accessories

January 17, 2015 — 2 Comments

hot tips led me to make bad investments in futures with italians artists academics and such
a spontaneous splurge with a seersucker suit one rainy summer night in soho bought me a third negroni and had me stripping down to my strapless wacol by midnight and doing the walk of shame past the guy in the hugo boss suit by sunrise

elegantly strewn across a dirty mattress alongside a homeless guy (both having had drunken evenings we were the same) as the sun rose over bleeker street

me in my crooked max&co shades and black h&m dress inside out minus the slim silver anne klein belt which was
accidentally left
behind in the seersucker’s hotel room carelessly tossed across… i should have gone back for the belt.
that belt went with everything

and now it goes with nothing

It’s been quite a long time since I’ve written a legitimate blog post here.  Over a year, in fact.  And, it’s been quite a year, indeed.  I survived my fourteenth year of teaching, after a year away and having dipped my feet into the world of art gallery sales, traveled to Costa Rica, drove cross-country on a whim and fulfilled my dream of flying a plane – not just in a plane but actually logging my first legitimate hour of flight towards my pilot’s license.  Those who know me intimately will know that flying is a dream I buried many years ago.  Back to the days of The Ghost I call husband. Long before I knew The Ghost, I read Beryl Markham’s West With The Night and wanted to one day fly a plane.  I was obsessed with Amelia Earhart and the accomplishments she made as an aviator – and having the wanderlust myself, travel was always on my mind.  Taking the yoke and flying myself was something I knew I had to do and always hovered in the back of my mind.  So, one day, while I was living with The Ghost, I drove up to Republic Airport and signed myself up for flight classes, leaving my 50% deposit of $600 for flight school.  I was to start the following weekend, sue to my work schedule.  When I came home, excited to share my news, The Ghost did not share my enthusiasm.  His face turned sour and he said to get my money back because there was no way he would allow it.  For some reason, which I still don’t understand, I listened to him.  We weren’t even married and I listened to him.  I went back the next morning and got my money back, cancelled my classes and drove back to The Ghost.

I was a tender twenty five years of age when I crushed my own dreams of flight.  I can’t really blame The Ghost.  After all, I didn’t put up a fight, I just listened to him.  Perhaps some part of me knew, very deep down, that it wasn’t the right time.  Perhaps I was afraid to fulfill a dream.  Perhaps I wanted someone to tame my wild ambition.  I don’t know what the reasons were at the time, but I complied.  I do remember being very disappointed in myself for listening to him, but if I am completely honest with myself, I must say that I probably did not want to be allowed to fly.  When I finally did leave, a time I’ve written about here), I remember feeling that I was given a second chance at life.  He wanted to kill me that night, that’s the account Aidan relayed to me.  He told me The Ghost had a plan to kill me my tying my feet to cinder blocks and throwing me off our boat.  He wanted me dead.  Dead. He was high enough, and strong enough to do it.   When he was beating me that last night I’d ever see him, with every punch he’d thrown at my head, my face, my stomach, I knew that if I survived that night, my life would finally begin.  That I could live again.

As I’ve accounted here, I was in a fog for a long time after that night.  Not just for a few hours or days, but really for a few years.  It wasn’t until the divorce was final, some four years later that I felt some sense of relief.  Release.  Even then, I felt the eerie sensation that I would always need to look over my shoulder as long as I lived in New York because there was always the chance that he would find me and finish what he started.  Though I forgave him the minute I left the house, I knew I would never sleep a full night peacefully as long as I lived in New York.  And I didn’t.

The Ghost visited me every night as I put my head down on the pillow.  I could see his face next to mine in the bed or feel the curve of his body behind me as I drifted off to sleep.  A sensation which jolted me awake and refused to let me find peace in slumber.  I worked.  Made new friends.  Found moments of  joy with the children I worked with but my heart pounded a few beats too fast when I returned home and had to face the darkness.  Though we were physically parted, The Ghost had entered my mind and taken up residence there.

The divorce was finalized and I set my sights on living in Europe.  I got a teaching job in Italy and moved.  Movers came to my mother’s house and took my things. I got on a plane.  The next chapter was beginning.  I don’t think I ever told anyone this, but even after I got to Italy, I would look out the window of my apartment, onto the streets of the small town outside of Milan, on the tram, bus, or at the street markets expecting to see The Ghost.  He couldn’t make his way up to Putnam County, New York and I expected to see him on the streets of Opera, in the Commune di Milano?  Completely irrational, but totally true.  No, it didn’t take too long for to feel safe again, but because I could not change my name back to my maiden name before leaving the country (it would have complicated my paperwork upon entry to Italy), I kept The Ghost’s name.  It became a part of me.  It’s how I was known professionally, and by kids.  Upon leaving him, I recreated a new identity around this name, shedding any old identity and leaving it far behind in the damp, small town where I left him on Long Island.  Like a butterfly I spread my wings and became a re-entered the world.  Beautiful and alive.

