The Emotional Healing Power of Naples (and Pizza)

18 Dec

My cab driver doesn’t seem to have enough hands.

I’m bumping along Naples chaotic, narrow, cobblestoned streets in the back of a cab. My cab driver is holding his phone up to his left ear, swerving in and out of the bumper-to-dented-bumper traffic. I think he’s fighting with the person on the other line. He’s yelling and using his hands to enunciate his point, which is a bit of a problem while holding the phone and driving. There’s definitely no 10 nor 2 at this point of the driving game.

He really needs another set of hands.

I feel much like my Neapolitan cab driver. I don’t have enough hands or arms to get them around all the feelings I’ve had over the past two months.

rainy street in Naples

It rained my first day in Naples, which suited my mood just fine.

I’ve been bouncing on the emotional trampoline. I’ve run the gamut – white-hot raging anger, debilitating fear and sense of rejection, plain-old-run-of-the-mill sadness, tears optional, although frequent, as it turns out in my case. The raw twin realizations of the number of people who I had misplaced my trust in, and the surprisingly small list of supporters who would reach out to me when I was no longer around. *

On a good day, a certain scabbed-over numbness would set in. Then I would wallow in a bit of a pity-party, who-cares, what’s-it-all-for mentality. All of which goes against my feisty, fighting nature.

Turns out, Naples, Italy is the perfect city to go to if you are hollowed out and disappointed by life and humanity and especially former co-workers who you thought were you’re friends.

First of all, it’s an incredibly human city, where you can watch the soap opera of life play out millions of times a day on its quaint little streets. Families fighting with each other, enjoying each other. Couples making out and pushing each other away. Strangers eyeing each other with suspicion or disinterest. It’s reassuring to see that emotions can run a gamut, not just on the negative end of the spectrum.

Neapolitan Santa

Also, Naples is dirty and has its scars. It was the most bombed Italian city during World War II, getting bombarded over 200 times by both Allied (good job there, Mussolini) and German forces after Italy switched sides. Today, plaster is falling off its buildings or they’re covered in graffiti. Trash piles up frequently due to garbage strikes and very small rubbish bins. Every car on the road bears scrapes, dents, dings. In many ways, it looks like they stopped building after the bombings.

Typical building at the Piazza del Plebiscito

Typical building at the Piazza del Plebiscito. Note plaster situation.

But Naples messiness is also achingly beautiful — that whole shrugging off unpleasantness and just getting on with life is admirable.

Naples grafitti

And it is a very, very proud city. Especially of its place in pizza history. Don’t even try to suggest the pizza was not invented in Naples.

Pizza at Brandi's in Naples

Plaque near the place where Margherita was invented.

It’s a city that has never given up, rolling with the fates, but never forgetting who it is at its fundamental core. Remember those Germans who bombed them? Yeah, eventually they also occupied Naples. But the people of Naples, they don’t put up with that kind of crap. In September 1943, the townspeople rose up and threw out their German occupiers right before the Allied forces rolled in on October 1 to “liberate” them. It’s known as the Four Days of Naples and it is pretty badass.

Naples defiance via shop window

Naples defiance via shop window. (It says “F&*%k You All!!! Best Price”)

I’ve been through some dirty stuff recently, and my psyche and ego are certainly a bit scarred. But I’ve also got an inordinate – perhaps even Neapolitan-sized — amount of pride. So, I’m glad I trampolined my way over to Naples for a quick visit and history lesson. Naples and its lessons on resilience have helped propel me to a new, more familiar emotional state – defiance.

Neapolitan cat don't care

Neapolitan cat don’t care.

(*I should also unequivocally state that there have been a handful of former ex-colleagues who have reached out and been incredibly helpful to me in so, so many ways, even if it’s just a cup of coffee and a vent session. I would be remiss if I didn’t acknowledge them. And, of course, always XFE, who goes through it all and who took me to Naples anyway.)

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I Bet Princess Kate Doesn’t Have to Deal With Dirty Gutters

15 Dec

I got back from Naples, Italy very late last Wednesday and I’m suffering from carb withdrawals. A pasta depression, if you will.

For example, when I walk downstairs for breakfast in the mornings now, there is no artful display of delicious Italian pastries and nobody brings me a frothy cappuccino. There are no royal apartments to tour and gawk at. No afternoon arancini or cone of misto mare eaten while strolling the quaint little streets and washed down with a Nastro Azzurro. It’s all very, very sad.

