Tall, Pale, and Foreign: Life as a female in Italy

Originally posted on An Unofficial Guide to Rome:

silhouette of angel statue near castel sant'angelo“Excuse me, ma’am? Ma’am?”

She looked up from her phone with the look of annoyance found frequently on women working in mid-grade clothing and cosmetics shops in Italy.

“Those sandals in the window, the black and white ones, do you have any for sale?”

“What sandals?”

“The ones in the window outside…they’re black and white.”

I’d made a small grammatical error and now it was all over. My Roman accent, which often protects me from the censure of native speakers (or causes them great delight and amusement), wouldn’t be enough to redeem me now. With a sigh, she walked out of the shop to glare at the sandals on display. Then she pulled back a curtain of long dresses to reveal buried treasure: two pairs of shoes which probably wouldn’t even fit my 8-year-old cousin.

“Um…excuse me ma’am but is there a possibility that you have them in a larger size?”

“A little small…

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Surviving Rome: The Transportation Strike

Originally posted on An Unofficial Guide to Rome:



Living in Rome, this, without a doubt, will be one of the first Italian words you learn.

Literally, sciopero means strike. But really, what it means is…you’re screwed. Time to lace up your walking shoes and go for a hike because otherwise you aren’t getting anywhere today. This is because the word is most commonly used to refer to the mostly monthly specter which haunts those of us dependent upon public transportation: the transportation strike.

Traditionally, transportation strikes are held on Fridays. Now, many (very reasonable cynics) believe that this is due to a desire of many ATAC employees to have a long weekend. Of course, said employees claim otherwise. The thing is, this problem is symbolic of the many infrastructural problems that haunt Roman (and Italian) life, and one which has aroused a lot of frustration (and some pretty funny campaigns here and here) among the…

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Top 10: Things you should know about living in Rome

Originally posted on An Unofficial Guide to Rome:

Rome fountain night yellow light statue

1. You’ll eat tons of awesome food and still manage to lose weight.

Cooking here is all about high quality fresh ingredient and very few processed foods. Butter is rarely used, thanks to the abundance of high quality olive oil (which by the way, is actuallygood for you). Lots of veggies make up for all the cheese and Nutella you’ll scarf down, and carb-haters don’t worry, all that pizza and pasta you’ll consume? You will walk them off, I promise.  One benefit of Rome’s really horrific public transport is that you’ll get some great exercise.

2. You can drink on the street, in the park, anywhere you like.

There is nothing better than a night spent on the stairs of some ancient piazza, gazing up at buildings older than your home country while sipping a Peroni. Speaking of which, here is tip number one: Peroni is king…

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Puquio, Peru: An Unexpected Adventure

Brick wall with spanish writing on it peru

In August of 2011 I went on a two-week journey to Peru, visiting South America for the first time. During my trip, a 24-hour bus ride from Lima to Cusco became much more of an adventure than I’d expected, sending me to the unknown territory of a little town called Puquio.

After about an hour the stench of portable toilet stopped bothering me so much. Perhaps it was the odor seeping its way into my sinuses and settling there, or simply the changing landscape that distracted me. Outside the bus window passed ocean and sand, enormous villas and walled-in resorts, and villages with cardboard-colored homes crowded one on top of another.

By the time night fell, we were winding our way across narrow mountain roads at a breakneck speed. For a while I watched the driver pass cars on blind curves, veering close to the edge of the road where cliffs plunged down into endless darkness.

It will all be ok, I told myself. Go to sleep.

So I took off my glasses, and placed them inside the pouch on the back of the seat in front of me. Then, disregarding the weird signs requesting that passengers not remove their shoes, I stowed my boots under the seat and curled up against the window under the smelly blanket provided by the bus company.

When I woke up I could feel my body hurtling downwards for what seemed like an eternity. The air was filled with the groaning sound of metal and a chorus of screams. Then there was a sharp flash of pain as my head made contact with something hard, and my body landed on something soft and screaming. For a moment I was disoriented, believing that this must be a nightmare, and trying to open my eyes. It took a moment for me to register that the bus had flipped on its side.

We have to get out before the bus starts rolling down the mountain.