I found love in Italy and for a short time, The Ghost was out of my mind.  He hovered close, but for the most part I was able to enjoy a new romance that was pure, and good and wonderful.  With Andrea, I learned what kindness and gentleness from a man could be like.  He was humble and vulnerable in ways The Ghost never knew.  He struggled with sharing that which ultimately ended our union.  After that, I knew his role in my life was to teach me men can be good and kind and that I could be loved.

Through the years, and moves, and jobs and lovers,  I have reinvented myself.  I’ve only recently come to realize that through my reinventions I have been searching for my most authentic true self.  I have been on a journey to discover my purpose in this world.  Why have I been though what  I have, why I lived where I have, why the people who have left marks on my heart and furthered me along my path have come, gone or stayed.

I’ve come to realize, that flying a plane became the ultimate metaphor for taking control of my life.  When I grabbed the yoke this summer, I took back my life.

So, The Ghost I call Husband gave me my name.  I have been through so many changes that my name is now very much mine and has a completely new meaning to me.  It defines me, tells about where I’ve been and now truly is my identity more than ever.  And here I write, inventing Maria McCabe.

These Leaves

October 12, 2014 — Leave a comment

Today I went walking

and as I walked over a carpet of red and gold,

These lines came to me

So I wrote them down.

I thought,

These leaves, strewn across the ground

are nothing compared to the tears I’ve shed over you. 

And now I am done.

These leaves, now fallen from trees

shed themselves for a purpose;

empty, branches stand,

for a time,

hoping

for the inevitable

newness of spring.

Grand Illusion

March 12, 2014 — Leave a comment

In the beginning there was Grand Illusion at the Film Forum

I’d seen it before but never quite this way.

You were the expert, a Ph.D in film, your favorite scene:

Two free soldiers walking toward freedom in the vast whiteness…

How did it feel to pull the plug

to end the life that gave you yours?

How did it feel to break your own heart

and set yourself free all at once?  

Into the whiteness, there is freedom there,

Freedom you said you could not deal with

Drama in your life, a profession darling, 

Your specialization.  

You are an artist restricting an audience to your choosing.

From time to time I wonder, who’s in your audience now?

With whom do you present your Grand Illusions?

no smoking gun

March 12, 2014 — Leave a comment

there was no one thing you

said nothing I can point to you

said that could explain why you

why I

on the cliff teetering for months swaying in your

wake and you said you said you

said no smoking gun you

said

As an American living in Italy, I suppose I thought about the prospect of meeting a handsome Italian man who would sweep me off my feet but I certainly wasn’t counting on that happening.  I had seen Under the Tuscan Sun and read the book many years before.  Those were things that happened in books and movies, not to me.  Everything about the way my life had gone up to this point, particularly my romantic life, was telling me an Italian romance did not seem possible.  And then I met Andrea.

Sweet, handsome Andrea.  In my last post I described our first encounter.  The first broken Italian/English conversation in the Irish Pub.  The subsequent invitation and trip to Portofino on the Ligurian coast.  Romance is always dulled by reality.  This romance was no different. We left for Portofino after work on a Friday night.  Andrea picked me up in his VW Bug, and we drove down through Genoa toward the Ligurian coast lined with s-curves.  He took me up and up the windy coastal road to the sleepy sea-side town that was mostly boarded up and closed for the off-season.  It was late October, and though the days were sunny and warm, the temperature dropped at night, leaving this black shimmering coastline for the natives and new romances like ours.

The moon shone on the water that night night giving everything that deep midnight-blue soaked glow.  It would have taken a tough lot not to feel romantic that evening.  All was perfect.  So up we climbed in Andrea’s VW, until we hit a point where we could see sleepy Portofino below us.  There were a few sailboats still tucked into their slips and lights on the u-shaped path around the cove showing the presence of no one.  The palm trees glowed in the lights from below.  We held hands, and commented now and then on how beautiful it was, eerie and beautiful all at once, as we drove up the and up the steep one lane road in the dark, getting closer and closer to the stars when Andrea pulled the car over.  He let go of my hand.  He got out of the car without saying a word, popping open the trunk.  So up we climbed in Andrea’s VW, until we hit a point where we could see sleepy Portofino below us.  There were a few sailboats still tucked into their slips and lights on the u-shaped path around the cove showing the presence of no one.  The palm trees glowed in the lights from below.  As he walked toward the back of the car, all I could think was here it comes – he’s going to get the ropes and shovel now.  This is how I will die, in Portofino at the hands of a man I hardly know, the headlines will read “American Teacher Found Dead in the Hills Above Portofino”.  My heart was pounding.  I looked in the rear view mirror, and in the little space between the opening of the trunk and the top of the backseat, I could see he was holding the trunk  up high with one hand and bent over at the waist.  Was he digging my grave?  With one hand?  Getting an axe to chop me up in pieces?  What’s wrong? So I opened the door in an attempt to get out, and he told me to stay in the car, but he sounded funny. Like, strange funny.  Was he a werewolf??  Maybe that was it!  I tend to get the strangest thoughts at the oddest moments and this was no different.  I stayed in the car out of fear and because though he voice was odd, he had a serious commanding tone, so I suppose I was obeying him to some extent.  When he return to the car, he was sweating and smelled of vomit. Turned out my handsome Italian – the same man I thought might chop me up and bury me in the hills of Portofino – was struck with a case of motion sickness from all the s-curves.  I tried to comfort him, but he gently pushed my hand away saying we should go to our hotel in Rapallo.  He apologized a few times on the way but was mostly quiet.  I didn’t say much for the thirty minute drive.  I was sorry for him, but feeling a little hurt that he pushed my hand away.  He would’t let me comfort him and i was selfishly hurt by that.  Under the circumstances, I tried to push that thought away, telling myself I was being ridiculous.  Of course he doesn’t want to be touched he’s just been sick, I told myself.  When we got to the hotel, we checked in, Andrea took a shower and felt much better.  We went to bed quietly, as though we had a thousand times before, but it was our first night sleeping in the same bed and I was nervous.  I was hoping for a night of romance, which was not to be.  He didn’t hold me or say anything.  We just went to sleep on each of our sides of the bed.  It was painful for me.  I cried silently.  And then fell asleep.

