P and B go to Vegas

5-year-anniversary-vegas-1

I’ve ranted about how much I hate Vegas a billion times here on this blog. Sometimes I notice how big the sky above Vegas is and I think, I could live here. I love the desert. It kind of reminds me of my childhood in The Sticks. But then some thick-headed frat boy yells his drunk head off, or some big-boobed dancer with perfect legs showing all the way up, reminds me of how imperfect my body is or I see someone talking to themselves with missing teeth as they sit in the gutter, drunk at 9 in the morning… and I turn away, repelled. Vegas makes me sad.

I get bored too easily here. I don’t love gambling and I don’t have a ton of money to shop all day. I can only drink so much and I miss being creative.

I don’t know how I matched up so perfectly with someone like Payam who loves Vegas so much. He’s a night owl. I’m a morning person.  I want to go take pictures of some cacti and shrubbery at five morning when the sun turns everything pink.  He wants to sleep.  He wants to stay up all night sipping whiskey and gambling. I want to sleep.

But I get it. Sort of. The excitement of winning money, the bright lights, the pounding music, the clinking of ice cubes in glasses, the good-natured banter between players at the blackjack table… It is a really fun interesting intersection of so many different kinds of people all finding a common ground sharing their vices. There is something to that.

the-view-of-hard-rock-in-the-winter

Payam humors me and I humor him. He does everything he can to help me have a good time in Vegas. He lets’s me pick the hotel, he lets me shop, he lets me explore….And sometimes I do have a good time.  I can throw back a tequila shot or four. I just have to be careful I don’t go down any self-loathing paths to the pits of despair when I wake up too early in the morning and I’m stuck all by myself in a strange land. I spend so many hours alone because I am a cursed morning person.

I’ve been doing it for ages. You’d think I’d have a million routines and morning rituals to stave off the loneliness (and I do!) but sometimes I let myself sink into the luxury of sadness anyway.  I miss Bug. Thanksgiving without her is always really hard.

The whole reason I met Payam five years ago is because I was lonely during Thanksgiving break. Bug was with her dad (like she is this week) and I was faced with a week to myself with nothing to do but Netflix and work.

So I hopped on a free dating app. I just wanted to find someone to talk to. I wanted a walking partner or someone to take me to the movies. Payam doesn’t really do either but I’m so glad I found him. My whole world has changed since I met him–in a good way. You all know that. Everyone loves a love story.

red-party-boots-in-vegas-1

So here we are in Vegas on Thanksgiving celebrating five years together.  We aren’t married yet but we have plans!

I brought my new red party boots to Vegas to help me have a good time. (I need every advantage I can get.) I LOVE these boots. I put them on and I immediately feel fifty percent more fun. They give me two inches of height and they scream, “I am not a boring frumpy mom who is missing her kid! I am fun, dammit!” Payam loves them too.

We went out to dinner at a steak house and I had the *Thanksgiving Special* that was probably better tasting than any feast I’ve ever been part of but you know… it was missing all the people. We had few drinks and then crashed. I don’t even remember what we did. Vegas is a ghost town on Thanksgiving. It was fun to wish all the hard-working staff a happy thanksgiving and hope that they were getting paid triple time.

vegas-graffitti

The next day we explored. I love taking pictures of graffiti and really cool old typography in Vegas. I just wish I had some beautiful daughters with me to take pictures of. I get really sick of taking pictures of myself.

payam-in-graffitti

As I said, Payam humors me.

fremont-east

Explore, explore, explore… it’s not pretty cacti in morning light but I can’t say it’s boring.

evel-pie

These are all really quick shots snapped as we walked down Fremont street.

vegas-praying-mantis

We didn’t even really get to be foodies and try all the crazy amazing restaurants because we had our steak house thanksgiving leftovers for breakfast and they filled us up all day! I guess that’s a good thing. I didn’t mention it but our hotel (The Hard Rock) upgraded us to a two room suite with TWO bathrooms so we were perfectly content to stay in our room and have leftovers for breakfast. Nothing like eating cold dinner for breakfast out of takeout boxes in your hotel room that is big enough to host a 45th birthday bash. But again, we were missing all the people.

p-and-b-go-out

That night Payam bought us tickets to a Burlesque show. I’ve always wanted to see one.  Unfortunately it started at 10pm, which is like midnight to me. I made it through though. It was very entertaining and I have a deep appreciation for the athletic abilities of those dancers. They are very beautiful and very talented and they shouldn’t be ashamed of any of it. Too bad I seem to be ashamed of my body all the time. But I have to tell myself, I was once that hot. I still have a lot to offer even if I don’t have perfect legs and a flat stomach anymore. I just didn’t really know what to do with myself, sitting there in the audience. Lots of women were hooting and hollering. I just felt awkward.

Don’t worry. I am not fishing for compliments. I’m just sharing parts of myself that you might not know were there. I take pictures of Payam and I smiling and having a good time but it’s not the whole story.

