Today I booked my ticket to Italy. Gosh, no words can describe the exhilaration and fear but I know this is the opportunity of a lifetime. I also know it is an opportunity that so many want but so few are granted. I never planned to fall in love with someone who lived across the ocean but I did always plan to live, if only temporarily, in Europe. True, I may be lucky that my stars aligned a little more perfectly than I would have ever imagined, but anyone can live this adventure. For one year I will be using a Working Holiday Visa, the golden ticket available to any Canadian between 18-35 years old. It is available for many countries besides Italy as well (because Canada is such a beloved country and everyone wants to be friends with us). It can be very difficult to permanently live in Europe should you not be blessed with birth-rights and a hand-me-down EU citizenship so I know I have to take the chance given to me. I am one of the blessed few who can stay if she choses without being on early retirement or married to George Clooney (we all know he wishes he were Italian!). And though many people will only ever make it to Italy in their golden years, I personally believe Italy is even more wonderful to youth.
It's a new week and though it's the oh-so-dreaded Monday, just remember...life is beautiful. Take some savory sips of life throughout the day. For me might mean getting my treat drink, a flat white, on my way to work, or just taking extra long having friendly banter with a patient. And it means almost always sitting down with a glass of red at the end of the day. Cheers amici.
Do you believe in fate? I have always been a personal fan of destiny and a God-created plan, especially when it comes to the people we meet in our lives. There is an Asian legend that is referred to as the red string of fate. Apparently the gods tie a red string to your ankle and around the ankles of the people you are destined to be with and no matter where you are in the world (Italy or Canada) or how twisted and tangled the string gets, you will eventually meet each other. The people connected by the string are soul mates, destined lovers despite place and time. I believed in the red string far before I ever met Massi, but it was only after our meet cute that the ties that bind became even more apparent. I thought I would share the four circumstances that, in my opinion, are no coincidence. I dedicate this post to my work colleagues who just adore these stories.
Late June or July, 6 years ago. Abercrombie and Fitch. Edmonton, AB, Canada.
I was manning the dressing rooms at my summer job when a cute boy came to try on a hoodie. He spoke with a heavy accent that I decided was Brazilian (now I can pick out an Italian accent from miles away). For some unbeknownst reason, I remembered his yellow shirt and backpack (which we would later realize was his Invicta backpack, the trademark carry-all of every Italian). And for more obvious reasons, I remembered his long hair tied into a ponytail. That was the first time we met without knowing it. We would later discover that Massi had just landed in Edmonton from Italy and was looking for clothes after his luggage was delayed. Little did he know, he had found more than a hoodie at Abercrombie that day!
August, 6 years ago. The Bank Nightclub. Edmonton, AB, Canada.
Our official meeting, read The Backstory for descriptives of Massi's white pants. I was there with girlfriends on a Wednesday night for the last official Ladies' Night with 25 cent highballs. He photo-bombed a photo with my friend Claire even before photo-bombing was a term, then he decided he would be in the next one... right beside me. We are literal strangers in these photographs. The next Monday, we had a first "date" on campus.
January 2014. Edmonton International Airport Check-In: Edmonton --> Honolulu, HI, USA.
This is going to sound like I made it up, but it is the absolute truth I swear! We had booked our flights to Hawaii separately. The same flight obviously but Massi had wanted to use his credit card travel points for his ticket. So I booked mine from my home on one day, on my laptop and Massi booked his through points on a completely different day from his apartment downtown. As far as the reservations were concerned we were person X and Y, un-related, un-linked, no little travel agent notes saying we were a couple. We specifically went to check-in early as we knew we would have to request our seats together on the flight. And as the red string would have it, when our tickets were pulled up, guess who I was seated next to already? No seating adjustments necessary.
June 2014. London Heathrow Airport, London, England.
I was flying to Milan Malpensa with my mom and Massi was flying to Milan Linate. He had flown out of Calgary to Heathrow while we had flown from Edmonton. Our flights had arrived at separate times and based on the crazy chaos that is Heathrow, we had made absolutely no plans to meet or even try to meet up. We were going to meet in Italy. This might only have significance if you are familiar with the size and number of people at Heathrow- to put it into perspective, it is the busiest airport in Europe. So there I am, sitting on the floor in a totally random corner of the airport, sipping on my iced Starbucks latte and waiting for my mom when all of a sudden, Massi strolls out of the bathrooms situated directly in front of where I am sitting. Check out this post: Heathrow and destiny.
So now that you are hopefully feeling all warm and fuzzy from this quartet of recollections, what do you think....Is it coincidence? Chance? Whether it is a red string, God, or the tapestry of fate, I like to think there is something greater at the root of all great loves.
Today's throwback is to the magical summer between third and fourth year pharmacy that I spent on the island of Ischia with the Faculty of Pharmacy. In case it is not obvious, I chose the color of the class t-shirts and I also made the boys wear v-necks. Just because it was summer and it was Italy. Second only to the v-necks was the study abroad experience of a lifetime- three weeks, one hostel, Italy, your favorite people from school, and the cheapest liters of red wine imaginable. In those weeks, everyone found their inner Italian. We strutted and swaggered instead of walked, we flirted more shamelessly, we laughed a little louder, drank a little more and lingered a little longer over meals. Though the course is meant to draw focus to the importance of diet and food sustainability on preventative health, I think what we all remember most is the importance of enjoying the moment- that sometimes there is no better medication for high blood pressure than a glass of pinot grigio, a seaside table, and a Mediterranean sunset.