I was up first.  I went directly to the bathroom to shower and get myself dressed.  When I emerged from the bathroom, ready for the day, he was still sleeping.  I tidied up my side of the room, opened the balcony door and was met with a perfect view of the beach.  It was early, before the shops opened and there were just one or two people walking in the street below.  I could hear the early morning sounds I loved about Italy; the sound of rolling metal as shop owners opened their taparelli, old men greeting each other with “Buongiorno” or “Ciao”!  I soaked it up, breathing in the air.  And, that coupled with the smells of fresh cappuccino and just baked brioche wafting in the air… I was hungry.  Not so unusual for me.  I sat there on the balcony for a few minutes, simply absorbing it all.  When I re-entered the room, he was in the shower.  Knowing he was getting ready to have a day with me was a relief.  It meant he was sick last night only and today was a new day.

We had our brioche and cappuccino up in Portofino, drove back down the coast and ate an amazing lunch of fritto di mare a variety of lightly fried fish, calamari, prawns, langostini and various other shellfish served with wedges of lemon and a bottle of white wine.  We walked on the beach at La Spezia and kissed in the sand.  Things were back to normal and I was feeling the magic of this very romantic day.  The next day was just as lovely, and it being Sunday, there was an open market in Santa Margherita which we decided to stop into on our way back up to Milan.  We stopped, looked around at a few things, and when I wasn’t looking He bought me a silver and turquoise bracelet to remember our weekend away.  He gave it to me before we got in the car to leave.  I still have it and think of him whenever I wear it.

 

*   *   *

That weekend away together was the real beginning of our relationship.  I learned a lot that weekend without realizing it.  I learned about him, and of course me.  I remember feeling beautiful.  Beautiful and feminine.  I felt beautiful because Italy does that to women.  The old men always gave me compliments on the way I was dressed, or my “beautiful smile”.  The young ones always looked and smiled too.  My favorite was when I would be walking down the street, with a friend or alone, and an older man would tip his hat and smile.  Such old world congeniality.  Very different from walking in the streets of New York where anonymity it king. We had quite a romance, Andrea and I .  We were together much more frequently after out weekend in Portofino.  He showed me secret places in Milan he like to go for drinks or aperativo.  My friends really liked him because he was low-key and was able to make conversation with anyone without being arrogant or too opinionated.  He was amused by me and the way I got along with my friends.  On weekends we’s steal away on his Harley, into the vineyards of surrounding towns stopping for drinks.  Once we had such a romantic day I remember the ride home on the Harley very clearly.  We had been riding all day, stopping for drinks and lunch, then riding nonstop.  The sun was going down and the sky was filled with ribbons of pink and orange.  We were close to Milan, riding through some riso fields, when he suddenly pulled over and took off my helmet.  He kissed me wildly and we embraced.  He began pulling at my clothing and making love to me right there in the middle of the riso field.  On the road just beyond the fields we could see cars passing, but they were not close enough to see us.  We made love right there under God’s setting sun and for the first time, I truly felt loved and filled with passion.  I remember while it was happening, thinking I am in Italy making love to the man of my dreams right here in a riso field.  I live here.  This is my life.  This….. is my life and I am so happy. 

And we really were.  Until just a few months later.  Andrea would tell me something that would change everything in our relationship and was more that I could really bare to hear. But for now, things were going well and we were happy.  So very happy.

temporary spaces

September 8, 2013 — 3 Comments

they sit to the left and to the right filling the hollows of these spaces

frozen in their desire to release what they were meant to hold

unable to do so without some form of assistance

yet fearful of being left empty and without purpose

anticipating the big reveal when contents are ripped from wombs

and spilled in discord leaving behind collapsed shells

their insides are given over to adorn new spaces and fulfill their purpose

 

the once important cannot be identified from here

they sag and weaken with time and imposed weight of the other

and what lies there is second to outward appearances

yet there is perfection in the possibility of holding histories thoughts and words

(there is protection in this too of not revealing what’s inside)

the components which reside there have left the past behind

they make way for the future in these temporary spaces

 

Lessons

 

The newness of you

The exploration

The discovery

The wondering

The surprises…

 

The sameness of me

The fleshy

The small

The hidden

The surprises…

 

The normalcy of we

The discovery

The small

The predictable

The surprises

 

The end of us

The discovery

The hidden

The surprises

The surprises

 

By: Maria McCabe

Duomo di Milano

Duomo di Milano

I had three loves in Milan; The City itself, the incomparable food, and its people.  Particularly Andrea (italian for Andrew), who taught me I could be loved and touched tenderly in body and soul.

