Popping over

So, my URL never matching my blog title has irritated me for awhile but I’ve been too lazy. Then finally I just did it. Head over to the new Gingersnaps!

A Taste of Neapolitan [Part 3]

So, why on God’s green earth is a country’s legacy a weird ice cream flavor? The reason is that Naples made badass desserts. One such was called spumoni, an ice cream dessert usually with pistachio, cherry, and chocolate. It has little fruit and nut bits. I hate pistachio ice cream so I’ve never tried it. Apparently earlier Americans hated it too, because the three most popular flavors (chocolate, vanilla, and strawberry) became the popular ice cream Neapolitan. Blue Bell does it best, but that’s neither here nor there.

Naples is not like Rome. It’s dirtier and a tad seedier. The people are a bit more reserved, but the overall feeling is festive. It’s right on the coast, and near gorgeous places like the island of Capri. It also has some great buildings.

The Duomo di Napoli, seat of the archbishop of Naples.

This house used to belong to an aristocratic family with a lot of crazies.

One of our drivers in Rome made the comment, “Ah, Naples. The people there are very…unique. They’re always looking for a way to make money. If you see someone with three cups and a ball, don’t play. You’ll lose.” I didn’t notice any cups, but I did learn more about a caricature associated with the city — a streetsmart scamp, like Gavroche in Les Miserables.

People say it’s very easy to get mugged in Naples.  I had an excellent defense: I left my wallet and phone in the hotel safe. Ha, just TRY to pick my pocket. You’ll get a sexy piece of chapstick, right before I box your ears.

My dad and I arrived in Naples in the late afternoon. We walked down one of their big streets, Via Toledo, before settling on a place for dinner. The hotel recommended Hosteria Toledo. It was a cozy, tucked away little place. The menu was big, but I settled on a veal dish topped with Parmesan and an egg sauce.

One of the best things I put in my mouth the whole trip! It was juicy and rich, meaty but a bit tangy from the cheese. We divided our Naples stay between tours and our own exploration. Striking off, we hit up the Museo Archeologico Nazionale di Napoli. The statues there were amazing. The level of preservation…wow, awesome.

There’s some snippet of lore that says in the old days women who weren’t hardworking peasants were all chubby and soft and this was much preferred to “fit” chicks. I think this statue disagrees. There was a model somewhere that looked like that. What a hottie.

I couldn’t find a caption, but I think it was “Touched by a Creepy Fairy.”

Eventually I came to a special room that houses a lot of artifacts taken from Pompeii. Remember how I said the Romans were fiesty? I was underplaying it. These Romans would have had frequent shopper cards at Smitten Kitten. Exhibit A! Warning: Naughty, titter-inducing artifacts.

I really hope that’s not a sex toy.

It was not in fact a volcano that destroyed Pompeii, but a flying cockmonster.

A Japanese tourist group wandered in, led by a person speaking in English. Another person in the group translated her words into Japanese. Anyway, the English speaker is talking all about various artistic features. None that have a thing to do with the fairyland of penises. These tourists were chomping at the bit to know more about the statues and paintings but alas, deprived. It was cruel. Anyhow, Naples has more to offer than ancient reproductive organs.

Naples invented what we consider pizza. It was a cheap dish that could be made with random ingredients. We get Margherita pizza because an Italian queen ordered this queer peasant dish and the cook doctored it up with basil, so that the red sauce, white cheese, and green herbs made it the colors of the Italian flag. He named it after the queen.

This is the Italian version of Hawaiian pizza, at a charming if noisy place called Fratelli la Bufala. This pizza was serious, delicious business. We also ordered calamari.

It was served with BBQ sauce. This idea is genius.

As we left, I gave my compliments to the chefs.

We also booked a tour to cover the city. I love to walk but Naples isn’t the easiest to access purely on foot. Our guide, Michael, took us up to the high class part of Naples, which coincides with the highest points of the city. This is where Sophia Loren used to prowl around once she became a film star.

Naples has gorgeous areas and seedy areas. The prevailing vibe, however, is very festive. If you like cities like New Orleans, you should definitely check it out. I think I might have preferred Venice, but it was too crowded this time of year. Naples was a fantastic time though; the surrounding areas have a ton of cultural significance. Pompeii is mindblowing.

After this, we had one big day left in Naples. We decided to see the surrounding areas. More on that soon.

Back to the Bedrock [Part 2]

My dad and I took the train to Naples. The city is the Italian equivalent of New Orleans—a festive culture, a tinge of seediness, a swath of poverty, and a ribbon of rich people.

But our first big adventure was a day-trip to Pompeii.

