Do you know the Baklava Man?? (He’s a little too nice…)

The Baklava Man’s name is Carlos, and he is Turkish. Please do not ask me why a Turkish man would be called Carlos, I have no answers.

I first heard of Carlos the Baklava Man when I, in typical sweet-tooth fashion, happened to be searching for dessert after lunch one day and wandered into a Turkish supermarket. I observed the stale-looking packaged baklava* on display at the front of the store and asked the girl behind the counter, who looked to be around my age, how much it would cost. *For reference, this is what a piece of baklava looks like:

“Oh no,” she responded disdainfully, shaking her head. She raised one perfectly shaped thick black eyebrow and beckoned me to her, leaning in conspiratorially. Having absolutely zero clue what she would say, I hesitantly approached her, and she reached down and slapped a business card on the counter between us with a flourish. She winked at me.

“You want good baklava? This is the best baklava in Edinburgh, I promise you.”

I laughed and picked up the card, expecting your average business card, including a traditional bakery name in bold letters, followed by a mailing address and an email address. However, this business card was not only bright blue, but it was entirely in Turkish, and the only discernable handwriting looked to be a 7-digit phone number.

Well then. I looked at the girl in confusion. “Isn’t there an address?” I asked her. “Where would I go?”

“Trust me.” The girl winked at me. “His name is Carlos. He makes it at home and delivers right to your door.” I thanked her and slipped the card in my back pocket. Just as I was heading out the door, she called to me, “tell him Rabia recommended you!”

I promptly forgot about the incident, and it isn’t until a week later that I am folding my laundry and find the business card in my jean pocket. I hesitate for a second, staring at the 7 digit telephone number. The idea of a random man from only a semi-credible source (sorry Rabia) coming to my house seemed a bit sketchy, but I quickly brushed the thought from my mind. Because hey, it’s abroad, you’re supposed to try new things, and I’m just being ridiculous, right? So I dial the number, and after a few rings, a very deep voice picks up on the other end.

“Halo,” it says in a thick accent.

“Hi!” I say cheerfully. “Can I make an order of baklava for delivery, please?”

Suddenly, the voice on the other end sounds suspicious.

“Who is this?” it demands. “Where you get dis number.”

I slightly panic.

Swallow.

Oh, god. I rack my brain, trying to remember the name of the girl at the Turkish supermarket.

“Um, uh, Rafia! I mean Rabia!” I say excitedly, the name flashing in my mind. “I’m Allegra, and um, Rabia said you, um, make baklava?”

There is a moment of silence on the other line, and I stop my anxious pacing around my dorm room to listen. Then there’s a loud belly laugh.

“Ah, Rabia! You Rabia special friend?”

I’m not sure what a “special friend” constitutes exactly-it definitely doesn’t cover a one time conversation- but I say, “uh, yeah!”

The voice on the other hand laughs again. “Okay,” it says, as though it has come to an important decision.
“You Rabia’s special friend, so I give you special price!! What is your address?”

Without thinking, I spit out my address, and before I know it I’ve got a baklava delivery for Sunday at 3pm. I hang up the phone and exhale loudly.

That Sunday, I find myself outside my dorm building waiting for Carlos at 2:55pm. At 3:05pm, I receive a text saying, “will be10 minutes ok sorry xx.,” and at 3:15pm, a rusty red Toyota screeches to a stop in front of my door, out of which steps a man who looks to be my dad’s age, with dark skin, a bit of a beer belly, and a balding head of black hair. He smiles widely when he sees me, revealing a shiny gold tooth.

“Allegra!” he says, waving his arms in flourish.

He seems nice enough, so I smile and wave. “Hi!” I say. “Carlos, right?” Carlos pulls a large cardboard Dominos Pizza Box and walks up to me. He looks me up and down shamelessly. “So nice to meet you, Allegra!” he says.

I feel slightly uncomfortable about the way this interaction is going so far, but I really do want Baklava but at the same time I am not sure why Carlos is holding a pizza box. Carlos opens the pizza box and reveals about 100 pieces of crispy, honey-filled baklava, all beautifully stacked in rows.

“Wow.” I can’t help admiring. “It looks so good.”

“Made dis morning!” Carlos says proudly. “Now open your mouth.” He pulls out a sliver of baklava and holds it in front my face expectantly.

“Excuse me?” I stare at Carlos, unsure how to react.

“Open your mouth,” Carlos insists, waving the piece of baklava around. “So you can try!!” Without thinking, I open my mouth and Carlos pops a piece in.