My re-introduction into American-style domestic responsibility was a bit bumpy. I had to get up very early on Thursday morning to meet the gutters guy from We Get High Roofing and Gutters. Yes, that’s the company’s name. Which made it an easy name to remember, even though I had gotten the recommendation during a very drinky Thanksgiving event.

Anyway, last Thursday’s meeting was early and it was freezing and I felt bad sending Martin up his ladder to our roof, but our gutters and downspout needed cleaning. And I wasn’t about to do it.

Plus we were particularly interested in getting some of those screens put on the gutters to keep the leaves out so we wouldn’t have to get the gutters cleaned out every fall. Martin quickly burst my bubble.

“You have janky gutters,” he informed me.

“Yes, I know, they’re very dirty. Lot’s of leaves. But if we can put those screens on, I think it will help,” I countered.

“Sure, I can clean them, but you have janky gutters,” he replied.

“OK, I get it. The gutters are janky. That’s why you’re here. So just clean them and install the screens and that will be great,” I reiterate. My man-boss, XFE (who was still in Italy for work) had been pretty adamant about getting the screens installed. I really didn’t want to mess this directive up.

Also, as this point I’m thinking, “dude, you’re being awfully judgmental about my gutters. I mean, I’m sure you’ve seen worse.”

“I cannot put the screens on because you have janky gutters,” Martin informed me.

What the hell? I’m thinking, is this guy trying to upsell me into installing totally new gutters or something? What’s his game?

“Janky gutters are very nice, very authentic, very popular in this area, all the houses have them. They’re historic,” Martin tries to reassure me. “But you can’t put the screens on them because they lay flat. That’s why you can’t see them at the roofline. See?” Martin shows me pictures of our roof that he took on his phone.

Finally, it occurs to me: Martin is explaining that we have YANKEE gutters. Yankee. Not janky. I mean, they were janky, as in dirty and filled with leaves, but they didn’t need to be replaced. And you couldn’t put screens on them.

Martin’s accent and my still-on-Italian-focused ear were not getting along that morning. So, I let Martin get on with his excellent work (I really do recommend them. He did a great job for a reasonable price and provided lots of before and after pictures.)

Meanwhile, I slunk inside, made some non-frothy, non-cappuccino coffee, and wondered if the Royal Palace in Naples had Yankee or janky gutters.

Princess Poe reflecting on chores

Holiday Shopping With a Bang

8 Dec

Despite having family and friends who are into hunting for both sport and sustenance, I am not a fan of guns. Like, at all.

I’ve seen firsthand how guns can be used as weapons of intimidation in domestic abuse situations. There’s nothing that will cool your feelings on guns like seeing a supposed “head of household” brandishing a deadly weapon when he feels he’s been disrespected by his minions who were putting away the dishes too noisily.

Or, let’s say you’re a young girl and your primary caregiver keeps lamenting she doesn’t want to live anymore and you know for a fact that she has a gun stored under her bed (for safety, of course, although who would have wanted to break into our crappy trailer and what the hell would they have stolen? That horrible collection of dreamcatchers purchased at truck stops on Mother’s Day and birthdays? I think we’d all would have been better off if those would have disappeared.)

Anyway, scenarios like that will give you a lot of sleepless and insecure nights, let me tell you.

So yeah…me and guns? No thanks.

Therefore, it is with GREAT interest that I peruse a particular catalog we receive around here at Christmas every year.

Behold: The National Rifle Association Store Catalog.

NRA Christmas Catalog

It obviously is not addressed to me. But another person in our household is a lifetime NRA member, thanks to a grandparent, I think.

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These are “tactical Christmas stockings,” by the way. They have “MOLLE webbing where you can hand additional seasonal items, such as knives.

There is major theme I noticed in the 2014 catalog: concealment. Weapon holders feel very insecure about their weapons. They want to hide them, conceal them and transport them. A lot.

They want to hide guns in their homes.

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“Personal Security at your Fingertips.” Unless, you’re Jose Canseco and you shot off your fingertips. In that case, you’re screwed.

They want to hide guns in their briefcases and iPad cases. In clocks and in fake books.

