Monday, June 29, 2015

Once in a lifetime moments

Where was I? Oh yes, Giverny and the French Open. Please forgive the interruption.

After leaving Mont Saint-Michel, we headed back through the French countryside towards Paris. We returned our rental car and found our hotel. By the time we made it to the hotel, though, it was dark and late. Dinner was calling, but it was too late to sit down. So we perused the streets surrounding our hotel until we came to a New York-style pizzeria that sold NY pizza by the slice. NY pizza in Paris? I know. It sounds somewhat, sacrilegious, right? But hey, when you're hungry and tired, just about anything will do. We decided to forgo the traditional French food we were looking for and scarfed down a slice and a soda...and can I just say fill your own soda and get as many refills as you want?! Were we still in Europe? And truthfully, the pizza was good...really good. I don't think it was just because we were famished...

The next day the Coles and I went our separate ways as they went to do the "Paris thing" while I hopped on a train bound for the small town of Giverny, best known as "the town where Claude Money painted". As I've said before, I had a list of "must-dos and must-sees" while I was living in Europe. Visiting the place where Monet created so many of his masterpieces was ranked incredibly high on that list. As such, I was like a kid anticipating their first visit to Disneyland I was so excited. I managed to get myself on the right train, then the right bus, and finally, found myself just outside of the entrance to Monet's property. Deep breaths. Deep, deep breaths. I'd purchased my ticket before I left Rome and I was so thankful that I did because there was a quite a line. I'd anticipated the crowds and tried to get to Giverny early and I'm so thankful I did. When you enter the property you do so through the gift shop (of course you do....insert eye roll here), but then you walk through a door that leads outside and you find yourself surrounded by an explosion of color and the aroma of a ridiculous amount of flowers: brilliant pink tulips, bright yellow irises, Christmas roses, crocuses. Your senses are overwhelmed as you try to take in the vast array of floral life while your imagination is overrun by the visions of Monet sitting before his easel, palette in one hand, brush in the other as he meticulously and perfectly brings his garden to life on canvas. Really, there are no words to adequately describe the garden.
And that's not all. Just there, in front of you and to the right stands Monet's house. Seen so often in many of his paintings, his house looms before you and you can see in your minds eye his family coming through the doors. You can wander through its rooms, decorated as they may have been while Monet lived there. As you make your way through the rooms,  you catch glimpses and new angles of the garden outside as light filters in and changes the way you see the garden depending on where you're standing. It's truly sensory overload. From the house, you wander along the gravel paths until...just go through a small tunnel, climb a small set of stairs, and there you are...standing alongside a pond covered in lily pads, water lilies, while the branches of weeping willows seem to cascade towards the water. You continue to make your way along the gravel path until, oh my. There it is. The famous green color peeks out at you and as you continue to walk closer you see it...the famous green Japanese bridge covered with wisteria. So iconic and so beautiful.  I could have spent hours just sitting on a bench along the pond and stared. Oh wait. That's exactly what I did...

It would seem that my time at Giverny was one of the highlights of my trip to Paris and while it was, it was only one of those once in a lifetime moments. The second came the next day when I went to Roland Garros for the....FRENCH OPEN!!
Another one of my goals while in Europe was to attend at least one of the major tennis tournaments, Wimbledon or the French Open. And since I was an idiot and didn't go to Wimbledon the year before, the French Open it was! And besides that, I'd already toured the grounds of Wimbledon and rented a court where they play the Australian Open, so naturally I had to go to Roland Garros. It just so happened that the weekend I was going to be in Paris was the first weekend of play in the French about timing! So, I purchased my one day grounds pass and made my way out to the tournament location. 
Getting off of the metro, I followed the yellow tennis ball stickers on the ground to my entrance. The atmosphere approaching Roland Garros was electric. There was a sense of anticipation as play was just beginning all over the grounds. My ticket allowed me to watch any match on any court, except for Centre court and Courts 1 and 2. I was more than ok with that...I just wanted to watch some clay court action. I didn't much care who I saw play to be honest. So, I found some matches that sounded interesting and camped out. It was so much fun!!! I love watching tennis on clay...the game is so much more interesting as the clay changes the way the ball is played. In between the matches that I wanted to watch, I wandered and watched the people. Such a vast array of people! There were those who you know knew how to play and those who didn't, but just wanted to watch the world's best. There were those who wanted to see good tennis and those who just wanted to be seen. Then, there was the entertainment.... It was great fun watching this band play while the crowd around them danced or listened. Such a great atmosphere. Though, I did become distracted because I noticed crowds gathering at courts where there weren't any matches scheduled...hmm...what's this? And as I'm constantly curious, I followed to check it out and found...