Pompeii was a classy city, populated by Romans. It has Oscan, Greek, and even Etruscan heritage. Then one day Mount Vesuvius went off. The volcano did not in fact erupt in lava that flooded Pompeii in an instant. That is a myth. The killer was the gas and heat. On a strong wind, the gas asphyxiated the population, as did the heat surges. An eruption of tephra buried the city. Later on, the lava did flow, but down the other side of the volcano. The town on that side had time to evacuate.

Because of the tephra, Pompeii is beautifully preserved. It’s a worn, ragged photo of life  in AD 79.

A gorgeous altar.

We planned to get a guide. On great serendipity, our guide found us. Dr. Ciro, an archaeologist who’s worked on Pompeii and published text used at Stanford, took us on a grand tour. I highly recommend an archaeologist instead of a typical guide. For one, there are a lot of myths around Pompeii that were cooked up for tourists.

Ciro took us through busy streets, pointing out tons of neat stuff. A thing that sticks in my craw is the idea older civilizations were stupid and primitive. Huh? We have no friggin’ clue exactly how Roman cement was made, and those roads still exist today. Damascus steel, Greek fire (not the same as napalm)—technologies we can’t quite master, for all our thingies and advances.

Pompeii has so many neat features.

A forum

We had a very friendly (and furry) visitor.

Pompeii also has a lot of preserved art. One interesting bit is this:

This fresco adorned the wall of a rich man’s house. Notice anything? The painting has depth. Depth is often attributed to the Renaissance. That’s incorrect. It was never “lost,” it was banned. The early Church accepted the Platonic view of the universe. Plato once said depth could be deceitful, so the Church just ran with it. Stick to 2D or piss off God. Some early painters to use depth in the Renaissance were actually killed for it.

This paint is almost 2,000 years old. WTF.

This is where our guide was invaluable. This sign was beside a door. One might think it was the name of the family. In fact, it was the equivalent of a political lawn sign. People didn’t have front yards and I guess thought flags were for pussies, so they painted their election favorites right on the wall.

This was the ancient version of McDonalds. I’m not kidding.

Rich people lived large.

This is a classical theater. Originally, all the steps were white. I was amazed how good the acoustics still were.

This is an original gymnasium, an area for athletic training and socializing. It comes from the Greek word for naked.

Pompeii is famous for something else. The bodies. According to hearsay, the area formed by the bodies remained in tact until it was excavated, allowing archaeologists to pump in plaster and see the exact positions they people were in. This is a myth. Dr. Ciro snorted and said, “I made a few of them.” Due to gravity, there was no “cavity” in the earth, just bones. They did try to replicate some of the positions they found the bones in though.

So this woman did not try to hide in a glass box for safety. Closer to reality is the picture below:

Another silly fallacy in history is that people in the old days were more “proper.” Prudery is very cyclical. As a culture, the Romans were a randy bunch. You just need to pop your head inside one of Pompeii’s brothels. Also remember that time you felt like a bamf because you stuck your handprint in wet concrete and marked your street forever? Romans did that too…just not with hands. Warning: slightly raunchy artifacts.

Our guide happily translated the graffiti: “Julia fellates” Man, Julia was popular.

Ok, rein in your titters. Just wait until the Archaeology Museum in Naples!

Walking through Pompeii was amazing. It’s hard to put into words how intimately connected I felt with the long-dead city. It’s the most realistic taste of Rome you’re likely to get. That includes Titus Pullo.

Our sweet driver Amedeo carted us back to Naples in style. Neapolitan adventures ahoy!

When in Rome [Part 1]

I have returned. Actually, I returned a week ago but I was super busy. Since it’s been awhile, an update on my post-graduate life.

- I have a job. I start Monday. I will be a PR assistant for a major TV network. For anyone going “Wait, I thought she was a journalist,” check out Sophia’s post.

Anyhoodle, I returned from Italy. And was already wanting to sneak into the nearest plane heading back. I went to Rome and Naples, but now I have a mission to go to Venice in the fall or winter (two of our beautiful drivers described Venice in winter as “darkly beautiful, and just a little bit sad.” Totally up my alley). I also want to hit up Florence and Tuscany. Basically, I’m in love with Italy. For a perfect vacation, I’d want to go to Germany and Austria for the musical theatre and culture, then tool down to the Mediterranean. Now I just need to find a sugar daddy who will pay for it.

For the next few post I will be recounting my adventures. It won’t be in perfect order. And before anyone asks, yep, I prefer taking pictures of things to being in photographs. The most amazing part of Italy for me is the history. I’m a history nerd, so the following posts will have a lot of historical notes. Despised AP Euro? Don’t read. Or give my saucier take a chance.

My stepmom is the most awesome travel agent ever. That’s not her job, but she always arranged our trips. So we tool up to our hotel…which is located right by the Pantheon. And 20 thousand gelato shops. We stayed at the Hotel Albergo del Senato. It was really fantastic. The concierge service was flawless, the location was bar none, and it had free breakfast. What more can you ask for?

