Category Archives: humor

FRESHLY PRESSED? IT FEELS NICE

Freshly unemployed (ok, by choice so no pity here), I was lying on the couch for a post lunch nap. The dogs made me do it. Sitting at my desk, gathering jumbled thoughts on what to write, their snoring inspired me to get up and take a breather. Sliding into this unusual siesta, I was pondering whether writing about home-made lemonade and pasta would help me ease into this long week-end, purportedly the last week-end of Summer, the one that will turn LA beaches into ant hills, clog all freeways and that will give me even more ammo than needed to veg between the couch and the patio.

My eyes already closed, gentle snoring lulling me into sleep, the beeping sound of e-mails emanating from my iPhone started to jar with my impending dreams. Wait. That is too many e-mails. I am not that popular, not even with telemarketers. Certainly not at 2 in the afternoon.

Because I am a curious monkey and because I felt slightly guilty about the whole napping novelty, I reached for my phone and saw a long sequence of WordPress e-mails. The first comment was from Simply Om, congratulating me on being freshly pressed! WHAT?

The now welcome sound of more e-mails coming in completely jolted me awake. The dogs were duly informed but were not duly impressed. As soon as I started coming down from this very nice high which happened at a time when I am giving my life a makeover, I started thinking about the day I felt the need to publish blog, over two years ago.

The freshly pressed post on my mother’s voice was my 700th and one of the hardest to write. It all began because I wanted to see if I could develop the discipline of writing between 500 and 700 words five days a week, how hard it would be to make some of my thoughts public and to take criticisms. Working full-time, I had little time to publicize what I did, I don’t even have a Facebook page and I never gave much thought to what a blogging community was.  What I most vividly remember of my first post is how long I hesitated to press that “Publish” button, as if nuclear destruction was at my fingertips.

Yet, what started as a selfish endeavour turned out to be an eye opener on the generosity of other writers, an exercise in supporting each other, in making new friends, virtual and otherwise. In unexpected ways, it has even shaped some of the decisions involving my future working life. There have been some nasty comments along the way, a couple of threatening crazies who were quickly confined to the permanent junk, and even those taught me some welcome lessons.

Well, but enough gloating and pondering on the meaning of blogging. Tomorrow it’s back to the drawing board. Thank you WordPress editors and happy labour day week-end everyone.

Back on Tuesday

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RANDOM THINGS THAT HAPPENED ON MY LAST DAY AT WORK

Image: trendytree.com

If it’s the small details, the ones we don’t notice, that gives our lives nuance, these are the little things that happened on my last day at work. Highly telling or not.

  1. My staff gave me the most wonderful, handmade scrapbook which opens with the quote: “Time is the coin of your life. It is the only coin you have and only you can determine how it will be spent. Be careful lest you let other people spend it for you” Carl Sandburg. As careful as I was on not giving too many details about myself, I have to give them credit: they get me.
  2. I am a sucker for a surprise party, especially the one I really don’t expect. How did they pull it off? I am more of a fool that I believe I am
  3. In all the commotion, I lost my reading glasses. Serves me right. I always thought that having two pairs is the thing to do and never got around to it.
  4. Saying goodbye is emotionally exhausting.
  5. Eating cake at 10 in the morning does indeed mean you will crash at noon. Good reminder not to load on sugar early in the morning.
  6. Being able to nap in the middle of the day is exhilarating.
  7. Loving what you do, makes everything worthwhile.
  8. Real friends lurk in all nooks and crannies. Always keep your eyes peeled.

 

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CAN YOU PLEASE LEAVE ME IN MY BUBBLE?

Happy bubbles

If you are a male reader, I beg you to stop reading now. There are images of your woman you just don’t want ingrained in your mind. Go have a coffee and I will see you tomorrow. If you are a girl of any age, carry on – you might recognize or see your future yourself.

This morning, battling LA traffic trying to reach the office of my gyno, I thought back at the time of my first period, age 13. It was a Sunday, I was in the back of the family car, on the way home from a day trip to Florence, my little sister napping next to me. Once inside the house, there was a surprise in my panties. I knew what it was, girls talk, but my mother wasn’t extremely helpful – with only some tampons on hand and pharmacies closed, she couldn’t think of anything better than handing me a huge wad of cotton wool to put between my legs. I felt I was sitting on a saddle and mentally reminded myself to avoid scheduling any major life events on a Sunday.

