The first day I arrived in Rome to meet my fellow crew members my motivation was starvation. However, most of my crew members were motivated by price and location. So, when I arrived at the hotel we walked a couple of blocks and ordered pizza at a sidewalk cafe. That 4-Euro Pizza Margherita tasted like a hundred dollar-steak and lobster dinner after an entire day of airplane food. Almost anything would have tasted like a feast at that point.
What I didn’t know at the time was that I had just eaten a meal that I would now rate as mediocre. Hey, but at the time I was jet lagged, starving and dealing with what seemed to be super pollen production of Roman proportions. I was congested and sneezing so how much could I really taste that pizza anyway?
One evening we ventured out to the Pantheon area of Rome, where the piazzas are lined with small cafes with what I call Italian Carnies. You can’t walk by a piazza restaurant without someone trying to hustle you into eating their pasta.
The first thing that I noticed was the menus were all basically the same, and seemed to cater to tourists. The second thing I noticed was that the prices were almost all the same, with few exceptions. I used the basic Pizza Margherita as my yardstick when looking at menus, and it almost always hovered around 4 Euro.
We randomly picked a place based on nothing other than the fact that we were tired of getting harassed by the Italian Carnies. I specifically remember ordering Spaghetti Vongole that night. And I specifically remember getting a plate full of spaghetti and three, yes three, tiny clam shells with little clams in them. At that point I knew I would never eat at a piazza near a major Roman monument again. It’s akin to eating at Denny’s.
The best sources for restaurant recommendations are taxi drivers, waiters, and people who have eaten their way through Italy before. If you take recommendations from friends, relatives and random people you meet on the plane, ask them to elaborate on the meals they’ve had at the establishments they’d recommend. I’d be much more likely to take the recommendation of someone who described a Tortelli di Zucca as “swimming in butter,” than I would someone who recommended a pizza that was “pretty good.”
One of the crew members had a list of recommendations she had gotten from someone on her flight over to Rome. One Sunday evening the two of us ventured out near the Trevi Fountain to look for a restaurant called Il Chianti. The person who recommended the restaurant had given only the following directions, “Stand facing the Trevi Fountain, walk down the street to the right, look for the restaurant on your left.”
We walked up and down what we thought was the right street but couldn’t find the restaurant, so we finally asked someone, who told us exactly where it was. Turns out we had walked by it several times and missed it because it was set back from the street a bit and there were very few people sitting outside. Not usually a good sign.
We noticed a waiter standing outside the entrance and approached him to ask for a table for two. “I’m sorry but we are closed on Sundays,” he said. “Drinks only.” This was my friend’s last night in Rome and she wasn’t going to get to try the one restaurant she really wanted to try. Then we got the brilliant idea to ask the waiter for a recommendation. He perked up immediately and said, “Piccolo Arancio. First small street on the right.”
You always have to wonder if a waiter or a taxi driver is recommending a place just because their cousin owns it, or if they are really pointing you to something wonderful. We were pretty sure this particular waiter was genuine, and we were willing to take a chance, so we walked up the street, turned onto the first little street on the right and found a sliver of a store front tucked away off the beaten path.
We were one of the first people seated, but it wasn’t long before the staff was fetching tables and chairs out of the storage room across the street to accommodate the constant flow of dinner guests. It was a quiet little street, thankfully absent of the constant flow of moped and motorcycle traffic you get on most streets in Rome.
I scanned the wine list and found exactly what I was looking for: a Banfi 2003 Brunello for Montalcino. I have my priorities.
The waiter brought the wine and a plate of fresh Parmesan to go with it. We ordered the bruschetta, which looked like a pile of freshly diced tomatoes until we cut into it and found the the warm thick slice of bread hiding underneath. My friend had the lasagna, which she rated as “fabulous” on a scale of Never Again to Outstanding. I had the Fusilli alla Malanzane (eggplant) which was simple and perfectly prepared. At the end of the meal we both agreed we had just experienced an Italian culinary orgasm.