I am very very very thankful for him and I do love these trips with him.

evening-in-vegas

I love the long talks. I love how he helps me push through missing Bug. He catches me spying on her with my phone, watching her stories of bouncing cousins vying for her attention and tells me to put my phone away. Be present. Be here. Have a Bloody Mary for breakfast!

the-drive-to-vegas

And now it’s time to drive back home. Home sweet home.

Italy, The Trip that Broke Us: Chapter 1

01-ready-to-go

I’m back from Italy and I’m sitting here realizing that I’m a completely different person than who I was when I left. Frankly, I think I’m experiencing a little bit of PTSD from this trip and what happened to us. It’s been really hard to process and part of me wants to just not blog it, like I do with all negative things: Pretend it doesn’t exist. If you don’t have something nice to say (or funny, you can say not-nice things with humor) then don’t say anything at all, right?

But my trip to Italy was an amazing trip also. There are lots of parts I do want to blog. I saw so many sights, I took so many pictures. I want to share! I have a lot of good stories too but unfortunately I can’t tell the good stories without including the bad stories because they shaped every part of this trip.

So this is my story:

On the day we left, the Santa Ana’s blew in hard and tore off a limb off our front yard jacaranda tree. I was a mess of nerves and excitement, filming the wind damage and dancing around with glee that I was leaving soon on a girls’ trip to Italy. I hardly slept the night before I was so excited. I LOVE ADVENTURE. But I was also full of anxiety, did I pack the right things? Did I forget anything? Would I have everything I needed? Check, check and re-check.

This trip came up out of nowhere, it was an opportunity I couldn’t pass up. Our friend Christine wanted company on a trip to Milan for business purposes. She’s spent all last year in Italy and is pretty fluent in Italian.  My other friend, Teresa, is a travel agent. We put it all together and decided we’d take a girls trip of a lifetime!  It all happened so fast I didn’t get time to buy trip insurance which is ridiculous . I figured it would be fine. Every other trip I’ve ever been on has been fine.

But it wasn’t. Note to travelers: always buy trip insurance. You have no idea what could happen to you.

02-flying-to-Italy

The night before our trip Payam bought me a new backpack. An expensive one that was really cool. I was going to buy it for myself but he swooped in and bought it for me like the generous loving boyfriend that he is. You can see it up there with the big gold clasp. I took a picture of my luggage while we waited for our flight because I was worried it might get lost and I would need a photo to show to the airlines if they needed to track it down. Funny, that was what I was worried about.

I don’t know why I thought I needed a backpack. Backpacks are really not that great for traveling. But I didn’t know. I thought it was just what I needed to carry my laptop and my camera. It worked pretty well, at first.

03-flying-to-Italy

Our flight was long and uneventful. It was really hard to sleep but what else is new, right? Long flights are always hard to sleep through. The arm rest gouges into your back when you turn sideways, your legs cramp up, it’s cold…everything is uncomfortable.

But who cares! You’re traveling across the world and it takes time! We were off and I was excited.

04-arriving-in-Milan-1

Finally, we arrived in Milan and a van picked us up to take us to our Airbnb. My eyes were bugging out of my head, wanting to see everything at once. Maybe the car wreck in the oncoming lane should have been an omen of things to come but then again maybe the limb of our jacaranda tree getting ripped off could have been an omen. Maybe I don’t really believe in omens.

Some Prius-like vehicle was upside down in the oncoming traffic lane and it’s front was badly smashed in, most likely a fatality. Sirens wailed and traffic backed up for miles.  This was my first impression of Italy. I remember thinking that drivers were pretty aggressive in Italy. Our taxi driver drove very fast, dodging in and out of lanes with complete ease. It was just another day in Italy for him. For me it was whack-a-doodle bananas. But at that point I was strung so high everything seemed whack-a-doodle bananas.

When we got to our Airbnb we met Christine and she whisked us off to see the sights and get dinner out. I don’t remember feeling at all afraid until we got to the Duomo. It was very crowded.  Kind of like when I visited Notre Dame in Paris and gypsies and pick-pocketers swarm you.  You’re staring up at this giant church, ogling it’s massive presence and then suddenly you feel someone putting corn in your hand.  I didn’t know what to do. Why did I suddenly have corn in my hand?

05-arriving-in-Milan-2

“Feed the pigeons!” a man said to me, standing right next to me. So I threw the corn in the air for the pigeons. “No!” he shouted. “Hold out your hand to the pigeons.” So I did and some pigeons started landing on my hand. It was kind of cool and crazy. I tried to take pictures of the pigeons in my hand but my camera was too close. It was a really weird experience but I felt a little vulnerable because I was so distracted. I couldn’t be sure someone wasn’t going to swipe my bag or my camera and my friends were calling to me to leave before the man demanded money for his pigeon trick. Somehow I got out of there.

07-arriving-in-Milan-4

We walked around and looked at everything. It was all very overwhelming and exciting. I definitely had stimulus overload but in a good way. I love seeing new places for the first time. Everything is new and different.