Wow. It is amazing. Too bad I can’t enjoy the moment because Carlos is smiling slyly at me. There is a moment of silence.

“Okay, then!” I say cheerfully. I frantically dig into my back pocket and pull out a 20 pound note. “Here you go, thank you so much.” I take the pizza box from his arms hand him the 20, and turn around to almost crash into my flatmate Adam, who I later found out had come down to make sure everything was OK.

“Adam!” I exclaim loudly in relief. With my back turned to Carlos, I widen my eyes at Adam and mouth HELP- HE’S CRAZY. Adam is a tall, lanky but good looking Irishman. He can be plenty chatty, but he does not appreciate people touching him and is therefore quite hard to hug.

“Adam, Carlos,” I introduce. “Carlos, Adam.”

“Um, Adam came down because I told him you were bringing baklava and he’s never had any!” I lie. We definitely don’t need Carlos to know Adam is trying to protect me.

Carlos doesn’t catch on to the lie, and his eyes light up when he hears Adam’s never tried his precious baklava.

“Ah, my man!” he cries. “You must try!” He opens the pizza box I am holding, pulls out another piece of baklava and instructs: “open your mouth.” Adam glances at me nervously, and I can’t help but stifle a laugh. He opens his mouth, and Carlos slowly puts a piece in his mouth. Adam chews in silence, stiff as a board beside me.

“Right,” I say, smiling tightly at Carlos. I think we have all had enough of Carlos for one day. “We’re gonna go now, but thank you so much.” I remember that he took the time to drive over and personally deliver Baklava to my door and feel appreciative, until I realize that he knows where I live and could potentially show up any time unannounced. I shake my head, trying to banish the thought from my mind. I’m being ridiculous.

Or am I? As Adam and I turn to leave, Carlos suddenly grabs my hand and kisses it.

He smiles and wiggles his eyebrows suggestively.

“Allegra, I make you baklava whenever you want.” He winks.

I think I offer Carlos something between a smile and a grimace in return, but I cannot honestly tell you because all I remember is desperately wanting to get out of there. “Thanksbye!” I say in one sentence.

I pull my hand away quickly and go inside, where Adam was already holding the door for me, and do not look back.

I am pretty sure that was the first time Adam has been fed anything by someone who isn’t his mother in his entire life. The baklava was incredible, don’t get me wrong, and my flat mates and I devoured it within 48 hours.

However, the experience was a lot to handle in terms of seduction, and I am not sure if I can cave in to my sweet-tooth cravings without putting myself at risk of being taken away to Carlos the Baklava Man’s home and never seen again.

Allegra Hanlon, reporting to you with her account of the Baklava Man. Any comments or suggestions would be greatly appreciated.

P.S. This is a picture of me with an entire box of baklava from ANOTHER Turkish bakery in London because I was not brave enough to take a picture with Carlos and his baklava. Can you tell I like baklava??

 

Realizing it’s not always Great to be an American

Day 2 in Rome, Italy. Gotta say, morale is a bit low. Day 2 followed Day 1, of course, and Day 1 was a struggle. My three friends and I landed in the Ciampino Airport, about a half hour drive to the center of Rome, where we found that the taxi drivers were on strike and the only way to the city was through a single bus, that was surrounded by a huge mob of Italians yelling and pushing their way into its doors.

“Check uber,” I said to my friend Michelle. Michelle, who is a, ah, highly-strung individual as it is, gulped when she checked the app.

“It’s 80 euros,” she told us nervously. After about 15 minutes of the four of us walking back and forth from the Help Desk to the single bus station, we spotted a curb next to the parking lot where suspicious looking black SUVs were lining up and seemed to be taking people away as they approached them.

“Guys, over there!” I pointed. “Let’s try it.”
So for the umpteenth time since our arrival at the airport, me in my green Abercrombie raincoat, and my friends in varying colors of American apparel, all made our way to said curb with our rolling bags, where we realized none of us really spoke Italian.

My friend Rafia, however, had taken Italian for language credits in school years ago, and she hesitantly approached a driver leaning against his SUV. Wearing a sleek black suit and dark sunglasses to match, he looked like something straight out of a movie as he raised his eyebrows suggestively once Rafia was in front of him.

“Perfavore,” she said nervously in soft, broken Italian, “abiamo… andare in città..?”, which roughly translates to “we need to get to the city.” The man peered at Rafia, and looked to where my friends and I were waiting anxiously. He sneered.