The last of the crew members flew back to the U.S. the next day, so I was left to wander the streets of Rome on my own. I made my way back to the street just to the right of the Trevi Fountain, and back to Il Chianti for lunch. It was open, and the Tortelli di Zucca was indeed molto bene and swimming in butter.
Il Chianti – Piazza Fontana di Trevi 81 / 82a
Piccolo Arancio – Vicolo Scanderbeg, 112 00187 Rome, Italy
Today I found my external drive containing all of my stories from a trip I took to Italy two years ago. None of these blogs were ever published. Better late than never!
In 2010 I crewed a sailboat in Italy with a handful of people I’d never met. These are my stories…
Walking to Atrani
I have nothing against my boat mates, but there is such a thing as too much togetherness. I was the last one to climb out of my bunk today, only to sit down at the table to hear that an executive decision had been made and we were sailing back to Capri right after lunch.
“Wait a minute,” I asked. “Why?”
I was starting to feel like a traveling salesman. I really wanted to stay in one spot long enough to actually have some down time. I was in desperate need of Me time.
“I have an idea,” I said, hoping the executive decision that had been made earlier wasn’t one that couldn’t be vetoed. “Why don’t we stay in Amalfi another night?” I suggested we relax in Amalfi for a day, and then leave the marina early in the morning. That way we could take our time getting to Capri and even stop for a midday visit to Positano.
My suggestion was met with surprising enthusiasm. My boat mate Val had had enough of the allergens in her cabin, and wanted an opportunity to get more time above deck, and everyone else just shrugged and said, okay, sounds like a plan.
Having made the decision to stay one more night suddenly let everyone breathe a sigh of relief and gave us all permission to scatter to the wind for the day.
I quickly applied some sunscreen, grabbed my purse and basically told the others I’d be back at some point.
My goal was to get as far away from the center of Amalfi as possible by foot. You see there was a Club Med 2, 5-mast cruise ship anchored in the harbor which translates to a few thousand extra people crowding the narrow streets of Amalfi. No thanks.
I started walking south along the road that hugs the coast, with my sights set on getting to the next town, whatever that was.
This is not the wisest decision I’ve ever made. The roads that hug the Amalfi coast are not for the faint of heart, whether you are a driver or a pedestrian. They are only wide enough for one car in some places, and the larger buses will come within in inches of the railing that you find yourself so terrifyingly plastered against. There is no shoulder to speak of.
But I saw little old Italian women walking the windy road, so I figured it was okay. What I didn’t realize is these women are trained professionals, as in, they have been doing this their entire lives. when in Rome… I took a deep breath and stuck with the old ladies.
The first town I came to was Atrani, which is supposed to be an artist community, although I saw no signs of art or artists anywhere. Just the same pizzerias with the same menus I had seen in Amalfi.
There was, however, a nearly deserted beach down a steep set of stairs, and it was at that point that I realized I had been sailing on this sailboat in the Mediterranean Sea for four days now and hadn’t once so much as dipped a toe in it. This had to be rectified.
I walked down to edge of the dry pebbly sand where the gentle waves were lapping at the stones, slipped off my Keens and stepped into the Mediterranean. This is exactly what I needed. Solitude, sun and the sea.
I sat there for an hour, I think. I lost track of time. I took a picture for a young Italian couple, who wanted a memory of themselves by the sea. I collected bits of tiles and pottery that had washed up on the shore, and imagined the Italian kitchens they had once been a part of. There was the wave-worn terracotta oval, with the blue glaze the color of the ocean. A small triangular piece with a single dot of red glaze that looked like an eye. A bit of white pottery with hand-painted grapes and vines. Someone’s trash became my treasures.
I tucked the small broken pieces of pottery into my purse, put my sandals back on and made my way back up the steep set of stairs. I wasn’t exactly sure what I would do with my treasured pieces of trash when I got back home, but I did know that those small pieces of pottery will forever remind me of my hour of bliss on the beach in Atrani.