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4 Reasons why we’re not ok with what happened on Game of Thrones: Sexual Violence in Westeros


This past week’s episode of Game of Thrones has created an uproar, as the showrunners seem to have finally taken the sexual violence which has always peppered the show too far, for critics and fans of the books and show alike. Below are my thoughts on why I and others believe that the scene in which Jaime rapes Cersei is an unforgivable mistake, both from the standpoint of plot and good television as well as politics.

In the misty London spring of last year I sat down for a cool beer and a discussion of the latest Game of Thrones episode with a friend. At some point in our conversation her discomfort became visible. “The episode was just, a little…rape-y, didn’t you think?”

At the time I mumbled something noncommittal about the book including mentions of rape as an evil of war and changed the subject. I was in agreement with her acknowledgement that Game of Thrones was seriously starting to rely too heavily on sexualized violence, but I was not yet ready to turn on the show that gave me so much enjoyment and something to look forward to every week.

But now, I’m ready to admit that the show has gone too far. We have seen two prostitutes forced to torture one another, the Red Wedding re-written to contain violently sexualized metaphor, a young women torn apart by dogs because of the jealousy of another woman, unnecessary allusions to rape made about the 11-year-old Arya, and now the utterly vile rape of Cersei by her brother and lover Jaime. For the record, there is apparently some debate as to whether this scene constitutes rape. I will not bother to address this, as I believe that Cersei’s repeated statement of ‘no’ and ‘stop’ is more than enough evidence that what occurred was in no way consensual. If you have doubts, please look here for answers.

In case you’re unsure as to why this scene is causing such debate and distress in both the obsessive fan community and with the critics of Game of Thrones, let me give you a quick overview of the main reasons espoused not only by myself but also by others:

1. “This is not how it happened in the book”

In the book the scene is disturbing and not the clearest case of 100% consent. Indeed Jaime seems to ignore Cersei’s initial objections which are due to her fear of discovery by the Septons (priests) and their father, Lord Tywin. However, in the book, Cersei says yes, and even tells Jaime to hurry. Many critics have pointed out the parallels between this scene and that of Khal Drogo and Dany’s first night together. In the book Dany not only says yes but initiates the sexual contact. In the show, she cries as he rapes her from behind.

2. “This doesn’t make sense for either character, or their relationship”

Jaime may not be the perfect hero, but neither is he a villain anymore. Far changed from the man who pushed Brann out of a window to his death without a second thought, Jaime, for all his selfishness, has become consistently more sympathetic to the viewer, particularly thanks to his relationship with Brienne. And by the way, when Jaime lost his hand, it was because he was attempting to protect from Brienne from being raped. I think Saraiya says it best:

“Jaime is a figure of chivalric love in the books—despite his arrogance and ruthlessness, his devotion and sense of duty to Cersei, the only woman he has ever loved, is so fervent as to border on adoration. Admittedly, the show can’t rely on his point-of-view chapters, as the book does, to communicate that love. But given what we have seen Cersei Lannister capable of—her ex-husband is hardly the only man she’s had killed—is it even conceivable that she would stand for it? Jaime raping Cersei is a major anomaly for these two characters—even based purely on what we’ve seen in the show. It’s just not something that either character would do.”

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Best Books: Sci-Fi and Fantasy with Strong Female Characters and Political Themes

This list contains a few authors of science fiction and fantasy books whose work critiques while entertaining. Almost always political, these books are often feminist, and are, most importantly, well written. They have provided me with hours of relaxation and fascination as well as a relief from the dominance of hyper-masculine norms and the lack of believable female characters so often present in genre novels. Some use science fiction to demonstrate the constructed nature of our social world, creating planets and places with absent or exaggerated norms. Others provide a window into a primeval past and a way of re-imagining history. Many provide warnings and powerful critiques of society, power, and privilege.