Thirty years or so later, I am driving to the gyno because my super regular, trusted periods that invariably followed the moon cycles, have become wacky. I know where this is leading to but I am living in a heightened state of denial, still convinced there might be a medical explanation. “You are all good!” she announces cheerily, brandishing a gigantic white and blue vaginal wand that would put any vibrator to shame. “But what about my wacky periods?” “Do you have any other symptoms? No? You will just have to grin and bear them, you are peri-menopausal”.

In sign of protest at this unwelcome piece of news, instead of hurrying to work, I veer into Pain Quotidien, the rip-off Belgian chain known for its wonderful bread, the quaint communal tables and the coffee served in those adorable French cafe au lait bowls that get me every time. I blow $10 over a small cappuccino and two slices of rye bread with butter and jam, all organic – mind you – breaking my golden rule of keeping dairy and wheat at a minimum in my daily diet. The coffee brings me back to a state of denial, in which I decide that this peri-menopausal state will last for a good 10 years. I am finally ready to face the rest of the day.

Fast forward a few hours and, in a (unwelcome) case of serendipity, a very pleasant looking lady zeroes in on me at work, while I am on my break, sipping coffee in the sun. In the space of five minutes, this stranger manages to tell me she is turning 60 tomorrow, she is a breast cancer survivor, she is on Weight Watcher (although she looks extremely slim to me) because she wanted to look fabulous for her birthday.

“You know, menopause made me gain 1 pound a year. You’ll see, I was as slim as you (she still is). You need to start taking calcium now because you have small bones and all your bone mass will be lost in the next few years. And go for the hormone replacement therapy. I look way better than all my friends who don’t do it – their skin sags and they look old. And the hair, the texture of the hair changes, mine became curly and it was as straight as yours.  And, my god, the mood swings, I kept crying all the time”.

At this point, I just want this lunatic to go away, breaking as she is into my denial bubble, where I carved a very comfortable place for myself. But nameless lady is relentless. “It just sucks, I am so depressed at turning 60”. I tell her she looks pretty wonderful to me, in her white skinny jeans and a powder blue top that matches the color of her eyes but I know that, no matter how sincere my compliments come across, they won’t lift her funky mood.

“Start taking your calcium” she insists, finally walking away. I feel like I have been inducted in another secret society. From the one of budding breasts and knowing smiles to the one of sleepless nights and hot flushes. I slowly go back to work, closing behind me the door of my denial bubble. Just watch me, 10  more years.

 

 

 

 

 

 

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THE GRUMPY LIST

Petco last Sunday. Mother’s Day. The place is brimming with people and their dogs in tow – I am just trying to find a toy Ottie and Portia might find interesting. Not quite sure why I insist when old cardboard boxes seem to keep them occupied for hours on end. Maybe I am just tired of picking up cardboard bits as a wrap-up to an evening out. “Happy Mother’s day!” one of the cashiers thrills “We are all mothers, aren’t we, of our pets”. As a matter of fact, Ottie did cook me brunch, picked a bunch of roses and wrote me a card. The US is definitely going the way of old England when it comes to pets. Bonkers.  I just read that in San Francisco the dog population outnumbers children 180,000 to 108,000 (NY Times, 5/14).

Blue Plate on Montana in Santa Monica. Having lunch with a friend at this lively neighbourhood cafe where they promptly lose our order and the table next to us, who ordered after us, gets their food long before we do. But I am feeling in a charitable mood until our veggie wraps arrive. The moment we pick them up, they unravel like a spool of yarn, dripping vinaigrette and vegetables all over our hands and table. Kitchen, a wrap is meant to lovingly wrap what’s inside, keeping it tight until the last bite. Not terribly hard, not even for fashionable places in Santa Monica. If I wanted a tortilla with veggies on the side, that’s what I would have ordered.

