Before coming back to Italy, I hadn’t had the slightest inkling that you can lose someone twice and that grief can take on different forms based on language. Two Sundays ago, I was calling my brother, my closest friends, barely mouthing the words “dad passed away”. Surprised anyone could even understand. After the calls, I was writing the words in Whatsapp groups and in Facebook posts, robotic-like, using copy and paste. At a certain point, I think I became immune to the English words, both spoken and written. Then I arrived in Italy. No more copy and paste, no more immunity. It was like the very first day all over again when I heard myself say aloud “è morto”. That verb makes me shudder. He died. Too abrupt, too point blank. I started using the kinder versions of “se n’è andato” and “è scomparso”, the former literally meaning “he went away” and the latter, “he vanished”. Italian also uses the verb “mancare”, which means to lose or to miss. A person is missing, lost, never to be found. Where did they go? It uses “spegnersi”, the non-reflexive version of the same verb meaning “to turn off” or when talking about a candle…to blow out. Si è spento. His light has gone out. The options are endless, one seemingly more eloquent than the next, Italian providing the perfect vessel to poetically dance around the subject. Mio padre ci ha lasciati dopo una lunga malattia. My father left us after a long illness. In my Anglo-Saxon mind, I envision someone packing their bags in the middle of the night, an oil lamp burning and a taxi waiting in the fog. Ci ha lasciati. He left us. And so inevitably I’ve been accosted by the good intentions of colleagues, friends, and family on this side of the ocean. Condolences is the same word in both languages. Go figure. Little do they know that talking about it in my second language, Italian, is like experiencing everything all over again. It’s not their fault nor is it the fault of languages, but I suppose it’s due to the way the mind lives in two languages and consequently all our experiences are interpreted in a kind of duality, a linguistic binary state in which I feel loss in two different ways, on two different continents. The words “se n’è andato” do not overlap on “he’s passed away”, but exist indignantly as a completely separate entity and thus build up arithmetically rather than one cancelling the other out. Currently, I'm waiting for that immunity to develop in Italian, the kind that, like in English, comes from repetition and routine. I whisper to myself in that quiet moment before sleep, the almost-dark: se n’è andato, è scomparso, è mancato, si è spento, ci ha lasciati.
Thinking about it, Pompeii and cancer actually have a fair amount in common—although we fight far less on this tour. Both places are full of ghosts and surprising, palpable reminders of life interrupted midliving: loaves of bread still in the oven, unfinished art, Vesuvius not quite dormant above the city.
- Nina Riggs, "The Bright Hour"
My dad passed away almost two weeks ago, another soldier lost in the seemingly bleak battle against what has appropriately been called "the emperor of all maladies". Without timelines, I had booked the week of Ferragosto to go back to visit, not knowing it would be the last six days I would spend with him in this life. We had been riding the roller-coaster of Stage Four colorectal cancer for almost two-and-a-half years: the immediate stomach-drop upon discovery and thinking he had weeks, not months, to the surprising recovery post-surgery and post-radiation that saw him regain a startling 30 pounds and cross the Atlantic to walk me down the aisle. It was in May this year that a steadily decreasing weight and appetite led to the discovery of a recurrence and a terminal diagnosis. We were heartbroken and I was an ocean away. But God is kind and gave us time together. I spent entire days watching my dad breathe, this tiny human swaddled in blankets, all sharp angles and bone cushioned by a plethora of pillows positioned here and there. I fed him ice cream and washed his face, our parent-child roles in the distorted reversal that age and illness inevitably bring and that ultimately put you face-to-face with the intrinsic, interwoven nature of living and dying. My dad died in the morning on a Sunday. The night before, he waved a little goodbye to me. The gesture of a kid, bending and unbending the four fingers of the hand- up and down, up and down. It was the most he could do as he was no longer able to talk. I replay that simple motion in my head like a favorite scene from a movie. It has been said that cancer puts emphasis on the dying rather death itself. I agree. As the quote above, towards the end it is like being forced to watch Pompeii in slow-motion with no means to intervene or to look away and at a certain point, at the height of suffering, almost hopeful for the final explosion and finally, ashes and slow-burning ember. The ashes of a person typically weigh four pounds when all is said and done. I carried my dad's for a brief moment at the cemetery, close to my chest, and couldn't help but think about all those nights I would fall asleep on the couch as a child and he would carry me so carefully up to bed, a balancing act of blankets and teddy bears. At one point in life, we will all carry one another.