Milan was by far my first true love.  The Duomo, the city’s Cathedral and home to the Madonina – a golden statue of The Blessed Virgin at the highest point of the cathedral’s spires – was the heart of the city.  Italians called out to her.  There were songs written about her.  The Duomo became my True North on my internal map of the city.  In the months and hears ahead, it would become a meeting point for social gatherings and the place I would go to light a candle, say a prayer and ask questions of God and the Universe.  Sitting atop its many spires were thousands of Saints, full size, standing proudly looking over the city in every direction.   They seemed to stand in ceremony, protecting – nay, hailing –  the Madonina who stands high above, guiding and sanctifying all she sees in her crowned, golden splendor. And on a quiet morning, before it is filled with the contrast of the graffitied taparelli and the urine stained walls of cobblestone side streets, the magnificence of the rising sun’s pink and orange glow on The Duomo’s white marbled exterior could not be obscured.  I never got tired of that vision.  Oh yes, I fell in love with Milan.

Those first few weeks in MIlan were not wasted on me.  I knew what was happening to me – traveling to another country, landing an exciting new job, and physically leaving behind the dark, fear-filled days I had with my ex-husband – was a rebirth.  I was literally given a second chance at life.  I knew if I had stayed with Tommy I would have eventually died at his hands.  But that was all behind me now and I was literally taking small steps down Milanese streets with my eyes wide open and breathing new air.  By the time I landed in Milan, it had been five years since I saw his face.  I will admit, there was a moment every now and again, when I thought he might somehow find me in Italy and finish what he started.  I would get a chill and have to verbally remind myself that I was in fact beginning a new life in Italy.  And I had no plans to return to The States.

The first month of school was the same as it is in any school.  There was lots of buzz, and excitement and the butterflies invaded my stomach again as they did every September.  There were new faces of students and colleagues and parents.  There were new books and pencils to be sharpened and markers to be put out.  Though that year, the notebooks and paper were a different size.  The pencils even looked different.  Instead of American markers like Crayola, we had Giotto markers.  My classroom overlooked the only golf course in the area, and just beyond I could see the riso, or rice fields, instead of the 52nd Precinct on Webster Avenue.  My students had Italian, French, Spanish and Arabic accents instead of Hispanic/Bronx accents.  When they returned from the weekends, my students in Milan would tell me of day trips they took to Lugano, Switzerland, Venice, or Lake Cuomo.  A stark contrast from my Bronx kids who visited their fathers in Sing Sing Correctional Facility in Ossening, NY, or stayed in the house playing video games.  My colleagues and students from The Bronx never left my thoughts as I prepared my Italian classroom and I questioned my decision to take this job in Italy.  Was I a sell-out?  Would these kids need me the way my Bronx kids did?  Would my colleagues in Italy even come close to comparing with my teammates and friends from P.S. 20?  Those were questions I would reflect on often.  It took years before I came to peaceful terms with myself on this.  The truth is, I made a connection in Milan that was completely intangible.

I was very well supported in those early days by colleagues who also left their homes and friends and schools to join in this new professional and life opportunity.  We were expatriates now.  Expats, for short. For many of my colleagues, Milan was one in a string of places they had moved to, knowing it would not be the last.  Their journeys originated from small towns and cities all over the U.S. like Los Angeles, St. Paul, Portland, Lancaster County, PA, Wilmington S.C.,  and Chicago.  We all wound up in the same city, in the same school for very different reasons.  But the one thing we had in common is that we all left something behind us in exchange for the mysterious something coming ahead of us.  People, places and things.  Some of us were seeking new experiences.  Some of us running from old ones.  Some of us somewhere in the middle.  I think I was one of those.  The interesting thing is that none of us had regrets about doing it.  It seems that the more I got to know expats, the more I realized we were the ones living our lives with the volume turned all the way up.