The leather portfolio second down on the right seems appropriate for job interview situations.

The leather portfolio second down on the right seems appropriate for job interview situations.

They want to hide guns on their bodies. And on their ladies’ bodies.

gun boobies.

They want to hide guns in their cars.

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And they want to take all of them, all of the guns, ALL OF THEM, to the shooting range. In disguise as a backpack of course.

IMG_2062

I’m actually surprised and maybe a teeny bit disappointed that they didn’t have any pet holsters available.

IMG_2063

(How are you going to say this item is “remarkably versatile” when it has a foam core in the shape of a gun? Remarkably versatile provided you are trying to transport a large shotgun and/or rifle. Transporting soccer balls? Not so much.)

I also noticed that the NRA isn’t just for gun lovers. Oh no, no, no. It’s for historians and interior decorators. Who want to store and hide their guns.

IMG_2052

And doomsday preppers. Or other people concerned about water quality.

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The NRA Store is also seeking to appeal to fashionable ladies. Particularly fashionable ladies that need to conceal their weapons. Apparently, a regular purse just won’t do. Because I absolutely hate it when I reach into  my regular purse for my gun and come out with just a tube of lipstick. Uuuuugggghhh. Am I right, ladies?

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So really, there’s something for everyone at the NRA store. Yep, one-stop Christmas shopping at its finest.

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For the gun-shooting beer lovers in your life.

I can’t wait to see their Easter catalog.

Ammo, ready to be buried and resurrected.

Ammo, ready to be buried and resurrected.

Friday Links: Sassy Cats See Buildings Shaped Like Food and/or Brains Edition

5 Dec

I’m frolicking in Naples, Italy right now, eating all of the thin crust pizza, and pasta, and creamy pastries, and just fried everything I can get my sticky little fingers on while my travel-buddy-for-life XFE actually works. Maybe the guys who make the expandable suitcase below could branch out into some expandable pants in time for my return.

This is the proper way to eat Italian cheese. I learned that from a Euro of Hollywood, so it’s a FAKT.

In the meantime:

Totally Random Search Terms for November

3 Dec

Guess what time it is? Well, perhaps it is indeed Hammer Time, somewhere, say in like, an alternative universe where Aresenio Hall is still cool, Bill Cosby’s only major crime is wearing ugly sweaters, and baggy-crotched satiny pants are the thing. Oh wait. Those pants are actually back. Allegedly.

No, it’s time for Totally Random Search Terms that Brought Someone to thePoeLog this month! For those who don’t remember, here’s a couple of posts that explain it.

This month was particularly interesting for two reasons. 1) I got a ridiculous number of people who found the blog while trying to solve the mystery of My Big Fat American Gypsy Wedding. Well, not the mystery of how that show exists, but rather, a murder mystery that was totally mentioned and glossed over on one of the episodes. Someone was beyond passionately curious about what had happened to gypsy Baby Pat’s baby sister. As far as I can tell, that episode isn’t in heavy rotation or anything, so I have no idea why so many people were looking for that information in November.

The other weird outlier falls into the category I call perverts. I, along with a lot of the Internet, I’m sure, get a lot of folks who – well, let’s just say, they’re not here to read about my excellent eggplant parmigiana. But this past month, there was someone/something looking diligently for any information/pictures of Indian women going to the bathroom. All kinds of “going to the bathroom” activities. But very specifically, Indian women. Or Indian aunties. Or Indian girls.

I just can’t. I don’t even. I can’t.

I can't even.

Anyway. That seems like an incredibly awkward transition to the work at hand here: a Q&A using a small sampling of Totally Random Search Terms that Brought Someone to thePoeLog in November.

What to pack for 18 day vacation? – First of all, that is awesome. I’m totally jealous. No idea where you’re going but an 18-day vacation sounds amazing. Unless you’re going to like, Stolipinova in Plovdiv, Bulgaria. Apparently, that place is not very nice. And it is the home to a whole bunch of Romani, as in GYPSIES, which would make me kinda excited, but the whole rubbish-lined stinky streets thing does put me off. And the violence.

But back to your question. I have spent many a sleepless night fretting over what to pack for a trip, as you can see here, here and here. Hopefully, this post helped you out a bit as well.

