It’s been a while

I let life catch up with me for a while and missed blogging for so long that WordPress changed its entire theme while I was gone. I can’t even find the messages section. It has to be somewhere, right?? I have been packing and unpacking, planning and unplanning (Yes, spellchecker, I’m aware that is not a word.) as we move towards getting on the road again. There is something about trying to fit a year of European travel into a budget and suitcase ahead of time that you just know is going to fail in some vital area.

Do I get a van with all of the associated costs as well as the associated comforts of protection from weather and not having to limit myself to the contents of a suitcase?

Does a warm beach in a conflict zone count as a vacation or work when one has a conflict-related degree?

All of the stuff the family has accumulated together in our time in England – Do we sell it all off on Ebay, throw it all in storage (In which country?), or is there a third option? I’ve been going through it bit by bit, discarding what is useless, bribing the kids to reduce, and slowly selling off the things we never even used. Say goodbye to all but one – or two – of my pairs of very impractical but oh so awesome heels. Yes, there is a consumer that lurks in me – her current incarnation has involved shoes. At my present rate of progress, we could be here for several more months.

Then there’s work. I need an additional gig that manages to pay enough that there will still be something left over for me if I have to sit around in a coffee shop ordering lattes and scones for 3 in order to steal (um, borrow) their wifi and get any work done.

So, that’s what I have been up to. How have you been?

402525_2991212655876_251720746_n

Where there are no closets (not really a travel post)

My daughter has always had a strong need to support those whose rights have been diminished or violated by others, and thus she expresses concern at the opposition to gay marriage. It has gotten to the point that “allows gay marriage” is right up there on the list along with “somewhat affordable” and “good weather” when it comes to requirements a travel destination should preferably have. This is despite the fact that there is no one in the family with marriage plans any time soon, gay or otherwise, which gets me closer to my point…

 

Lately she has been asking what we think her preference will be. Will she like boys or girls (or both *faints*)? My response: “You’re eleven, wait until you’re a teenager and the hormones kick in. You’ll just know.” A generation or so ago, this was a topic that rarely came up, especially in straight households like ours. It was assumed that you would grow up to like the opposite gender the same as your parents had, and if you didn’t – well, that was possible but unlikely or even uncomfortable, so it wasn’t much food for thought. Whatever my daughter’s preference might end up being, there is never going to be that moment of realization or coming out of the closet of generations past. It’s just going to be an answer to a question, and that’s it.

 
It’s a question I have been getting pestered with enough lately. No kid likes to hear that they aren’t going to get an answer any time in the near future. I have done my best to explain that whomever we are attracted to has little to do with what our rational mind tells us we should be attracted to, and thus our sexuality really is something that our hormones – rather than our minds – tend to dictate. Yes, our minds can take over and tell us not to listen to our bodies – I used to do that every time my hormones told me that I should be interested in a cute blonde dread-locked stoner dropout that was never ever going to grow up (I still wonder how that would have turned out) – but we cannot ignore those hormones completely.

 
I know, I’ve considered wholly ignoring my annoyingly straight urges for what seems like a simpler life. I have to say that I’ve always thought life as a lesbian could have its advantages. Unplanned pregnancies would be a thing of distant legends and I wouldn’t find myself stuck in a gender specific role that has me slaving over the stove for pretty much every meal. In reality, I ended up with a man who was raised in a idyllic gender-sorted 1950s household (with parents from that actual era). Thanks to that upbringing, he cannot even cook an egg without burning down the house or endangering the health of everyone around. Earlier today, I thoughtlessly offered up a grapefruit for him to cut for his breakfast, since the rest of us were eating something foreign to his taste buds. His stricken and horrified expression at the unprepared piece of fruit made it obvious that I had just asked him to do the most complex task on earth. If he were a woman and I could just get breakfast in bed now and then… I’m just saying it sounds like bliss. I did hang out with lesbians for the longest time in university and quite enjoyed the company as friends. I just couldn’t get my hormones to behave in a way that would make me actually attracted to them, despite my brain saying that it would be a blissful and breakfast in bed filled existence.

 
As for my hopes for my daughter, when she grows up I hope she finds happiness and someone that can cook an egg, whatever gender they might be.

 

Note: my daughter approved this post, although she did object to my feigning fainting at bisexuality and my stereotyping women into the role of people that provide breakfast in bed. I guess even now I’m still considered old school.

