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Archive for the ‘Italy’ Category

Between love and lost

If you’ve been following the Chronicles for the last three weeks you’ll know that I’ve been posting a free chapter a week for four weeks as part of an ongoing promotional campaign for my book  Any Color but Beige.

Over the last year, readership and subscriptions have increased dramatically. And I hope that by giving my new readers a preview of the book I can entice them to buy it, read it, and recommend it to their friends.

The book is closely linked to my career as an international color marketing expert, so I structured the book according to my life’s personal color spectrum. The four colorful sections that make up the book are Primary Colors, Color Blind, True Colors, and Exotic Colors.

Exotic Colors is this week’s section, from which I selected the chapter called Chapter 24 It deals with heartbreak and healing. And it was from this painful experience that my book Any Color but Beige came to be. My editor likes to say the best stories break your heart. And she’s right.

photo: © istockphoto.com/VladLo

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Anyone who has ever stared down a blank page and blinked first knows how devastating writer’s block can be. I’ve read several articles

on the causes of it, but the best reason I’ve heard to date is actually the simplest to cure – the cause of writer’s block is a lack of fresh ideas, and the best source of new ideas that I know of is travel.

My favorite place to stay in Trieste

You don’t have to travel to the ends of the earth either to be inspired. A jaunt across town to a new neighborhood is just as inspiring as jetting off to Japan, and a lot more economical for those of us on a budget.

Let’s take a look at all of the potential ways local and long distance travel can inspire us.

First and foremost, it’s all about the place. First impressions can be quite powerful when you’re visiting a place for the very first time. For frequent travelers like me, who have been so many places, the challenge is to see a familiar place with fresh eyes. Armed with a seek-and-you-shall-find attitude, I’m always amazed at how many new things I can discover.

The most fascinating thing to write about is people and the cast of characters that make up the place you’re visiting. You can write about their physical appearances, perhaps so very different from your own. You can capture their mannerisms and customs, or you can dig a little deeper and find the commonalities. One of my favorite things to do is recreate conversations with the colloquialisms of unconstrained everyday conversation. It makes us feel like we’re eavesdropping.

Another thing you can do is take us on a tour of some of your favorite places and tell us why they’re your favorites. For example I’m a WWII history buff, and on almost every visit I make to London, I always go to the British War Museum. I become a time traveler. I can feel the sense of urgency, the life and death struggle of nations as the fate of democracy hangs in the balance.

Why not make up stories about your favorite places. I’m often fascinated as I walk the winding back streets and alleyways of old cities like Venice or Barcelona for example. I try to imagine the everyday life of the inhabitants of these ancient dwellings. What happens behind closed shutters, on bougainvillea-covered balconies or in local shops? I look at the laundry hanging on the balconies and try to guess, from the articles of clothing, who lives in that household. What they do for a living?

If it’s a gondolier, does he sing because he is happy? Is it a bank president having an affair with his secretary behind his wife’s back? Or is he madly in love with his wife and rushes home each night to plant a kiss on the back of her neck? Are the children bored with their over stimulated digital lives? Do they still play outdoors? Is a woman sick and dying behind shuttered window? Does she still have a burden of regret weighing heavily on her soul, pinning her to this earth like an insect in one of those shadow boxes. What was the regret and what could she have done differently?

Local culture, cuisine and customs also yield a rich harvest of stories, observations and ideas. Engage all your senses: taste, touch, hear, see and smell what the place and its people have to offer. Participate. Go out of your comfort zone and learn something new, something indigenous to the place. Mush a dog sled in Alaska, dance Flamenco in Barcelona or dive the Great Barrier Reef. Or be a tourist in your own city.

And, finally, never leave the house or hotel without a notepad and pen because Inspiration can strike at any time, curing your writer’s block in an instant.

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But that doesn’t mean I’ve run out of travel destinations.  Look for posts from the road in January from the UK, Germany, Italy and Las Vegas. And although Vegas may not be its own country like the others, it is somewhat of a wonderland.  My goal is one post for every passport stamp.

If you want to suggest headlines for each destination or travel in general, I’d be happy to have a go at creating a post around it.  Just leave me a comment.  In the meantime, here’s a little something to inspire you.