I was talking with a friend from Nike last night, and our conversation brought me back to the first time I saw those gorgeous copy-heavy Nike print ads aimed at women in the early 90s. Women portrayed as strong female athletes with something to say, for once.
This poem was inspired by those storytelling ads and the group of women I’ve been running with for almost 20 years. Running isn’t just running to us. It’s the thread that weaves together our life experiences.
I was having trouble uploading photos and posting blogs a couple of weeks ago, so I emailed my dear friend Andrew while he was on vacation in a bat-infested rental in Nicaragua. Apparently the goats and bats were pretty reliable, but the power and the Internet were not. But he did log on long enough to tell me, “You’ve been hacked.”
Nothing like finding out that every PHP file on your blog site has been hacked into. Lovely.
Andrew deleted my entire site and restored the files from backup for me. So that’s why I currently have a generic WordPress theme. I’ll fix that in my copious spare time.
Coming up: a blog about the Hunger Games premiere.
I had no preconceived notions or expectations when I landed in Paris on January 7th. Sure I had seen some movies that had romanticized the city and the culture, but I really had no idea what the reality would be, so I came with an open mind.
The first thing that surprised me was the rather soiled sidewalks. We hadn’t been off the plane for more than an hour when my friend Cathy slid her pristine, beige swede Prada boot through a pile of Parisian dog poo. We of course had been looking at the sights not the sidewalk and had completely missed the fact that it seemed that a fair number of Parisians had never heard of a pooper scooper.
Now I know that Parisians are supposed to be known for being stylish and fashion forward, but there was one shocking fashion trend in Paris that I have to question. Puffy coats. Really? There is nothing chic about a puffy jacket. I don’t care if you’re Carla Bruni. Puffy coats are fugly and should only be worn in Portland where they are more of a uniform than a fashion statement.
I can understand quite a bit of French, seeing that I tortured my first born by sending him to the French American School for five years, and I took a year of French in high school. Never mind the fact that I was living in Finland at the time, still trying to learn Finnish, and learning French from a teacher who only spoke Finnish. When I speak French I probably sound like a Cajun trying to speak German. But come on Parisians, throw me a bone. You know what I’m trying to say. Stop looking at me like I’m standing there naked and speaking Greek.
The biggest surprise to me regarding Paris was how beautifully walkable it is. My girlfriend and I would just choose a different arrondissments every day and explore it on foot all day long. The only time we ever took a cab was to and from the airport.
Paris is a wonderful city to get lost in. My advice to you: go without a plan, wear comfortable shoes, and allow yourself to dream. And make sure you watch where you’re walking!
Finding love is something millions of people are willing to pay for, even in a recession. Online dating sites like Match.com and eHarmony have taken that fact to the bank, and with the recent success of Patti Stanger’s Millionaire Matchmaker TV show on Bravo, it’s no wonder that ordinary people all over the country have started hanging out a shingle proclaiming themselves to be matchmakers. So I wasn’t surprised a few weeks ago when a friend of mine told me she had recently been to one. However, I was surprised that said matchmaker was right in my own backyard in Lake Oswego, a small suburb of Portland, Oregon.
The only personal experience I have ever had with a “matchmaker” was the intake interview I had with a 20-something sales associate at It’s Just Lunch many years ago. I filled out a form, she briefly interviewed me, and then proceeded to set me up with dates over the next 12 months. Although she did set me up with some pretty interesting men, there was no real coaching or follow up after that initial intake interview. The only real advice she gave me was on what not to talk about on the first date: sex, religion, politics. She set me up and I was on my own.
Enter Jacqueline Nichols, personal matchmaker and proprietor of Intuitive Matchmaking in Lake Oswego. I was very curious about this local matchmaker so I sent her an email and arranged for a visit.
The Intuitive Matchmaking office is located in a small business building nestled in the middle of the First Addition neighborhood in Lake Oswego, and you’d never know it was there if you didn’t know exactly where to find it.