And so it went.  Our school’s staff had a yearly tradition.  After the first paycheck, and in Europe workers get paid once a month instead of weekly or bi-weekly, everyone goes out for dinner for a really nice meal.  This sounded like a great way to celebrate the first month of school and get to know more of the various staff members.  When the evening finally arrived, we carpooled with those who had been living in Milan long enough to battle the bureaucracy and get cars and Italian drivers licenses – no small task I can assure you.  We drove down a series of narrow two lane roads until we turned down a long dirt road, arriving at a cascina, or farmhouse, which my American eyes thought looked dilapidated on the outside.  We got out of the car, walked into the pitch black night along the dirt path and entered the cascina.  As soon as the heavy wooden doors opened, the soft glow of lit candles and sounds of clinking glasses and laughter poured out.  I could smell the butter-heavy smells of grilling meat.  Out of the corner of my eye, I could see the flames from the brick oven readying itself for pizzas.  We were led to a private room, to our table,  which was really a series of long wooden tables forming a U-shape, covered in crisp white linens and already set with flatware, wine, water and prosecco glasses that glowed in the golden candlelight. As we made our way to our seats, one of our servers was making his way over to begin pouring a glass of prosecco.  When all nineteen of us were seated, we made a collective toast to the new year, “Cin-cin!” (pronounced chin-chin).  It was all very festive and being Americans we all began chatting politely and began the process of getting to know each other with the common first questions:  So, how’s your class going?  Are you feeling overwhelmed?  Are you homesick?  Where are you from?  Will your family and friends come visit you?  Where are you living now?  How ‘s your Italian coming along? and on like this.  Without noticing it, thee was suddenly large serving platters of grilled red peppers, impossibly paper-thin grilled zucchini and eggplant, artichokes and olives all gleaming with olive oil.  There were also plates of sliced salumi, and prosciutto ham and some small slices of bread to mop up the olive oil.  This was the antipasti.  I put a slice of eggplant on my fork.  When it touched my lips, I remember thinking this didn’t taste like any eggplant I’d ever tasted before.  It was completely tender and practically melted in my mouth. Not salty or tough.  Delicious!  There were many more little dishes that suddenly appeared before us.  The servers keeping our wine glasses filled with impeccable red wine.  At one point I looked around the room and time stood still.  The Cascina‘s walls were exposed red and white brick, mostly white, which glowed golden in the candlelight.  Everyone around the table – teachers, school secretaries, administrators – looked so shiny and beautiful to me.  It might have been the wine skewing my perspective but I was in love with everyone in the room at that moment.  I had only been making casual conversation, small talk really, with some of the people around me up to that point.  And then came out the small dishes of risotto al formaggio. This Northern Italian classic, just a dollop on a small white dish, was placed before me.  The aroma of the rice, indistinguishable from the intermixing of a buttery mix of melted gorgonzola and other cheeses was so fresh, so delicate it practically walked off the plate and onto my fork.  I savored the aroma for a moment and with eyes closed, I gently pressed a forkful into my mouth.  My tastebuds danced.  I had never tasted anything like it in my life.  I turned to look at the girl sitting next to me, her name was April, and she was having the same reaction as I.  Tears welled up in my eyes at the same moment they did in hers.  She grabbed my hand under the table and we both spoke about how it was so delicious and how beautiful and special this night was.  It was that moment that our friendship was born.  It sounds silly and made up but that’s exactly how it happened.  I was overwhelmed.  Everyone looked so beautiful, the table, the china, the flatware, the food… the glow of the candlelight, the brick walls covered with antique farm equipment.  It was all overwhelming.  I was living in Italy.  Not there for a visit, but this was my home. Home.  And it wasn’t the risotto, but it was the risotto. There was more to eat that night: fresh hand made ravioli stuffed with ricotta and herbs and slathered with butter, grilled meats and sausage, fish, and for dessert pana cotta.  That was the beginning of never having a bad meal again. Not as long as I lived in Italy, anyway. A year later, an eighty year old woman would teach me the secrets of making risotto.  That was a lesson I would carry with me always.

So you see, I was surrounded by and falling very deeply with Milano, and the food of Italy.  There was one more thing I fell in love with.  Most surprisingly.  Completely.  Not a thing at all.  A person.  And here’s how that happened.