I know now is the time to write something inspirational about my dad or what losing a parent to cancer has taught me but those words have been penned time and time again so I will keep it very short. Loss and dying has inadvertently taught me about living, a proper cliché, yet more importantly, to live like my dad did. In the eulogy delivered by my brother, he said: "Dad never sat when he could dance, he never drank water if there was wine (or better yet, a good scotch), and he never stayed at home when there was a good time to be had." The title of my blog is questa dolce vita - this sweet life, and that is precisely what we should all be trying to enjoy.
Thank you to everyone who has been there during this time, readers who have reached out with their own stories, support, and prayers. You have made a world of difference in my life. Grazie.
Okay, this is the blog post that everyone wants. So grab your prosecco and pull up a chair, let’s discuss the global appeal of Italian men. Let’s start off with the superficial basics. If you have any taste in men at all, it’s almost impossible to deny the classically revered features of the Italians- the strong noses (here there is a fine balance required, let’s be honest), the even stronger jawlines, the thick eyelashes that look better than mine with two layers of falsies…just the eyes in general. Sometimes I think that the Romans invented bedroom eyes. Italians also have gorgeous coloring, that is of course, if that’s the look you’re into. In the north, they are tall, (less) dark, and handsome. Traditionally things get a little shorter and tannier towards the south and the hair increases (everywhere). But that’s still hot because hello, Hugh Jackman as Wolverine folks. And of course, there are blonde Italians, there are redhead Italians, because God is good. Personally, I’m a sucker for your tall, dark, and handsome type, hence my choice of husband although he could work on his tan a bit during the winter months. But despite all those adjectives, I think the Italians have 50% of their sex appeal in their eyes and the other 50% in their swag. Indeed, I have used the word swag in this post. It’s really the best word to describe this because it’s this innate, inner confidence and style that just emanates from every Italian, women included. Some tourists however, see it as arrogance. But I like my men with confidence (as do a lot of women I imagine based on the success of 50 Shades of Grey…!), call it arrogance if you will, it’s attractive paired with green eyes. On that note, you get some superb eye colors in Italy ranging from ice blue to the green that you thought was the stuff of urban legends. If you can’t tell already, I also adore green eyes (again, see husband choice). Moving on, Italian men tend to have style that most other men only dare dream about, or have to follow a step-by-step article in GQ to attain. They are also big on personal grooming, sometimes their eyebrows are more on fleek than mine. This is often associated with being excessively metrosexual but I assure you, no one is kicking an Italian out of bed for having too perfect eyebrows. Unless they are a forma di rondine, then yes, you are being kicked out, actually you are not being invited in at all. Finally, the last factor in all this appeal is passion. Italians, men and women, are so passionate about everything that they do (cough, cough...) and passion is sexy, I assure you there might be no bigger turn on than going to a soccer match with your Italian man and watching him watch his team win. That is passion personified if I ever saw it. Forget oysters, champagne, and strawberries, let’s go to San Siro!
Leave me your experiences in the comments, do you agree with me or did I miss anything important?
It rained the entire weekend in Italy and while that's good news for our dry front lawn, it sure dampens any notion I might have to venture outside. If you feel the same way, don't despair, the first Sunday of every month is actually free museum day all over this great country. Here's a picture of me perusing the Pinacoteca di Brera in Milan yesterday. While art might not be everyone's cup of tea, I personally think it's a brilliant way to spend a rainy day and one of the perks of living in Europe. Where else in the world can you surround yourself with the paintings that you've seen in the pages of glossy art magazines? The famous pieces are endless, the Pinacoteca di Brera hosts some of the most recognizable paintings (even for non-art history grads) such as The Kiss by Francesco Hayez and Caravaggio's Cena in Emmaus. Below I've listed the participating museums in Milan so now you can mark you calendars for the first Sunday every month!