 

402525_2991212655876_251720746_n

The second leg: San Francisco in the 90s

Riding from coast to coast on a Greyhound bus began to feel like a moment displaced in time. Ever since then every Greyhound bus ride has felt like an extension of the first one. There was the never ending movement, the hushed conversations and a parade of characters with long lives and even longer stories to share – they were the ones that had traveled enough to know that sitting in the back and vying for the only section that had more than 2 seats together was about the only way to guarantee a good night’s sleep during the journey. For some reason, a disproportionate amount of the tales told back there were spoken by jazz musicians and centered around New Orleans.

As we entered California, it seemed that every town we passed through had rows of palm trees as if to symbolize and strengthen the image of sunny California. It seemed a bit odd since we were driving in through a northern route and heading straight for foggy San Francisco. Finally, we arrived. I remember it taking an age to get my luggage since they insisted on taking it off the bus for us there. I walked out of the station and into the Market district. Other than it being a sunny day, it was classic San Francisco. I saw electric buses running along their power lines, wide Market Street, trollies, hotels, and a tourist section surrounding a small green park complete with its own mad woman feeding the pigeons. I watched while she was literally covered in the birds. Someone sitting nearby leaned over and whispered to me, “Those birds have lice.” – good to know.

I estimated that I had roughly enough money to settle in for a month and do some serious job searching, and not much more. I found a coffee shop a few blocks above market and settled into one of its sofas with a coffee, a sandwich, and the classifieds. My backpack seemed to attract conversation, mostly from other travelers. The first person I met was the classic vision of a surfer – lingo, long blonde hair and all. It seemed perfect that he was the first to welcome me to the land. He could have been an ambassador for the California life. In that moment I thought there would be others like him, but I wouldn’t meet anyone else with that same style in San Francisco. I must have stayed in the coffee shop for hours. In my time there, I managed to find something out through a combination of perusing the classifieds and speaking with the natives – at age seventeen, I wasn’t actually old enough to work in California without some sort of permit that was out of my reach as a visitor. Having just come from a state that allowed me to live on my own as well as seek employment since the age of 16, I was shocked. Call it my first expat-in-training lesson in how states and nations never seem to follow the same basic laws that we take for granted and that govern our lives. In that moment my entire plan just sort of died. I had to find a way to make it through the next eleven months without employment. The first change that I made – I stopped buying expensive coffee shop sandwiches. That was a major sacrifice.

My surfer friend wasn’t doing much better apparently. When I met him he had been staying in a hostel. During the next few weeks, I would start to find him waking up in a building’s doorway more often than not when I was on my early morning walks. I felt bad for the guy and buying him a morning coffee became a tradition. It got to the point that I actually worried about him when I didn’t see him there. As for myself, I lucked out and found a really decent residential hotel nearby with nice staff in an older and well maintained building. It was about $125 a week for a private room and served free breakfast. There were no complaints from me, even if I did have to share a shower room with about ten other people (I bought flip-flops). As for how I rented a room at age seventeen, well, let’s just say that being a nerd pays off sometimes. The university ID I had from my time in an on-campus young scholar’s program was something that no hotel clerk ever questioned despite it lacking a birth-date.

Having finally settled into San Francisco to some degree, my next stop would be the Haight-Ashbury district. I still had to find my community – and an income.

Public domain image, royalty free stock photo from www.public-domain-image.com

Photo by John Sullivan 

The first leg

When I was a teen, I probably should have died a hundred times over. I was just finding my way in the world and would tumble, fall, and go with wherever life happened to throw me. I set a stable path for myself and worked hard on it, but it must have been made of glass. I always managed to slip off in the end.

One of the first (travel related) glaringly obvious times this occurred, I had just turned 17. I was going to school, getting straight As, working, living on my own in a house full of university students, partying on the weekends and generally having one of those lives that made the other kids either jealous or grateful for their limited responsibilities. I thought I had everything under control, until I found out the student that we had been giving our collective rent money to all year had just spent three months straight spending it on himself rather than actually paying the landlord. We lost the house.

I spent that summer bouncing between friends’ couches and contemplating what to do with my life. A friend and I decided to go spend time in Rhode Island where he was from. I was tired of bouncing around aimlessly and decided to go a week earlier than him in order to get myself acquainted with the area. I gave notice at work, insanely over-packed for the journey, and off I went on the train to Providence. I must have been wearing some giant “Bother and exploit me; I’m young and clearly vulnerable.” sign that I couldn’t see attached to my 100 pound backpack. Within an hour of entering the city, I already had some random man with a heavy accent following behind me like a dog and trying to get me into his car (Yeah, right. Like that was happening.). After what seemed like an age, I spotted an underground parking garage and ran into it (If this were a horror movie I’d be screaming at myself on the screen at this point – “No, not in there!”).