There was a girl just a few years younger than me who had been at the school for a year or two.  Her name was Melodi.  She had a naturally friendly and bubbly personality.  She had the uncanny ability to make a connection to anyone she spoke with. She was funny and people loved being around her.  The second weekend of October is a national holiday in Milan so everyone is traveling for the long weekend.  A bunch of people went to Prague for the four day weekend.  I was not particularly close enough to anyone so I was not invited to come along.  I was also low on cash, having come to Italy with almost no money at all and was conserving my Euros.  Melodi, being nice and not wanting to see anyone feel lonely, invited me out for a pizza.  I was touched that she would, and met her at a place called Yummy Yummy.  It was a small out of the way place near her apartment in the Porta Romana section of the city.  It seemed strangely funny because it was a pizza place run by a Chinese family who immigrated to Italy to open, of all things, a pizza place.  It would become one of my favorites because the pizzas were incredible.  Anyway, we ate pizza and started telling our stories and got along so well, that Melodi said, she wasn’t sure if I’d be interested but there was an Irish Pub down the block if I wanted to grab a beer.  Of course I did!  From her description it sounded like a small cramped Irish pub, which reminded me a bit of New York.  So when the pizzas were done, we headed over to Pogue Mahone’s which was at the end of that block.  We bellied up to two prime stools at the center of the bar and I ordered my Guinness and she her Blonde and began talking.  I loved seeing the Irish flag and pictures of Irish “stuff” all around.  By the time we ordered our second beer, I noticed the two guys sitting next two us were looking in our direction.  It seemed obvious to me that they were checking out Melodi being the bubbly blonde hair blue eyed girl from South Carolina with the southern accent that she was.  And one of them was in fact interested in her.  Giuseppe, or Beppe, which is what his friend was calling him.  I looked at the friend and noticed he was extremely good looking – way out of my league.  But while Beppe was talking to Melodi, Andrea leaned over and started talking to me.  In Italian.  I don’t know why or how, but I understood him.  He introduced himself and I responded.  In Italian!  I could not believe what was happening. I told him (in Italian) that I did not speak Italian well.  He told me I had a beautiful smile and laugh, which made me blush a little.  He asked where I was from and when I told him New York, his eyes lit up.  I had already noticed that telling people I was from New York (which was the truth) carried with it a certain cool factor.  Italians love New York – well, Europeans do- and the questions almost always followed, Why would you move to Milano when everyone in Milano wants to live in New York!? Anyway, Andrea was so handsome, and he smelled like… well I can’t describe that.  It was his natural odor that I was responding too.  He smelled clean but like clean skin.  Clean hair.  I would find out later that he was a rock climber, so his body was fit.  He was Milanese, so he was shorter than an American man, but still taller than me.  As was the fashion, his hair was buzzed short, almost bald, which I found extremely sexy.  We spoke for a bit and there was another beer, and another and I found myself wanting to kiss him.  He offered to drive me home, as I lived just on the outskirts of the city, whereas Meodi lived just a few blocks away.  I turned to Melodi who was roughing it with Beppe and announced Andrea was driving me home.  She pulled me aside and said, “Oh no he’s not!  Same rules apply here, my dear, you cannot go home with a stranger! You can give him your number but you don’t know if he’s crazy!”.  This was very disappointing news to me. So I told him no, but he kept insisting.  I said no, and he asked for my number.  I think maybe I did not have a cell phone connected yet, so I gave him my email address, and I took his.  We said goodnight, there was no kissing, but the next day I remember thinking how completely gorgeous he was – and how torturous it was that I had to wait to get to work before I could check for his email.  Sure enough, in very broken English, his email was there.  It was adorably written.  Very polite.  He said how nice it was to meet me, how he kept thinking about my laugh and smile and how he would love to show me all his favorite laces in Italy…. Florence, Venice, Melegnano where he lives…. and did I want to go out for an a

perativo with him?  So I wrote back saying yes, and we made arrangements.

I was so nervous on our first date.  I thought maybe he was drunk at the Pub and maybe would not be interested in me.  I was worried about communicating with him because of our language barrier.  I remembered he tried to say a few things in English, but it was clear that my very limited Italian was much better than his English.  Anyway, he picked me up in his navy blue VW Beetle.  We went into Milan for drinks and food.  We talked and there was a lot of drawing on napkins and acting things out to communicate!  It was so much fun that first night.  One thing was undeniable, we were very attracted to each other, because there was lots of smiling and flirting too.  When we got back into the car so he could drive me home, I had trouble pulling the safety belt over my shoulder.  He leaned over to help me and that’s when it happened.  He surprised me with a kiss that lasted quite some time.  We sat in the car, making out like teenagers.  At one point I had to stop and remind myself where I was – I was living in Italy and this beautiful man starting talking to me in a bar and now we’ve just had a date and I’m kissing him.  I wanted to scream, it was all so exciting.

After that date, he emailed me again to tell me how much fun he had and how he wanted me to go to Portofino with him the following weekend.  Portofino?  for the weekend? With a man I’d only been out with once?  That was too crazy, even for me!  I consulted with the girls at work, and one older woman said to me, “Maria, you’re 35 years old, living in Italy and a handsome Italian man has offered to take you to romantic Portofino for the weekend.  Are you crazy, of COURSE you should GO!”  But I said, “What if he’s crazy and chops me up in little pieces?”  And she said, “You’ll be chopped up in little pieces in Portofino… just GO!”

And so I did.

Portofino

Apartments Stay Copyright

I couldn’t wait to get on the plane.

I knew I would not return to New York for a very long time – if ever. The moment I knew I was leaving for Italy, I made up my mind never to come back to New York. There were too many bad memories for me here. Too many ghosts. Every once in a while, even after the divorce and my bankruptcy were final, I still had that creeping feeling that The Ghost might find me or that our paths would cross. Then what?  Leaving the country altogether would illiminate that possibility, even if it did seem extreme.  I knew that I could be completely free and truly breathe and sleep easy once I got on that plane.

I announced my new job and plans to leave New York to the girls at work when I retuned from the job fair in May. They were all really supportive. Some were sad to see me go because we had formed friendships outside of work. Some were sad on a professional level, as I was, because our tight team would be broken up. And others, I suspected, were upset with me for “selling out” and leaving a system that desperately needed good teachers to continue the work we started.  There were grade changes for some of the teachers that year and tensions were building among the staff because of governmental changes to the New York City Curriculum and State Standards. The New York City School System was in flux. Looking back, I think I may have gotten out just in time. There was a farewell dinner for me in June… lots of food and drink and laughter. The women who helped me become a teacher were so important to me; they nurtured me, befriended me and trained me to be a true professional. I felt like the baby leaving the nest, though I truly had earned my wings by then. I was ready to fly.