The Four Seasons in Beverly Hills. Cancer research fund-raiser lunch with 300 people in attendance. You probably know of my visceral love for the Four Seasons. They don’t disappoint – the servers are impeccable around this mob of socialites, mostly women frozen in time by plastic surgery or frozen in place by their thinness. And did I mention highly pitched voices? The tomato 3 way appetizer is delicious. When I glance at the rest of the menu, I gasp at the sight of Chilean Sea Bass. 300 of them! Four Seasons Chef, don’t you get the Monterey Bay Aquarium list of sustainable fish? Don’t you know that Chilean Sea Bass has  been endangered for years and responsible restaurants don’t serve it? I had to go home and immediately write a letter. Mind you, I had forgotten how delicious it was…

 

 

 

 

 

 

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Filed under humor, life in Los Angeles, Los Angeles

DINNERTIME AT THE DEER’S

Mr. and Mrs. Deer were leisurely parked outside my gate last night, when I got home. In fact, Mrs. Deer was looking positively radiant in her minimal make-up, batting her eye-lids, bearing just a hint of mascara. She was waiting for Mr. Deer, busy polishing his antlers with that special oil he is known to use, taking his sweet time despite dinner time approaching fast. Mrs. Deer did not want to miss her nightly reservation. Finally, Mr. Deer made his appearance, elegantly swooping in from the hillside, poised to reach out to Mrs. Deer, sprint towards my fence and make their way towards my rose bushes.

I slowed down, mesmerized by their beauty and their grace, knowing that the headlights would soon give my presence away and delay Mr. and Mrs. Deer’s dinner plans. And so it was.

My 8 year-long battle to keep the roses blooming through the Spring was lost a long time ago. My inept inner gardener loved to cut the multi-hued roses the previous owners had (stupidly) planted and cherished. Their plan to keep the wildlife at bay resorted to an electrified fence I promptly disconnected as soon as my (RIP) Rottweiler got mildly electrocuted. For a  short time, I tried web and neighbours’ inspired remedies as extravagant as sprinkling baking soda or laying small bowls of beer around the roots. Nothing worked. And that is how my exotic roses became the equivalent of a French Laundry meal for the resident deer.

A few days ago, I learnt of a couple who traded their Venice house for a pool accessorized abode in my neighbourhood. Six months into their “idyllic” residence, they spotted a rattlesnake in the backyard, where their toddler was playing – after calling pests’ removal companies and being told there was no way to abate rattlesnakes (no shit Sherlock – how would that work exactly?), they decided to move.

I am always amazed at the amount of city folks (and I was one the most urban of them all) who move to the canyons and expect to lead the same life as if they lived on the Santa Monica Promenade (“oh, I have to drive such a distance to get food – nobody will deliver”). At least, I did my research beforehand and made peace with the snakes, the deer, the coyotes, the tarantulas and the mountain lions whose habitat I trespass on (not to mention the landslides and the wildfires – as if earthquakes were not enough).

The gift I get in return is Mr. and Mrs. Deer welcoming me home at night, clearly unafraid of me – by now, they know I am running a rose special outside my garage.

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LIFE FRAGMENTS

Not my friend - and his lederhosen were actually more outlandish

Anyone who got to know me in the second half of my life can scarcely believe me when I admit to a lifelong case of shyness. At work I tend to be bossy, a natural at telling people what to do; in my private life I am opinionated, stubborn and foul-mouthed and I am that driver who will tailgate you for a couple of miles, cursing, if you happen to cut me off.

Yet, I was painfully shy as a kid and, to this day, I prefer intimate gatherings to loud and crowded parties which, in my book, are any get together comprising more than eight people.

The last time I celebrated a birthday with a large cast of characters was my 30th – my boyfriend at the time organized the dinner under a pergola, in a restaurant on the outskirt of Milan, followed by a jaunt at an old-fashioned amusement park. It was actually a lot of  fun and I have happy Polaroids to prove it: me embracing a rifle, trying to win a rubber duck. With my 50th birthday approaching (which I am confessing now and then never ever mention again), I thought it might be fun to mark the occasion with another dinner under a pergola, this time on the hills outside my native town, surrounded by as many people I love as I could think of.

