"Carolyn's stories are like a cozy blanket, a pair of stretchy pants, a lifetime movie, and a pint of ice cream to come home to after a DUMB! dating experience. It makes you breathe a sigh of relief and think "Phew! Its NOT just me!!!!!!". -- Ozlem (my hairdresser)

Love the blog Carolyn!! Just read every entry - it's all great! really interesting and a lot I could relate to-- it's hard for me to imagine you having any trouble meeting guys, but I love the honesty and openness of your voice.

Sunday, February 21, 2010

A Date With Rome (Part 1)

When my last relationship ended, I was not excited about jumping back into the dating pool. I was 43, my self-esteem was low and my 'fat' jeans were feeling much too snug. I had also moved to 'Toluca Woods', which is the name realtors created for the less tony area north of Riverside Dr., above posh Toluca Lake, hoping to entice potential buyers to what's commonly known as 'North Hollywood'. "Carolyn, did you know North Hollywood has the most registered sex offenders in southern California?" asked my friend Mark. Great. That's exactly what every woman wants to hear, when moving into a new house in a strange neighborhood.

It was fall 2008, we had just finished the movie, the holidays were approaching and I had at least a month off to decompress. I curled up on the sofa, turned on the TV and caught an interview with Elizabeth Gilbert, who wrote the best-seller, "Eat, Pray, Love". I thought a book about healing from a failed relationship could be inspiring after an exhausting year.

I read the entire book in two days. The way Gilbert describes Rome and the people who inhabit the city was intoxicating. I impulsively logged onto the internet to find out how much a Roman holiday would cost me. A little adventure in an historic city with incredible art could kick start my personal life. For a mere $489 I could be wandering the cobblestone streets of Rome. However, since I work for myself and don't always know when the next job is coming, I contemplated whether I should save money and stay in my sex-offender-populated neighborhood, or fly to Italy?

Bleary-eyed from the long flight, I dropped my luggage off at my bed & breakfast, tucked away, off a side street. Then I found a little cafe on Piazza Venezia near San Marco, ordered a glass of wine and watched the people pass by. Rome was beautiful, vibrant and amazing. I met Paolo and Vicenzo there. Vicenzo was a bodyguard for one of the Superior Magistrates and was carrying a gun. He was very excited to discover I lived in L.A., which was the only city he had ever visited in the U.S. He spent a summer at UCLA learning how to speak English. "No one speak Italian in Los Angeles!" said Vincenzo with a very heavy accent, "They have no the patience with me when I practice the English."

Paolo drove the high judge's bullet-proof car and was the spitting image of Jean Reno. He said very little, as he inhaled deeply on an unfiltered cigarette. I spent about an hour with the two of them, discussing the best places to visit in Rome during my stay. The Colisseum was next on my list, so I thanked Vincenzo for unexpectedly picking up my lunch tab and headed toward the bus stop.

Paolo & Vicenzo quickly exchanged words, then Vincenzo said, "Wait here." The two of them disappeared around the corner. Moments later, an older model Fiat, with one-inch thick windows screeched to a halt in front of me. Paolo was behind the wheel and Vicenzo was riding shotgun. "Get in," he said, "we'll give you a ride to the Colisseum." "Vicenzo," I replied, "I am a female, traveling alone in a foreign country and you are asking me to get into a car with two men, who I just met." "I'll leave the windows down," he said. It took some manpower to roll down the thick, heavy windows, so I knew if I needed to get out, I probably could. "Not if the car was driving 80 m.p.h." my brother later pointed out.

The traffic was backed up for miles but it didn't matter. Paolo turned on the siren and drove fast down the wrong side of the street the entire way to the Colisseum. Opposing traffic quickly veered out of our way and I was delivered to the Colisseum in a matter of minutes. "Grazie mille," I said repeatedly as I exited the car. (Part II below)

A Date With Rome (Part 2)

I awoke one morning and the rain was coming down hard. So I decided to travel to Naples and find the pizzeria that Elizabeth Gilbert described in her book. The train ride was 2-1/2 hours through beautiful countryside. As I looked out the window, I realized I had broken my promise to my good friend, Roberto, that I would not travel to Naples alone.

I exited the train at the station and found a much less rosy version of the city than what Gilbert described. Street urchins manned their posts, all eyes upon unsuspecting tourists. The expression "they'll steal the socks off your feet" originated in Naples. I slung my overnight bag over my shoulder and held on tight, quickly maneuvering my way through the perimeter to a safer area.

I found a small shoe store with an elderly man sitting next to the register. He spoke no English and my Italian was poor, so he asked me to wait for a moment. I waited patiently for about 15 minutes until he said, "Uno momento," again. Finally an elderly woman came out from the back room and tried to understand where I wanted to go. After much gesturing between the two of us, she realized I was looking for Pizzeria da Michele. She hit the side of her head and rolled her eyes in astonishment that I had traveled so far for pizza around the corner from her store. She took my hand, and personally walked me up to the front door of Michele's. She wished me good luck and left.

It was 10:30 in the morning, so I easily found a seat and immediately ordered the double mozzarella, as Gilbert suggests. As I waited for the pizza, I realized I had absolutely nowhere to go. I had no hotel, no idea how to find one and the streets of Napoli were not so friendly. I wondered if I should just get back on the train and head back to Rome. I'm in Italy so I looked up at the ceiling and prayed, "please give me an answer as to what I should do next".

The pizza arrived on an enormous pan. "I'll never be able to finish this," I thought, but I dug in. The pizza was absolutely amazing, exactly as Gilbert describes. The juices and oils from the cheese settle in the middle, creating an astonishing mixture of aromatic and savory delights. The thin crust was perfection... crispy around the edges but doughy in the middle. I was completely in heaven as I devoured the entire pizza.

I didn't know the next time I would be in Naples, so I contemplated ordering another pizza as two young girls and a man entered and sat at the communal table next to me. I was relieved to hear them speak English. I listened for awhile before interjecting and asking where they were from. The two girls were exchange students from San Diego and Franco was the American Consulate in Naples. Who better to tell me where to stay and what to do than Franco? My prayers had been answered.

Franco hooked me up with a hotel on the ocean, overlooking the Old Spanish Castle. I spent a portion of the day at a museum and then wandered around the city. Later, I met Franco for dinner and we ate a classic Neapolitan, family owned restaurant. The mother cooked and her son just kept bringing one amazing dish after another until we said, "Basta". The next night we had sushi in a little restaurant, high up on a hill, with a hundred and eight degree view of Naples, which was breathtakingly beautiful. I was so happy to be out of Los Angeles with no cell phone, no text messages, no emails, no responsibilities and wanted this moment to last a very long time.

The next day, Franco had business in Rome, so I hitched a ride back with him. His parents were both Italian, but he was born in Southern California and was a USC Alum. I traveled all the way to Napoli and met someone who grew up about 5 miles from me in L.A. After one last evening together in Rome, we said goodbye.

I took one last walk around the city before heading to the airport. I noticed many people lining the streets and wondered what the excitement was all about. Up ahead, a parade of sorts with a man wearing a red suit, was being driven on what looked like a white sled. "It's Christmas time. It must be Santa Claus," I thought. Nope. It was the Pope!