Posts Tagged With: beauty

Travel Journal: Cafés that Won’t Serve Coffee

In contrast to Naples, everyone told me I was going to just love Venice. I spent one night in Florence where I participated in a “Tour of Italy” dinner. It was by far the best food I had in Italy but I also met an American couple celebrating their 30th wedding anniversary. They had just come from Venice and were raving about it.

“You’ll just love Venice. There are no cars. Florence has so many cars!”

“I can’t wait for you to go to Venice; the seafood is to die for!”

“Really, you’re just going to love it. Everyone walks everywhere and no one is in a hurry.”

And so on.

I had high hopes for Venice. Because I am not a bazillionaire I stayed outside of the city. I accidentally got off at the right train station. My ticket was for the station right outside the city but I got off at Venice- Mestre, because it said Venice and the girl sitting across from me got off. I’m a sheep; what can I say? Fortunately, it happened to be the neighborhood in which my hotel was located. Lucky coincidence that saved me about 45 minutes of public transportation time. But it also meant I arrived three hours before I was allowed to check in.

I checked TripAdvisor (of course) to find a highly-rated restaurant to hang out in. There was one right next door! I told the waitress to bring me whatever she had. And this is what I got:IMG_2591

I still don’t know what everything was but you better believe I ate every bit. I wasn’t even sure how to go about eating it and my mom’s helpful advice via Facebook messenger was “chew and swallow”. Thanks mom.

After checking in and a short nap, I took a 45-ish minute bus to the city of Venice. I’d scheduled a free walking tour for 5:00pm and it was in the middle of the city. I put the coordinates into Google maps on my phone and off I went through



Santa Maria dei Miracoli made completely out of marble

the city, over bridges after bridge until I came to a water taxi port. I told Google I only wanted to walk but it didn’t listen. I was running a bit late and there was no way I could back track to a bridge across the Grand Canal (also at this point I wasn’t sure those actually existed) and make it to the meeting point. I bought the 7€50 ticket for a 10 minute ride along the Grand Canal. Upon reaching the other side, I ploughed through masses of tourists, following the winding blue line on my phone until I reached a plaza where a small American girl in glasses waited with a sign “Venice Free Walking Tour” and a tablet to check people in.

The walking tour was great for several reasons. 1. It was free. 2. We went to non-touristy places. 3. Our guide, Shannon, (while American and therefore not authentic J) knew the history and had special anecdotes to add. 4. Our guide, Shannon, was American and therefore spoke great English!

Upon Shannon’s advice, when the tour ended I went out for cicchetti at a small restaurant. Cicchetti are like Venetian tapas. Cicchetti is the plural. One is called a cicchetto (according to Wikipedia). Then it was the bus back to my hotel.


Basilica of Santa Maria della Salute (1630)

The next day I made sure to buy a full day water taxi pass for 20€, an absolute steal considering the price for one ticket. First, I headed over to St. Mark’s Basilica, arguably the most famous site in Venice. The first building was begun in 828 when some Venetian merchants stole the relics of Mark the Evangelist from Alexandria. The horses of Saint Mark-Lysippos are fairly well known as well. They were apparently looted during the sack of Constantinople in the Fourth Crusade in 1204. Then Napoleon stole them in 1797, but they were returned in 1815. Now they’re kept inside the basilica. The outside is adorned with replicas.

Funny history lesson, but I never got to see the inside. I waited in line in the campo for 30 minutes. There was the old man who was so sneaky. I saw him start maybe 10 people behind me and he just worked his way up the line, standing close to the people beside him, seemingly in their group. I was totally on to his game by the time he made it up to me, but he just kept looking straight ahead, walking in his slow, old-man way. By the time he made it to the door of the Basilica, he was about 15 people in front of me!

I had packed for the day with a small Camelback backpack. Like the smallest you can buy. I had my wallet, phone and a bottle of water. Ladies in front and behind me are carrying giant, beach-going purses. No problem! But me, with my tiny little backpack. Nope! The Venetian St. Mark’s guardsmen takes one look at the straps over my shoulders and tells me no, I cannot enter with a backpack. That’s it. I was dismissed.