The temptation was there to throw things at helpless passer-byes.

The Pantheon is a remarkable building. Normally I grouse when Christians take over Pagan monuments and rebrand them. In this case, however, the Catholic Church saved it. See, the Renaissance peeps were great lovers of art, but they had no respect for ancient monuments. Tons of Roman stuff was torn down and recycled. As you can see from those holes, people didn’t hesitate to cut out bricks. Because the Church owned it, it didn’t get looted, and remains one of the most intact monuments in Rome. It used to be a temple that hailed all gods. Now it holds Mass. Pretty weird evolution.

Another interesting part of the square is the obelisk. It’s authentic Egyptian–Rome has a handful of obelisks throughout the city, with some being Egyptian and others being Roman copies.

The Romans were smart: when they came across foreign gods, they usually respected them and built temples. After all, you don’t want to piss off the guardians of the people you subjugate. It’s also funny because, as a Mediterranean society, some Roman, Greek, and Egyptian gods were already shared. Isis was worshiped in the Roman-Greco world, but the goddess Ceres/Demeter is very similar to her anyway. To stretch her roots even further, Isis and the Virgin Mary share a ton of parallels. Though I don’t think Mary ever sliced Jesus’ hand off.

When my dad and I recovered enough to do more than shamble like zombies, we went for some dinner. I laid down the law: it was pizza time. The hotel recommended La Focaccia. Tucked in by an alley, it was raining and an adorable, dark-haired waiter ushered us into a cozy below-ground seating area. The waiter recommended a pear, Gorgonzola, and walnut pizza. That sounded good, but I was determined to get my tomato on. My first meal in Rome:

Prosciutto and mozzarella!

The next day we toddled over to the Col0sseum. It was a rainy week for Italy but as it wasn’t cold, I didn’t mind. This masterpiece is pretty synonymous with Rome.

Thing is, the Colosseum wasn’t called that during Roman times. It was called the Amphitheatrum Flavium, after the Roman dynasty. However, a bigass colossus statue stood just outside the building. Originally the statue looked like Emperor Nero, but since Nero was a crazy mofo, subsequent emperors redid it. Eventually the statue got recycled because it was made of bronze. Again, those Renaissance peeps, no respect for historical preservation.

That labyrinthine structure was the “backstage.” Gladiators hung out, chatted up babes, and polished their swords. Oh, and they kept lions and tigers and crocodiles in the darkness, so they’d be pissed and manic for the arena. Starving too. The arena covered it. Because of all the bloodshed, it was always filled with sand. After all, can’t have gladiators slipping on gore puddles halfway through a match.

Female gladiators did exist—the gladiatrices. They were rare, and a lot were from wealthy families. They’d ride around on chariots and fight each other, usually shirtless. Some emperors tried to ban them but it never really took, until the Christian Roman emperors decided to be killjoys and banned gladiatorial combat for everyone.

Anyway, a time spent roving around the Colloseum made me hangry, so we popped over for some lunch. I’m not normally a big pasta fan but I saw this delivered to another table and just had to have it.

Stuffed with spinach and ricotta

Another huge ruin is the Forum. In Roman times this was like The Grove, only with a lot of pillars and fewer dumb tourists.

See those purple pillars? They are outrageously valuable. The stone is Egyptian porphyry. It’s all been dug up and it’s worth way more than gold. The reason the pillars still stand is because the temple they flank was buried. A rather nice Roman emperor loved his wifey so much that when she died he had her proclaimed a goddess so he could build a temple for her. That’s devotion!

This is the Arch of Titus, the inspiration for the Arc de Triomphe. It’s sort of a “look guilty and shuffle” momument though—it features a scene called “Spoils of War,” where the Romans curb-stomped Jerusalem and demolished the Temple. They marched back with all the fancy stuff, like the Menorah and Silver Trumpets. In modern times it probably would have been returned, except when the Visigoths sacked Rome they threw it in the Tiber or melted it or something. But hey, no animal sacrifices since the temple was destroyed!

Skylines. Rome has them.

The day after, we snagged a guide. My dad’s been to Rome before, but the thing about Rome is that you can walk around it for months and still stumble upon new stuff. This is a friggin’ old city and it hides its secrets.

One neat place is the Piazza Navona, built over the old Stadium of Domitian. It has shops, restaurants, artists, and a really neat fountain.

This Fountain of the Four Rivers is awesome. Crafted by Bernini, its meaning wasn’t clear to me until our charming guide Fabio explained it. The four corners represent the four major rivers of the world — the Ganges, the Danube, the Nile, and the Plate. The people and animals represent their respective rivers. The dude closest to us is the Plate; the snake’s scaring the guy, who’s sitting on a pile of coins, representing the wealth of the New World.

