by Kevin Dooley via Flickr

The Answer to Life, the Universe, & Everything

by Kevin Dooley via Flickr

by Kevin Dooley via Flickr

On my 42nd birthday, an announcement.

Some of you already know this, although I’ve kept it relatively quiet in a more public sense. I moved out of my house early last June, and Chris and I are in the midst of wrapping up all the paperwork involved in our divorce. It wasn’t an easy decision to leave – perhaps the hardest thing I’ve ever done – but I don’t regret it. I purposely kept the news out of public spaces until the mediation was done, but I did want to let people know what had happened, as there are many of you who still don’t know. I apologize for the format of this, if this is how you’re finding out, and I hope you understand.

For at least the forseeable future I am in a bit of limbo. I am in an apartment I don’t like (though in a location I love in SE Portland), and I’m not sure what I’ll be doing or where I’ll be living six months or a year from now. I’ve never been good with changes (I have sprouted more gray hairs in the past eight months than I can count), and this is by no means easy, though I’m trying to remind myself that it’s temporary. I have posted signs in my apartment reading, “This, too, shall pass” – and I’m reminded of a favorite André Gide quote:

“One does not discover new lands without consenting to lose sight of the shore for a very long time.”

There are plenty of clichés about change, but when you’re in the midst of upheaval they all sound so trite as to undermine what it feels like you’re actually going through. Since losing my job in 2012, I feel a bit like every time I was getting close to being on my feet again, something else would pull the rug out from underneath me. In this case, I pulled the rug out myself. So, I am at sea, yes. And somewhere out there lies my next port. I can’t see it yet. But I know it’s there.

So, bring it on, 42. Let’s see what you’ve got. I’m ready.

“Almost” is Not Acceptable


Despite the fact that I have the date tattooed on my left forearm, the one-year anniversary of the Newtown elementary school shooting snuck up on me. I didn’t realize it was only a few days away until I decided to listen to an episode of “On the Media” during one of my morning walks. The discussion centered on the recent release of the 911 tapes from that day (Connecticut state law requires 911 tapes to be released), and the decisions by some media outlets to air the recordings while others said they would not.

I know there’s something in American culture that craves that voyeuristic thrill of listening in on someone else’s tragedy, and yet my opinion on whether the tapes should be broadcast or not wasn’t what set my teeth on edge as I listened to the debate. What did me in was one tiny word in a quote by CNN legal analyst Jeffrey Toobin. As he was making the case for CNN airing the recordings, he said:

This is a major event in American history. The Congress almost voted gun control because of this. I think that means it’s something that the public needs to know about.

If a “major event in American history” – the intentional murder of 20 6- and 7-year-olds and six of the adults tasked with educating them – merits only an “almost” on gun control legislation, then what in the name of all that is good in the world is it going to take to remove the word “almost” from that sentence?

One year later, more than 24 school shootings later, over 11,400 people killed by guns later…

“Almost” is letting cowardly legislators off the hook.

“Almost” is pretending we care enough to do something.

“Almost” is an affront to the people whose children and loved ones died at Sandy Hook Elementary.

“Almost” is not acceptable.

Amuse-Bouches [Links I Love]: August 27 – November 6


Here’s the latest list of stuff I found interesting on the interwebz, August 27 through November 6:

  • The Myth of Passion and Motivation: How to Stay Focused When You Get Bored Working Toward Your Goals
    I thought this was pretty interesting. What separates the really successful people from everyone else? The truly successful know how to push on through the inevitable boredom.
  • 70 Things I’ve Learned From Writing 1000 Blog Posts
    Geraldine is one of those people who consistently undersells herself, so I can't help but think she's learned way more useful things over her last 1000 blog posts than just 70, but we'll start with this. Why? Because it's crammed with some really good tips. I love #18, #23, #29, #37, #39, #44, #52, #53, #55, #59, #65, #68…

    Oh, just read the whole damned thing, would you?

