Tag Archives: interview

Italy: A Travel Interview

4 Oct

With a week under our belt in Italy, I thought it would be a good time to interview my mom and sister about their impressions of the country. Here’s the transcript from a quick discussion on our balcony in the Amalfi Coast.

© 2014 pithypants.com

If you had to describe Italy in one word, what would it be?

Mom: Gorgeous. Wait – let me rethink it – I forgot about Rome. Gorgeous is for the Amalfi Coast. For Rome – I’d say “masses of humanity.”

Alicia: My word for Rome would be “surprising.” Like the really old parts everywhere, then the park where you don’t expect there to be a park.

Mom: Right – like when you realize the old things you’re seeing are thousands of years old instead of hundreds of years old…

Alicia: And you can touch it all… in DC you can’t even touch the Capitol building – OK, maybe that’s different – but here you can just walk right up to everything, and it’s a lot older.


Selfie-stick, anyone?

Selfie-stick, anyone?

What are three things you will always associate with Italy?

Mom (answering immediately): Motorscooters (then pausing to think before continuing)… and I guess Indians selling selfie-sticks; oh – and the red sauce – the fact that everything here has red sauce on it. It’s good food but I get tired of it – everything has red sauce. I need a hamburger!

Alicia: Juniper trees – or whatever those really tall, thin trees were; free [water] fountains; and people saying buongiorno.

Mom (laughing, holding up a beer bottle): And Peroni beer!


Capri - the island that is "no big whoop..."

Capri – the island that is “no big whoop…”

What advice would you give someone thinking  about visiting Italy for the first time?

Mom: Be sure and come to the Amalfi Coast – your tour must include it! Also – the Island of Capri isn’t any different than the towns along the Coast, but getting to and from it was gorgeous.

Alicia: Coming this time of year. I can’t imagine doing this when it’s hotter and more crowded. I was surprised by how busy Rome still was for it being “off season.”


Us, Vesuvius and Pompeii. Boom.

Us, Vesuvius and Pompeii. Boom.

What have you found the most surprising about Italy?

Mom: The climate. I wasn’t expecting it to be like this. This is summer time. And the BLUE WATER of the Mediterranean blew me away.

Alicia: I guess it’s where we’ve been, but it’s been all about tourists. I don’t feel like I’ve gotten to see the real Italy. The other surprise (for the same reason) is that people haven’t been as friendly as I thought – I’ve felt like an imposition a lot of the time.

Mom (whispering): Don’t touch the lemons!

Mom (not whispering any more): You just want to say, “Well, kiss my ass – we’re your payday.”

Alicia: People said they would appreciate it if you try to speak the language. But I’m not getting any points for trying.

Mom: Also – another thing that surprised me is how everything closes up in the middle of the afternoon for a few hours – all the stores and shops. Everything except the restaurants.

Mom: Pompeii was pretty amazing too. That made more of an impression on me than the stuff in Rome. It was a hassle – everything about getting there and leaving there – but it was worth it. Being there [in Pompeii] was pretty cool. Oh – and paying to go to the bathroom. That was a surprise. And the money and fuel they save from driving – they must use that on plastic bottles for their water. It seems like they’d just drink the water coming from the mountain.

Alicia: Another surprise has been how quickly I adjusted to the time. 


What is the most unique experience you’ve had on this trip so far? 

Mom: Going to a wedding! We didn’t even get them a gift. Geez… 

Mom (after a thoughtful pause):  But it was pretty cool, wasn’t it?

[More on this later. We crashed a wedding in Minori.]

Alicia (kind of screaming): Jumping off a boat into the Mediterranean where I couldn’t see the bottom.

Mom: Also the bus trip to Minori. It was unique AND scary. I thought I’d die. The drivers probably get paid for each trip they make so they’re just thinking, “more money, more money.”


Making lemonade out of lemons...

Making lemonade out of lemons…

What question haven’t I asked?

Mom (smiling and pointing at herself): Who’s been the best trouper?

Alicia: It’s true – you’ve been great! We should get you like a captain’s hat or something to wear that says “Trouper” on it.


And this concludes our interview. I’ll post more thoroughly about the ways in which my mother has been a trouper later. Here’s a hint: Today is the first day in more than a week that we’ve walked fewer than six miles in one day!

Nice save, New York!

25 May

I was in New York this week to launch a new website at Internet Week. Except the website doesn’t exactly exist yet, so I guess I was just in New York.

Meanwhile, Alan was taking a week’s vacation in Michigan to celebrate his birthday. And I would’ve been with him, celebrating and vacationing, had I not been launching a non-existent website in New York.

Does that make any sense? No, it doesn’t.

Which is why I was a bit of a sourpuss when I boarded the train on Sunday for New York.

Alas, great city that she is, New York was prepared to provide some redemption.

I’ll admit, it didn’t seem that way at first – when I stepped out of Penn Station, there was a steady drizzle. I was soaked by the time I arrived at my hotel in Chelsea. After helping set up our space at the event, I had a list of things I wanted to do that afternoon (a “Me Party” of sorts, as my sister calls it) to treat myself to a mini-break before diving back into work.