I was walking down the Piazza when I noticed a dude spraypainting. I did a double take because holy crap I’d seen this on Youtube. A handful of spraypaint artists sit around crafting masterpieces. My dad was not impressed but I was entranced.

Rome has gorgeous streets. It also has great spas. I wanted a massage and the hotel recommended a marvelous place, Acanto Day Spa. Unlike the common “airy relaxation” theme, this spa was like a temple of relaxation. The dark, soothing interior was beautiful.

It was funny to note the differences between American and Italian full-body massages. Slightly different techniques and whatnot. Also funny are the different standards of prudery. In most American massage clinics, the therapist leaves the room while you hop on the table and crawl under the sheets. This has always struck me as silly because the therapist sees your nekky (or near nekky) body anyway. “OMG moving naked flesh, we must avert my eyes!” Here, the therapist told me to disrobe and get on the table, and went to warm some  massage oil. It is pretty funny how a lot of America gets so touchy about body parts.

Anyhow, it was a lovely massage. The therapist didn’t speak English but it didn’t matter. She understood my French and I could string together enough context and cognates to understand her Italian. It was a fantastic hour+. Massages, people—they rock.

For our last night in Rome, I dragged us back to La Focaccia. The same cute waiter ushered us downstairs. This time, I took his pizza suggestion. For an appetizer, I had this yummy black rice and salmon dish.

When the waiter came back, he goes, “I had them do something special.” Awww, heart melt!

It was an amazing pizza: a great blend of salt, sweet, sharp, and nutty. Holy crap, a metaphor for me!

The next day, we took the train south to Naples, but more on that later.

Addio!

Not for long, just a week or so. I’m finally embarking for my Italian adventure. I’ve never been that far east, nor to the Mediterranean, so I’m quite excited. A few reasons I’ve loved Italy from afar:

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The Borgias
I’m a history nerd. The Borgias are one of my favorite families, right up there with the Hapsburgs. The Borgia star was brief but bright and those dudes and dudettes made Italy their bitch. From the seat of the Vatican. They weren’t Italian, but Spanish. History did not treat them kindly, as one of their main enemies became Pope after Rodrigo Borgia, but them’s the breaks. At least Cesare Borgia gets the honor of earning Machiavelli’s respect, which got his avatar into The Prince. Showtime currently has a show called The Borgias. I’m a huge fan. It plays fast and loose with history, but unlike The Tudors, it keeps the proper feel of the time period. Francois Arnaud, who plays Cesare, is one of the smexiest dudes on TV. Anyhoodle, I look forward to checking out their stomping ground. 

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Those Badass Romans
Rome had a ton of crazies. It also had a ton of geniuses. I love Roman history. It’s like a Godfather-inspired soap opera with less crying and more strangling. A few of the biggest badasses to march into Rome were Augustus Caesar (aka Octavian), Tiberius Caesar, and Gaius Marius. A beef I have is the assumption that ancient cultures were “dumber” than ours. While people back then might not have had the horizontal knowledge we do now, they had to be really fraking smart to not, I dunno, wake up to garrote around their throats. History is always cyclical, so we best stay connected with it.

Pompeii 
Walking among the ruins, through a city wiped out like a real-life Atlantis…*shiver*

Pizza
I’ve had a hankering for pizza lately. Which is strange as I’m not a big pizza person. Not Dominos crap either, but the good, non-junky stuff. Hmm, must be PMS. Good thing I’m going to Naples, the country that invented the damn stuff. Pizza, not PMS. 

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Vistas
Italy. It has them.

I can’t ever sleep before a flight, which is why I’m pattering about now. I suppose it’s the vain hope I’ll sleep more on the plane, which never happens. I inevitably spend the first few days of any vacation on a pure caffeine rush. Wheeeee!

To Forgive if not Forget

Very delicate surgery. Stay strong my ugly child!

My car went into the shop last Monday (from a wreck I had in August — not my fault) and will be ready today. That’s meant more downtime. No work,  no Crossfit, and no long errands. Just me bumming around campus.

Oh wait, I don’t bum around on campus. I’m a senior; I pop by campus for classes then hightail it out of there. So in the meantime, I’ve been cleaning my apartment, catching up on books and movies, studying, and — wtf — exercising.

Ever since I got back from Christmas vacation, I’ve had the strangest shift in perception. Things are so much clearer. I’ve been twenty times better since I went on Wellbutrin, but post holiday, I’m even happier.

Mimi History: I have despised cardio machines with a burning passion ever since freshman year of college. I guess it’s burnout, or my growing suspicion I’m a closeted ADD case. Music helps but I still don’t like it. I do love weights, but I also love being a lazy sod.

