa Rock Style salon. I had referred A. to my hairdresser, Elena, who did an amazing job.

We drove to Monti via scooter. I usually get very nervous on scooters. I don’t know if it was the glasses of prosecco, the fact that it was stunning day or just the positive vibes from the birthday (in the top photo driving with M.) girl but I had a blast.

We kept talking to random Italians at the stoplights. I know some were thinking, “who are these loud Americans and Italians?”

In Monti I ran into my infamous friend G. and his girlfriend. Later as we walked past a restaurant, I saw another friend and realized that G. knew him. I cracked up as every time I’m with G. we bump into someone he knows.

As us ladies sat at a cafĂ©, a man was sitting on the ground nearby ranting and raving. At the same time several of us said, “Wow he’s very attractive. Too bad he’s crazy.” Then I saw him standing on the ledge of the fountain. He later sat down and was shouting into what I thought was a cell phone. There was no phone. Another man walked over to him and the two other them started screaming together. He must be a local, as several people nodded to him.

After window shopping and stopping by a friend’s place for more prosecco, it was off to apertivi. I wasn’t going stay long or drink but wanted to at least stop by. We had to drop another friend off at a metro stop. As we rode scooters down the street toward the Coliseum the sun was setting. It was a surreal moment. I thought about how amazing this summer has been.

Here I am broke as hell, not knowing if I will ever make it as a screenwriter and single. Next month I will be one year older and at age where I should be settled and stable.

However, when two summers ago I wrote this POST I had a job, money in bank but I was absolutely miserable.

As we zoom passed the Coliseum N., who’s Italian and was just complaining about how nothing works in Rome compared to New York, yelled, “I love this city.” I agreed and we started laughing.

The birthday girl excited about her cake.

Taking a photo on Via Margutta

Friday, July 17, 2009

Flashback Friday – Supermodel Edition - George Michael - "Freedom"

What, not American Vogue actually putting a model on their cover! Stop the presses. Was Jennifer Aniston, or "Scar Jo" not available?

The supermodels (aka The Supes) from the late '80s/early 90s are working like crazy lately. The holy trinity was Linda Evangelista, Naomi Campbell and Christy Turlington. Then suddenly it was all about undernourished 15 year olds from Eastern Europe. Designers said they wanted models to be hangers. A famous model would distract from the clothes. I call BS. I find having a runaway of women who all look the same with no life/emotion/passion is boring.

In America, celebs have completely taken over the covers. Out of twelve issues of Bazzar or Vogue maybe one or two issues will have a model on the cover. Even though I work in entertainment, it's annoying. If I wanted to read yet another article about Jennifer Aniston getting over Brad Pitt, I would read a gossip magazine. I don't buy them because I don't care. Let the celebs have Us, People, InStyle etc.

Also the photoshopping is out of control. If you look at older issues of American magazines the air brushing was done with a lighter touch. I wonder if the use of actresses is one of the reasons.

Anyway it's nice to see 40 year old Christy on the cover. She's finishing up her Masters at NYU.

I'm glad the supes are back. It's ridiculous to see a 16 year old modeling a $2,500 suit. The model looks like she's playing dress up. How does this help sell said suit?

This VIDEO is one of my favorites. I think the director was David Fincher. Beautifully shot.

Have a great weekend.

Thursday, July 16, 2009

A great thing about living here? Being broke.

Let me rephrase that. Being broke is not fun. However, I've been broke in L.A. and it's much better to be broke here.

Yesterday I wrote about how annoying it is for people to assume I'm on vacation because I live in Rome. I lived in L.A. for 10 years I wasn't on vacation then, and I'm not now.

What's so hard to understand? I LIVE here. I'm a resident. I have a rental contract, pay taxes, a condo fee, utilities etc. Call me crazy but I didn't have to do those things "on vacation".

Anyway KimB. wrote this comment yesterday.

Sorry for the insensitivity of the person who sarcastically asked if you needed a vacation from your vacation.

I guess for me, it kind of has two aspects. People think my life *must* be glamorous since I live in Paris. No matter how many times I say I live in a 400-sq-ft apartment or that I can't find a 'real' job or that there's not enough hot water in our heater for my husband and I to take showers successively.

On the other hand, I think I use it as a protective cloak sometimes. I may not be doing anything exciting professionally, I may not be the success I was "meant" to be according to my high school and college "achievements" but at least if you're broke and 39 in Paris, you're broke and 39 in Paris. It's not as embarrassing as being broke and 39 and back home.

Kim is right. If I were going through my current situation back in L.A. I would need to be on some serious Prozac. How we define success (overall) in the States is bananas.

There is no way I would have the same quality of life I have here back in the States on my non-existent salary. Yes my apartment is tiny but these numbers jump out at me from an old NYT article:

Average rent in Manhattan Feb. 09

1 bedroom doorman building $3,395 a month
1 bedroom non-doorman building $2,632 a month.

Even with the horrible exchange rate I don't pay anything near that living in a similar area. I get paid the same regardless of where I live which is one reason why moving back to New York from Los Angeles was not an option.

