Tuesday, October 26, 2010

U.A.E. & Me

A few weeks ago, I spent about four days in Dubai. It was my third time in the Emirate, but my first as a tourist. This time around, I was there merely to explore and enjoy. And along with the exploration- and snapshot taking, I did some reflecting- and happened to note that Dubai appears to be the city most unlike Rome in the world.

If I were to describe Rome- I’d have a sizeable catalog of adjectives, anecdotes and images. If I were asked to describe Dubai- I would simply state that it’s the opposite of Italy. 

What is old and crumbling in Rome- is new and shiny in Dubai. Where Dubai has “the biggest,” Rome has “the oldest.” Dubai’s man-made islands shaped like palms jut into the Gulf- while Rome’s man-made temples weave their ways in and out of history books like threads. Dubai runs like clockwork. Italy, oftentimes, ceases to run at all.

In Rome, the destroyed heels of my Italian shoes slide between the mislaid cobblestones- and in Dubai, my heels either clapped along the newly paved streets or sunk into the sand in the less developed areas of the city. 

In Rome, one can stroll through the city- ambling from the Spanish Steps to the Trevi Fountain- passing sculptures and churches built hundreds of years ago. While in Dubai, one can drive and see the Burj Khalifa, the tallest building in the world standing at 2716 feet, from almost any point. Rome has the Vatican and Dubai has the Burj al Arab with its florescent lights illuminating the city, its gold plated interiors with aquariums and glistening walls.

Dubai’s ruler, Sheikh Mohammed, is in power as a result of the constitutional monarchy. The Sheikh dreamed up the city as it is today- and transformed that dream into a reality. Italy has Berlusconi- who, in his own words stated, “I am absolutely sure to be the most democratic man to ever become Prime Minister in Italy.” (ANSA 2002) 

Dubai is a gem- something that has never existed in the middle east- a place of dreams. And Italy, alone, is home to 50% of the entire world’s artistic heritage. Italy is the birthplace of the Renaissance and Dubai is the birthplace of banking- with a Muslim twist.

Dubai is decadent- filled with imagination and desire. It’s a shell though- lacking foundation. Italy is anything but a shell- its layers penetrate deep with history, culture, philosophy and art. Dubai dazzles where Rome astounds. 

Being in Dubai, I had fun. I had forgotten what it was like to be around a diverse group of young professionals, moving and shaking in a society that they seem to be building together. In Rome, I arrived and promptly got the impression that I was invading a society- something deeply embedded that was already congested. I am trying, as hard as I can, to fashion my own place- to find an empty spot in the already cluttered terrain to set my roots down- and to be accepted into a society that seems to have shut its doors long before I was even born. Every day, I am learning how to be something more than the token American, or the foreign girlfriend. Because I know there is so much more of me to give- but it’s hard to furnish an identity when one’s role has already been defined. It's a challenge- and I will overcome it…at least, that's the way I’m looking at it. In Dubai, everyone seems to have a clean slate- and their values are solely dependent on what they accomplish while they are there. 

Ultimately, Dubai served as a reminder of a number of things- of my own identity, my past and my value. At the same time, it was a great time spent with great friends. Most importantly though, despite the small difficulties I have encountered through making my way in Italy- I quickly realized that I would choose Churches, fountains and the Tiber- over Mosques, malls and Sheikh Zayed Road. Any day of the week.

Sunday, October 24, 2010

Trash Clash

Trash, evidently, is a political issue with a long history in Southern Italy. Whether or not the current crisis has reached the media on an international level, I am not sure- but what I do know is that it’s occupying headlines throughout this nation. At present, it is impossible to open a newspaper or turn on the television without seeing images of burning garbage trucks, teeming dump-sites and livid locals yelling angrily into the microphones of the few news agents that managed to pass through the barricades.  

Garbage in Naples is anything but a new concern. Unfortunately, the city itself is well known for its trash crises- in particular, the major eruption in 2007, which consequently became one of the top priorities for the incoming political party- Berlusconi’s PDL. The truth is, before I got to know Naples, I associated it with its garbage issues. Later, once I spent some quality time in the city, I realized that it is so much more…Napoli is this gritty, soulful, stunning, and incredibly alive city. It’s got this pulse you can feel running through your veins as you walk through the streets. 

Since the Italian government cleaned up the trash, Napoli and its outlying towns once again became tourist destinations. Regrettably, and somewhat in-tune with Napoli’s ill-fated issues, a new garbage battle has ensued. Due to an existing, overflowing landfill and the planning and creation of a considerably larger, more intrusive landfill at the base of Vesuvius- the outlying towns of Naples currently appear to be more like Bagdad then they do the Mediterranean. I have watched on the news, for over a week now, protesters road blocking garbage trucks on the route to the existing landfills- flying rocks, explosions, police blockades and numerous burning vehicles.

In the past, I have tried to stay away from political issues- and from the ugly parts of the country that I find so beautiful. To me, Italy is the most special place in the world – and I try to portray that. Unfortunately however, the “discarica di Terzigno” hits closer to home than other political concerns. Terzigno, just outside of Napoli, is the birthplace of my boyfriend- and I have spent many a weekend perusing the streets of the tiny town.