Yeah, no big deal. It's just Serena Williams warming up. I've seen Serena play in Rome, but I was closer this time and holy cow. I've said it before and I'll say it again..that woman is built! I've never seen a woman built so powerfully before. It's staggering. And seeing her hit...I doubt I could keep  my racket in my hand if I even managed to get a piece of the ball..that's how hard she hit it. After Serena finished up, I found myself wandering once more...and yet again, I came across a group gathering at a court that wasn't supposed to be in use. experience tells me that someone is practicing. I managed to make my way through the crowd and came to the top of the stairs, went up on my tip toes, and almost fell over. There he was. Novak Djokovic. The number one player in the world. I found myself gasping for breath once more. I've seen Roger Federer play, Pete Sampras, Andre Agassi, but I'd yet to see Djokovic or Nadal. And while I want to see Nadal...Djokovic is the biggest thing in men's tennis right now, so to see him in blown. He was wrapping up his practice session and with that, I noticed a crowd gathering at the bottom of the stairs near the entrance to the court. Was it possible that these people were waiting to see "Djoker" leave the court? Ummm...duh, yes. Let's join them and see what happens, I thought. There I stood for a good 10 minutes and just when I was about to give up, the crowd surged forward and I realized that Djokovic was indeed coming towards me. I fumbled through my purse looking for a pen and something for him to write on. The only thing I could find was the program, so I pulled it out of my purse and as I looked up...there he was right in front of me. I thrust the pen and program out and he took it! Novak Djokovic took my pen and program and SIGNED it. BEST.MOMENT.of the DAY!
Even now I have to pinch myself because it doesn't seem real. My time in Paris that last time was incredible and in some ways, life altering. The things that I saw and the things that I did left an indelible mark on my heart and my life. I've been told that the things that I have done in my life are things that most people only dream of. I know this. I do and I am so grateful for everything that I was able to experience. Ugh...I already miss it so much. And so I'll just have to revisit those places and experiences through pictures and posts like this. 
post signature

Saturday, June 20, 2015

Better late than never

Hello once again blogosphere!

I've been back in the good ol' U.S. of A. for a month now. A month without un cafe latte freddo. A month without gelato. A month without spaghetti all'amatriciana. A month without speaking la bella lingua. Or we could look at it this way, a month without ambulance sirens every ten seconds. A month without dirty looks from cashiers because you don't have the correct change. A month without...well, fill in the blank. So, yes a month. And with that month has come time to reflect. What have I learned? Well, I need to update my blog! I was recently prompted to update my blog and get on with the rest of my posts...I'm talking about you CAR, thanks for the encouragement. ;)

So, all that to say...stay tuned. I'm gonna see this thing through; I promise. There's so much to catch up on, but I will do it. Look out for Paris, Ireland, Istanbul, Germany, and Scotland. Look for more Rome adventures and my reflections on leaving the city that is so imbedded in my heart that even now there's a dull ache.

Quando sono partita da Roma, non ho potuto dire arrivederci, invece ho detto: a la prossima. Ci vediamo a ho lasciato un parte del mio cuore.  E tornerò nel futuro per recuperarlo.

post signature

Tuesday, September 9, 2014

Grateful reflections

Forgive me. I have to push "pause" and interrupt my second Paris post as there have been some developments in my life and what's going on with me that I need to share.  I will come back to my second half of my Paris trip. Admit it. You're dying to know what happened...I'll get there.

As I sit behind my desk in Rome preparing for another fall semester, I am finding it hard to believe that it has been over five years since I first arrived in La Città Eterna. I honestly don't know where five years have gone. There's been so much in between then and now--good, bad, beautiful, and ugly. So much that I'm grateful and full of thanksgiving for; so much that I wish I could go back to and change. So very much has happened. As such, I felt compelled to reread my first "in Rome" post on this blog. I read it and remembered the feeling of anticipation, excitement, fear, and the sweat that was dripping down the side of my face because it was unbearably hot. Looking at the date of the post I was momentarily surprised to realize that I posted that first 'from Rome' blog on August 19, 2009. Ironic.