But I stood rooted to my spot, holding up the ever-increasing line. Excuse me?!? What am I supposed to do? He points to a small sign with some line you’re supposed to follow around to the other side of the church for a bag check. It was not at all clear. And then I would have to wait in line again?!? You can’t even take pictures inside. I think not! Now the nice American couple told me I just had to go inside and see the mosaics, but really. Rude. And dumb.

The only thing I will give St. Mark’s is that it was there for the first time in Italy that I saw a depiction of the risen Christ. Right over the door was the mosaic pictured below:IMG_2662

I had started to think Italian Catholics had forgotten that Jesus rose from the dead, given all the art with him either as an infant, or on the cross, or dead in Mary’s arms. At least the artist of Saint Mark’s remembered that we Christians serve a Risen Savior. But that’s all I give that basilica. Otherwise, they made me so mad!

After my rude dismissal, I marched over to the water that would take me to Murano, the island of glass. All glassmakers were moved to this island in 1201 because of the many fires that had been caused by their workshops on the main island of Venice. Once I arrived, I watched a glass making demonstration, paid far too much for some necklaces out of the showroom and then went to the island of Burano.IMG_2690

Burano is known for it’s lace, brightly colored houses and for me, it’s rude café servers. After a rough morning, not being allowed into St. Mark’s and then walking around a bunch, I was pretty tired and wanted a coffee. I’d already eaten lunch on Murano, so I thought Burano deserved my coffee patronage. In the main plaza, I sat unobtrusively at a café, Trattoria Café Vecio, to be precise. It was cute place in a nice location looking over all of the brightly painted houses. The server approached me and asked if I was going to be ordering lunch. No, I replied, I’d just like some coffee.

We don’t serve coffee.

I craned me neck around the server to where I could see the wall decorated with paintings of coffee beans and signs, in English, saying “Coffee”.

That’s weird, I said, your signs seem to indicate otherwise.

Well, he replied, we don’t serve coffee right now. It’s lunchtime.

(It was 2:30pm)

If you want coffee you can come back at 4:00.

Are you kidding me right now?!? I didn’t say that. What I actually did was stand up, walk 5 feet away and look them up on TripAdvisor where I gave a scathing review. I mean, if there was a queue, people just dying to get Trattoria Café’s lunch, and I had taken the seat of some couple that would have paid the 20€ a plate prices, then fine. But the place was far from full!

Ok, I get it Venice. You get 27 million tourists a year. We probably annoy you a bit. But also, we are your paycheck. Not cool, Venice, not cool.

So Venice is pretty amazing. It’s mesmerizingly beautiful. The history is incredible. But be prepared for café’s that don’t serve coffee, unidentifiable seafood and backpack-discriminating churches.

One last interesting fact. The last part of my day was visiting the Jewish ghetto. The word “ghetto” actually comes from the Venetian dialect. It was the first ghetto and was created in 1516- so this year it is 500 years old. The Jewish population who still lives there is quite small, but I did find out that you can buy Murano glass a lot cheaper there than on the island of Murano!


Bridge to the Ghetto

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It’s a Weighty Issue

It’s that time of year when people put on a few extra pounds, a little insulation for the colder weather, that happily coincides with Thanksgiving and countless Christmas parties throughout the month of December. The New Year comes and the resolutions to shed those holiday pounds are made and mostly forgotten by Valentine’s Day.

Weight is not only an American issue. In some way or another, what one weighs is scrutinized in every culture across the globe – just not in the way we may expect.

I have long surmised that that wealth equals beauty. What a culture considers beautiful is that which tangibly manifests wealth.

A culturally acceptable beautiful woman in the United States is thin, toned and usually tan. Healthy food is expensive. The luxury of exercise is dependent on having the time. Sunbathing accompanies beach vacations or cruises through the Bahamas. Of course these are all generalizations. But where does our standard for beauty come from? It comes from those things associated with wealth.

As a Peace Corps Volunteer in Guinea, my entire village was thin. There was not a fat person, or even chubby person, in the vicinity. Why? Because they were all dirt poor. Intestinal parasites wreaked havoc in their guts. Bouts of malaria kept them from eating for weeks on end. They had to work in the fields to provide food for their families. For them, to be fat was beautiful. Fat=Wealthy. To be fat meant you had enough food throughout the year; it meant your body could digest the food ingested; it meant you weren’t scrapping by.