Nicola GriffithCover of book Hild by Nicola Griffith

Griffith has authored books of multiple genre, her earliest being science fiction (Ammonite and Slow River), the middle period noir detective (The Blue Place, Stay, and Always), and her latest book a romp in medieval/fantasy  (Hild). All of her novels equally merit a read, depending exactly what it is you are looking for. Ammonite is science fiction at its purest, an examination of what a world of only women would be like, as a colonizing corporation sends its employees to the surface of a planet where a disease kills all men. The Blue Place, Stay, and Always feature 6-foot-tall Norwegian woman named Aud, who can and does kill men twice her size with her bare hands. These books are perhaps the darkest of Griffith’s work, examining the repercussions of violence and the roots of powerlessness, grief and love.

Hild was the first of Griffith’s books that I read, and is perhaps the best, especially for lovers of nerdy fantasy, but also for those who aren’t much interested in the genre. Hild, which is based upon true characters and events, is unique in examining what happens to women in the fantasy universe. The reader watches in horror as Hild survives a perilous position of power and importance as the king’s ‘seer’. Hild’s powers aren’t rooted in magic per say. Rather, she is an intelligent young woman whose mother has groomed her for this role from birth, starting with the fabrication of a commonly known prophecy, to understand the patterns of the events happening in the world around her. The reader follows Hild from childhood into marriage, seeing the horror of her first battle and watching her protect her people as the Butcher-Bird. When she is stuck waiting with the rest of the women as the climactic battle of the novel rages, we stay behind with her.

Griffith’s work is often included in lists of lesbian fiction, and Hild is best described as queer. Griffith’s characters are primarily women, and she lends a sense of humanity to them which is refreshing in a genre which too often focuses entirely on male experiences. For more about Hild, read this NPR book “With Nuanced Beauty, ‘Hild’ Destroys Myths of Medieval Womanhood”.

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Veronica Mars, the Movie: On the Losing End of the Class War

veronica mars movie veronica camera surveillance

For anyone who has escaped their hometown in search of success, watching the movie finale of Rob Thomas’s cult TV series Veronica Mars is bittersweet. Our favorite anti-heroine is back, black bag, leather jacket, dark eyeliner and all, and once again she is doing what only she can… saving her hometown of Neptune from a whole host of corruption and strife.

Veronica’s return to Neptune is a mixture of noir lighting, modern technology, and something like a cowboy coming home to find that his family had been murdered and his home burned to the ground while he was gone. Now he has to seek justice.

The always tech savvy Veronica is now living in a world where she’s not the only one carrying out surveillance. The movie has plenty to say about technology and our societal obsession with celebrity, addiction. Veronica herself describes the parallel between her compulsive need to fight crime and her mother’s alcoholism.

And as usual, Veronica pays the price for her decisions.  She loses a lucrative and high profile job opportunity, her sweet stable boyfriend Piz, choosing the constant struggle that is Neptune. “When the class war comes, Neptune will be ground zero,” she narrates. Neptune, it seems, is just the same as it ever has been. Weevil may be the most changed of his graduating class, but police corruption is as prevalent as ever, and they plant evidence on him that could ruin his idyllic new life. Bad boy Logan Echolls may have enrolled in the military and traded in his flashy SUV for a beemer, but he hasn’t lost his propensity for starting fistfights in defense of Veronica’s honor.

Veronica Mars is a movie that must necessarily be watched as what it is: the end of a series, funded by and written for its fans. And in this sense, it delivers. Veronica may be able to drink legally now, but you still get to see her sitting at the reception desk in her fathers’ office, waking up in Logan’s bed, as she did many times as a teen. Perhaps the most heartbreaking moment is watching Weevil ride off with the motorcycle gang at the end of the movie, even after going straight to take care of his family.  The long-time fan may be satisfied to see that though we’ve all grown up, all is as it has been and always will be.

But this, in my opinion, is why the movie succeeds in closing off the series so well. In the end, Veronica’s personal growth and hard work can only take her so far before her compulsive need for justice takes over. The movie, and Veronica herself, asks the viewer to decide: can she ever win the fight? Will corruption and her own obsession keep destroying her and everyone around her as she remains Batman-like in her dark office, watching over the town of Neptune for people in need?

As Veronica herself says: “In what world do you get to leave the ring and declare victory?”

It seems safe to say that V will never pay off her student loans.

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Gender and class in HBO’s True Detective: Archetypal characters and childhood innocence


About halfway through the season, a graphic sex scene filled the screen and my husband remarked “for a second I almost forgot this was on HBO.”