I’ll be blunt: it makes no sense, but when I was thinner, I had more motivation to maintain my physique (and improve it), because there was no vast journey ahead of me. Thus, getting back into a non-Crossfit workout routine has been haphazard. The best way for me to workout has been my Crossfit classes. However, I doubt I’ll be able to continue them when I first start working. That stuff’s expensive. So it’s been weighing on my mind.

But then I got Joker, my iPad. And suddenly cardio rocks! I can put my movies on it, including my musicals and Netflix. Suddenly, it’s my top stress buster.

Vastly more entertaining than football or Food Network (what's always playing on the gym TVs)

I actually look forward to heading down to the gym to do my workout. Still with weights, but the cardio is necessary since I can’t move around as much as I could when I was younger and had fewer obligations.

"And I stood upon the sand of the sea, and saw a beast rise up out of the sea, having seven heads and ten horns, and upon his horns ten crowns, and upon his heads the name of blasphemy." Yup, always sounded about right to me for a long time.

But as much as I love Joker, I can’t attribute my sudden zest for ellipticals all to him.

On my way back to LA, I read Jillian Michael’s book, Unlimited. It was an unexpected Christmas present. Silly fate — finding stuff that seems to congeal everything that’s been running around my head.

Unlimited isn’t actually a weightloss book. It’s more about psychology. I don’t agree with Jillian on everything fitness and nutrition related, however, I’ve always felt a kinship with her. We were both fat kids, and both stumbled into hobbies that improved our self esteem. Mine was equestrian, hers was martial arts. I’ve spoken with Jillian a couple times before, and she’s just as passionate as she seems on TV.

Anyhow, reading Unlimited, it was like a gong rattled in my head. One of those “Ding fucking DING” moments. Thoughts that were murmurings in my mind suddenly came into resounding focus.

A few points Unlimited makes:

  • Forgive — not for the good of the other person, but you
  • Shame is useless and stupid
  • Affirmations and gratitude are freakin’ powerful

I’m a very forgiving person. Long-term hate just doesn’t stick on me. It’s too time consuming and too pointless. Except for a strange event a few months ago.

Stopping by Starbucks, I stood in line for my drink. Then I saw someone out of the corner of my eye. It was one of my old roommates — from that traumatizing situation last year. My reaction surprised me.

Right down to the pointy ears.

I was seething. If she’d noticed me, my eyes might have shot blood at her.

That kind of reaction threw me because it’s one I just don’t have, not that long after something’s happened. My temper flares easily but it’s the flash-in-the-pan spark that recedes quickly.

After awhile I forgot about it, figuring there are some people you just stay pissed off at. Then I read Unlimited. It made me think back to people I couldn’t forgive.

I believe it’s very true that your interactions are a reflection of your inner conflicts. So when you flip a mirror around…

As silly as it sounds, I never forgave myself. When my life got bumpy — when the roommate thing happened, when my boyfriend and I broke up, and when I started sinking again into a depression — I was furious with myself for being so weak. Cue emotional eating, cue increasingly erratic behavior.

When I got to London I thought I’d magically feel better. But knowing I’d given up what I really wanted (New Zealand) for something more practical and sensible hit me way harder than it should have. Poor London, please don’t think I hated you. But cue emotional eating. Cue hating myself for gaining weight and cue again emotional eating to deal with my unhappiness.

My depression lifting was a wonderful weight leaving my shoulders. But as I’ve said before, antidepressants aren’t “happy pills.” They putter around in your neurological system and rattle things around. This ended my feeling of futility and my incessant apathetic grayness. It short-circuited my OCDness too. Yet Wellbutrin, as helpful as it is for me, is not a panancea, and nor did I ever see at as such.

I’ve been a lot happier these past few months. Yet there was still that insidious, festering anger at myself. The body responds well to acute stress, like sprinting. A short rush of self-anger can be effective: “Oh my God I can’t believe I forgot my friend’s birthday! Time to make amends!” That’s good. But lingering rage is useless. Even in biology, chronic stress leads to inflammation and a repressed immune system.

Watch Sweeney Todd: The Demon Barber of Fleet Street if you need a real-world example of why forgiveness can save you a lot of sanity.

So ends the last of my increasingly melodramatic postings on my headgames and hamster wheels. I was so very silly.

Looking back and wishing things were different is silly too. It could turn you into a pillar of salt!

When I got back to LA after Christmas, I puttered down to the gym with my iPad and had an awesome time just chilling out and watching Sherlock. I was working hard but it wasn’t a toil. I felt so friggin good afterward. Both physically and mentally.

I love Crossfit because it gives me more confidence in my physical abilities. Even if I’m not the fastest or the strongest I can get it done. But doing something on my own, with no cheerleader or encouraging coach, is something different.