  • Italy Breaks Your Heart
    Italophiles should really read this whole beautiful & sad essay by Frank Bruni on modern Italy, but here's a sample:

    Italy is what happens when a country knows full well what its problems are but can't summon the discipline and will to fix them. It's what happens when political dysfunction grinds on and on and good governance becomes a mirage, a myth, a joke. Italy coasts on phenomenal blessings rather than building on them and loses traction in a global economy with more driven competitors. Sound familiar? There's so much beauty and promise here, and so much waste. Italy breaks your heart.

  • Slaves of the Internet, Unite!
    Excellent treatise on not doing work for free. Again, read the whole thing – particularly if you're someone who works in a creative field or online or both – but, for your excerpting pleasure:

    I know there's no point in demanding that businesspeople pay artists for their work, any more than there is politely asking stink bugs or rhinoviruses to quit it already. It's their job to be rapacious and shameless. But they can get away with paying nothing only for the same reason so many sleazy guys keep trying to pick up women by insulting them: because it keeps working on someone. There is a bottomless supply of ambitious young artists in all media who believe the line about exposure, or who are simply so thrilled at the prospect of publication that they're happy to do it free of charge.

  • Beneath the Streets, Lost Cities
    I expect workers in, say, Rome to bump into some ancient palazzo or latrine every time they break ground on a new subway line, sure. But in California? I wasn't expecting that.
  • Venice banned famous gondolas from Grand Canal during busy periods after water way collision kills tourist
    A tourist in a gondola was crushed between two boats on Venice's Grand Canal in August, so they restricted gondola access to the Grand Canal during busy times. To be honest, I think I'd rather see more limits on the motorized boats than the gondolas – can't help but think it's the motorized boats that are more of the problem.

    (via @dreamofitaly on Twitter)

  • Hypnotic GIFs of Anthony Howe’s Kinetic Wind Sculptures
    I *love* these kinetic wind sculptures. If I had one in my yard, I would stare at it all day & never get anything done.

Work of One’s Own

creative commons photo by blumpy

creative commons photo by blumpy

In the year-plus since I lost my job working on the Italy site (and was unsuccessful in buying the site), I’ve moved on to freelancing – something I never thought I’d tolerate very well, but that has turned out to be interesting and often fun. I’ve had Italy projects in the back of my mind throughout the past year, knowing I didn’t really have the ideal outlet for them any longer, and almost always defaulting to client work instead of rolling up my sleeves and digging into creating something of my own. It’s easier to spend hours on work, I reasoned, when you can bill someone else for that time.

Last month, however, I was reminded on two separate occasions that my Italy know-how is still valuable. At TBEX in Dublin, I was told by an experienced traveler that whenever he looks up information about Italy he still sees my old site first – and the information he finds there is still the best. And then out of the blue I received a message from a complete stranger via Facebook:

Hi Jessica,

While we don’t know each other, we have many Italy expat friends in common and I always enjoyed listening to your views via the Eye on Italy podcast. I have lived in Italy since 1996.

I miss your presence on the web, if that makes sense because we don’t even know each other! But you used to give great information and I liked your spot-on articles, which I often linked for friends. I am pretty sure that you no longer work for [that site].

I currently have friends in town from California and we were talking the other day. As they are expecting guests later this week who will be arriving via cruise ship, she was asking me some questions. Then she tells me that she found the best site, the best information…and it was yours!

So I just wanted to say hello and let you know that I hope things are going well for you in your life. I do follow you here on facebook and check your blog, but I have sensed your absence in the online world in recent months.

Warm regards,

I was so touched by Jill’s message, knowing that not only has she missed seeing my Italy articles but that her friend also mentioned my work. That message, combined with the comment from my fellow travel blogger at TBEX, have me thinking again about working on something that’s entirely my own. It’s a scary proposition, and I don’t really know where the time necessary is going to come from, but perhaps by saying it out loud here I’ll be more inclined to hold myself to it.

If you have suggestions on how to force yourself to carve out time to work on your own projects, I’d love to hear them.