When I lived in NYC 11 years ago, I had a great deal on a 1 bedroom in a doorman building. Studios were renting for $1,900 in my building. I can't imagine what they are charging now.

Excellent food is cheaper here.

My health insurance (private) is MUCH cheaper. I have a similar plan to what I had in the States. I pay doctor bills out of pocket but will be covered for emergency/hospital care. In America I paid $140 a month. Here $20.

It doesn't cost a lot to socialize. Seeing friends over an cheap aperitivo is easier on one's budget than $18 cocktails at the Beverly Hills Fours Season. As an exec I could expense it, now no longer an longer have an expense account.

Less pressure to keep up with the Jones. First of all you don't even know what the Jones have because it's considered rude and tacky to brag about it here. The culture is so different. You're not defined by your job. People have other interests and don't want to talk about work all the time.

I see friends more. I notice I rarely talk on the phone here. Just quick conversations to confirm plans. In L.A. seeing my friends was like scheduling a damn G8 summit.

I was on the phone all the time talking to my friends while sitting in traffic or once I got home. Why talk for an hour on the phone, why not just see each other? Because everyone is so "busy". I can't remember which comic was talking about this whole L.A. thing when you ask someone how they are, they always say, "busy".

Is this because of the uptight Pilgrims? Why is it considered a good idea to sacrifice everything for career/money? Will the economic turmoil make people rethink this?

A greater sense of community. I don't feel alone or lonely here. I feel at home.

Next week (if I remember) I'll write about why being single here is better for my mental health. ha

Wednesday, July 15, 2009

Just because I live in Italy doesn't mean I'm on "vacation."

WTF? Really.

I have to say I'm getting annoyed with this idea many folks have back in the States that I sit around all day chilling.

I would like to see them deal with Municipio #1 (Centro Storico) Comune when getting their residency, try to get a driver's license, learn a new language after the age of 30, live in an apartment the size of most of their kitchens, deal with smelly BO on the bus (I know when you're a tourist or a selling roses you have been out all day walking but man please have some compassion for your fellow human beings), random strikes, etc.

I'm not on vacation. I do work. Hard. Writing might not seem like a "job" but it is. I do it 24/7. And so far this year I've earned exactly $0 from it. So yes I get a little defensive about people thinking writing is not work. I mean just because I can write an e-mail and half the movies released by hollywood suck doesn't mean anyone can be a screenwriter. It is a skill, a craft and it helps to have to some talent. There are some hacks out there but even they have to know structure.

People don't sit around and say, "yeah I can direct", but I can't tell you how many people have said/say to me "I would write movies if I had the time." Thats like me saying I could be Miuccia Prada or Karl Lagerfled because I can reattach a button to a blouse.

Has this happened to other expats? Do acquaintances back home think your life is one big Hollywood movie filled with days of doing nothing other than drinking wine/eating cheese/sitting on the beach etc.?

Tuesday, July 14, 2009

Oggi sciopero! (Bloggers in Italy on strike today)

Today Bloggers in Italy/Italian bloggers are protesting a law (the Alfano degree) currently making it's way through the Senate. I have no idea if this outrageous law has a chance of passing.

For more info click on this site. The English version is half way down.

Monday, July 13, 2009

"The Sack Of Rome" by Alexander Stille, "A Long Way Gone" by Ishmael Beah, "The House At Sugar Beach" by Helene Cooper.

A LONG WAY GONE: Memoirs of a Boy Soldier
This award winning book was a tough read. Beah's journey from boy soldier to college student at Oberlin is heartbreaking. I have read about the practice of recruiting boys to fight in wars all over the world. This book takes something that you might see on the news for two minutes and personalizes it. The boys as young as seven are given AK47s, drugs and stripped of their childhood. There are various aid organizations, UNICEF, who try to de-program former boy soldiers but it's difficult.

A must read for anyone who is confused by how Berlusconi became Prime Minster given his massive conflict of interest. This book is a not a dry read. Even those with no interest in Italian politics will find it funny and very scary as Italy is just an exaggeration of what is going on in America with the consolidation of media and the domination of celebrity culture. Stille is not anti-Berslusconi and that's what makes this book more damning. How Berlusconi rose to power and how he wields is fascinating. The books covers up to the second time he was elected. I hope newer editions will touch on his current administration. One thing that made me laugh was when Stille wrote about Berlusconi will tell you something that is a straight out lie. He says it with such conviction that Stille said he left a meeting with Berlusconi questioning if 2+2 really equaled 4.

I've been meaning to write about this book for a while. A friend (thanks Susan) gave me this book for my birthday. Helene Cooper is a journalist at the New York Times. She grew up in a very wealthy family in Liberia. When civil war broke out she had to move as a teenager to America. This memoir is a beautiful story filled with both tender, moving moments and some very painful ones. The history of Liberia was always interesting to me. It's an African country founded by freed American slaves. Ms. Cooper was a descendant of two of the founding families. She lived in a 22 room house, with maids, butlers and the family owned a villa in Spain. Meanwhile many descendants of the Africans who were native to the land were resentful. In 1980 rebels attacked, killing and raping members of the elite and taking everything they could. After a near death experience while she was covering the Iraq war, Ms. Cooper decided to finally tell her story. I'm glad she did.