One’s destination is never a place, but a new way of seeing things. Henry Miller

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Do you ever get that feeling that something special is going to happen? You’re going somewhere new or different and you just know that someone or something is out there waiting for you. There’s a pervasive feeling of anticipation. It inhabits your pores. Your nerve endings are on high alert and you’re paying close attention so as not to miss it. (Whatever it happens to be.)

That was exactly the feeling I had in Italy last year. Logically, I knew that I would experience lots of new things: Eating – that’s a given. Praying – well everyone knows God lives in Italy; just look at the real estate. Finally – love. It was the anticipation of falling in love – if only temporarily – that had me juiced from the get go.

Would it really happen? Who would it be with? Where would I meet him? What would we do? Where would we go?

Someone once told me that, in Italy, falling in love is a national pastime, much like soccer.  And over the years I had discovered that to be true.

Italian men and women use terms of endearment with abandon. I’d experienced the same thing myself via harmless little social encounters that made me feel that much more desirable even when I was in a relationship.

Ciao Caro! (Hello my dear)

Grazie Tesora (Thank you treasure) 

Salve Bellezza (Hello Beauty)

These expressions and many others just like them awaited me on daily basis at the butcher’s, the newsstand, and  the local coffee bar.  When I’d drop by for a cappu in b, which is short for cappuccino in bicchiere, or cappuccino in a glass, the owner would greet me with his customary, “Ciò che un bel fiore.” (What a beautiful flower!) Like many Italian men, he was so hot you could use him to boil water. I ask you, how could you not fall in love?

And then there are those other times when I came across someone so totally unexpected I would wonder if my eyes weren’t playing tricks on me.

That was the case one evening after taking a dance class a local  studio. I had just spent an hour and half learning how to do the Mambo Triestino – a sort of local version of salsa – when students  in the class invited me out to dinner at the local pizzeria.

Fearless as ever, I went along and ended up making conversation in a mixture of English, Italian, French and a bunch of words I must have just made up for the occasion because I had my little party in stitches. By eleven o’clock, I was done and started my walk back to the hotel. To do so, I had to cross one of the most beautiful squares in Italy: the Piazza dell’Unita d’Italia, or the Piazza Unita for short.

The bars along the square were crowded with locals talking and socializing. Partygoers spilled out from the bars and onto the street. They milled about small cocktail tables enjoying their smokes in the crisp night air. The energy of the place made me smile to myself. And that smile didn’t go unnoticed.

I looked up in time to see a young man in his 20s dressed as a Franciscan monk approaching me. A brown robe hung on his thin frame; the white, knotted belt was there merely for decoration. He had a mass of brown curls that framed his face like a halo, and he was swaying slightly. Too much altar wine?

He reminded me of a slightly drunken cherub, who, after celebrating too much, had fallen off of a cloud and landed right in the center of the square. But my cherub was no angel. He had one of those drinking mechanisms that you see at major sporting events strapped to his back with a long tube like straw tucked neatly under his belt. Ah, so the belt did serve a purpose.

Behind him I saw a group of his friends encouraging him. “Vai, Vai!” they said. And so he approached me with a beatific smile. I thought it was all some Italian version of a bachelor party, so I waited to see what he wanted. He started to explain something very sweetly, in Italian, and I didn’t understand what he was saying.

“Ah darlin’,” I said, “I’m afraid you got the wrong girl tonight. “Parlo un po d’Italiano ma non molto bene.” (I had run out of words – well at least the Italian ones – at the restaurant.) He quickly switched to English and began his speech again.

His name was Angelo (appropriate), and he was in the Piazza that night collecting kisses from beautiful women because he just passed his bar exam. He was studying law at the University of Trieste.  And he wanted to know was if I would kiss him.

Kiss him? Kiss him?

Angel with green leaves isolated

 “Certo caro,” I said. “How could I not kiss an angel?”

Photo: © iStockphoto.com/Fabian19

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In BetweenIn the Hollywood version of “The Princess Bride”, Westley (the pirate) is resuscitated and brought back to life.  He marries his princess Buttercup and they ride off happily into the sunset.  Many years ago, when I first read William Goldman’s version of the story he explained that the ending was meant to be quite different. In the real version of the story, Westley dies and there’s nothing to be done.