Thanks to sheer luck and stupidity, it ended up being the safest place imaginable. I had just stumbled into the parking garage of a government building that took its security seriously. A guard showed up almost instantaneously and whooshed me away up into the building while another one ran the man off. After half an hour spent in their lobby while they checked things out and tried to catch my pursuer, I was pretty much done with Providence.

I left the building, took half of the stuff I had packed and dumped it into a nearby waste bin, walked to the closest Greyhound bus station, and bought a ticket for the next bus to San Francisco based sheerly on the need to leave and a few things someone had once told me about the Haight Ashbury district of SF. By the next morning, I was well on my way across the country.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

The cat has nine lives and still finds this worrisome.

Dual nationality, bureaucracy, and the never ending wait

A few years ago it occurred to me that if I was going to spend a good chunk of my life half the globe away from America, then maybe – just maybe – I should get a citizenship from the side of the globe I was actually on. While I do love being dual taxed on my global income (BTW, that’s a bit hypocritical of you America, did you already forget the reason behind the whole American Revolutionary War?), the fact is that it is simply inconvenient to have one’s only land so far away. God forbid if I have to go to my country of nationality in order to send a visa application to visit somewhere else (an oddly common requirement). Can you imagine the carbon footprint I would leave behind traveling all the way across the Atlantic (or Pacific)? Never mind the expense or the fact that I always end up with a cold after 8 hour flights (travel is not always glamorous).

A solution?

So, I decided to get a second citizenship based on my heritage. Easy, right? Bwahahahahahaaaaa. Firstly, for those of us with a colonial American ancestry, there really is no recent heritage to link to a nationality. Trying to follow (and prove) one’s lineage going back through about ten generations is an impossible nightmare – I know, I’ve tried. Part of my family is English – I think – all I know is that they’ve been in North Carolina since the beginning of time and North Carolina is not a European country. Thankfully, in my case there is a good chunk of my family that are much more recent immigrants with a verifiable country of ancestry and birth certificates that don’t date back to the Mayflower, so I chose them.

Citizenship by ancestry

They just happened to be Italian. I did my best with multiple websites to figure out what documents were needed and if I was actually qualified. The Italians have this thing where if you’re mother’s mother’s father was a citizen and waited until a certain date to give up citizenship, then you qualify; but if your mother’s father’s mother waited until that date – then you don’t qualify. It goes something like that. Do not use what I just described to determine if you qualify. I’m pretty sure I just made it up to describe how arbitrary a process it seems to be.

Step by step by step by …zzzzz…. step

I got the documents together – my ancestors’ birth certificates, death certificates, marriage certificates, divorce papers, citizenship papers, etc. Then I got them an apostille (very expensive and usually gold-colored overly fancy authentication by the state) on all of the documents that needed one. This took nearly a year and a lot of international postage. By then I had already blown over $1,200 on the project. I hadn’t even been to the consulate yet.

I went to the consulate’s webpage – the majority of it in Italian since not every part of the page actually translates when you click “English” – and found the system for booking an appointment. There were no appointments available. It took a month of checking before one finally showed up. It was for roughly three months later. I took it.

Three months later I arrived at the consulate to find out that they had two buildings and I was in the wrong one in the wrong part of town. I have never flagged down a cab with such assurance or haste in my life. I got to my appointment about half an hour late and ended up waiting another two hours. When I finally got in, a few things became glaringly obvious – I didn’t have enough paperwork, I was actually eligible, the internet never gets anything 100% right, and I was woefully non-Italian compared to these people. I felt like a bug under a microscope and so incredibly out of place. I was happy to escape and go on with my never ending document collection. I needed a few more papers, apostilles, and everything still needed to be translated. Another $800 or so later, I was done.

They had told me I could now come by the office without an appointment since I was part way into the process, so I did. I traveled several hours to go visit them – only to find out it was an Italian holiday. The next time I went, I think there was something I was still missing, or someone that wasn’t in that day. The entire thing is a blur in my memory. I went home still clinging to my giant pile of documents.