"Ironic," you ask. "Why is it ironic?" It's ironic because on August 19, 2014, I found out that the Geneva College Board of Trustees voted to close the Semester in Rome program at the end of the 2014-15 academic year because of the challenging environment in higher education and the need to shift resources to other programs.

That's right. The program that I work for in Rome is closing. This means that as of the end of May I'm heading back to the good ol' US of A per sempre. My time in Rome is coming to a close. And that thought, which has been on a continual loop since I found out, is hard to comprehend. I am currently working through many of the same feelings that I experienced in 2009--expectation, sadness, excitement, fear, and yes, even sweat given that I'm back in Rome sans A/C. There's so much churning in my head and heart right now that I can't seem to sort it all out.

Here is what I do know, though: I serve a God who is God. He is faithful and He is loving. He promises that He will never leave me nor forsake me. He promises that He has a future and a hope for me. I know that He will always take care of me regardless of my employment status or geographical location. No matter what my future may or may not bring, I will be just fine. I will be good because God is good. All the time, God is good.

I love Rome. It is such a part of my heart and life. While returning last week was somewhat harder than it has been in recent years, it was also easier. Certainly, it was easier than that first year because I knew what to expect, what was waiting for me, and because I have community here. While I grieve the loss of this city as my home and the adventures that await me with each turn of a corner, it will be leaving the people that I have shared my life with these last five years that will make good-bye that much harder. People like my dear friend Laura who has demonstrated to me time and again what it is to be not only a friend, but also a self-less and encouraging sister in Christ. She has listened to my struggles, my triumphs, and everything in between and through it all has always offered me a listening ear and space in her home if I needed refuge. She, and her husband Jason, always go out of their way to help whenever asked...or even when no help is asked for but needed just the same. People like Lucy who started out first as a colleague, but has become a wonderful friend. She has helped me to navigate life in Rome and has taught me how to speak la bella lingua. She has been an example of grace and strength when I needed reminding. She is such a special person to me and I know that God has placed her in my life for a specific purpose and reason. People like the Sisters who have opened their home to us and have shown me what a life lived to the service of the Kingdom looks like. People like Cathy who always has a warm smile and great hug. People like Remo who owns my favorite pizzeria who always greets me like a long-lost friend. People like Francesca, waiters at other favorite eateries, those who work at frequented gelaterias, the bankers I have gotten to know, our labor consultant, our handsome handyman, those who keep me in coffee at the corner bar, and those I see around my neighborhood. I will miss them because, whether they know it or not, they helped turn a corner of Rome into a home for me. I will miss the people.

And yet, in the midst of all of this, I'm excited to see where God's going to take me next. I'm looking forward to a new professional challenge, a new city, and a new place (all to myself!!!!!!) to call home. I look forward to being closer to home so that I can my niece, and those who come after her, grow up. Practically speaking, I am planning on returning to Arizona in May, unless I already have a new job waiting for me (hint, a girl out people!). Otherwise, I'll continue job hunting while trying to re-acclimate to life in America.

I have been asked several times by former students if I am angry that the program is ending. And the answer is: no, I'm not angry. I understand. I know why we're closing and I get it. Yes, I'm disappointed that those who'd been planning on coming to Rome can't now, but I am confident that the College sought the Lord before making such a huge decision. Rather than being mad, I am thankful. I am thankful that I have gotten to live in a place like Rome, a city that words cannot accurately describe or contain. I am thankful for those whom I have had the pleasure of working with and living alongside. I am thankful for the students that I have had the tremendous blessing to pour into and do life with. I am thankful for all of the beautiful places I have been to and the incredible things that I have seen and done. That's what I am; I am grateful.

So that's how I want to end my time here in Rome: with a sense of deep and profound thanksgiving for having had the opportunity to live out my dream for as long as I did.