The movers came and packed my belongings in July. There were thirty boxes of books and teaching resources and clothes. I had no trouble deciding what to bring with me. In fact, I packed like I knew I would not be coming home. I packed old journals, pictures and books a plenty. The day I left for the airport in late August, I had only three suitcases which I bought on sale at T.J. Max for under four hundred dollars. I filled them with my top favorite outfits, readying myself for life in Milan. A few weeks earlier, I cashed in my teacher’s pension money, gave it all to my mother except for one thousand dollars which I took to hold me over until I received my first paycheck. Knowing that I signed a three year contract, I had to resign from the New York City teaching system as they only allowed a leave of absence for one year. I had received my permanent NY State teaching certificate a few years before, so I knew I could always teach again if I ever returned to The States. But that wasn’t my plan.

I was delivered by Lincoln Town Car to John F. Kennedy Airport on August 19th, 2005. I just turned thirty six years old.

I remember the drive to the airport like it was yesterday. I remember saying goodbye to the Seaford-Oyster Bay Expressway, good bye Southern State Parkway, Goodbye asshole drivers, goodbye dumb people with obnoxious bumper stickers, goodbye bad Long Island and New York accents, goodbye, goodbye goodbye. Goodbye trees, goodbye humid New York air, goodbye mother who turned me away, goodbye brother who didn’t care, goodbye goodbye goodbye. Goodbye scary ex-husband, goodbye bankruptcy, goodbye bad credit, goodbye goodbye goodbye. And then the tears started to fall. I’ll miss my mother, and bad Long Island accents and the brother I wish I had and the lovers I never met and the life I didn’t have in my home town. I thought of Frank Sinatra singing “If I can make it here, I’ll make it anywhere….” and the tears came some more. I hadn’t made it here – I had failed at marriage, at being a good daughter, good sister, good aunt, good friend. I had no talents to speak of and was incapable of exploring new relationships with men I was interested in.  I know I projected an air of confidence and positivity but inside I felt a failure in so many ways. I knew with confidence that starting over in another country would give me the clean slate I so desperately wanted.

Pulling into the airport I remember the glow of it. The glow of the white beams above me, the light from the skylights above shining into the pristine cathedral-like terminal from clear blue skies and sunshine. I loved it. I loved being in the airport. I checked in for my flight with quivering hands and lips on the verge of tears.  I checked my bags and found a big surprise waiting for me. Annie, MaryEllen and Gina, three of my closest friends from work waiting with hugs and kisses to say goodbye to me. I was so excited and beyond touched that they sneakily found out my flight and terminal number and met me there. We had our final laughs and hugs and said goodbye and I cried some more. I was moved, really moved that they came to see me off.  Then off I went onto the security line, fitting in last waves and air-blown kisses. I placed my shoes, coin purse and cell phone in the tray on the belt, and crossed into the terminal.  Alone.  Waiting for my eight our flight to board and take me to my new life. My stomach was doing a dance and cramping up. I was getting nervous and excited all at once.  What will it be like? What if no one is waiting for me at the airport? What if I hate it there? I signed a three year contract! Three years.  What was I thinking!  I want my mommy…. I went to the magazine shop in the Duty Free and bought some junk-food magazines, things like People and Us, just to get my mind off my anxiety. I was not going to let myself have an anxiety attack after having gotten over that years ago…

Then we boarded. The seatbelt safety speech. The low dings that happen on the plane to signal the crew to belt up themselves and prepare for takeoff. And the roar of the engines. My heart was pounding. I looked out the window. The sun had just sunk into the city and New York had that golden pink summertime night glow. The lights from the buildings were twinkling as the plane rushed up the tarmac. And finally…. lift… we were in the air, hovering above New York and I thought of the R.E.M song Leaving New York’s Never Easy…. and it wasn’t. It was hard. My heart hurt. I couldn’t understand that feeling because I wanted to leave so badly. But it was hurting now and I felt a tug that went from my heart to my throat to and way back down to my stomach, then straight down to my legs. And we were up in the air and New York was a tiny speck on the coast of a land mass. Then there was water, then clouds then darkness. I watched three movies in a row and ate horrible plane food and did not sleep. My eyes burned on the flight from being that dry after you cry dry, combined with the air conditioning that circulates on the plane. I wondered where all the people around me were going after they landed? To work, like me? On holiday? Back home? To visit family? Were they escaping something? Starting something? It was interesting to me and I made stories about the strange faces around me as I observed them.