Her office space is intimate and colorful with little reminders of that love her clients are so desperately seeking. I notice a stack of brochures featuring photos of happy couples romping on the beach and the tagline “Find love. Enjoy love. Keep love” printed on the cover. Nichols takes a chair and I seat myself on – what else – but a love seat.
I ask the obvious question, why become a matchmaker?
The answer to that question lies in the name of her business, Intuitive Matchmaking. “I have been doing spiritual work for 25 years, and have been a sort of spiritual life coach for so many people through my Gratitude for Success business,” she explains. “Part of being a spiritual life coach is helping people find balance and joy in all aspects of their life including their relationships, so it was just a natural instinct to help my clients find love as well as success in other parts of their life.” It wasn’t until her clients started writing “matchmaking” in the memo on their checks that the light bulb really went on.
“I match people at the soul level,” she says. “That’s the difference. I pay attention to what chapter of your life you’re in right now and find you someone who’s in that same place.” A lot of her clients come into the service wondering why their relationships aren’t working out. “There’s a big difference between dating material and husband/wife material, and that’s where I can help.”
So what do you get when you hire a matchmaker like Nichols? Well that depends on how much you’re willing to pay. The Beginners membership to her service starts at $99, which gets you a personal consultation and a spot in her database, where you can search to your heart’s content. If you are an Elite member Nichols will proactively search her database for matches and possibly match you with “hidden clients” who are not public in her database. You also get a monthly consultation at this level.
The top level in her service is the Platinum tier. “I am basically your personal on-call matchmaker at this level,” she says. “The Platinum clients have access to me 24/7, and I will search outside my database for matches for them if I need to.” If you have to ask the price you probably can’t afford it.
Although there are no guarantees in the search for love, Nichols claims to have a very high success rate. “I can usually find a match for someone in one to three introductions,” she says. But don’t expect those introductions to all happen in the first week. “I know your time is valuable, and I will not make an introduction unless I know it would be worth your time.”
Her database of clients is small (about 500 people and growing) in comparison to the online dating institutions like Match.com or eHarmony, but consider the fact that Nichols has done her homework on your potential matches up front. “I have met or done a phone consultation with every single person in my service. And I do background checks on everyone as well. It’s all about quality not quantity.”
Although I have never claimed to be a matchmaker I have certainly become the go-to person in my circle of friends when it comes to questions about dating, especially online dating. So, I was extremely curious to hear Nichols’ perspective on the state of dating and courtship in today’s society.
“People don’t know how to date,” she says, and I couldn’t agree more. We both agree that people are very quick to judge someone on a first date, which means in the world of fast-food dating (like Match.com) there are very few second dates. And who’s quicker to judge on a first date? According to Nichols it’s women.
“Men seem to be more forgiving on a first date. If there’s no immediate chemistry they will usually give the woman a second chance just to see if there’s something there. Women on the other hand usually have a much longer check list in their head, and if he doesn’t have that one thing they walk away.”
Nichols says people need to slow down and be more patient, and just allow the other person to get to know you. She suggests to give it at least three dates before you throw in the towel, preferably five. And what’s the perfect first date venue? “Not a coffee date!” she says with a hint of frustration. “A coffee date just says, you’re not really that special, and I want to make sure I can get out of here fast if this date is a disaster.”
In her opinion a better choice would be happy hour (2-drink max), or a meeting at a bakery and then a walk, or just a glass of wine and appetizers somewhere. “You need one to two hours with nothing scheduled after the date, so you don’t feel like you’re constantly looking at your watch because you have to be somewhere else in an hour.”
According to Nichols the biggest mistake people make on a first date is being too full of themselves. “They sit there and talk about themselves the whole time, and never really even take the time to get to know the other person.” She says men and women are equally guilty of this.
My next question is a hotly-debated topic amongst my wide circle of friends.Why do so many older men only want to date younger women? I think I already know the answer to this question, but I want to hear what she has to say.