Happy Humpday from a very cloudy and cold Northern Italy. Yesterday night it hailed here in Bergamo; lately Italy has been experiencing a climate similar to that of the tropics- super high humidity, hot days and storm-ridden nights. Anyways, I'm not complaining because the air conditioning is still broken in my car and when it rains, everything cools down and I can actually make it home without having to change my entire outfit after (Italy and India are the only two places I've literally sweat through my clothes while doing nothing!). My post today is just a little musing on the difference between honeymoon destinations if you're North American vs. Italian. I just noticed that of course, geography plays a part and everyone wants their luna di miele to be an extra special trip so the tendency is to go as far away as possible. For Italians, that often means the USA, Mexico, and the Caribbean. Some also do choose Africa or Asia as well. One of the most "classic" honeymoon trips for young Italians is actually to do a cross-USA road trip starting from New York City and ending up in Los Angeles. Then they usually tag on some beach time at the end either in Hawaii or Mexico or the Caribbean. What an epic trip eh?! Sometimes I wish I were Italian and seeing America for the first time in this way, I just have the impression that it must truly be the trip of a lifetime, everything would seem so different and foreign if you were seeing it with fresh eyes. In contrast, North Americans often choose romantic Europe, especially Italy, for a honeymoon, although we do share a mutual love of Hawaii as well. Massi and I have been beyond fortunate to have travelled to many typical honeymooner destinations together including Hawaii, Cuba, and Mexico and then well, we live in Italy so in fact, had a very difficult time in choosing something that would impart a certain sensation of fascination and wonder to a trip that is supposed to be both romantic and 'once in a lifetime'. My initial idea was actually DisneyWorld because our first "international" trip together was DisneyLand (approximately three months after meeting each other!) and I thought it could be a perfect way to make everything come full circle, plus, we adore being kids and had an absolute blast in Anaheim. However, the only problem with this idea was that for us, it couldn't really be classified as the trip of a lifetime. So after much debate and discussion, we finally confirmed our honeymoon over the weekend. Any guesses from the photo where we are headed?
If you're new here, you might want to catch up with our backstory here.
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Today's blog post is actually just a checklist of things that need to be done prior to getting married in Italy. It is the list that was given to me by Massi's sister to help us keep in mind the numerous amount of tasks to be considered prior to the big day. I've included it in both her original version in Italian with my notes in English. Hope that it's helpful to some of you! Especially if you're a non-Italian planning a wedding to an Italian...there were alot of aspects that are traditional to weddings here that I had absolutely no clue about! Of course, in the end, it's your day so you can organize it and include/exclude whatever you like but the following is a list that would apply to a very traditional (also, religious- Roman Catholic) wedding day:
N.B. If you're not Italian, you will also need to check with your native country (call the Embassy in Italy) to see what documents you require in order to get the civil marriage certificate and you cannot leave this until the last moment!
Lista x Matrimonio/To-Do List for the Wedding Ceremony:
- Lista nozze o comunque far sapere agli invitati cosa volete che vi regalino/Complete a wedding registry or at the very least, you need to tell people what you would like to be gifted for the wedding
- Scelta delle fedi. Conta che di solito richiedono almeno 3 settimane per procurarvele e incidere nome e data. Ci sono diversi modelli, grandezze e bombature, i tipi classici sono 3./Choosing rings. This typically requires at least 3 weeks from start to finish to have them ordered and inscribed with names. There are different styles that vary according to width and shape but there are three classic models that most people choose. *This is different from North America because Italians still go very classic (as in, a gold band) for wedding rings. They don't necessarily have matching "sets" with band that matches your engagement ring, for example.
- Honeymoon, decidere, organizzare, prenotare/Decide and book the honeymoon.
- Noleggio o scelta auto sposi/Choose and rent the newlywed car. *Again, different from North America where we might use a limo. Here, you usually rent a very particular kind of car whether it's a luxury car or an antique one!
Messa: Dovete decidere/For the Mass (if you're having a religious ceremony):
•chi legge cosa/who will read what
•quale versione della promessa inserire (io prendo te come legittimo sposo.... Ci sono varie versioni)/which vows you want to use as there are various versions
•offertorio, dovete decidere chi e cosa porterá degli oggetti all'altare. Ed eventualmente trovare gli oggetti/for offerings to the church, you need to decide what to bring to the altar and who will bring them and eventually find and purchase these objects
•Tutto questo va scritto e impaginato nel libretto della messa/all of this then needs to be assembled into the mass program; if you're organizing a bilingual/bicultural wedding like we did you will also need to have both languages in the program
•per i genitori/a specific gift for each set of parents
•per i testimoni/for your witnesses
•per gli invitati al pranzo/for all-day guests (coming to the ceremony and the reception)
•per gli invitati la sera (di soluto solo il sacchetto di confetti)/for those just coming to the evening portion (usually people give a little bag of confetti)
•x il pranzo/for the reception
•x la sera/for those just being invited to the dance portion
-Bigliettini da inserire nei sacchettini dei confetti/thank you cards to put inside the little bags of confetti
-Scelta musica in chiesa/music for the church
-Scelta musica ristorante (controlla chi deve preoccuparsi della SIAE e dovrai portare il documento che accerta che la siae sia stata pagata al ristorante)/music for the restaurant (and you need to get a "music license" from SIAE that allows you to have live music/a DJ at the venue; this can now be done online instead of going to the SIAE office
-Organizzazione giochi/scherzi/animazione al ristorante ed eventualmente fuori dalla chiesa/organization of wedding games and entertainment during the dance and also, during the exit from the church
-Fiorista/florist; you will need flowers for...