Feels slightly more likely within the next year (...or year and a half)

Of course, when I say you can’t look back at the past and wish things were different, there’s no reason to never look back at all. Your past is a web, not a line, at least in my eyes. Everything connects to something else. Events are strong because of everything else surrounding them.

Being confident in myself and taking things one day at a time is close to my mindset when I started college. I’d gone from a size 14 to a 10 over the summer. Easily. I ate less and did  the elliptical and weights a few days a week. In and out in an hour tops. The hardest thing was turning down a slice of pizza. So my confidence was a cannonball into the school year.

I didn’t give a fuck how much weight I had to lose. I knew I’d get it done. I took it one day at a time and remembered everything counted.

Toward the end of the school year I was burnt out and disordered. But I definitely didn’t start out that way. I pushed myself too hard, for too long, with no breaks or more than 5 hours of sleep a night. No wonder I wound up a headcase.

This time I’m smarter. I know the necessity of taking breaks and resting. I know everything counts, but that I can easily compensate or work in an indulgence. Yet an intelligent approach is only part of the equation. For me, the confidence and goals are what push me from smart planning into smart acting.

This summer I’m going to Rome and Naples. I am not going to look unhealthy and propagate the stereotype Americans are all fat and lazy. I’m graduating in May. I don’t want my college graduation photo to be as chunky as my high school one.

Yeah, not going there without a swimsuit I feel sexy in.

Another comment Jillian made in Unlimited was that one needs tangible, precise goals. On The Biggest Loser, she wails on people who say “I want to be healthy!” as for why they want to lose weight. It’s never the main reason (I’m  counting “not die” and “live to see my grandkids as separate entities).

Agreed, my dear. Of course I want to be healthy. But for me, the more tangible desire is wanting a tight butt for my jeans, sleek shoulders for my tank tops, and a flat stomach that I’m happy to flaunt in a bikini. Or, as Jillian has said in a podcast, “We all just want to get laid and have sex with the lights on.” True words, dear one.

I had a real knock on the noggin in German class. I wound up sitting next to this gorgeous Russian. He was quite friendly and amused I knew about those weird and awesome Russian monarchs. A year ago I’d have felt totally confident in asking if he wanted to get coffee (or vodka, since I’m culture-sensitive). Today, hell no. I don’t delude myself. I’m charming and kind and thus people like me, but right now I’m not my hottest.

I didn’t let it get me down though. It’s basic biology. And it’s just further impetus to get serious and stop dicking around. I’m in better shape and a few pounds lighter from Crossfit, but I have a long-ass way to go, and it’s not going to get any shorter by lazing around and not putting some effort in.

That doesn’t equal “lose weight as fast as humanely possible.” For one, I’d look weird, sick, and flabby. Two, I’d shoot myself in the foot. It does mean consistency and a lack of second-guessing and quibbling over semantics.

I’ve set myself up some rewards as my weight drops and my clothes loosen. Nothing fancy. New workout clothes, new nail polish, etc. Nothing food related obviously. Jesus, I hate it when people set up binge-worthy dinners to celebrate a weight loss.  Way to reinforce positive life changes.

The other thing I really took to heart in Unlimited was that affirmations are powerful. Make tangible goals, but also tell yourself your making positive changes now. Instead of thinking “Urgh I’m tired I hope I get through this workout,” think “Fuck yeah I’m going balls-to-the-walls because I’m a badass.” Or something of that nature.

Thoughts are very powerful. Using them properly can be very empowering.

I would add to that — thoughts of gratitude help a lot too. I have so much to be grateful for. I have friends and parents who love me. I’m accomplished. My classes rock. I have great hair. I have 24-hour access to a decent gym, meaning there’s no reason I can’t work out. I have an iPad so cardio is enjoyable. Just running through that list makes me happier. When I’m feeling good, I do good things.

Of course mental changes aren’t always immediate. They take work. When I think back to last year, I do get cranky. But it’s not the palpitating pissiness I’ve felt before. I sometimes do get frickin’ pissed at myself. Yet I’ve been able to gently deflect it. Fat is just stored energy, as Jillian put it. Shame over how I let myself go is pointless. It’s not like I got an STD after a crazy weekend in Cozumel. I’d be sheepish over that.

Fat loss takes commitment. There’s no getting around that. But while it’s a focus during my semester, I’m keeping occupied by other things. I’m learning how to get really good at painting my nails, something I’ve never done. I’m studying German fastidiously. I should probably be frantically looking for a job, but I’ve got a couple of months before things get serious.

And there’s no reason getting healthy and having fun should be mutually exclusive. Today, for example, Sophia and I went for a hike to the Griffith Observatory. She skipped and bounded, I slogged and huffed. Even though I’m in better shape than I was, I’m still working on cardiovascular endurance. And lugging myself up a steep hill gets tiresome. But so what? I had tons of fun just hanging out with my girlie. LA was beautiful this morning, swathed in fog and raindrops. There’s nothing wrong with being slightly uncomfortable. It’s the best way to challenge yourself.