In his abridgment of this lovely little tale, Goldman learns and passes on a valuable lesson, “Sometimes life is just not fair”.  As someone who is used to the proverbial happy ending, I should have taken issue with that ending but at the time, I found some comfort in the fact that someone had finally told the truth.  And so like most 21 year olds, I filed that bit of wisdom away for use at a later date.

A few years later, I was walking by a downtown skyscraper when I passed a bag lady holding a sign that read:  $1.00 for a piece of my mind.  Naturally as I was, and still am to some extent, in a hurry, I thought the sign said $1.00 for peace of mind.  I guess you could tell what kind of a day I was having.  So, rather than acquiring what I thought was peace of mind through some charitable act…she gave me a piece of her mind with this advice.

“Hey girlie, ain’t no such thing as a Hollywood ending.”

What?!  As a newly minted career girl (pre Sex and the City) and someone who was just starting out on her life’s journey, this did not give me peace of mind.  Of course I knew she was right but somehow there had to be an exception, at least for me.   I had conveniently forgotten William Goldman’s adage on life.

I quickly learned that there were no exceptions, no eleventh hour cavalry rescues, and no knights in shining armor.  The truth is that people die, promotions don’t materialize, the castle is drafty and the prince runs off with the scullery maid. In the second act, your job gets outsourced, you gain weight in strategic places, lovers lie and children keep coming home.  So much for happily ever after.

Happily Ever After, it’s like one of those Zen koans… there is no there, there.  What does that mean?   I think too often we make the mistake of believing that happily ever after is a place, a destination, an end point.  But it’s not. If as they say, life is a journey, then the best you can hope for are little pit stops of happiness along the way.  Are we there yet, we used to ask our parents. No! There is no there, there.

For me life is like a book. It’s one continuous narrative and the best and only thing you can do is to be the author of your own adventures or misadventures, such as the case maybe.   Write your own script, don’t let someone else write it for you, make a decision (any decision), if it’s the wrong one, you’ll fix it.  Give yourself permission – and don’t let analysis/paralysis rule your life.  Fonce*, as my French friends would say.

Of course I came to this realization a bit late in life.  But then again I was always something of a late bloomer.  In fact, it’s only in the last 5 years, since my divorce, that I’ve been acquiring a new perspective on life.  Sometimes it’s fun, other times puzzling and many times it’s damn hard.

I’d like to think I’m a littler bit wiser, rather than worse, for the wear and tear on my soul.  And by and large I am.  The mistakes are fewer, the pleasures simpler and the “down time” a whole lot less than it used to be.

At the end of the day – I have realized that many of the steps forward you take, you take by yourself.  Sometimes you get a little help along the way, that’s why God invented your mother, sisters, daughters and girlfriends.  (Sometimes I think God should have quit while he was ahead). And then of course there are those other steps, too … you know, the ones that  have you going round in circles or just plain backward.  Unfortunately, those steps are yours alone … every single one of them.

The good news is, as a woman you can always stop and ask for directions.  But that’s not an easy thing to do especially when you’re trying to show that you’re calm, confident and in control. How can you ask for help when you’re trying to live up to a role that you think everyone expects you to fulfill….that of Wonderful Woman.

That is especially true for me.  A lot of people (friends, family members and acquaintances) often tell me they live vicariously through me.  And I must admit that on paper it all looks pretty exciting and maybe even a little glamorous.  And sometimes it is — but most of the time it’s a lot of work and sometimes it’s a little lonely.

I have traveled the world for my job and have lived in a couple of very lovely cities. My name actually sounds like it belongs to a character in a novel (and I guess in a way it does). But things are not always as they appear and that’s why I decided to write this little memoir – to set the record straight for myself. Because sometimes I am in danger of believing my own press and it’s always better to be humble than to be haughty – it’s a much shorter fall when things don’t work out.

I am now 50.  50!  When did that happen?  I often think about what Canadian born  comedic actress Marie Dressler once said.

By the time we hit fifty, we have learned our hardest lessons. We have found out that only a few things are really important.  We have learned to take life seriously, but never ourselves.

Sometimes when things feel a bit overwhelming, as they do now, I try to take Marie’s advice and focus on those things that are really important while not taking myself too seriously.  Like Marie, I don’t really want or need the drama.  I much prefer a good comedy.

photo: © istockphoto.com/VladLo

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