On the phone with my best friend and mistress of ceremonies, I ran through a tentative guest list that ended up including one night stands and every Tom, Dick and Anne we could think of. While it was a laugh to bring back to life those souls from our past that had left a mark, albeit not indelible, it was clearly not feasible or cost effective. So I sat down by myself, old-fashioned pen and paper in hand and started jotting down names. Besides the close friends and family that make up the fabric of my everyday life, I realized how many people I could think of that had touched me, really touched me along the different roads I travelled in the last five decades.

What suddenly came to mind was a black and white photo I haven’t seen in years, no doubt buried in the mess in one of my mother’s drawers, of  a little boy of six, holding the hand of a grinning five-year old girl dressed in tartan pants that itched like a bitch and a stupid looking Tyrolean jacket, black hair cropped short and a teddy bear dangling from her other hand. His thin legs were swallowed by hiking boots and left bare by a pair of lederhosen that no parent should inflict on an unsuspecting offspring.  We were standing on the side of a mountain somewhere in Austria, during one of those Summer vacations our parents dragged us on.  I am now convinced that this attire we had no part in choosing contributed to our eventual breaking free of conventions and leading lives outside the parameters of the expected. He went on to become a professional photographer and writer and I, well, here I am.

I felt a sudden urge to have my childhood buddy, whom I haven’t seen or spoken to in nearly 20 years, near me again. Which, in turn, led me to thinking about how many people, in the course of a life, contribute to making us who we are. All these life fragments are neatly glued together inside us and, far too often, we don’t give them the credit they are due.

Either that or I am getting incredibly sentimental in my old age.

PS And yes, he will be coming to my party. And, 20 years later, he has the same identical photograph tacked to his kitchen wall.

Photo courtesy of bavarianspecialty.com where you can buy the lederhosen

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GHOST OF THE EASTER BUNNY

My relationship with meat has always been tenuous at best, as recounted by my mother who never tires of reminding me she had to puree beef into mashed potatoes when I was five to trick me into eating it. The relationship definitely soured when I was served my pet bunny one Summer – in truth, the farmer by our  country house from whom we purchased fresh eggs and chickens (dead ones) had given us a live rabbit that I got to enjoy for a few days, until he disappeared. Only to make a grand entrance on one of the serving platters, the ones decorated with wild roses I was so fond of.

It took me a while to connect the roasted rabbit surrounded by olives to the live bunny who had been running in the yard but, once I made the leap, no one dared deny the evidence. I have stayed away from rabbits, bunnies and most meat ever since.

Easter is a holiday I tend to forget. Wishes come from my friends and relatives in Italy, where Easter and Christmas are equal opportunity celebrations, no matter what faith (or lack of) you might happen to be. It’s pointless to say you don’t believe, or you are Jewish – just wish a Merry Christmas or Happy Easter back to avoid blank stares or being accused of being a Grinch.

The chocolate Easter bunnies that will be popping up everywhere on Sunday are not a traditional mainstay on my former shores. We have THE Easter egg. And I am not talking about Cadbury eggs type of confectionery or painted boiled eggs. Hell no – children (and adults) exchange hollow chocolate eggs that can vary in size from a few inches to the length of a 3-year-old child. What they all have in common is a surprise in the center: a small toy, a piece of jewellery and, for the most refined, the eggs can be made to order and filled with a gift of your choice. A diamond ring for example. They come wrapped in colorful paper and tulles, and the store-bought ones have little cards identifying whether the gift is for a boy or a girl. It doesn’t matter, in the end they are all tschockes that will be forgotten in a matter of hours (not the diamond ring). What is thrilling is getting to the end of Easter lunch, having avoided lamb with mint sauce, and unwrapping the massive egg, then opening the debate on how best to crack the egg with minimum spillage of good chocolate. Now you have a glimpse of when and where my chocolate addiction was  born.

I still have a miniature china tea set that came from one such egg – it’s becoming, if not an antique, a vintage piece as I cannot remember the last time I cracked an Easter egg. I do miss the egg cracking ritual but I will have to make do with biting a bunny ear. A rigorously chocolate one.

HAPPY EASTER!