On my list:

  • Check out the Highline
  • Walk up to the Green Flea Market
  • Scout out the new food hall at the Plaza
  • Hit the TKTS booth and snag a seat at a show that evening

All of that was scrapped when I realized I was not only drenched, but didn’t have proper clothes for zipping around a wet city. I contemplated crawling in bed and indulging in a pity party, but instead, I texted my old roommate, David, from Capitol Hill, whom I hadn’t seen in four years and who lives in Manhattan.

Lady Fortune was with me, because he promptly wrote back and offered to meet at a restaurant near my hotel. An hour later, we were hugging at Markt, David appearing to have come straight from a duck hunt: he was wearing jeans, Wellies, a button down shirt and a quilted vest. It was very Dick Cheney. And he’s one of my few friends who would consider that a compliment.

We parked ourselves at the bar, ordered a bottle of wine, some mussels and a crock of French onion soup, and shrugged off the rain.

As we neared the end of our meal, David looked past me and said, “I think that is Chef Todd English sitting next to you.”

Interestingly, that name would have meant nothing to me only four hours earlier, but in researching restaurants in NYC, I’d noted that Todd English was something of a celebrity.

“No way,” I told David. “I can’t believe you would recognize a CHEF. Who does that?” (Actually, Alan would also do that because he watches the Food Network, but I don’t have a television, so I’m a bit clueless.)

“I’m pretty sure,” he said, doing a Google image search on his phone. “Doesn’t he look like Chef Todd English?”

I verified that the photo looked like the guy next to me, nodding. Then said, “You keep saying his name like it’s officially three words: Chef Todd English. Just call him Chef. Or Todd. Or Chef English. But not all three. Right?”

David shot virtual daggers at me, leaning forward with an eyebrow raised to say, “Chef Todd English?”

Which prompted the guy next to me to look up and say, “That’s me.”

Which prompted me to say, “Oh my gosh. I didn’t even know who you were until a few hours ago.”

Which is a discreet way to say, “Please don’t even begin to pretend you’re the shit.”

Mr. English didn’t seem to know what to make of being both recognized for and denied his celebrity status simultaneously. But I’ve never let an opportunity go to waste, so I decided it was a good time to interview him.

Even though I knew nothing other than that he was the brain behind the Plaza’s Food Hall I’d intended to visit, I rambled off a series of questions.

Here’s a loose one-way transcript of the wine-fueled interview:

I would imagine being a chef is weird, like being an author.

People know your work and respect you, but you’re not easily recognized so you don’t have to mess with the trappings of celebrity.

Do you find that to be true?

<Answer that you can probably find on Wikipedia>


Do you like it?

<Answer that you can probably find on Wikipedia>


How would you change things if you could in this regard?

<Answer that you can probably find on Wikipedia>


Clearly we just recognized you.

Does that irritate you when you’re just trying to have a beer?

<Don’t need to look at Wikipedia to find the answer>


Wait – why are you just sitting here drinking a beer?

<Probably NOT available on Wikipedia>


You’re waiting on your girlfriend?

Do you need to go pick her up?

<Still not available on Wikipedia, but his cell phone indicates YES>


Don’t let us keep you.

But I will keep asking questions until you get tired of us and leave.

How did you get into cooking?

<Answer that you can probably find on Wikipedia>


Were you an only child?

<Answer that you can probably find on Wikipedia>


Why can’t your sister cook?

<Answer was probably on Wikipedia until his sister edited it>


Is she envious of your success?

<Sister probably isn’t even mentioned on Wikipedia after she’s done editing it>


Do you miss playing baseball?

<Answer that you can probably find on Wikipedia>


Was it a rotator cuff that sidelined you?

<Answer that you can probably find on Wikipedia>


Did you have surgery?

<Answer that you can probably find on Wikipedia>


Don’t you need to go meet your girlfriend?

<Yes. End of Twenty Questions.>


As it turns out, he’s a nice guy. Especially for someone with three names.

Good save, New York.

(And thanks for brightening my day, David. Next time, though, I expect you to take me here. Though I’m not a fan of ladders.)

This bodes well for my stage debut on SNL, if there’s a prat fall in the script.

5 Jul

My office has an open environment, where we all have cubes instead of doors. It’s generally a fine set-up, unless you need privacy or your colleagues get a bit rowdy. Fortunately, I have a wireless ear piece, so if it gets noisy, I can generally grab my laptop and find a conference room without interrupting the call.

Last week we had network issues, which does to office workers what too much sugar does to infants: it causes melt-downs. My cube-mate (by which I mean: the woman on the other side of my cube, with whom I negotiate when I feel it’s necessary to fire up my space heater, and who, for the record, is awesome) expresses her frustration by pounding on her desk and hissing the F-word under her breath.

Like a rheumatic joint that predicts a storm, I can gauge our network speed by the way she’s pounding her desk on any given day. Thursday she was practically playing the bongos. “I think someone replaced my cord!” she said.

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