“I don’t get those men as my clients,” she says. “The successful men in my service are looking for a partner not an accessory. Successful older men who only date younger women are doing so because they think they’re a great catch, even if they’re not.”
And what about the older women? “A lot of them want to date their fantasy,” she says. “They want to date younger men because they are trying to recapture that feeling they had in college when they fell head over heels in love and everything was so fun and easy.They are trying to make up for all of those lost years.” She says a lot of women my age are in that category. “The hardest thing I have to do is tell those women to look in the mirror and be honest with what they see. You may feel younger than you are, but you don’t look like you’re 25.” Oh snap!
Nichols’ business currently focuses on the Portland/Vancouver Metro area, but she plans to expand her business in the near future to reach out to clients in Seattle and Medford. Wait, did you just say Medford? Isn’t the median age in Medford 75? Apparently retirees in their 60s and 70s are looking for love too, and Nichols aims to help them find it.
In the end her advice is pretty straight forward and simple. Stop watching the clock, stop focusing on the finish line and just enjoy the journey. And if you want to hire someone to ride that roller coaster with you hire a matchmaker.
You can find out more information about Jacqueline Nichols and Intuitive Matchmaking at IntuitiveMatchmaking.com.
Tell her the Dating Ninja sent you and receive 25% off one of her Beginners packages.
I originally published this article in The Portlander on August 20, 2009. Since then, Storm Large has published a gripping memoir that is a great ride and a great read. If you did not get to see her one-woman show, go buy the book and imagine her performing it for you right there in your living room.
This is my nod to Storm. You go girl!
It’s Sunday at 2pm, and the Ellen Bye Studio at the Portland Armory is sold out for the last performance of Crazy Enough, the one-woman show that is Storm Large’s life story. The sign at the door warns of explicit language and adult subject matter, so you wouldn’t expect to see your mother or your grandfather there in the audience, but they are.
On the small stage: three male musicians and one very tall microphone stand, which has everyone whispering, “Is she really that tall?” The lights go out, the music comes up, and when the lights slowly return there she is: all six feet of her, wearing sneakers, loose black pants, and a fitted tank top that leaves nothing to the imagination.
There is some small talk, and then the tall confident woman on stage quickly transforms into a vulnerable young girl who is desperately trying to find some stability in a home that has none. And thus the gritty ride begins.
The audience is rapt as they watch Large try to navigate the completely unpredictable nature of her schizophrenic mother, who is there one day and institutionalized the next. Large painfully relives the moment when a doctor tells her that insanity is in her genes, and she too will be fighting the same demons some day. She soothes herself with promiscuity, alcohol and a heroin addiction.
The audience is stunned to silence, brought to laughter, and tempted to tears, watching her gripping life story unfold at their feet. She has their hearts in the palm of her hand as she takes them willingly on a journey of wanting, desperation, hope and finally love.
By the end of the performance there is no doubt in anyone’s mind that Storm Large is not just another voice talent, but a formidable actress and incredibly engaging performer. She reminds the audience that, “Life isn’t safe. It isn’t always quiet. And it certainly isn’t small.” The lights dim, and she exits the stage one last time. It is clear that although her run with Portland Center Stage has ended, this show will live on if Large is willing to revive it in another venue.
Storm Large is in fact crazy enough and her life is indeed one big exclamation point.
It is more apparent to me than ever that I lead an unbelievably stressful life at home. Since arriving in Paris I have been getting a minimum of eight hours of sleep a night. The last time I got this much sleep at home was when I had the flu five years ago.
I am ensconced in a small charming apartment in Canal St.-Martin, the 10th arrondissement northeast of Paris. This trip wouldn’t have been possible without my generous friend giving me the keys to her home for a week. Thank you.
Although I’m terrified to speak French, because it’s been so long, I can read a lot of it and understand some, and not embarrass myself when ordering lunch. Everyone here has been more than understanding when I pop out with a Spanish word when I can’t think of the word in French or English!
It is difficult to totally disconnect from my life back in Portland for a week when I have so many responsibilities there, but I’m sure trying.