Sunday, January 31, 2010

Oh Sicily!

Rain or Shine

It is the first really warm day since I’ve been living here. I woke up around 10:00, opened up the big doors that block out all of the light and saw this magnificent view that is my reality. I hung some laundry, made breakfast and posted up in my bikini top and shorts to take in some good old vitamin D3. Is this even real?!? I have to step back and put things into perspective for a few moments because, while I am enjoying this temporary reality of mine, I am overwhelmingly aware of the storms that can blow in. Things are bubbling just below the surface. Things that are the true and sometimes unfortunate reality of the world we live in.

This week has been really difficult for a lot of friends and family. It seems like I know too many people who have loved ones dying of cancer. And, in all of these cases, the prognosis has been severe and alarming: stage 4 with minimal time to live. It hits you like a freight train going full speed ahead. And what are you supposed to do with that information? Let it soak in? Embrace it? Try to prepare? How? All of a sudden the clouds have rolled in, and that perfectly sunny morning is now a crappy afternoon. But, life as we know it continues, and we can’t stop living. So, you do the best you can with what you have. Take one day at a time. Try to be a good support system for those who are struggling – pray for them, give a good hug, check in with a phone call – but never lose sight of the fact that we are still alive, sunshine or storm clouds.

So, while I am here, I am choosing to be aware of reality but also choosing to enjoy this extended moment in my life. I really never thought I would be right here, right now. Catania, Sicily: my home for a span of three months. What a beautiful place. What a blessing of a town with a lot of wonderful people and, may I say once again, fabulous food. I’ve experienced some great hospitality at the hands of my teammates, who have had us over for dinner and dessert, drinks and card games. The sense of family is at the heart of all that is Italian, so we are temporarily adopted into families on any given day, which I love. Another aspect of life here that I love is the way people take their time. Brenda and I walked into Aci Trezza on Friday morning for some granita, a cappuccino and a warm brioche. Although it was not the optimal pre-practice breakfast (actually, it was more like dessert), we sat and relaxed and enjoyed every bite, every sip. It was fabulous and something I would never eat at home because it just doesn’t exist, but the best part was being able to take it all in, to enjoy not just the food but the atmosphere, the environment, the constant chatter of Italian and people staring like they have never seen a person with blonde hair. I must mention that, while I was skeptical at first, I love driving here. I’ve gotten the hang of maneuvering through traffic and honking at the oblivious drivers. Every once in a while I see Brenda sneak a hand on the door handle like she’s holding on for dear life and I smile (inwardly of course) because this means that I am driving like a true Sicilian. I have no qualms with cutting someone off, changing lanes as I please, speeding up to pass some slow poke. My only concern now is how I will adapt to driving when I get back home to California. Heaven forbid I change lanes without a blinker.

Well, it just started raining – go figure. We went from perfectly sunny morning to rainy afternoon. So, as quickly as I put on my bikini to soak up some rays, I’ll have to be even quicker to grab all of my laundry off the clotheslines before it gets soaked. Funny how things can change in an instant. Looks like my plans for sunbathing all afternoon just turned into a movie day…

Sunday, January 24, 2010

Mud Baths and Love Bites

Mud baths and love bites...Sounds kind of romantic if you're into the whole spa scene and PDA. But, things are not always what they may seem... Picture five well-traveled water polo players in the Sicilian country side on a Sunday outing. We are headed to a ranch in a plush green valley to enjoy some horseback riding and homestyle Italian cooking. The makings of a great day. Upon arrival we are loaded up onto our respective horses with the owner (and guide) and head off into the valley to enjoy the beauty of it all. It was a perfect afternoon, not too hot and not too cold. We were traversing rivers and thickets and breathing the fresh air. Sounds like Heaven, right? Well, just like Orange County, it's been raining here quite a bit, so the trails are a bit muddy at the low points. We are passing through one of these low points lined by a rock wall on the left and trees to the right when Brenda's horse stumbles in the mud. All of time slowed down in an instant as potential disaster ensued. I watched as the horse's left back leg sinks down a few feet, panics and recovers but then missteps again and slides even deeper down onto her left side, coming dangerously close to the rock wall. For a brief second I think that maybe the horse will fall and roll completely over, but it eventually catches itself and regains its balance. As for Brenda, the story was not quite as successful. She had initially pitched to the left with the horse, and then as the horse went back towards the upright position she couldn't recover with her. That second misstep by the horse caused Brenda's leg to come out of the stirrup and free her from the saddle at which point she was no longer riding the horse. Thankfully the horse was lower to the ground because of the depth of the mud, but there was no stopping what came next. Brenda face-planted straight into the mud. Thankfully unscathed, although a little embarrassed, she remounted muddy Margarita, the very large, pregnant and now very muddy horse (It has to be mentioned that in these few hectic moments of regaining her composure, Brenda also managed to get a rash from something like poison ivy and narrowly escaped being peed on by another horse). All the while, I found myself holding Lauren's horse's reins while she did Lord knows what. Apparently her horse, Julia, wasn't too happy about not being able to reach the grass for a snack, so she turned and bit my knee instead! And, I have teeth marks and a nice bruise to prove it. So, for the very low price of 15 Euros, Brenda got an unexpected mud bath thanks to Margarita, and I received the highly unexpected public display of affection in the form of a "love bite" (if you can call it that) from Julia. All in all, I would say we got our money's worth. Although, next time I hear mud bath and love bites, I would prefer it all take place at a plush spa, even if it cost a little more and doesn't involve green valleys in Sicily. Even now, though, I'd never take any of it back. I could laugh until I die just replaying that series of events in my head. What a day...

Saturday, January 16, 2010

Sticking It In Clutch Situations

Most people remember where they first learned to drive. My dad taught me in the parking lot of Palm Desert High. We were on a family vacation, and I was maybe fourteen or fifteen. We headed out for a drive and he took me to the parking lot where I timidly cruised around the empty lot. But, it was an exciting and memorable time. It was also in an automatic car... We now flash forward to a much crazier place - Sicily - where people are driving like they have their eyes closed and they drank too much coffee. I am living here for a few months and playing water polo with two of my national team teammates, but we live on our own and need to be able to get around. Of course, the car we have is not an automatic. All of a sudden, I am the designated driver, although I'm the one with no prior experience behind the wheel of a stick shift. I have tomorrow to figure it out... I had a twenty-minute lesson yesterday, which will come in handy, but I woke up this morning thinking about how to shift gears and get in and out of my own driveway, which happens to be a hill (go figure). If we wanna go anywhere, I've got to be able to get out of small spaces, i.e. parking spots. So, while I thought the most stressful situations would take place in the pools I'll be playing in here in Europe, I am finding that the most tension I will experience is going to be behind the wheel, that is until I figure out how to ease of the clutch and accelerate with some finesse. In the mean time, I will get used to the lurching motion of a stalling car and the honking horns of the fabulous Italian drivers who are pissed as all hell that - Heaven forbid - I just stalled in front of them.

2012 Olympics