Wednesday, July 19, 2006

I, Miss America

When I was 8, my family went on vacation to Montreal and my father made us take the “short cut” across a torn up abandoned lot, causing me to fall and rip my knee open on a protruding iron pipe, necessitating a tetanus shot. I then made a promise to myself: I would never go on another family vacation EVER AGAIN.

The few times I broke that promise; there were severe consequences. Most notably, when I agreed to spend a month JAPpacking around Europe with them.

I knew it was a bad idea, but I was out of work and bored and they let me bring my friend Alabaster along, so I thought, “How bad could it be?”

The next four weeks answered that question for me in excrutiating detail.

It started go awry as soon as we got to airport. For international flights, it’s wise to come a good two hours early. Thanks to my oh so mildly OCD father, we got there a conservative six hours before take off, giving my mother plenty of time to curl up in the fetal position and weep until we could force feed her enough horse tranquilizers to bring her to a more pleasant, vegetative state.

After what felt like a three-day flight, we arrived in Barcelona, city of food with it’s head still attached. After such a well planned and long anticipated trip, we were eager to soak in as much of the foreign culture as possible, so after stopping at Starbucks we took a nice long nap at our hotel.

My sister immediately established her love of European culture by refusing to leave the hotel. On the rare occasion she did, it was to buy McDonalds before quickly returning to her room to watch MTV, which she was delighted to discover they have in every country.

On this memorable vacation, during which she earned the nickname Big Big Moron, she removed her headphones only once, and it was to announce “the only I thing I care about at all on this trip is going to the Prada outlet.” I believe we were on the Ponte Vecchio, watching the sunset at the time.

Other than that all she did was sleep, rap at us, and complain that she wasn’t with her boyfriend Billy. I can say with total assurance that, multi thousand dollar shopping spree at Prada aside, she would have been twice as happy spending the month at the Westchester Mall.

Unlike Biggy, Alabaster and I made the most of being in a foreign land… which is to say we actively picked up strangers everywhere we went, and shopped constantly.

I’ll always remember fondly seeing Al stumble home drunk early one morning just as my family was having breakfast. My mother smiled at him and said “Well, looks like one point for Al, zero for Carmela.”

Not one to ever be outdone, I hooked up with an exquisite Adrian Brody look alike named Julian, whom I met at a club and danced the night away with… before returning to his apartment. He was a phenomenal kisser, and things were getting pretty hot and heavy, until he took his pants off and exposed to me to my first uncircumcised penis… causing me to grab my belongings and run screaming into the night. There are some things a girl from Scarsdale just simply isn’t ever meant to see.

After that, thanks to my neurotic fathers inability to read the departure time of our boat… it was off to Nice, France. Where Al and I amused ourselves infinitely by saying “Nice is nice” to all those around us. I got my first boob tan (that was back when I had boobs). It was a wonderful experience for all. My mother insisted that every place we went in France was where Van Gogh had painted, although frequently this claim was made at toll boths and rest stops.

Not wanting to be viewed as your typical loud and ignorant Americans, while dining in one of the finest restaurants in France, my sister ordered Ranch dressing on her salad. When the (humiliated) waiter conceeded to try and create a similar salad dressing, Biggy insisted that he give her a high five.

After that, it was a slow trek of the touristy places Italy had to offer. Florence, Rome (Where we daily sang “Roam if You Want To”), some god forsaken Coney Island type beach resort called Rimini. That was by far the worst stop on the trip because, aside from being deserted and run down, we stayed at a hotel which I swear was the impetus for Steven King’s The Shining and was filled with “guests” you would never believe existed outside of a David Lynch film.

I will say this about Italy, they have more painting of Jesus than should exist n earth. They are ALL ABOUT Jesus over there. He's like their Brad Pitt.

For some reason my father just couldn’t wrap his head around the fact that Europe was in some way different from Epcot Center. He got fed up with the whole “we don’t speak English” act very quickly, and assumed the language barrier could be easily overcome by screaming loudly at the natives, and using odd combinations of completely indecipherable hand gestures.

Holding his hands about a foot apart vertically meant “plain water”. Holding his hands about a foot apart vertically also meant “carbonated water.” A small circle with his hands indicated “more bread”, and gesticulating wildly while speaking I believe translated to “why don’t you speak English, you ignorant Italians.”

I broke my toe in Rome (which my mother still insists was Gods punishment for not coming with the rest of the family to see the Vatican), and so the last family stop of the trip, Venice, Italy was spent mostly laying in bed, drugged to the gills, slipping in and out of consciousness and watching TV. Not unlike the time I spent in Venice, California…. but I digress.

After that my family finally returned to the states, leaving Alabaster and I to visit Paris and Amsterdam on our own.

Like true Americans, upon arriving in Paris we took a leisurely stroll to the Luxembourg Gardens… then got right on the metro to Euro Disney. While the park was mostly dull and creepy, we spent the afternoon telling one another “Euro Disney”, the appropriate response to which was “No! EURO Disney.” That kept us entertained most of the afternoon.

The next day we spent the day singing the classic Beatles hit “Louvre, louvre me do.” Guess where we went?

After Paris, it was Amsterdam. Amsterdam, as Alabaser astutely noted, is eerily similar to that island where the bad kids go in Pinocchio where they all slowly turn into Asses. We bought enough drugs to keep a family of crack heads completely intoxicated for about a month for our four-day stay.

The red light district is really cool… they keep all the hookers in neon lit rooms in buildings so that look like crazy fucked up doll houses. The men are so aggressive even I was afraid to leave the hotel room, so we mostly ventured out only for our seven meals a day, and to visit Ann Franks house, which truly is bigger than any apartment I’ve ever lived in.

The highlight was the evening Alabaster took 'shrooms and woke me up at 3:00 AM with the revelation that “most people have either two… or three children.”, at which point I realized it was time to go home.

The entire trip I kept a travelogue. The last entry reads: “Dear Diary, today we arrived in Amsterdam! I seems like a great place and I will write more after we’ve done some exploring.” A few pages after that there’s a drawing of a bunny.

Lots of people in their early twenty spend a summer in Europe “finding themselves”.

For the most part, I “found myself" hot, semi-conscious and in a different bed every night.

Sure couldn’t have done that in New York.