My most recent strategy (and one I’ll use for my upcoming trip to Italy) has been to take everything I wore today, yesterday, and the day before, toss them in a suitcase, add toiletries, clean undies, and a blazer, and go. At least then I know I’m taking stuff I actually wear, instead of inspirational, Pinterest-inspired nonsense.

Are the American Pickers worried about hantavirus? – Ah yes, the hantavirus. I remember this threat from the Summer of Disease Outbreaks. The Wikipedia informs us:

Human infections of hantaviruses have almost entirely been linked to human contact with rodent excrement, but recent human-to-human transmission has been reported with the Andes virus in South America.

We still regularly watch American Pickers around these parts, and I have to agree: with all the disgusting foraging those guys do in really questionably conditions, they should indeed be worried about getting a disease carried by rodent excrement. They should also worry about collapsing piles of trash. That show, while enjoyable, gives me the heeby-jeebies. I can’t handle hoarders, even in the name of “collecting.” Makes me itchy.

Wikipedia also suggests some ways to prevent contact with the hantavirus. I find the last one particularly reassuring:

General prevention can be accomplished by disposing of rodent nests, sealing any cracks and holes in homes where mice or rats could get in, setting up traps, laying down poisons or using natural predators such as cats in the home.

Maybe the American Picker guys should bring a cat along on their trips. Kitty cats + foraging through junk = ratings gold.

Is Judge Loren Lake a little person? – First of all, it’s Lauren Lake. Not Loren. Second, hmmm, that’s kinda rude, dontcha think? I agree completely with calling into question her experience and qualifications as a judge, but I don’t know why her stature is under question.

Although, she does look a bit shrunken behind that ginormous “Paternity Court” bench.

Judge Lauren Lake on Paternity Court

Best Vegas hotel bathrooms. – I have spent a lot of time in many Vegas hotel bathrooms. Wait. That sounds weird.

I’ve stayed in a fair number of Vegas hotels, and many of them had very nice bathrooms. I have not, however, stayed at every hotel, so I don’t know if I can be considered an authority on them.

Of the one’s I have enjoyed, I’d probably pick the Cosmopolitan, which I think definitely had the best hotel bathrobe I’ve ever experienced. I also really liked the lady silhouette wallpaper in the separate toilet area. Very chic. Oh, and the Venetian. That bathroom was amazing. And I haven’t written about it, but the Wynn had gorgeous bathrooms as well, if memory serves.

Luckily, there are other folks who have waded through the Strip powder rooms and come up with lists. I especially like this one from RefinedGuy.com. My favorite in his list is the Ivory Tower Suite bathroom at the Palms. I. Die.

Palms bathroom Las

Things to put on Facebook. – Well, if my feed is any indication, what people choose to put on Facebook are their idiotic rants about politics, race in America, immigration and guns, along with pictures of the same sunsets we all saw on our way home that day, and children in apple orchards/pumpkin patches/Christmas tree farms and the family pets. The truly surprising part is that it’s the exact same group of people posting in both of those categories. Sunsets and race in America. Same person. Weird.

You know, the first rule in writing is to know your audience. There’s no easier place to know your audience than on Facebook. They’re your family and friends. You should have a pretty good idea of their tolerance level for political rants and/or cutesy stuff. But at the end of the day, Facebook is social, so be social. Whatever that means to you. For most people, it means, don’t be annoying or provoke people into fighting with you. That’s not “social.”

And, we’re all adults. If we’re fed up with your “prescription for what’s wrong with America,” we’ll unfriend or block your posts. No biggie. I do it all the time.

So post whatever you want. Maybe even some nonsense on Indian women pooping in Vegas bathrooms while on an 18-day vacation.

Thanks, eHow

29 Nov

My man-panion-for-life and I were joking around the other day that we should get some of those temporary tattoos for the holidays — but like snarky custom ones. And, being the Vanderpump Rules fans that we are, we knew exactly what we wanted to get.

Jax's Stassi tattoo

That’s right, we’d like to show up at the parent’s house this year with Stassi’s signature on the inside of our arms. AND, Jax’s signature, preferably in thick, crayon-type lettering that befits his emotional age, on our other arm.