Friday, July 10, 2009

Flashback Friday – Harold Melvin & The Blue Notes - "If You Don't Know Me By Now"

For some reason I've been listening to a lot of the Philly Sound lately. It was before my time but even as a kid, I knew there was something special about this "grown folks" music.

Teddy Pendergrass is one of my favorite males vocalists. He started out singing and playing drums in church.

"If You Don't Know Me By Now" was written by the legendary producers Gamble & Huff in 1973. Eventually Teddy left the group for a very successful solo career.

A horrible car accident in 1982 left Teddy paralyzed from waist down with limited use of his arms.

Simple Red did a decent cover but I prefer the original. It reminds me of my dad's best friend Howard who passed away last year. He played the best music at his parties.

It's a little early in the morning, and I don't even like scotch but this song calls for a glass of the good stuff.

Have a great weekend.

Thursday, July 09, 2009

A "sweet" surprise..."The Sweet Life in Paris" by David Lebovitz

The other day I went to an engagement party for a friend. After getting lost for over an hour (I was on the wrong side of Via Cavour) I finally made it.

She had a big surprise for me, David's new book! I was just about to add his latest to my Amazon wish list (see the bottom of zee blog). She told me to look inside where he had signed it.

I'm a HUGE fan of his work. His writing is so funny and he's an incredibly talented pastry chef. His blog is a must read for me. I've made several recipes from his excellent book, The Perfect Scoop.

Now he has written a book with about his life in Paris filled with recipes. I'm so looking forward to reading it.

His expat experiences remind me of some of the funny quirks I deal with here. Like how folks really don't like to make change. Below is an except from inside the front jacket.

That a bank wouldn't have change is bananas. At least that hasn't happened to me in Italy. ha

From learning the ironclad rules of social conduct to the mysteries of men's footwear, from shopkeepers who work so hard not to sell you anything to the etiquette of working the right way around the cheese plate, here is David's story of how he came to fall in love with—and even understand—this glorious, yet sometimes maddening, city.

When did he realize he had morphed into un vrai parisien? It might have been when he found himself considering a purchase of men's dress socks with cartoon characters on them. Or perhaps the time he went to a bank with 135 euros in hand to make a 134-euro payment, was told the bank had no change that day, and thought it was completely normal. Or when he found himself dressing up to take out the garbage because he had come to accept that in Paris appearances and image mean everything.

Wednesday, July 08, 2009

My photos from President Obama's arrival in Italy.

Thanks to my favorite sister in the world, I was able to see Air Force One land. I was up crazy early this morning as we (the advance lead and press staffer on the ground) had to leave the Center at 6:00 a.m.

I stood with the Italian press and waited for the plane.

I'm not the most rah, rah, rah, America is the GREATEST country on the planet person. As a first generation black American I'm conflicted about my home country. I'm proud to be American and will defend it to non-Americans who trash it (especially if they have never visited or lived there), but there's a reason I don't live there anymore.

Yet seeing Air Force One with the big letters UNITED STATES OF AMERICA written on the side, I got chills. I kinda wanted to break out with the team song from this movie:

I know the song is mocking all our over the top Michael Bayish, AMERICA, F**K YEAH! movies and attitude. However, you have to admit we do "big" well.

I must see the First Lady's dress close up.


Later the "Wee Michelles" exited with their grandmother. Their lives must be so surreal.

The First Couple's helicopter. AF1 (and other country's planes) are too big for the the other military base (Urbe) so they along with senior staff had to transfer via helicopters. Russia's presidential plane landed shortly after.

Monday, July 06, 2009

Creepy fountain on Via Flaminia and some J.S. Bach

One thing I love about living here is bumping into random things.

I've passed the fountain on Via Flamina, pictured below, several times but only during the day.

One night I was walking on that street on my way to meet some friends. At night it looks completely different. Ominous. Something about the lighting reminded me of the following:

My sister used to play this song. Johann Sebastian Bach is one of my favorites artists. This is one of his most famous organ pieces.

When my family moved to the 'burbs we went to the local Methodist church. It was not, as Caribbean folks say, a "clap hands church". We heard more classical music than gospel.

Actually, trying to picture our small choir singing gospel is funny.

I wonder what this says.

I could see the late Vincent Prince sitting on the edge and reading some Edgar Allan Poe.

Thursday, July 02, 2009

Flashback Friday – (on Thursday, Forth of July edition) - James Brown - "Living in America"

Many people Stateside will have the day off tomorrow in celebration of the 4th of July.

This song and video are so over the top. I love it.

I think I saw Rocky IV. I lost count. How many Rocky movies were there?

random...I used to see Dolph in my gym in L.A. all the time. The years have been kind to him. He's fine and very tall.

Have a great weekend!