Awesome weather! I'm not being sarcastic.

I never noticed it but Griffith Observatory looks like a fantasy book citadel.

Afterward we went to Costco, then to Bricks & Scones for scones and a study date. Usually I hate scones. Dry, crumbly, stuffy things. These were awesome! They were like muffinish biscuits. Lovely and doughy. Ok, so now I’ve tried a scone I like besides Sophia’s.

I drink too much coffee. Oh well, one thing at a time.

Last Monday, my friend Mere and I went to Cafe Gratitude. I love this place. They put so much love and care into the food. Our waitress was kind of pokey, but it was a gorgeous day and we had fun catching up.

"I Am Humble" -- brown rice and quinoa with curried lentils, yams, roasted veggies, tamarind sauce, and mint chutney. Nom.

Oh, and Jason Schwartzman was sitting behind us. Teehee. No, I would not have snapped that pic if he was facing us.

Most people are way meaner to themselves than anyone else, or in more pain or insecurity than they dish out. That includes bullies. I say most because we’ve all encountered a little sociopath on the playground. As for me, I’m harsher on myself than anyone else. There’s no gold medal for that though.

Anyhoodle, I’m moving forward from here on out. I’ve gotten what I’ve needed from the past. Now it’s time to create the future. Oh, and it’s now time to make the elliptical my bitch.

The Awesomeness That Is German Musical Theatre

As I mentioned last year, my roommate gave me the most amazing idea: drop the minor I hated and take what I wanted. The class I was dying to take was German.

So far it’s wonderful. There’s a smexy Russian, some really talented voice majors, and a professor who’s tons of fun. I love languages but I was tired of French. Every class I’ve been to reminds me why I made the right choice — to do what I want as opposed to what I think I should do.

Ask a teenage girl why she wants to take a random class and the answer is stereotypically a boy. I am not a teenage girl. My far geekier answer is German musical theatre.

As much as I love a good musical, I dislike 85% of musicals. Most are too frothy and frivolous. If it weren’t for the hilarious Book of Mormon, I could honestly say I’ve disliked every non-revival Broadway musical since The Producers.

So what’s a picky theatre-lover to do? Head over to Europe. Germany and Austria produce a ton of gorgeous musicals. They have better lyrics, edgier plotting, and very original staging. And they do stuff that a lot of Broadway theaters wouldn’t touch due to the Equity hazard pay costs. Like stages that separate, rise up like the stern of a boat, twist like a demonic Tilt-a-Whirl, and allow all the actors to slide into a trap door. It’s badass.

Here is a send up to some of my favorites. They and my roommate are responsible for giving me a kick in the ass to follow my heart.

Those who are expecting something lifestyle related, just stop reading. This is pure Mimiservice.

My gateway drug was Tanz der Vampire.  ‘Twas a dark and boring night when I was trawling the Phantom of the Opera forum, ranting about Emmy Rossum and cursing Joel Schumacher.

Then I saw it: a clip of a vampire musical. I clicked, intrigued. Then, “what the hell, it’s in German?!” Color me stupid, but it never really occurred to me there were original musicals in other languages. I just thought it was a British/American thing and other countries translated and performed them. But the music was epic even if I could not understand a word of it. After scrounging up a translated libretto I was even more smitten. After that, it was a trawl through forums to find bootlegs and cast recordings. This was in the early days of YouTube, so I had to rely on my guile and desperation. The rest is sweet procrastinator heaven.

Tanz der Vampire

Edward Cullen is not invited to this party.

Based on Roman Polanski’s vampire parody film, The Fearless Vampire Killers, Tanz is a mix of everything great in a musical — great songs, good story, fun characters, skilled dancing, comedy, romance,  drama, and an intriguing darkness.

An eccentric professor and his young assistant are traveling in Transylvania, on the professor’s academic quest to track down vampires. They come to a Jewish hamlet where the assistant falls for the innkeeper’s daughter, who wants a way out of her dead-end life. Meanwhile, a vampiric count offers just that and invites her to a ball at his castle. The professor and assistant give chase and end up becoming the count’s houseguests. Things get crazy from there.

This musical originally starred Steve Barton as the vampire Count von Krolock, who was the original London/Broadway Raoul in Phantom of the Opera. It was the performance of a lifetime. Steve’s dead now but dang, what a legacy:

(I’d track down one with subtitles, except it was written by Jim Steinman so the song’s actually “Total Eclipse of the Heart”)

Tanz rocks because it’s the perfect mix of darkness, drama, and comedy. The characters are striking, the mood is a roller-coaster, and the music swings between classical beauty and rock tunes.