XFE stumbled across this super-helpful eHow page during his search for homemade custom temporary tattoos. eHow recommends that you use a Sharpie for this little project…..because it’s less likely to bleed. I guess they missed the memo on the “temporary” part. But when you are ready to remove the Sharpie tattoo, eHow recommends using  alcohol or witch hazel, and warns that these chemicals can burn sensitive skin. Damn. Nevermind.

Honestly, it feels like an eHow article that Jax would write.

I have a feeling Jax pretty much lives his life based on advice from eHow pages.

Contemplative Jax

“What would eHow say about staring into mirrors while out in the sun?”

Poe Cooks Reality: Eggplant Parmigiana from Food Network’s “Best Thing…”

25 Nov

While it’s generally well known that I have a very handsome in-house personal-chef-for-life, I too, can combine raw ingredients into something passably edible. Or, at least not poisonous. (I just scoured this website for a picture of me cooking and found nothing. NOTHING. I was sure there was a picture of me stirring a pot somewhere, but no.)

And, now that I work from the spacious Poe Industries World Headquarters (ie: home), I’ve been stepping up and cooking more often.

Truth be told, I tend to lean towards large, stick-to-your-ribs meals that would feed a small yet hungry army, with a particular tendency towards casseroles smothered in cheese until unrecognizable. This weekend’s offering definitely falls in that category.

I saw this eggplant parmigiana on some Food Network show. Something along the lines of “Best Cheese-Covered Mess I’ve Ever Eaten/Made.” (Actually, here it is, and it was called “Best Thing I Ever Made – Fry It Up”) Alex Guarnaschelli, who has the most impossible last name ever, was raving about it. Seriously, I almost gave up on trying to find the recipe because of typing in that last name.

Now, I don’t find Chef Alex particularly enchanting. Her delivery is pretty boring actually, and she looks just like a former friend who literally just up and stopped talking to me right around the time I met XFE – never did solve that particular issue/mystery, but I’m sure my happiness was totally annoying to her.

But, Chef Alex does have some meat on her bones, and I tend to trust chefs that actually look like they eat. Never trust a skinny chef is one of my life mantras.

Eggplant Parmigiana via Poe

This recipe was fine. I wouldn’t say it was easy. And, you will use every damn cooking utensil in your house. At one point, I had four cookie sheets at play, and three pie plates that I was using as a dipping/breading station.

There are also a lot of steps that I think could be skipped. For example, making your own sauce. Yeah, it’s not like that’s a hard thing to do, but probably not necessary. In our case, one of the reasons we were making eggplant parmigiana is that we had some crushed tomatoes in the freezer from last year’s amazing tomato crop. So I swapped those out for two of the three cans of whole tomatoes the recipe called for, and just used one can of San Marzano whole tomatoes. If I made this again, I’d just buy a good, premade sauce and save myself some time.

Also: in the recipe, Alex says you don’t have to salt the eggplant and let them sit for an hour, but really, who wants bitter eggplant?

My other quibble is that we were told to use a 9 x 13 casserole dish, which I did. However, in the recipe, she suggests you can get three layers in that thing, which was not the case in our house. We used two medium-sized eggplants and got two generous, overflowing layers in the pan, so it worked out fine, but definitely not three layers.

Ours was a bit watery at the end. Some moisture on the bottom of the casserole dish. XFE noticed it when he was wrapping the leftovers to put them in the fridge. I don’t know if it was because I used too much sauce or because of the tomato swap out, and it wasn’t a ton, but maybe more than we expected(?).

I also question the necessity of breading and frying the eggplant. I’m not a big fan of frying in general (not for health reasons or anything. It just makes the house stink, in my opinion), and the final product was really a cheesy mess. You definitely don’t get any fried crispiness. But again, maybe that was because of the tomato/watery situation. Hard to tell. After dinner, XFE pointed out that Trader Joe’s has fried eggplant slices in the freezer section, so if I made this again, I might use that short cut as well, since home frying didn’t seem to make a discernible improvement to the final product.

However, with all that being said, this eggplant parmigiana was really, really good. Downright delicious.  I mean, how could it not be? It had like a couple of pounds of cheese. It was basically an ooey, gooey Italian cheese delivery system, which is just fine by me. And our tomatoes tasted amazing, really bright and summery, so it was a good use of those.

Can’t wait to eat the leftovers for lunch this week. Maybe with a side of cheese, eaten Bleona style.

Bleona eating cheese.

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