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MY VERY OWN REASONS WHY I WOULD NEVER BOARD A SHIP

 




Sea legs is not a term that will ever be applied to me. Armed with all my best intentions, mainly because of my life long attraction to any body of water, I tried sailboats, motorboats, paddlers, canoes and it never got better. I get horrendously, painfully and unavoidably seasick. To reach certain destinations that can only be arrived at by sea, I will ingest vast quantities of drowse inducing pills but I don’t otherwise see the point of spending any vacation time medicated and in a daze. So no sailing holidays from island to island for me – a pressurized cabin will always get me there faster and with my stomach intact.

Until somebody suggested taking a cruise on a very large vessel. “They are as big as nine-storey buildings. You won’t feel a thing!” And so it was that I was conned into boarding an enormous liner to Alaska, some monstrosity with more restaurants you could ever want to explore in a week, casinos, multiple pools and minuscule and suffocating berths. In the middle of night one, I woke up, apparently while crossing the Inside Passage, with my stomach lodged in my throat, unable to stand and crawling to bathroom, hoping for a miracle. After three hours, I was pleading with my companion to go talk to the captain and let me off. RIGHT NOW.

Needless to say, I spent the rest of the week popping pills, counting the hours when land could be under my feet once again. Against my better judgement and in a major fit of forgetfulness, five years later I agreed to a Mediterranean cruise to Portugal and Spain. “It’s a much smaller boat, very luxurious and the Mediterranean is so calm, it’s impossible to feel seasick!” Bullshit.

Nary out of the port of Lisbon, right in the middle of dinner, I had to excuse myself to go find a friendly doctor who would prescribe me enough pills to see me through the week. This was 6 years ago and, under no circumstances, could I ever be persuaded to give it another try.

But, my ear imbalance aside, I collected a number of very good reasons why cruises should be avoided at all costs.

  1. The most interesting person I met on the Alaska cruise was Jonathan, my table’s Jamaican server. You get assigned to a table, you see, and you are stuck dining with the same people night in, night out, unless you want to try any of the other junky restaurants. This very friendly waiter could not believe I had been to Port Antonio, where he was born and, having earned his trust, I learnt from him that the staff is lodged in cabins under the water level, with not even a porthole. They work 14 to 16 hour shifts and they hardly ever get off to sightsee. They all come from poor countries or dire circumstances and are easy prey to contracts that offer gruelling working conditions but also more money they can hope to otherwise earn.
  2. One day at sea, intensely bored, I took advantage of the kitchen tour that was offered to the guests. I was very impressed with the spotless and cavernous facilities but, if there is one place where food borne diseases can spread like wildfires, that is the confines of a boat. It’s hard to store food for long periods of time and avoid cross contamination, as witnessed by the frequent news items of large numbers of passengers getting sick on boats.
  3. They will try to sell you anything and everything. If you are stuck at sea, you will cave in and get a bad massage from a stranger who will try to sell you all manners of beauty products. If you are not particularly entrepreneurial, you will end up in one of those tours headed by red hatted leaders, waving umbrellas. That, I refused to do and, as soon as I could hop on land, armed with guidebooks, I took my own hikes in the Alaskan wilderness, took trains and buses all over Spain and even met the boat at a different port. The bad massages, I was a sucker for.
  4. Whenever I board a plane, it’s like an act of faith, mainly because I understand little of the aerodynamics and mechanics that keep a plane flying. But I quickly settle in, enter my cocoon and stop thinking until it’s touchdown. On a boat, seemingly so much safer, there might be a Captain Schettino lurking in the shadows…and you know how that one ended…

 

 

 

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WONDERLAND LOVE TRUTHS

The dangers of wi-fi and my i-Pad combined just cannot be underestimated. There I was, on a Friday night, watching Bill Maher (his smugness a major guilty pleasure of mine), when a blonde woman by the name of Alexandra Wentworth came on. I had seen her book mentioned around in the last few weeks but it didn’t really catch my attention until I heard her talk, and she was indeed very funny. I reached for my i-Pad, browsed iBook and, zap!, 30 seconds and 12 bucks later, “Ali in Wonderland” was right there, awaiting my attention and my time.