“No.”

Of course, when an Italian family of four approached him, sporting their heritage with Puma Italy soccer jerseys, he slapped the father on the back before ushering them into his car, giving my friends and I a smirk, as if to say, “see, you’re just lousy Americans.”

We managed to find a car to share with two other foreigners about an hour later, who, though they weren’t American, were just as desperate to escape the massive crowd still surrounding the one single bus.

Flash forward to Day 2. In the morning: It’s a beautiful day. Unlike the weather in Scotland, where the presence of the sun makes no difference in the temperature, today in Rome the sky is blue and the sun shines brightly, casting a much missed warmth straight through to our bodies as we step outside. My friends and I spend the morning in the Vatican City exploring its church and marveling at its many many many paintings. By the time we leave at around 1 pm, we’re exhausted and hungry, so I suppose we shouldn’t have been surprised when a tall man approaches us just outside the gates of the city and says to us in a jesting manner, “Four angry women! Just like four angry birds!”

We ignore him and continue walking, because he’s not the first man to call out at us in Rome. When he realizes we’re not giving him the time of day, he slithers up right next to my friends and I and spits:

“Fools! You are the reason Trump was elected!” A group of Italian teenagers passing by us chortle in laughter.

At that point my friend, incensed, turns to him and flashes him the finger, to which he laughs menacingly, and we manage to walk away before he says anything else.

Later that night, while at a bar, another man approached my friend Rafia and I with the intention- or at least I assumed- of flirting with us. He must have been in his early 30’s, with a decent amount of greasy black hair on his head and a sleazy smile.

“Hellooo, Ladies,” he sang, sliding his elbow across the bar and propping his head on his hand to look us unabashedly up and down. He winked.

“So,” he said, signaling to the bartender that he wanted a drink, “did you vote for Trump?”

I frowned, sure I had misheard him. Surely this wasn’t the way Italian men tried to pick up women? Talking politics? I mean, I thought I might’ve at least gotten some cheesy line of me being beautiful or something first.

“Did you vote for Trump.” It wasn’t a question this time, it was a statement, as though he already knew the answer to whatever would come out of our mouths. He pursed his lips together, forming a thin, intimidatingly straight line across his face. I looked to Rafia uncertainly, and she looked back at me, equally bewildered.

“No,” I said, raising my chin defiantly.

“No?” The man raised one thick black eyebrow.

“No, we didn’t!” Rafia chimed in indignantly.

“Just because we’re American doesn’t mean we voted for Trump,” I told the man evenly, smoothing my hair back with one hand. “Not all Americans believe in the awful things he has said.”

I was trying to keep a straight face, but inside I was seething. I thought to myself, how DARE this man associate me with Trump? Does he not know how many Americans are just as appalled by him as the rest of the world?!”

And then it hit me. He doesn’t. Of course he doesn’t. All this man knows of America is what he sees in the media. America collectively chose Trump to represent our country. So in his mind, any American he passes on the street must also believe that global warming doesn’t exist. Must also believe that immigrants do not belong in the United States. Must also believe in a great wall, and that Putin is a wonderful man, and all the rest of the outrageous things you read on our president’s Twitter.

The Italian man at the bar scoffed at my response. He didn’t believe me for a second.

Shaking his head in disgust, he simply turned to the other pair of American women beside him and proceeded to ask them the same exact question.

I would like there to be an instant solution to what I experienced. For there to miraculously be a different person, a different situation, shall we say, that I’m associated with when someone outside the U.S. sees and speaks to me and realizes that I’m American.

But in light of the fact that there isn’t, I’ve realized that the best way for me to represent my country is by behaving in a way that makes others think not, “ugh, just another lousy American,” but instead “hey, maybe they’re not all as bad as we think they are.”

In my experience, this means: not being on my phone 24/7, not talking absurdly loudly in English and exclaiming “OMG” at everything that looks Italian because come on people, we’re in Italy, and lastly, trying to authentically and correctly learn and speak the language, at least while I’m there.

I think I finally learned my lesson by my last day in Italy. By then, I had grown frustrated by the lack of attention the locals were giving us simply because I wasn’t playing my part. Having eaten at least one gelato in Italy every day, by day 8 I had picked up the necessities, and on our last trip to one of Rome’s local gelato shops, I stepped up to the bar determined to at least ask for a freaking gelato in perfect Italian.

Repeating the right words over and over again in my mind as I made eye contact with the attendant expectantly waiting for me to speak, I opened my mouth:

“Scusi,” I stammered, feeling heat rush to my cheeks. I smiled nervously and pointed at the flavor I wanted.