In True Detective, there are uncharacteristic periods of time in which the viewer can almost forget that this is a true-to-form take-advantage-of-our-lack-of-censorship HBO show filled with unnecessarily graphic soft-core porn-style sex and many, many naked women.

HBO has a confusing propensity for creating quality shows, which in many ways challenge gender and genre norms, and provide the viewer with complex story-lines and characters, then filling them with a fixation on the female form that often seems to come from the mind of an adolescent boy. This is also true of HBO’s series Game of Thrones, which makes many deviations from the books, some necessary, others seemingly for the sake of retaining male subscribers uninterested by the plot.

Sexuality, crime, class and innocence

Overall, True Detective‘s take on sexuality is disturbing, particularly the graphic footage of Marty having sex with Beth, a girl not much older than his own daughter who he encountered years before, working in a bordello when she was underage. This exchange leads to questions about Marty’s own hypocrisy (he previously beat two 18-year-old boys who were jailed after being caught about to have sex with his daughter, threatening them with statutory rape) and about the nature of childhood, age and sexuality. Unfortunately, these questions aren’t satisfactorily resolved, leaving Marty as a hypocritical creep.

The crimes in the show revolve around the violation of innocence, focusing on horrific sexual violence committed against children who have been ignored by society. It is an intensely classed look at the disappearance of children from ‘the bayou’ which has never been perceived as a pattern or even noticed, in part due to their parents’ lack of power, in part because they are an ignored segment of society, the rural underclass. This ranges from the young girl whose disappearance wasn’t pursued because she was ‘better off’ no longer living with her drug addict mother, to the sex worker, whose murder is seen as less important than the apparent ‘anti-Christian’ significance given to the crime scene.

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A Guide to Rome for Beer and Food Lovers

A little secret that the city of Rome is gestating is that craft beer is big here. Pubs selling quality brews and good food are popping up everywhere, and craft beer breweries are springing out of every corner to create beers which maintain the integrity of Italy’s reputation for good food and drink.

Below is a brief list of Italian brewers as well as best bars for craft beer and food in Rome. Because my expertise in limited, this post has been written in collaboration with Flavio “Tank” Spaducci, beer lover and strength trainer extraordinaire.


Italian Craft Beer Breweries:

Birra del Borgo – Try My Antonia, an Imperial Pilsner created in collaboration with Dogfish Head.
Birrificio del DucatoMachete, a double IPA, comes complete with a picture of Machete himself on the bottle.
Birrificio Menaresta – The 2 di Picche is a Black IPA strong enough to merit its name, a slang term meaning to be rejected by a potential mate.
Operbacco10 e Lode is a Belgian Strong Ale with a chocolate-y flavor.
OlmaiaLa 9 is an amber double malt with citrus notes, which is unpasteurized, meaning that it retains the original flavor of the beer.


Best Craft Beer Pubs in Rome:

La Tana
Via della Magliana Nuova, 362 (Magliana)
La Tana is off the beaten path, but by far the best of the craft beer bars in Rome. The five or six beers on tap are exclusively Italian, which are generally rotated on a daily basis. While some come from the larger brewers listed above, many originate from lesser-known micro-breweries, whose beers can be found at few to none other locations. The menu also changes based upon the season and the availability of fresh products. If you’re a meat eater, try the arrosticini. For vegetarians, there is always an assortment of cheeses and vegetarian pasta. To get to La Tana, you can grab a train towards Fiumicino and get off at Villa Bonelli. The pub is just around the corner from the station.

Luppolo 12
Via dei Marrucini 12 (San Lorenzo)
Luppolo 12 runs an American-style happy hour special where beers cost 3.50 instead of the usual 5 until 9.30 PM. On Tuesdays, this special runs all night long. There are 18 beers on tap from all over the world. The bar also does a special with one beer and a mini-tagliere for 5euros. This gets you a small platter with a mix of cheese, bread and meats along with a beer of your choice. Also notable for food is the foccaccia, a thick pizza which you can eat covered with cheese, ‘nduja, or lardo di colonata. If you’re feeling in the mood for something a bit stronger than beer, Luppolo 12 also has an excellent selection of whiskey.