Now, I am not above easy reads and occasional trash, especially when coming off a particularly wonderful book or some proper Literature, and I have been known to devour Jackie Collins on the beach. This particular memoir, though, baffles me and it might be because of my utter lack of WASP genes. Here is a pretty blonde girl, recounting her childhood at the hands of a caring and busy mother (social secretary in the Nixon White House), her unremarkable days in college and her heartbreaks. Oh, and a small bout of depression, which might not have been depression after all. All this while pursuing a career as a b actress. Then she goes on to marry George Stephanopoulos and all ends well. Really, as far as major life roadblocks, “ah ah moments”, attention grabbing stories, this particular life is pretty unremarkable and tame.

Still, the 12 bucks were not entirely wasted because Ms. Wentworth can be extremely funny, especially when it comes to men. Here are a couple of truths that have been sticking around in my brain.

“I believe that every woman should sample all the different groups in the male food pyramid. That way, when you finally get married, you’re never enticed by the fantasy of the sculpted yoga instructor who “gets you” or the Brazilian ex-husband of a gallery owner you met once at a Ben Nicholson retrospective. You’ve been there, you’ve done him. Marriage is like being on a perpetual fast, in that you don’t have to waste all that time fantasizing about the curly fries if you’ve had them already. And barfed.”

I was never a big proponent of life long commitments early on. Think about it – if you get tied down in your ’20’s, I am prepared to bet that nobody is immune to the (not so) fleeting thought “what must it be like if…”. Mistakes, “cringeworhty” boyfriends, yucky flings and what “was I thinking specimen” all map the road to long-lasting relationships in the future. When you find someone special, you are  more inclined to treasure him.

“If you love them, set them free. If they come back, they are truly yours. If not, they are assholes.”

Not particularly original but who hasn’t pleaded, stalked , tried to glue together broken pieces no longer fit? If it’s meant to be, he will find the road to you.

Browse the book

 

 

 

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10 TELLTALE SIGNS I HAVE MORPHED INTO AN ANGELENO

St. Luca's Basilica atop Bologna's hills

Cobbled streets, medieval buildings, red roofs are the trademarks of the city I grew up in, Bologna, and it’s hard to find some commonality with the sprawling metropolis I live in now. Funny thing is, I started catching myself noticing little telltale signs I have become a fully fledged Angeleno, for better or worse, and I have fallen into habits and thought patterns I would never have considered possible when I left Italy or London.

  1. Despite the miles I clock walking the dogs twice a day and hiking whenever possible, I wouldn’t dream of walking two blocks anywhere in the city or taking public transportation that, I am told, has immensely improved of late. I will move the car from parking meter to parking meter, to step into a store or a restaurant or wherever else. Just because.
  2. I briefly entertained the idea of Botox and fillers – then I decided not to add another expressionless mug to the mix.
  3. I can rattle off names of grains unknown to me 17 years ago and I will think nothing of adding Spirulina to my morning shake. Cappuccino and croissant are such a thing of my European past.
  4. I will insist on adding Stevia to my coffee instead of sugar, whipping it out of my bag when the occasion presents itself – never mind the sugar laden slice of pie that accompanies the coffee. At least I am still able to notice the incongruity.
  5. I regard a yearly cleanse as my civic duty.
  6. My social life is accurately planned around times of day, geographical locations and traffic patterns. I religiously listen to the traffic report and the traffic app on my phone is one of the most used.
  7. Spanish hasn’t exactly become my second language but, considering it wasn’t a language I spoke at all when I first came, now I can understand it and I can make myself be understood. Having learnt it mainly in the kitchen, I am sure I intermingle Mexican, Colombian and Salvadoran slangs without even realizing it.
  8. Should I feel the urge or need to visit a place that gets real snow blizzards in winter, I literally don’t have anything to wear.
  9. A mild earthquake will not get me out of bed.
  10. Coyotes, rattlesnakes, tarantulas and possums are my favourite neighbours.

One sign my Italian roots are still alive and kicking: I would not be caught dead wearing a track suit other than at the gym’s.

From MOCA Graffitit's exhibit

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