•fiori chiesa/the church
•bouquet sposa/the bouquet
- Parrucchiere/hair and makeup
-Cuscino fedi/cushion for the wedding rings
- Damigelle o paggetti/attendants, flowergirls, ringbearers etc.
-Menu: Di solito é da confermare il numero di invitati e richieste speciali (bambini, vegetariani, vegani, allergie...)/the menu at the restaurant usually requires confirmation for numbers and number of special meals required
- Pensare all'offerta da dare x la chiesa/think about the donation to make to the church
- Comprare/preparare ceste con fiocchi bianchi x le auto/buy and prepare baskets with white bows for the cars of wedding guests
-Segnaposti tavoli: Decidere i nomi dei tavoli ed eventualmente la grafica/Placeholders: Decide on table names and any necessary graphics/illustrations you want
-Suddivisione tavolate. Chi mettere a che tavolo./Table organization and where each guest will sit
-Centrotavola: Alcuni ristoranti ci pensano loro, altri devi fare tu. Se questo é il caso devi parlare col tuo fiorista/The centerpieces at each table (some restaurants do this for you, others you need to ask the florist to do)
-Confetti bianchi sciolti da portare in giro ai vicini di casa/ in ufficio/white confetti to take to your neighbors and to your co-workers
-Pensare a dove far pernottare gli invitati- trasporto a ristorante/how to get your guests from the church to the restaurant and back to their hotels *applies if you are having guests come from overseas
The photos used in this post were from the wedding of Massi's best friend.
I think it's quite obvious from my writings that I'm a full-blown sap. Hopeless romantic right here, always have been, always will be. After a million hellos and goodbyes, teary mascara-smeared embraces, cheesy balloons and handwritten signs, I've come to adore that intro and closing bit of Love Actually more than ever. You know which scene I'm talking about, the airport one. I was reminded of that today because of an article seemingly completed off-topic and unrelated that's currently blowing up The New York Times as I type this: On Tinder, Off Sex by Rachel Pearl. Read it here. Anyways, there was an excerpt I had to pull to share here:
He photographed me while I packed my clothes, and I remember him telling me that airports are romantic because they’re where people come to understand what they feel about each other.
What do you think? I'm definitely in agreement. It's quite possible that the hardest pull I've ever felt on my heartstrings was at Milano Malpensa, almost 8 years ago next February. Tiziano Ferro provided the solemn, yet somehow terrifyingly appropriate soundtrack to our parting- me back to Canada, Massi indefinitely in Italy. I remember it like it was yesterday - il regalo più grande was the song, the greatest gift. And you don't need much of an imagination to pinpoint what the song refers to.
My good friend Sunmi created this video three years ago based on three weeks spent studying abroad on the Italian island of Ischia, in the town of Forio. At my alma mater, the University of Alberta, the Faculty of Pharmacy offers a course taught in Italy to its third year pharmacy students. This little film was used as a promotional video for upcoming years after us but I thought I'd share it here on the blog since it gives a cute, "interactive" view of an island that is normally overlooked in favor of more well-known names such as Capri. The commentary is by Sunmi.
It seems that the weather in my Canadian home has been pretty odd and I found these photos on Facebook yesterday that were taken in and around Calgary, thought they were beautiful (sorry for lack of credits, not sure who they belong to!). Look at those colors!
The times spent in a world away from May 4, 2007 to June 29, 2007. Nepal is a place beyond words and my life will forever be intertwined with the lives of the people I worked with. I volunteered at a women's wellness clinic called NAHUDA; the sisterhood there touched my heart and I know that I will return one day. These words were written almost eight years ago when I had just returned from a volunteer trip to Nepal. It's one of the places in the world that really became like home to me. The Nepalese people are simply some of the kindest and happiest you will ever meet, I consider it a true privilege to have met some of the people I did and I am sending out my prayers to Nepal today.
Jasmine is a former pharmacist turned freelance writer, foodie, and fashionista from Alberta, Canada living "the sweet life" in Bergamo, Italy.