08-arriving-in-Milan-5

This fruit stand and gelato truck intrigued me with their freshly roasted hazelnuts and coconut fountain. Have you ever seen a coconut fountain? Not me!

06-arriving-in-Milan-3

We walked through the galleria and I spun around for good luck on the golden bull. What a funny tradition. It didn’t really bring me good luck but I got a kick out of it.

09-robbery-in-Milan-1

After a delicious dinner (that I unfortunately don’t have any photos of) we walked back to our Airbnb and settled in for the night.  I couldn’t sleep of course. I mean, how could I?!! I’m in Italy and it’s so exciting!

Somehow I got to sleep but then at 3 am I heard some noises outside so I got up to investigate. We had left our window open a crack because it was stuffy in our bedroom. We were on the ground floor but our window was a good six feet up from the sidewalk outside. For some reason it never crossed my mind that it was dangerous to leave our windows open. So at 3 am I peeked out the window to the street outside. I saw a man moving trash cans around, making the noise that I heard. I thought it was strange that he would be putting trash cans outside at 3am but I figured he was a custodian of some sort and maybe that’s how things worked in Italy. I do remember the man saw me. We made eye-contact.

Then I went back to bed. I slept fitfully, waking up half an hour later. I don’t know what woke me up but I remember staring at the door of our bedroom into the living room. It was open about half a foot. I remember thinking I saw something in the dark. A shadow moving. I couldn’t be sure. I told myself my eyes were seeing things and continued to stare at the door to see if it would happen again. It did happen again. I got up thinking maybe it was Christine doing yoga or something, though that was kind of a weird thing to do in the dark.

When I got to the living room I knew something was wrong. The living room window was wide open (not at all how we left it) and the contents of my purse were splayed out across the couch. My purse was there, my passport was there and my credit cards and driver’s license were there. My moleskin full of sketches was there and even my small pencil bag full of pens was still there. Everything else was gone, including the 300 euros I had gotten out for spending money. Even the cheap pleather card holder that I kept my license in was gone. Why would they go to the trouble of removing my cards and take the pleather holder? It was very strange. Maybe the thief didn’t want to leave me high and dry.

I ran to wake up Christine in the other room. I shouted, “We’ve been robbed!” Everything became a blur after that. I ran into our room to see if anything had been taken. My backpack that held my laptop and camera was gone. Everything except my suitcase and my phone that was plugged in under the counter was gone. I was lucky. I had my phone, my passport, my driver’s license and my credit cards. But I lost my laptop and my camera and my new fancy backpack that Payam had just gotten me. The sadness hit me like a ton of bricks.

I must have interrupted the thief because he didn’t make it to Teresa’s stuff or to Christine’s room that was separate from ours. He only got my things and snagged Teresa’s sunglasses that had been sitting on the dresser near the bedroom door. Everything else was left untouched.

10-robbery-in-Milan-2

Christine called the police and stammered through a police report. It was really hard to communicate over the phone. Interpreters were involved and the phone connection was really bad. Christine kept hearing her own voice play back at her.  Police in Italy don’t exactly operate the same way they do in the US. They didn’t seem to think it was necessary to come and asked us to come into the station the next day to create a report. That was no good for us because we had train tickets to go to our next destination the next day and all of our travel plans hinged on getting there on time. This was a royal kink in our plan.

We were pretty freaked out. Everything was scary. I remember thinking the thief could come back at any moment. Here we were, three women feeling kind of helpless, shocked and vulnerable.  Were we targeted? Was it the trash man I had seen at 3am? Had someone followed me from the Duomo? So many questions. I just wanted to get out of there.

Two policemen did come and we made a report but they didn’t speak much English and they didn’t really have anything encouraging to say. I told them the story. I showed them the footprints on the windowsill that was not more than three feet from where I slept. We surmised that the thief must have come in through the bedroom window (right by where I was sleeping) and left out the living room window. It was so creepy to realize someone was staring at me when I was staring back at them in the dark.

The Airbnb owner came to help us communicate with the police and tried to comfort us. He told us nothing like this had ever happened before but I’m not sure I believe him. He did seem really nice and worried about us. He stayed for a while but eventually left us. We didn’t know what to do. We waited until dawn and then left for the train station.

11-robbery-in-Milan-3

The picture above is the couch that my belongings were strewn across and the window on the right is the window that I peaked out and that the thief entered through.

12-robbery-in-Milan-4

I vowed that I wouldn’t let this robbery ruin my trip. My heart was broken that I had lost my camera because I wanted to spend this trip taking pictures. The fact that my laptop was gone was a huge blow financially but I knew I could start over. I had made a manual back-up before I left and everything would still be there when I got back. It would just be another big purchase that I wasn’t counting on at all. This trip to Italy may have been the most expensive trip I have ever taken.

But all is not lost! Next up:Varenna, the sleepy little village that healed my soul.