Also, you may recall that I got a message from a reader not long after I lost my job last year. I just re-read it, and am now thinking about pasting both Cindy’s and Jill’s messages to my office wall as reminders to get to work.

October’s Glowing Trees


My habitual morning walks have gotten considerably slower in the last ten days. I’m in better shape and should be faster, but I’m too busy stopping every other block to take photos of all the trees that are on fire around me.

I love autumn. It is my season. Orange is my favorite color, Thanksgiving is my favorite holiday, and I’m only just starting to get tired of the LET’S PUT PUMPKIN IN EVERYTHING craze. This is my time of year, and the trees are better than I’ve seen them in ages.

To be fair, September in Portland was bad. Wet and gray, like a shot of November with warmer weather. So I didn’t have high hopes for October. But October, ladies and gentlemen, has given us what September is usually known for – only with even more fall color.

The bad news is that pretty much all these gorgeous leaves will fall off the trees at the first rain. (Which may not be far off. Today’s walk required a hat to keep mist off my glasses.)

At any rate, I give you – with no filters or color enhancements – a selection of photos taken on my iPhone over the last couple of weeks. (Yes, most mornings have been all white skies and bad lighting lately, but the trees? The trees still glow.)

Amuse-Bouches [Links I Love]: May 16 – August 21


Here’s the latest list of stuff I found interesting on the interwebz, May 16 through August 21:

  • The Risk Not Taken
    This is a beautifully written piece on risk, and so much more. I'd quote half the thing to you here, but – really – it's just easier if you read the whole thing.

    Here's one quote that's resonating with me at the moment:

    If you can’t decide what to do, get on the road. You won’t find the answer. It will find you.

    (via @legalnomads on Twitter)

  • 11 Untranslatable Words From Other Cultures [ILLUSTRATED]
    I love untranslatable words. A longtime favorite is "boh" – the Italian verbal equivalent of a shrug, because why doesn't EVERY language have that? – but my new favorite is from this list:


    It's Spanish for "the time spent after lunch or dinner, talking to the people you shared the meal with." Yes, I think EVERY meal should have this. What a brilliant word.

    And, just generally, the illustrations for these 11 words are lovely.

  • Social Media Tips for Travel
    When people on Twitter ask me about visiting Italy or Portland, I'm happy to offer tips and recommendations. It doesn't occur to me to think about why they're asking.

    In this case, Amy Chen was doing a piece for Travel+Leisure magazine – and she mentions me on page 9 of this article.

  • 10 things Italy does better than anywhere else
    I found myself nodding at numbers 3 & 7 – I wholeheartedly agree with both of those – but number 1 absolutely takes the cake for getting me to utter a hearty "AMEN!"
  • Portland, Oregon: The Age of a City
    This is so cool… A map showing the age of buildings in the Portland Metro area. It's gorgeous and fascinating, with patterns that are both pretty to look at and tell a story of development in different eras.

    (via @wiredmaps on Twitter)

  • A short history of Rome’s Metro C (aka, “the Unicorn”)
    If you've been to Rome, you know that the two Metro lines are sorely inadequate to serve the needs of a city that size – and that the third Metro line has been under construction (and the construction halted) for more than five years. This "history" is 17,000 kinds of brilliantly hysterical.

    (via Katie Parla on Facebook)

  • A gay island community created by Italy’s Fascists
    In 1938, a group of gay Italian men was shipped to Italy's Tremiti island by Mussolini's government, where they remained until the war ended. Although it was a forced internment, it was also a place where they could be openly gay – something they couldn't do in the rest of Italy. This is a fascinating (and little known) piece of Italian history.
  • Gin and Tonic Cupcakes
    Wait, what? Gin & Tonic CUPCAKES??!? Please & thank you.
  • No Kidding: Women Writers and Comedians on the Choice Not to Have Children
    So, wait – there's an entire book of essays by women writers and comedians on not having children? How did I not know about this? AND WHY DO I NOT OWN IT ALREADY??!?
  • Mississippi Could Soon Jail Women for Stillbirths, Miscarriages
    Umm… What the actual fuck, Mississippi??!?