I landed in Milan’s Linate Airport. It was a small 1950’s throwback airport located just outside the city’s center. I was greeted by Day Jones and was thrilled to see his familiar smile. He greeted me with the famous Italian kiss… two cheeks, two air kisses, and escorted me to the car where Claudio, the do everything guy from the school, drove me up to the school just south of the center of Milan. The school was literally located in the middle of riso (rice) fields. It was hot and humid. I checked in at the school, meeting the lovely secretary, Tina, who gave me my apartment keys and instructions for how to open the door. You might laugh while reading this, but the key was a skeleton key half the length of my forearm. The instruction was to turn the key three or four times before it would unlock. Well, I’ll spare you the details here… it took a lot more than three or four turns. In fact, one of the senior staff members on the orientation committee who delivered me to the Via Mose apartment even had trouble opening it. Anyway, I got in and was shocked at the size of the place. It was HUGE. It was dated- circa 1960’s grandmother’s apartment. It was a two bedroom, with a large common space and a big kitchen- bigger than the one in my mother’s house and a bathroom complete with bathtub/shower, toilet, bidet and a washing machine. The entire apartment had the same cold floor that was black, brown and white speckles. I’d come to find later that this was typical of older Italian apartments. No carpeting anywhere. It was spotless but the orange couch and green chair in the living room looked like they’d seen better days. My roommate hadn’t arrived yet. Apparently, she was delayed because she was traveling from Hawaii. She missed one of her connections on the way and was expected later that evening. So I chose my room which had a large armoire and french doors leading to one of the two balconies in the apartment. The other was off the common area. The balcony was large enough to have at least two chairs but they were empty. So, I plopped myself on the squeaky thin mattress in my room and thought I’m home.

The plan was to allow new teachers to get settled and rest for a few hours then meet at the school later to go into Milan for our first Pizza Dinner. I was a vegan for three years before I arrived in Milan and was worried about the cheese. I figured I’d have a salad and not make a big deal about it. On the way out, I met my upstairs neighbor, Juliet, a smiley Pennsylvania native with very wholesome looks. She sounded smart when she spoke- you know, the way some people do- and I’d come to later learn she was a graduate of Yale. This impressed me. Everyone was smiles and big hellos when we arrived at the pizza place. It was a full- on restaurant complete with white table cloths and tables pushed together into u-shaped formation, set for some of the staff and all the new teachers at the school. I felt shy and a little nervous when we walked in… so many new faces… Everyone checked out the new people as they entered. It was obvious we were all sizing each other up- who would be cool to sit with, who looks friendly… such a strange set of circumstances! I felt intimidated and nervous and stayed close to Juliet who was pleasant and open and also thought the whole scene was slightly bizarre.

We were seated at the table and the smells were getting to me now. As soon as we entered the restaurant we were hit with the smell of pizzas being cooked in the wood-burning brick oven. There was wine on the table- red and white- not in bottles but in clear chubby glass pitchers. There were glass bottles of water being passed around and people were already passing around plates of grilled vegetables and olives drowning in glistening olive oil. Prego! the waiter announced stretching out his hand to show us to our seats. The social nervousness I was feeling was mixed with my breath being taken away by my surroundings. The waiters were dressed in black pants and crisp white shits with black vests and black ties. It wasn’t fancy – just the opposite- it all seemed very homey. Because we were such a large group, We were never handed menus. The antipasti, which included grilled eggplant, zucchini and roasted red peppers was accompanied by wine. There were prepackaged long, skinny breadsticks standing up in stout clear glasses at every third place setting. There was small talk in English filling the room mixed with the waitstaff calling out to each other in Italian which made me giggle. Little to myself. It sounded nothing like the Brooklyn Italian I’d heard spoken by friends family members in New York, that’s for sure. It was musical Italian. Delicious to my ears. Just as delicious as the simple glistening vegetables being served. When the pizzas came out my mouth immediately began to salivate. Little pizzas that looked nothing like New York pizza- it was smaller and paler in color and there were all kinds- pizza margherita which was what we would call a plain pizza, garnished with a sprig of fresh basil, pizza al funghi which was a mushroom pizza, pizza diavolo a spicy pepperoni pizza and pizza quatro formaggio a four cheese pizza, and finally pizza ortolana a vegetarian pizza with a few slices of the same thinly sliced zucchini and eggplant that we were served for antipasti. I took a slice of ortolana and bit into heaven. Goodbye veganism… And ciao Italia!!

Just as we were moving on to dessert, in walked Julie, my roommate and April, Juliet’s roommate. They had met at the job fair where they were hired and were happy to see each other. Juliet and I were sitting in an awkward spot, slightly too far away to say proper hellos, but we all waved and smiled cheerily at each other. Eventually the evening wound down and we carpooled back to our respective apartments. Julie and I spoke briefly when we got to the apartment. We caught up on all the basics- this wholesome cheery midwesterner with the big bright smile and bouncy blond hair and crystal blue eyes was from Minnesota. I’d never met anyone from Minnesota. I had no idea what to think. But she seemed nice enough.

I don’t remember much else about our first conversation that night but I remember very clearly what it was like going to bed that night. I remembered lying on the squeaky thin mattress trying to get comfortable. I was exhilarated by the discomfort and newness all at once. I looked out the open French doors, out over the balcony, and from my bed on that hot summer night I could see the ceramic roof tiles of the buildings out beyond our apartment building. The sky looked different to me. Italian. I could not believe I was in that little bed, with a girl from Minnesota in the next room in our Italian apartment. I was in Italy. Italia.

I was home.