Home Sweet Rome

There’s no way around it, I love my city. I have now lived in four cities in three different countries, and I have spent considerable time in others, but as far as I am concerned none can compare. Sure it’s chaotic, full of tourists and a parking nightmare, but the second I arrive something in me says home.

I love that, for such a big city, it’s so green. I love that, in no time at all, you can be either in the country or at the seaside. I love that it is the mixture of big city stimulation and small town everybody knows each other how’s your mother sure I’ll send the local plumber your way when I see him.

I love the weather, and do we even have to mention the food.

And yet, when I come back now, my love is tinged with a profound sadness, because I don’t think that I will ever be able to live here again as a working adult. My job, my boyfriend’s job, and our ambition has brought us elsewhere, and I don’t see us being able to come back any time soon. A part of me weeps for the fact that it has to be so, another tells me that I’m lucky, and should be grateful that I could have ever lived here at all, and to get over my #FirstWorldProblems.

Soon, the sadness will pass as I fall back into a Roman routine, forgetting that I no longer live here permanently. Then I will have to leave again, and I will become homesick before I even make it to the car. Then I will be back in my German routine, and Rome will be like a warm memory of a wonderful dream, distant and not quite real. I’ve done this dance many times, it’s par for the course by now.

For now, I have ten days to make the most of my favorite place in the world. Let’s do this, Roma sono tua.

Woop! I made it

It’s been a 13 hour car ride, and we’ve made it to central Italy. The highlights

  • My mother complained frequently about the music, as expected
  • We only caught a tiny bit of traffic around southern Germany… driving on Sunday FTW!
  • We decided to pass through Austria, because Switzerland is a pain in the ass with its borders and questions and speed limits…. and its only a couple hundred extra km… let’s do it!
  • I tried to snap a few pictures of the alps… they’re not great.

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  • Woop! We’re in Italy, that means it’s my turn to drive. Well, as long as it’s windy mountain roads and my boyfriend wants a nap. Then he’s up and poking me because I’m only going 10-20km over the speed limit. We change places around Carpi.
  • My mother starts to get passive aggressive about the speed around Bologna. Instead of asking my boyfriend directly, in Italian, to slow down, she speaks to the ether in English: “I would be a lot more comfortable at a slower speed”, so that I have to turn to my boyfriend and say, in Italian, “My mother says slow down”. That was fun for a few hours.
  • We made it! A beer and bed. More pictures and updates to follow!

 

Ciao Guys! I’m Off

Today I am off for a two week holiday, and I am very excited about it. “Hang on Crys”, I can hear you saying, “You just started here! What do you mean you’re on holidays?”

Well, the fact of the matter is, I have had two weeks off in the past year and a half, none of which was spent with my boyfriend. I’ve been busting my butt in this lab, and now I’m taking a little time for a break. Woop!

Unfortunately I’m not jet setting around the world or anything like that. I’ll be driving down to Rome with my boyfriend, visiting my Grandmother and taking care of some bureaucratic business. However, my mother’s cousin will also be arriving from the States with her son, and to my knowledge she has never been outside of the country before. This should be fun! Who knows, perhaps more stories of cultural differences will be on the horizon.

Anyway, I’m letting you know because my internet connection will be patchy in the next couple of weeks. I will try to check in as often as possible, but if you are first time commenters please accept my apologies if I am a little late in approving your comments.

Well, Ci vediamo dopo ragazzi! I’m off to my hometown.

Wait, You Can South Park Yourself?!

After yesterday’s powerpuffing bonanza, a colleague of mine tells me (not without a touch of scorn) “oh, you mean like you can do with South Park”.

“Hang on”, I replied, “You can South Park yourself?! No way! South Park is way cooler than the PowerPuff Girls!”

She rolled her eyes at me. “Well yea!”

Her crabbiness from being at work on a Saturday aside, I can’t help but swiching to South Park. So, sorry, I’m going to have to abandon the Powerpuffing after a tender 24 hours.

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There are also way more choices for your avatar. For now, I’m sticking with this one!

 

No More Feeling Sorry For Myself

I’m usually a pretty cynical person. I often find self-help touchy-feely write-a-letter-to-your-inner-child stuff to be dorky and unhelpful (to me, personally) when I get into one of my dark moods. Today I was grumpy, very grumpy, for a combination of reasons which I now realize are lack of sleep, low blood sugar, and #FirstWorldProblems. How did I come to this realization? Because, at exactly the right moment, I came across this video.

 

His facial expressions are the best. Despite it not being my usual style, I couldn’t help grinning throughout this entire video. In two minutes, he pulled me right out of my funk.

Sean, I love you too!

Picking Picking Picking…

The bane of my existence.

I mentioned in my introductory post that I am currently working 13-hour days. This is because I am scrambling to finish the last experiments we need in order to publish our paper, and I need to have them done yesterday.

I work with C. elegans, a little nematode which is barely visible with the naked eye. It is convenient, especially for experiments involving aging, because you can keep large numbers quite cheaply, they have a rapid life cycle and normally live for around 20-25 days. Great right?

Wrong.

Given the fact that they don’t live very long, lifespan experiments are commonplace in worm labs, meaning you check to see how long it takes for the worms to die. However, these worms are also hermaphrodites, so they lay eggs even if there are no males around. As I said they have a very rapid life cycle, around 4 days long, which means that after a few days you might confuse your original population of worms with the progeny that they produced in the meantime, and that wont do if you want to know how long it takes for your worms to die. The solution? You have to transfer your adults onto new plates, by hand, every couple of days, to separate them from the larvae. This is commonly known as picking, and everyone hates doing it.