The next time I went after that, I emailed in advance to make sure they would actually be in the office. By then the office had relocated. I got a hotel nearby for the night before so that I could be one of the first people in the door in the morning. The new street address they gave was not recognized by GPS and did not conform to that whole numbers-going-in-order thing. I still ended up being half an hour late.

As it turned out, the right person was not in the office. But the woman that was there took pity on me and she was willing to muddle through this time, so we got my paperwork processed in. She assured me that I was already Italian because it was my ancestral right and all of this was just a formality. I was starting to feel a little bit better about it. I think that was last autumn or winter. I left the building about $700-800 poorer due to fees for the official consulate certification of the translation of my documents.

A few months later I got a call because one of the documents wasn’t sufficient. I got a corrected one from the US, sent it back to the US again to get an apostille for it, had it translated, and brought it in to the consulate (emailing to make sure they would be open). That took another two months and $200.

Total cost so far:

  • $2,950
  • Hotel and travel expenses
  • International phone bill and postage
  • Many lattes
  • My sanity

On my way down the street after exiting the building with family in tow (I never did figure out if they absolutely had to be present for those appointments, but I wasn’t risking it in case they were required to be), I saw a “mission accomplished” sticker attached to the back of a stop sign. In that moment, everything in life seemed to fit, although I probably just jinxed it by saying that.

I haven’t heard from the consulate since. I’m hoping silence is a good thing. In the meantime, it’s making me nervous about travel because I want to stay close to the consulate I applied through (the application process is not something that can normally be transferred between consulates as far as I know. Each Italian consulate in each country has different rules – it would just end up being a nightmare).

I so want to travel. Maybe I’ll take a day trip to Wales in the meantime.

facepalm

Travel and the identity crisis

Those that know me happen to know that I have been going through a bit of an identity crisis. It stems from that existential crisis that many Americans face – what am I, exactly, when it comes to culture, ethnicity, and even standpoint on the world scene? A lot of it comes down to what I always perceived myself to be when safely tucked away as a member of my own diverse yet cohesive community, versus what the rest of the world perceives me to be while I move through their territories.

To anyone outside of America, I am an American (unless they mistake me for Canadian, a popular second choice). To my friends and myself, when inside of America I am part of several much smaller cultures that like to put a large divide between themselves and commercial patriotic truck driving America. So, while I am American, I identify more closely with small tribes of Americans (academic types, coastal kids, members of food co-ops and such). It feels somewhat awkward being lumped together with the whole of America because then I feel as if I am being identified with all of the better known parts that people in the rest of the world are aware of – questionable politics, war, McDonalds, gas guzzlers, McMansions, economic inequality, plot-less action flicks, and so on. Those happen to be the exact parts I disassociated myself from even when in the US, preferring to be involved more in the local community – rather than national – culture.

To another often rather large subset of Americans, I could be identified as Irish-American, Italian-American, German-American, Turkish-American, etc. The fact that I, being an American mutt with some Colonial roots, fit into about six or seven of those groups – that is confusing enough on its own. Which one is the primary group? Do I even have a primary group at this juncture?

Add that to the fact that a some-random-percentage Italian-American that has never seen Italy nor spoken Italian is probably not likely to fit in very well if they visit Italy. I’ve already felt like a very non-Italian freak after just an hour spent sitting in their consulate’s visa waiting room. So, this deep since-birth identity of Italian-American, it doesn’t really feel as if it translates to simply Italian. The same goes for the rest of my multitude of ancestral nationalities. All of this becomes glaringly obvious when outside of the American bubble – the only place in the world where my particular identities make much sense at all.

It comes down to incongruity in perception. People see an American when they look at me. What I see in me is not only mostly in opposition to that generalization, but it also includes subsets that your average person outside of the US is not going to be able to accurately identify. On top of that, I have to deal with the fact that I am actually American. I’m accustomed to surviving in a system that is so efficient that it is ruthless, that paints over the bad parts and hides all of the dust bunnies under a bulging carpet that it then steam rolls flat – and I have been molded by that. There are deeply ingrained survival and ethical level aspects of me that will always be American. Just don’t expect me to eat the nation’s chemical laden Lucky Charms and chug them down with a Big Gulp Coca Cola.

 

1461270_10201965875645019_2135400932_n

1450929_10201965877765072_771662447_n 1459803_10201965879365112_2143575008_n 1472977_10201965877165057_1971458757_n