Just wait. The best is yet to come...
post signature

Sunday, August 31, 2014

Beyond amazing

I have been back in Rome for a week now following my Paris trip (or I was when I initially wrote this only took me 2 months to actually post it) and I'm still struggling to get beyond words such as: amazing, awesome, and fantastic to describe my time. I need words with more weight because the aforementioned adjectives don't even come close to describing a trip that really went beyond even my wildest imagination...this is probably going to take two posts...just sayin'.

After getting up to depart Rome at a time that can only be described as 'ungodly'---think 2:30 a.m., my friends and I arrived in Paris early enough that we had a whole day in front of us. So, we picked up our rental car and made our way into Normandy. Destination: the D-Day beaches and the American Cemetery. You study the D-Day invasion throughout your schooling, but the facts that you learn and even the films you watch do not prepare you for what you encounter in Normandy. I was stunned by the sheer beauty of the area: rolling green hills, long stretches of pristine beaches, and azure skies that were tempered by ominous gray clouds. Breathtaking really. And then you begin to imagine the men of the US, British, and Canadian armed forces storming those same hills, beaches, under the same sky and you can hardly reconcile yourself to what it must have been like on that day and those following. No doubt those same hills were littered with shell casings and bodies. The sand must have been soaked through with blood and the sky must have been filled with smoke following gun fire. To stand atop a cliff overlooking Omaha Beach, trying to picture men running up the hill, guns firing, only to fall as they're hit by German bullets was hard to picture. Looking at the monuments with their names engraved made it a little more real, but what brought it home was the row upon row of clean, crisp white crosses and Star of David headstones. Those physical representations of the lives sacrificed for the freedom of others was sobering. What really got me, though, weren't necessarily the grave markers that contained the soldiers' names. Instead, it was the crosses that read: "Here rests in honored glory a comrade in arms known but to God." These were men who weren't identified and so the only one who could possibly ID them was their Creator who knows each of us so intimately that we are never out of His sight. Goosebumps and chills.

Though it was a somber day, it was tremendous all the same. To think that 70 years ago my countrymen set aside their lives for another's was an incredibly patriotic moment. I'm not going to lie, I had a strong desire to sing our national anthem, God Bless America, and other such songs. I refrained, but my heart sang just the same.

From there we popped into a small farm to sample some of the areas fare. What a peaceful and beautiful spot! I could see myself living there, enjoying the French life surrounded by family, friends, and chickens. We sampled some apple brandy that kicked my butt and some apple juice that was perfection in a bottle. Leaving that small piece of heaven, we made our way to our hotel for the night in Caen so that we could grab something to eat and hit the hay. We had a marvelous meal of galletes and crepes to top off an overall fantastic day.

We got back in the car the next day and headed for Mont Saint-Michel. Oh.My.Word!! I was not expecting what we discovered. Mt. Saint-Michel is essentially an abbey built upon an "island"that sits in the middle of water at high tide and mud flats during low tide. It was amazing! Yes, it was touristy, but it was so quaint and wonderful. I loved the abbey an the history behind it.

We hit the open road once more and made our way back to Paris. Next up? Giverny...

post signature

Wednesday, May 21, 2014

What dreams are made of

Paris beckons once more. This will not be any ordinary trip to the City of Lights and Love. Nope. This is my dream trip when I realize two of my "bucket" list items. And I can hardly contain myself!

Tomorrow, I am retuning to Paris with my friends/colleagues, Jeff and Christine, and their son, Quentin. We will spend the first day and a half of our 5 day adventure driving between the World War II memorial sights: Omaha and Utah beaches, the American Cemetery and more. Before we drive back to Paris we will stop off at Mont Ste. Michel Abbey and island. It's essentially an abbey that was built on the top of an island and was protected by the tides and the bog that surrounds it. How cool is that?! And while I am excited to see new parts of France, what I am most ***excited**** by are my plans for Saturday and Sunday.

I will be on my own for most of the weekend as my friends will do the "Paris thing": Versailles, the Louvre, etc. So what am I doing? Oh, just fulfilling some lifelong dreams. Saturday will find me on a train to Vernon and then a bus to...Giverny!!!!!! I am going to go to the gardens and the house where Claude Monet created so many of his incredible paintings. I have wanted to go to Giverny since my friend Sarah's dad surprised her mom for their anniversary in 198something with a bike trip through France with a stop in Giverny. As Monet is my favorite painter, this sounded like a piece of heaven to me. And so from then on I'd dreamt of going to the gardens to see things like the water lilies, the Japanese bridge, and the willow trees. I can only imagine what awaits for me!