Furthermore- last night, I partook in an experience I never could have anticipated. I found myself in the middle of a rally on the streets of Terzigno, along with nearly 400 irate Italians, blocking the road to the dumpsite. There was yelling from the angry mobs, there were fires- but what struck me the most were the tears of anger and betrayal in the eyes of the local citizens. Signs were suspended all over the city walls with heated phrases, trash was piled everywhere- if not on fire, than creating roadblocks to the major throughways of the area.

 Now, I am not a fan of protests and I am not a fan of violence or unnecessary damage to property- private or public. But this time, I get it. These people are tax paying loyal citizens of a country that they love- that they are proud of....and at present, they can't walk out of their houses without smelling the mountains of trash left more or less at their doorsteps. (Not to mention the potential environmental implications.) 

Of course, looking at the situation from an objective perspective- the alternative choices are slim- and there are more parties involved than just the heads of government. Yet I believe, at the end of the day, that Berlusconi is a decent man and a good leader- and will do his best, along with his party, to clean up the literal mess and regain the confidence and fidelity of this large portion of the Southern population.

On another note; as I was walking away from the demonstration (realizing that these people were accomplishing nothing but freezing their toes off), I was reminded of which country I am in when I got a whiff of the strong aroma of garlic and olive oil- and heard a slightly muffled voice reverberating over the megaphone exclaiming: “Sono arrivati i fagioli!!!” In truth, I was expecting an angry proclamation, or a call to battle. In actuality, the woman was saying, “The pasta and beans have arrived!”  

Clearly, an Italian demonstration isn’t truly Italiano without the dinner.

Saturday, October 16, 2010

Puppy Love

I haven’t written for a while- not on the blog, not for myself and definitely not for anyone else. Not writing, in my world, is something that seldom occurs. Whether on crinkled paper napkins in sidewalk café’s or in any one of my various multicolor Moleskines- I’m always scribbling something or another.

These past few months however, I have found myself not wordless- but “assertionless.” I always have words- oftentimes far too many- but words that I deemed valuable enough to write down were few and far between. This lack of writing was set in motion as I read through past blog posts and began wondering how one goes from writing about being part of an MBA, about the future prospects of big jobs and changing the world- to writing about pumpkins. And it was at that point that I quietly vowed to stop writing- at least until I had something substantial to report.

Yet in my silence, I felt stifled- even gagged. It is writing that brings me clarity; it is writing that brings me peace. Without it, I become overwrought with emotions lacking an outlet- and burdened by the thoughts smothered by my own unwillingness to pick up a pen and attempt to make sense of everything.

I have begun to acknowledge that writing about pumpkins, for instance, isn’t wrong- and it isn’t irrelevant. The minor instances and events in our lives are only as important as we believe, or allow them to be. In lieu of beginning a long-winded philosophical discourse- I would like to say, and learn to believe- that my life is as significant as the next- whether I am making pumpkin casserole in the quiet of my home, studying the mechanics of business in a bustling city or working behind a desk towards something bigger than myself. It is possible that that which is most important is making people around me happy, enjoying, and trying to do as little harm to myself and others as humanly possible.

I also had a recent chat with a friend about the meaning of life- whether its procreation, living in harmony with nature, serving God or any number of God’s, searching for truth, or working towards the good old utilitarian “happiness principle,” I don't know- and I doubt I ever will. Personally, I lean towards the side of existentialism regarding free will, choice and personal responsibility. 

This life of mine- as I see it- is simply a result of the choices I make based on experiences, desires and beliefs. It’s grounded in arbitrary luck, chance and uncertainty. Taking into account all that we are given and all that that happens across in our paths- we have to make the most out of it. Enjoy. Dream- and then do our best to allow those dreams to become realities.  Yet that's a chat for another time…

So our minor accomplishments or experiences are only as important as we consider them to be. And for me, I crossed a major bridge the other day...(no, not blogging about pumpkins). In fact, I got my first puppy. For some, having a dog is a no-brainer- for others, it's a no-no. For me, it has been a fantasy since I was a child and my parents told me that I was too irresponsible to own a dog. Thus, I promised myself that as soon as I was older, and perhaps more responsible, I would get a dog. Then I got older- and with age, came my travelling. I embarked on a somewhat nomadic lifestyle from the time I was 18- where I didn't live in any city for any more than two and a half years. Therefore, owning a dog would have been unfair.

Now, however, I have a dog…my very own puppy. And for me, this is fairly significant. It’s like an unspoken affirmation to myself that I am happy enough where I am to know that I wont be picking up and leaving anytime soon. It’s a promise to myself that we (my puppy and I), are here to stay. Of course, one can never say never- but what I do know is that I am more settled in Rome- and my life in Rome, than I have ever been before.  And my puppy is a testament to that fact. So as unimportant pumpkin soup isn’t or as relevant as dog-ownership is, I know that there is something in my life that is changing- something inside myself that is growing- and that’s bigger than I could have imagined when I moved here six months ago.

It also doesn't hurt that he is the cutest puppy in the world…