Sunday, February 14, 2016

Decisions Decisions

Funny Galentines. 

After we had been running side by side on treadmills at the gym, my friend Johanna invited me to her apartment for conversation that was free of huffing and puffing. She wrote down some music for me to check out and showed me the hotels she’s considering for her upcoming trip to Capri. She couldn’t choose between two luxury hotels and said she should just hire a travel agent to make these decisions for her. I know a Catch-22 is when someone is forced to make a decision and all possible outcomes are bad, but I wonder what it’s called when someone has to make a decision and all outcomes are wonderful. Since we view luxury vacations as escapes or getaways, I propose we call the opposite of a Catch-22 an Escape-22, or perhaps the opposite of a Catch-22 should be called a Release-22.

Johanna’s indecisiveness was for me so relatable. Lately, I’ve been struggling with making decisions about what to read, what to write, what friends to socialize with, whether I should have a Valentine’s Day with a potential suitor or a Gal-entine’s Day with a group of girlfriends, whether I should run a 5K at the gym or be lazy and take an afternoon nap.

Earlier this week, one of my decisions backfired. I was very tired after a long day and still adjusting after my return from a holiday. I went into a bakery and deliberated over which piece of cake I should buy. I pointed to one that drew my interest and asked the baker what it was. He slid his cake server underneath the piece I pointed to. And then he said, “Alman?” I was so tired, I thought he was telling me the cake had almonds. Only when I sat down and tasted what was supposed to be a delicious piece of almond cake, did I realize he had asked me if I was German. The cake, to my disappointment, was vanilla with some kind of fruity cream filling. And now the man at my neighborhood bakery thinks I am German.

Trying not to make any more faulty decisions, I became preoccupied with deciding which one of my writing projects should be a priority. I’m almost finished with a children’s novel, which I began writing last year. But last week, inspiration struck for a psychological thriller. I had to choose between writing scenes with cute children book characters or scenes with a mentally unstable villain, similar to Annie Wilkes in Stephen King’s Misery. I was torn. I decided to write 5,000 words of my psychological thriller and then return to my children’s novel. Both were satisfying experiences. New projects are always exciting, but it’s also exciting to look at older projects with fresh eyes.

For Gal-entine’s Day, some girlfriends and I went to the movie, The Danish Girl, a film based on a true story about the first person ever to undergo sex reassignment surgery. (Thank you, Turkey, for not banning this film from cinemas like so many Middle Eastern countries have.) I was struck by Lili Elbe’s brave decision to undergo the surgery and admired her partner’s brave decision to love and support her so selflessly in a time when most people viewed her non-conformist behavior as mental illness. I loved the film for its complexity and tenderness, as well as the 1920s dresses and hairstyles. The 1920s is my favorite decade -- and that’s an unwavering position.

Now the smaller decisions I’m forced to make -- red wine or white, silver nail polish or green -- seem so trivial. When it comes to big decisions in life, some people, like Lili Elbe, have a strong conviction about the best way to proceed. I’ve made some brave decisions in my life, decisions to move to other countries, to attend graduate school, to take a jazz singing class, and flamenco dance lessons, but none of my decisions put my entire life at risk.

Our choices make us who we are as individuals, but if we decide to teeter on the fence about everything, we risk being similar to all the other indecisive people in the world. And that is a bleak proposition.

Pensively yours,


Wednesday, February 3, 2016


Bumbling our way through the labyrinthine side streets and crossing arched bridges and canals clogged with tourist-filled gondolas, I reiterated my belief that it is better to travel light, especially in Venice. We eventually found our bed and breakfast and were lucky that the Carnevale hadn’t officially started yet. Getting lost in the middle of the festivities with all our luggage and then having masked people throw confetti at us may have induced a nervous breakdown. I kept having to pinch myself to verify this was really happening. Being there during the Venetian version of Mardi Gras just made the experience more surreal.

Carnevale is a 10-day celebration that involves merry-makers dressed up like aristocratic Europeans from the 17th century. The feminine masks usually boast frills, feathers and sequins, while the masculine masks have sharper Batman-esque edges or Phantom of the Opera simplicity. The man who checked us into our room told us it wasn’t the tourist season, but it seemed like everyone was flocking to Venice in their elaborate costumes. I can’t imagine how crowded it must get during the tourist season. 

I bought a mask that had been ambushed by orange glitter, and when I wore my orange shawl and a long orange wig, I looked like some mutant citrus fruit that had fallen off a tree in Florida.

At the Peggy Guggenheim museum I felt moved to tears at the surreal, captivating moment when I came across Marc Chagall’s painting, “Rain.” At this exact time last year, I was reading Peggy Guggenheim’s autobiography, Confessions of an Art Addict, and living in a room papered with Marc Chagall pictures that had been recycled from an old calendar. I’m in a better place now than I was one year ago, back when I was just dreaming about how nice it would be to visit the Peggy Guggenheim Museum in Venice but not imagining I would actually be going anytime soon. What starts out as a tiny idea can evolve into reality in a very short amount of time.

Because of my spiritual bond with Peggy Guggenheim, visiting her old house-turned-museum has been the highlight of my trip to Italy. I was thrilled to see paintings by one of my favorite artists, Leonora Carrington, hanging right next to some paintings by her lover, Max Ernst. I know I am probably romanticizing their romance, but I could feel the passion radiating from their work, and I can only imagine how passionate their relationship must have been.

On Monday, a friend who lives in Padua took the train in. With her Italian roommate, who knows Venice well, we combed the side streets, stomping all over Venice until I felt we’d been just about everywhere. Dining in Venice restaurants is very expensive, especially during the Carnevale, so my friends brought homemade food and we had a picnic on a park bench. My friend made a rice and chicken dish and her roommate made an Italian dessert, frittelle, basically Venetian donuts. I bought us all Tiramisu so I could contribute something to our picnic. 

As our day together reached a grand finale, we decided to take the train to Padua for dinner. Train tickets only cost 4 Euros and the invitation to eat cheap delicious street food and receive a tour of a historic college town was too enticing to pass up. I twisted Kelley’s arm and convinced her to join us. We ate panzerottis, which are like miniature calzones, followed by gelato at a heavenly chocolate store known as Venchi.

I am indulging my appetite for Italian cuisine and culture and everything that is vaguely in my price range. I don’t want to miss out on anything. We even rode in a gondola and our gondolier sang in Italian as he paddled and steered our romantic vessel through the canals. This private concert cost us a pretty penny and I know he sings just to entice the tourists, but it was still fun.

Now the Venice portion of my adventure is over and I no longer feel like I’m living in the movie, Interview with the Vampire.

On the train ride to Bologna, I carried my orange mask and wig in a handle bag from the Venchi chocolate shop, along with my souvenir bag of hot chocolate mix. In my head I played Nancy Wilson’s song, “The Masquerade is Over.” Contrary to the lyrics, love is not over. I loved Bologna too, and most of all, I loved Florence and Rome. My love for Venice is like a love for an unattainable celebrity, like George Clooney. I never had a crush on George Clooney, but I saw the place where he and his wife held their wedding ceremony, so he was the first person who came to mind. Venice was magic, but its steep food prices forced me to escape to Padua for affordable panzerottis. Next time I go to Venice, hopefully I will be a little richer.