Then, on Sunday I will be attending the first round of...the FRENCH OPEN! As I've mentioned on here before I'm something of a tennis enthusiast. Last year while I was in London at the end of June I opted not to go out to Wimbledon because I didn't want to deal with the crowds. Can I just say the word regret!? Thus far I have been to two of the four major tennis tournament locations: the Australian Open location in Melbourne, Australia and Wimbledon--I did tour the grounds a couple of years ago. So, for me to make it to the grounds of Roland-Garros and, even better, catch some matches is no doubt a dream come true.

I fully expect this trip to be sensory overload. I am sure it will be something akin to going to Disney for the first time--mouth agape, gasps of delight, and wonder at where I find myself. Never did I fully imagine that these dreams would one day become reality. Blessed doesn't even begin to cover it. Now if only the weather would cooperate.....

post signature

Wednesday, April 2, 2014

Customer service: a foreign concept

Living in Rome is not without its challenges. I think that over the last 5 years that's become somewhat apparent based on some of my previous posts. I know this. I live this day-in and day-out. And yet, every once in a while one of these challenges rises up, hits me upside the head, and I find myself shaking my head asking myself "what just happened?" Such was the case at the grocery store the other day. Here is my latest tale of "living in Rome strikes again."

Last Tuesday found Christine and me shopping for community dinner. Since the students were scheduled to be out and about all day, we volunteered to pinch hit and make dinner for the community. Seeing as we've been eating a lot of pizza and pasta lately, we thought taco salad would be a nice change of pace...hence grocery shopping. So, we gathered our supplies, put them in our cart, and went to check-out. Normally, we use the self-checkout because it's easier. The people who work at this particular grocery store aren't necessarily warm and fuzzy people. My experience with many of them is such that I avoid using the people-manned check-outs because I just don't want to deal with whatever is going on with them. Not that day, though. I had cash to use to pay for my groceries and you can't use cash in self-checkout. Unfortunately, the only register open was manned by a gentleman that I have particularly avoided in the past. Still, I had no other option.

I sucked it up and began to unload my items onto the conveyor belt. He scanned my items and as I moved to the front to begin to bag my own groceries---no bag "boys" here--I saw him toss my bag of limes to behind him off of the conveyor belt. This caused me to pause for a moment. I looked at him and then at the limes. "I can't purchase those?" I asked in Italian. "No," he replied. "They don't scan." Ok. "So, I can't have them? Can't you just punch in the numbers?" He shook his head and replied, "They don't scan." Ok. That's not what I asked. "Ok, I'll go get another bag." He shook his head again and said, "Those won't scan either." Huh? You have limes for sale, but nobody can buy them because they don't...scan? Surely the numbers along the bottom of the barcode can be entered manually just as easily. He just looked at me, his facial expression one of complacency and annoyance as he waited for me to pay him. He refused to "go the extra mile" and punch in a 10-digit code.'s break time, isn't it? It's time for you to go get your 3rd coffee and 20th cigarette? And that's where I "lost" it... in English.

"That's insane. So just because you don't want to take two seconds to punch in the code, nobody can buy limes? What kind of a system is that? How do you function? Absolutely ridiculous! Whatever." I huffed as I handed him my money. I was beyond thinking or speaking in Italian. Nope. This situation called for my mother tongue. As he handed me my change he plastered what can only be described as a condescending smile on his face and said, "Thank you very much." To which I promptly replied, "Prego."

Customer service does not exist here. Yes, there are moments when someone does "go out of their way" and does their job, but more often than not I feel like when I enter a shop or a store the people who work there act as if I should be grateful that they are there to sell me X, Y, or Z. Shouldn't it be the other way around? I don't expect people to fall all over me, but I do expect some level of service. Oh wait. I forgot. I'm not in America. Say what you want about capitalism, but it's because of that ideology to a certain extent that customer service is such a high priority in the States.