Ever since I first backpacked Europe between first and second year undergrad and stumbled upon this quote, I have waited for the moment when I could use it in a post exactly like this one and happily check off each line like a Sunday shopping list. Today I quit my job. And while many people remain perplexed by this decision, citing numerous issues such as financial security and the time it takes to become a pharmacist etc, etc., I simply ask: so? We should instead be asking ourselves when the value of education became second to the number value on a cheque at the end of the month. Having a savings account above zero is definitely a nice feeling, I cannot dispute that, but what I do know is the moments where I have been truly happy required little or no money at all. I usually try to take a mental photograph of what happiness is, the situations in which it bubbles up in my soul and I am somewhere smiling like a fool at nothing in particular. Here is an actual photograph, one of those rare ones that captures something unintentional. It is just a simple moment- we are squished and sweaty in a tuk-tuk bouncing along through Kathmandu to an unknown destination, sharing a story I no longer remember, and yet there is a lightness in all of our faces. It shines through the eyes and the smiles. I like to think that this is what happy hearts look like.
Chase whatever makes your heart happy. Do not resign yourself to living the same day on repeat and eighty years later, call it a life. After a year of practicing pharmacy, I feel the winds changing. It is time for a new adventure. I sincerely hope that my journey will inspire some of you to be daring and do something that makes people furrow their brows with confusion and concern. What a wonderful reaction to create in others, wouldn't you agree?
So I never thought I would be good at learning languages. This was further merited by the fact that my parents tried to teach us Cantonese growing up and I know the extent of a typical white frat boy trying to pick up Asian girls at the bar. Ni hao. Is that even Cantonese? Shameful. Then of course there was the French phase where the language was thrust upon us by force and curriculum. Merci beaucoup. It was not until I reached university that I discovered I love languages. I enrolled in Russian in my undergraduate years and studied for two years (that's basically the equivalent of four years relative to regular courses because with language courses, you had class every single day). I read and wrote cyrillic wonderfully (spasibo to Katya) and it turns out my Russian skills were even better after a few vodka shots in clubs with face control in Moskva. It was enough to take me through Russia on the Trans-Siberian Railway and not fear getting lost on the metro. But then came Italian. Oh, Italian. La bella lingua. There are books written about the beauty of the language. Simply speaking, it is a joy to speak. It charms the mouth, the ears, and the heart all at once (here I refer to native speakers and not my accento americano). Dianne Hales who wrote the book, La Bella Lingua, describes it as luscious. Italian has the most fabulous little nuances in the form of suffixes and prefixes that can transform a tavolo (a table) to a tavolino (a cute, little table). And that is only the tip of the iceberg. Which is the exact sentiment shared with fellow lover of Italian, Cher Hale. She writes a blog called The Iceberg Project, founded on a passion for Italian and the belief that everyone can learn it. Check her out, you will not be disappointed. And once you've honed your skills, scrivetemi dei commenti in italiano (write me comments in Italian)!
Next up, I thought I would move on to Spanish. That was dangerous because Spanish es mucho similar to Italian and I found myself floundering in both languages, doing a hybrid Italian-ish. So I quit Spanish to focus more on Italian (with Italian, I understand 80% of Spanish speakers anyways. In fact, Spanish and Italian speakers like to do this creepy game where they each speak their own language to each other and they *gasp* understand). The best thing I ever learned in Spanish class was actually something my professor said the first day:
We are all capable of learning a new language, but you will only ever be successful for one of two reasons: for survival or for love.
Needless to say, I walked out of that lesson beaming. L'ho fatto per l'amore. I did it for love. And it has and continues to be, the most humbling experience of my life.
(P.S. Grazie a tutti i miei amici italiani per il vostro supporto e la vostra pazienza!)
This is one of those extremely versatile cakes that you can both take to parties to impress, yet it is simple enough to make for self-indulgence as well! The topping bakes right on which I love, no need to wait agonizingly for anything to cool down in order to start adding frosting. It also has a whopping two cups of apples, so a slice counts as a serving of fruit I'm sure. I love a piece of this cake on a crisp fall day with a steaming tazzina of espresso. Enjoy.
Caramel Apple Cake
1/2 cup butter, softened
1 tsp vanilla
2 cups flour
3/4-1 cup sugar
1 tsp baking powder
1 tsp baking soda
1/4 tsp salt
1 cup sour cream
2 cups diced, peeled aples
3/4 cup Skor toffee bits
1/3 cup four
2 tbsp brown sugar
1/4 cup butter, softened
3/4 cup Skor toffee bits
For the cake: Cream butter, sugar eggs, and vanilla in a bowl until light and fluffy; in another bowl combine flour, baking powder, baking soda, and salt. Add to the first mixture alternating with the sour cream. Fold in apples and Skor bits. Spread in greased 13" x 9" cake pan.
For the topping: Combine all ingredients and mix with fingers until crumbly. Careful not to play with the mixture too long otherwise the butter will start to melt and the topping will become too chunky. Sprinkle over the batter.
Bake at 350 degrees F for 35-40 minutes. I imagine it would be delicious served warm with some maple walnut or vanilla ice cream. Just saying.
Jasmine is a former pharmacist turned freelance writer, foodie, and fashionista from Alberta, Canada living "the sweet life" in Bergamo, Italy.