Some Guinean villagers

During my two years in Guinea I lost a considerable


circa 2009

amount of weight. Coming out of college, I was by no means overweight. But within six months, I was waif thin. I continually battled intestinal parasites. While I wasn’t a huge fan of the constant bloating, vomiting and diarrhea, I was quite happy with the results. At 22, I’d reached a pre-pubescent weight. I can hear the judgment in your head already.

“That’s not healthy”.

“I can’t believe you’d be happy about that.”

Well, you’re just jealous you don’t have parasites! Just kidding. I was 22 and stupid.

When I would return to my village after traveling, all of my neighbors and co-workers would compliment me on how fat I had become while away. At first, I was confused. Did I really look fat to them? Why would they wish to insult me like that? The weight loss wasn’t just in my head, was it? I would become offended quickly and escape to my mud hut to get away from their criticism. You may laugh at my naïveté, but growing up in a skinny-obsessed culture, it was outside my scope of understanding that anyone would find it complimentary to be called fat.

I live in an urban city on Clove Island. It is much more modern than my jungle home in Guinea. Most people aren’t starving. They may work in the field occasionally if they inherited a plot of land from their father, but the produce is not their main form of sustenance.

And yet, the idea that fat equaling beauty remains. I heard a statistic recently, which is unconfirmed, that one-third of all married women on


Procession of married ladies

Clove Island are obese. I spoke with a university professor who believes it’s closer to two-thirds. Unmarried girls and women are naturally thin. But once that ring is on the finger, pop, they balloon. Why?

I can’t say for certain. I have spoken with many people on the subject. Unmarried women long for the day they will be fat and men say they much prefer a woman with meat on her bones. My best guess is that being fat is still associated with wealth and closely tied to honor and shame. As a husband, if you are able to provide enough food for your wife to get fat, that is honorable. If not, you are shamed; you are poor.

Before coming to Clove Island, I assumed that I would lose weight here, just as I had in Guinea. So I put no restraints on what I ate. I love McDonald’s frappés and Starbuck’s chai lattes. I’m a sucker for Five Guy’s burgers and Dominoes pizza. And at 27, my metabolism wasn’t what it was before. So I packed on the pounds. No problem though, I’m going to Africa.

Unfortunately, while I have gotten parasites on several occasions, they’re not the weight loss kinds. My natural weight-loss plan never worked out. When I went home in August, I tried to put on my brave feminist face- it doesn’t matter how much I weigh, I can still be beautiful. But wow, it was hard and I was ashamed of how I looked. On the beach in Florida, I was surrounded by thin bikini models. I felt like a whale. Trying on clothes at the outlet mall, I wanted to cry every time I had pull something “large” over my head.

It was so much easier to be happy with my body on Clove Island. With no television, no malls, no bikinis, no one to impress- I just was. I didn’t dwell on my weight. But I won’t be on this island forever. My 30th birthday is quickly approaching and I want to return to America unashamed of my body.

I decided to make some changes upon my return to the island. I cut out a lot of my sugar intake and I started to work out several times each week. I’ve been using the Nike Training App, which I love! In the past three months, I have lost 20 pounds much to the chagrin of my island friends.

Yesterday I ran into a friend I haven’t seen in about two months. Our conversation went like this, “Jessica, it’s been so long I haven’t seen you.”

“I know. I am so busy.”

She reached up and touched my cheek, “Why you look so thin? You always so thin.”

My face brightened and with a huge grin I said, “Thank you! That is so kind. You make me happy.”

“What? You want be so thin. No, it’s not good. You must eat more.”

Don’t worry. I am not a waif thin Peace Corps Volunteer. I’m still 25lbs heavier than I was when I finished my Peace Corps service. But my brutally honest friend was telling me just how unattractive I had become in her opinion and I couldn’t have been happier!



So for all of you who worry about the Christmas pounds you’re going to put on, take comfort that in some places of the world, you would not be judged or scorned but considered very beautiful!

Also remember there are those less fortunate than you all around the globe, who consider you beautiful because you have more than enough to eat. Spread the joy and donate so they can eat too.

Freedom from Hunger

Samaritans Purse

Feeding America

World Vision

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