Still, my faith in what customer service exists in Rome was restored shortly thereafter. Christine suggested that I try to purchase the limes at the self-checkout. I tried and they didn't scan. I looked for a place where I could enter the code manually, but I didn't see anything. Finally, the man who usually monitors the self-checkout and the exit came over to me. He asked me if he could enter the code for me. Yes, yes you can! I thanked him profusely for his kindness and his help. We even talked about what I was going to do with the limes and when I told him that I was making Mexican salsa, he was genuinely interested. He is my new best friend.

I get frustrated with myself when I look at the world around me from the perspective and values of my home culture. I can't judge another culture based on what's right/expected in mine because they're different with different people and a different way of doing things. This doesn't mean how they or how I do things is right or wrong. It's just different.

I wonder if there will ever come a day when I don't get frustrated or when I'm not taken aback because of how thing work here....nahh....I don't think that day will ever come. I'm too much of an American at heart. And I'm ok with that.
post signature

Sunday, March 23, 2014

A One Shot Deal...

Luzern, Switzerland: a quaint and picturesque city set beside a vast lake and a mountain range that shoots skyward from seemingly nowhere. I had a lovely weekend in this lovely town. However, it will probably be the one and only time that I ever visit this tiny little country. "Why?" you ask. I'll get to that...

I flew from Rome to Zurich with 8 of my students one Friday morning in February. We flew Swiss Air and I was immediately impressed by the airline. It's rare in this day and age of air travel to find an airline that still gives you something to drink and eat for free...not to mention a free small bar of amazing Swiss chocolate. Swiss Air does! They were a great airline and I recommend them highly. I digress. Landing in Zurich, we made our way downstairs towards the train station, bought our tickets, and boarded the train bound for Luzern.

The landscape that passed us by was pretty, but nothing remarkable. Sadly, the day was rather overcast and a light rain fell nearly all day. Arriving in Luzern, our group split up because half of us were staying in one hotel and the other half in a different one. My group trudged to our residence, dropped off our bags, and headed back into town. As we made our way into town we remarked about how quiet and clean everything was compared to Rome. Then we stopped and exclaimed: "Wow! How pretty!" when we came to the Chapel bridge and Old Town Luzern. It was so beautiful. The bridge spanned from one side of town in a zig zag pattern towards the other. Buildings decorated from way back when spanned before us. It was all just so...quaint and lovely! We spent the day wandering the streets of town, seeing the sights, and soaking it all in. We even managed to meet up with the other group. Towards the end of the afternoon we decided to pop in to Starbucks so that I could buy my mug. And this is when I realized that I would probably never get back to Switzerland. The cost. Wow. Now, I knew that it was an expensive country, but I hadn't been expecting to pay 19.50 CHF for a mug. Sheesh! So, after buying my mug I went back out and was greeted with a fleeting view of Mt. Pilatus peeking through the clouds. My breath literally left my lungs. The view was unbelievable. So majestic and stunning! After catching a glimpse of the mountain, my students and I were inspired to shell out the money and get to the top of the mountain.

And that's how I spent my Saturday in Luzern...on two gondolas that took me atop the world, or at least that's how it felt. There are truly no words to describe how incredibly beautiful the mountain top and valley below me was. The clouds swirled about the top at stunning speed and while the view to Luzern below was often impeded, the valley on the other side would be visible and I literally could not stop expressing my amazement. The air on top of the mountain was crisp and clear. Amazing. My favorite moment of the day, or at least one of them, was when I heard the sound of a horn. We quickly made our way outside to find an older Swiss gentleman blowing one of those long horns that curves up towards the end just like the Ricola ad! It was soo cool!!!

We descended the mountain later in the afternoon and rejoined the rest of our group. Thankfully, those who stayed by in Luzern were kind enough to 'scout' out fondue locations for us. They found a restaurant that had cheese and chocolate fondue for about 45 CHF per person...done! And that's how we spent our last evening in Switzerland...before a pot of hot, bubbling cheese and chocolate. It was divine and my stomach was so happy!

All in all, it was a great weekend intro to Switzerland, but realistically---it will be my last time in that tiny country. It was just unbelievably expensive and I don't know that I really want to spend that kind of money again. So, I'm so thankful to the Lord for all that I got to experience, taste, and see while I was there. Memories were made that will last a lifetime...and when those memories begin to fade I can look at my most expensive mug and be reminded!



post signature