Oh, Broadway fans might be thinking of failed musical called Dance of the Vampires. Ignore it. That was the abomination crafted by Broadway peeps and Michael Crawford, and was mangled beyond recognition from the original.

Elisabeth

I’m a history nerd. Elisabeth is a very historically accurate (for a musical) retelling of the life of Empress Sissi, the last legit Empress of Austria. Her hubby Franz Josef would go on to inadvertently start World War I. Sissi’s own haunted life was a virtual opera — she was gorgeous and athletic but very disordered, she helped ally Hungary with Austria but despised politics, and she was always losing her relatives (including her son).

In the musical, Death is personified as a handsome young man who falls in love with her. When she marries the Emperor, Death gets pissy and stays by her side, making mischief in the crumbling empire.

Elisabeth has it all: powerful characters, a riveting story, and some beautiful songs. It’s a love story, but a weird one. Despite the personification of Death, it’s actually a very skillful historical drama, and portrayed Sissi very fairly — both as the beautiful girl forced into a world she hated, and the selfish woman who pushed away all who loved her. It also looks quickly at Rudolf, her equally tragic son. In the musical he’s visited by Death and they agree Austria’s going to hell in a handbasket. Oh, and Death’s not trying to make out with Rudolf. It’s called “Kiss of Death” for a reason:

 

Jekyll & Hyde

Hyde's kind of a bastard.

Technically this is an American musical. Thing is, it sucked on Broadway (except for the lovely Robert Cuccioli). The original Houston production was fine but wow, Broadway. The music and story are melodramatic, but the craptastic lyrics and weird story changes were awful. When it went to Germany it got a facelift — Germany’s best lyricist improved the lyrics and tweaked the story so that it made sense and had real character arcs. And he upped the gore. The result is a bloody marvelous melodrama.

The story is well-known: a nice doctor tries to separate the good and evil in man. In this version, he’s engaged to a lord’s daughter and denied human testing for his experiment by her jealous suitor. He also meets a sassy call-girl who falls in love with him and gets caught up in his fate. Testing his formula on himself, he becomes Hyde, an avenging demon who slaughters the people who wronged Jekyll. It’s a really challenging, virtually double roll:

As Jekyll:

As Hyde:

And together! This song has caused some actors to need oxygen masks after…

 

Der Glockner von Notre Dame

Has anyone noticed Disney’s takeover of Broadway? The Lion King is amazing and Beauty and the Beast is pretty cool, but the rest suck. Hunchback of Notre Dame got a different treatment — it got exported to Germany. Disney execs were nervous about putting it on Broadway because of its relative unpopularity; parents tend to get cranky when a kid’s movie features a rape ditty sung by the villain. Anyhoodle, the Germans rocked it. The director made a few astute changes. Esmerelda stays dead (as in the novel); Phoebus gets man-whored up; and the silly gargoyles become aspects of Quasimodo’s conflicted mind. It was beautiful and striking. Disney didn’t flip a shit, as they’d agreed to the changes, but they are still gun-shy about bringing it to Broadway. Some day, perhaps.

 

Rebecca

Rebecca is my kind of romance novel. It’s creepy as hell — a mousy girl marries a much older man who’s haunted by the death of his first wife, Rebecca. The girl feels adrift on his beautiful estate and tormented by the housekeeper who served as Rebecca’s maid. Secrets come to light and things get twisted.

The musical was a great adaptation. They captured the best quality of the book — that the most prominent character in the story is dead the whole time. This one is coming to Broadway, hopefully in April.

 

Dracula

This is another musical that premiered on Broadway and bellyflopped. For good reason. Frank Wildhorn is a cool composer (if you don’t mind bombastic music), but he can’t find a good lyricist to save his life. His best musical was easily Scarlet Pimpernel because, guess what, he had a librettist with a brain in her head. Finally, Dracula found a home in Austria and Germany.

It’s a retelling of Dracula in the vein of Coppola’s Bram Stoker’s Dracula film. Dracula  is besotted by Mina; Mina struggles between her love for her husband and her passion for the Count. It’s definitely flawed — the story doesn’t really explain why Mina and Dracula fall in love, and transitions way too abruptly from Dracula wanting to be with Mina to him wanting to die. Coppola’s film had the backstory of Mina as Vlad Dracula’s reincarnated wife, but that’s never mentioned here. Still, despite this, it’s a gorgeous if melodramatic piece. That, and the Austrian production had every hot  German-singing musical theatre actor in it. Yum.

 

There are plenty of other musicals, but I don’t want to completely alienate all of my six readers.

Long story short, German musical theatre kicks ass. If you hate The King and I and think Broadway’s gone to hell, do yourself a favor and procure a copy of Elisabeth!