Bir & Fud
Via Benedetta 23 (Trastevere)
Bir & Fud is a restaurant located just behind Piazza Trilussa. They stock both Italian and other European beers, and are famous for their thick chewy pizza crust made with natural yeast. Their buffalo mozzarella is also exceptional. They also have around 10 beers on tap, many Italian, as well as from other European brewers. The main drawback of Bir & Fud is that being a restaurant, and a very small one at that, you need a reservation, and these are often hard to get.

Honorable Mention: (also known as places we don’t frequent but have excellent selections of beer)
Buskers (San Paolo) – Owned by one of Rome’s craft beer pioneers, who often brings back strange and exciting unknown brews from his travels in Europe.
Open Baladin (Campo dei Fiori) – Pub created by Baladin Brewery, which is packed most of the time especially weekends.
Ma Che Siete Venuti a fa’ (Trastevere) – Roman slang for “why did you bother coming here?” The truth is, you came for the excellent selection of beer, but the place is so busy you may forget that while standing in line.

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Carnevalone Liberato di Poggio Mirteto

The city square was a sea of pig masks, pregnant nuns and demons wearing pope hats. the steps of the church, where the gate and door were barred tightly for the occasion, were crammed with young people swigging red wine from plastic water bottles, cigarettes dangling from their mouths.

The air filled with discordant music, as multiple bands played throughout the town. We made our way through the crowd, stopping to marvel at the couple dressed as two semi trucks with Jean-Claude van Damme doing the splits in the air between them, who surely would have won the costume contest if there had been one. Vendors sold fried foods: divine ciambelle alle patate, donuts made with potato flour, deep fried and sprinkled with sugar, and salty fried pizza. Along with our food we purchased water bottles filled with wine for 1.50 each. The wine left my lips numb after the first bottle.

As the day wore on, the already rowdy crowd slowly disintegrated. We were accosted by a drunken Jesus whose friend Jack Sparrow was trying to convince him to stop drinking and come home. To the beat of a man playing techno music on a set of pot and pans we made friends with a black orc with homemade chain mail, and whose pirate girlfriend told me he works as a bouncer. And finally, our friend Lorenzo arrived dressed as a Batman Lego and promptly went into battle with The Joker and his projectile cup of wine.

As the lines for the overflowing port-a-potties lengthened, the giant paper mâché moka pot in the center of the square was set on fire. The flames roared to the beat of unseen drums, and the crowd went primordial, dancing like cave beasts in circles around the flames.

Our return train was packed with people smoking and singing and three chimney-sweeps who had lost their Mary Poppins, one of whom was puking in the toilet. We watched in awe as the ticket inspector approached us, then lept from the train at the next stop, chased by the jeers of the passengers, none of whom had bothered to purchase tickets.

History of Carnevalone Liberato

Every year, the Sunday after Carnival has passed, Poggio Mirteto, a small town just over 60 kilometers from Rome, celebrates what is known as Carnevalone Liberato di Poggio Mirteto, roughly translated as the Free Carnival of Poggio Mirteto. Carnival (what we often refer to as Fat Tuesday in the US) marks the last day of debauchery before Lent begins, a period which, in the calendar of the church, demands that the faithful deny themselves earthly pleasures for the next 40 days, until Easter Sunday.

When the Free Carnival began, the Vatican was immensely powerful in Italy and in the world at large. Priests generally took the role of town leaders under the power of the Papa Re’, or Pope-King. On February 24, 1861, Poggio Mirteto revolted, declaring their independence from the Vatican. However, in the interest of regaining their connection with the rest of the world (they were promised a railway station for their good behavior) the town became integrated with the Italian state in 1929. As the story goes, their agreement stated that while they would take part in the rest of society, they would continue celebrating an anti-clerical version of carnival during Lent as a symbol of their disavowal of the Vatican.

Read more about the history of Carnevalone Liberato in Italian, English, or Spanish.

Read more about travel in Italy and Europe in general:

An Introduction to Cheap Travel in Europe

How to be a Perpetual Wanderer

Exploring Italy: Matera

Exploring Italy: Alberobello and Castel del Monte

The Truth About Being an “Expat”

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