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Cultural Differences: Ritualized Corporal Punishment

The very first cultural difference that I can remember noticing was when my uncle threatened to hit me when I was around 10.

The question about whether or not one should be allowed to hit their children is a contentious one, even in countries like Italy. Some think that it should be punishable by law. Others think that it is the only way to get some particularly rambunctious kids to behave. Many are somewhere in between, not wanting to judge others on how they raise their kids. This post is not about that question, but rather on how I came to realize that the culturally accepted ways in which corporal punishment is practiced in my two countries of origin are starkly different, and that I was the only one who could stop a very serious misunderstanding from taking place in my family.

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The Patriotic Mentality

Note: This is an old post from 2011 but, given the current political climate, one that is still relevant today.

As I explained in my first ever post, I have a double nationality, with one foot firmly in Italy, and one (well, perhaps a toe at the moment) in the US of A. This has given me a unique perspective, one that can view both countries in both a subjective and objective way. Something that has always struck me about the accepted cultural mentality with regards to these countries (speaking in generalizations of course, there are always people who are more objective with regards to their own country) are polar opposites, and yet I see both as being straight roads to failure. Let me explain further.

I have always been floored by the patriotism that is commonplace in the USA. The reverence for the flag, the pledge of allegiance, the national anthem played at every baseball game, all of it baffled me. But even if you forget about all of that, there is still a prevalent mentality, sometimes a subconscious one, that the USA is the best country in the world, and every other country wants to be like US. When I used to visit during my college years, I had numerous people, and I mean liberal, freethinking and well-traveled people, ask me why on earth hadn’t I chosen the US when I was deciding on a college. In order to keep the answer short and away from “starting my working life under a pile of debt just didnt seem all that appealing to me” I gave them my second reason for not doing so, because the US is just too far away from the rest of the world. They all looked at me baffled, thought for a moment, and all of them, I shit you not, gave me the exact same answer:

“Huh. That’s interesting. I never thought of that. See for us, America is the world”

The lack of internationality also aside, the patriotism in the US runs extremely deep. Many Americans believe, unconsciously or not, that they are a model for the rest of the world, that everyone wants to move there and live there, that they have the best quality of life of the developed world, despite the stark evidence to the contrary. If I picked any old bar in the US, stood up, raised my glass and yelled “A toast to the USA! The greatest country in the world!” I would probably be met with a variation of nodding to outright applause (if any of you USAers want to give this a shot for me and share your stories, I’d love to hear them!)

Now lets contrast that with the prevalent Italian mentality.

In Italy, all you ever hear is “this is the worst fucking country in the entire world”. When I tell people that Im here doing my PhD at the moment, all they can say to me is “What? Why the hell did you come back here? You speak English, leave this god forsaken country! Don’t you know that this country has gone to the dogs?! If I were young, I’d leave this place and never look back! Well you finish your PhD, but then get out as fast as you possibly can! Here, we might as well be living in the Congo the way things are going nowadays. You’ll see, we’re destined for a ruin the likes of which Haiti hasn’t even seen. We’re the laughing stock of the EU let me tell you!” And on and on and on. Good old Italian optimism. If I picked any old bar in Italy, stood up and raised a glass and yelled “A toast to Italy! The greatest country in the whole world!” I’d be met with laughter, jeers, and at the door the men in white coats would be waiting to bring me to a special place.

That isn’t to say that Italy doesn’t have its problems. I am the first to acknowledge that there is a lot of work to do to get this country back on its feet. But Italians fail to recognize that there are other countries that have it much, much worse. They take what they have for granted, that if Italy has it, that means everyone does (like a very inclusive universal health care system), and everything else is just garbage and attests to the fact that Italy is unsavable, shameful and embarrassing.

And now these two polar opposite countries are both facing some extremely tough times ahead. Both need sweeping reform and really new ideas. Yet what struck me most was how these two extremely opposing views seem to come to the same conclusion: hampering this change that is sorely needed.

On the one side you have the American view. What this can come to often is “yes, we have some problems, but we’re still Number 1. We’re still the best. We may need to change some things, but what we’re doing works, we’re number 1 after all, so there’s no need to rock the boat all that much”

Compare that to the Italian view: “It doesn’t matter what we do. All politicians are corrupt bums. I don’t even vote anymore. Why should I? they’re all the exact same and will the steal the exact same amount. Nothing is going to change. Ever. No point in getting our hopes up or expecting anything that’s never going to happen”.

See how these opposite extremes come down to the same thing? In order to have real change we have to put all of these personal biases aside. The idea that “change is impossible” or “we’re too perfect to change” is ludicrous. People need to start looking at things objectively. America, don’t be afraid to copy something that is working wonders in Norway because you think they’re “socialist” or because you’re subconsciously afraid that by taking a page from someone else’s book you will diminish your status as alpha male and acknowledge an inferiority on your part. Italy, don’t be afraid to really and truly reach for the stars, to identify what problems there are and do your part to eradicate them to create a better future for your children. Change is not bad, its inevitable, the important thing is to make sure that you change for the better, and you change enough to really make a difference.