“Un cono… di cioccolate fondente. Perfavore,” I added, which translates to “one cone of dark chocolate, please.”
The elderly man behind the counter smiled at me, his eyes crinkling at the corners.

“Cioccolato,” he corrected me gently, handing me a giant serving of chocolate gelato.

“Grazie per aver provato. ” He nodded approvingly, and moved away to help the next customer.

Later that night, I asked an Italian friend of mine what that meant. It meant, Thank you for trying. Italian men are known for infamously showering women on the streets with flattery, and trust me, I got some of that as well, but those last four words were easily the greatest compliment I received on my trip. Hopefully, the next time that man is approached by a group of gaggling, insufferable American girls, he thinks of me instead.

P.S. Here is a photo of a time an Italian barista liked me because my name is Allegra, which means “happy” in Italian (and in Spanish), and so he spelled my name in my cappuccino 😉

When Abroad isn’t Everything you Expected

One thing I really wish someone had told me before coming abroad was that it isn’t always going to be fabulous. That, my friends, is the truth. Nearly every person I talk to that has gone abroad has nothing but positive things to say about their trips upon their return:

“Omg I went to the COOLEST places!”

“Ugh I met the most INCREDIBLE people.”

“You have to go eat at this restaurant it’s SO GOOD.”

Which, is great, of course. It makes me happy that all the people I talked to have had such amazing experiences. But as a result, us newcomers, in the weeks, days, hours before our departures to whatever foreign city we’ve meticulously researched and decided to live in, create definitive expectations of how our time abroad will be. We can’t help it. I suppose I should be speaking for myself when I say I thought I would meet my best friends ever right away. I thought I would meet them in the first week, we’d bond in such a way that it’d seem we were meant for each other, and then we’d jet off to the south of France and take incredible pictures by the ocean with a warm breeze blowing our hair back, like these Victoria’s Secret models:

Nobody tells you that in January, it’s highly unlikely that it will be above 40 degrees ANYWHERE in Europe, let alone Scotland. Granted, I knew it would be cold, but I didn’t imagine taking a 30-minute walk in the face of a massive hailstorm, at the end of which I kind of resembled Rachel McAdams in the rain scene in the Notebook where she reunites with Ryan Gosling, except not nearly as put together:

I KNOW- I envisioned myself being able to walk with all my soul mates to a pub that obviously would play the catchiest Scottish music I’ve ever heard, but nobody told me that it’s actually so hard to dance in a ceilidh, and it’s even harder (AT LEAST FOR ME) to put down an entire freaking pint of beer, which everyone seems to know how to do with ease.

And nobody tells you that sometimes, it’s actually lonely. That at times you’ll find yourself alone at a coffee shop with nobody to laugh to about the last time you screwed up the pronunciation of yet another Scottish word.

And yet, in my experience, it’s the times when you’re alone that you realize you’re beginning to grow. My first week in Scotland, I will 100% admit that the first time I sat in a café by myself, I was freaking miserable because being alone at a café, and not somewhere gallivanting with my Scottish soul mates, was not what I had envisioned for myself. But you know what? I still got myself the best fish and chips I’ve ever had and I damn well enjoyed them. And then I went out and I made an even greater effort to find people I had things in common with.

(These are my Fish and Chips. If you ask anybody what the Scotland cuisine is like, this is it. There’s literally nothing else except haggis, which consists of lamb intestines, and I refuse to put that on my site):

And today? I’ve found myself in Rome, Italy, with a group of amazing girls that no, may not necessarily be my soul mates, but yes, have made my experience travelling greater than I could have ever possibly imagined because they are different than me. They have different interests and passions that force me out of my comfort zone to look at parts of Italy I might have never ventured into if I had been on my own. I came to Italy with these girls on a whim, because I have realized that my time abroad is limited. In speaking with them, I learned that I wasn’t the only person whose integration into their country hadn’t been exactly perfect. I’ve met and spoken to other friends in Rome, Florence, and Budapest who tell me that at times, being abroad is tough. Being in a new country and expecting it to fulfill all the hopes and dreams, and not having it be that way, is hard.

 

I decided that my post this week wouldn’t be about the adorable exchange I had with the old lady in a coffee shop in Rome, or about all the gelato and pizza I’ve eaten (which, by the way, has been at least one of each every day thus far- YES I KNOW IT’S A LOT, and here are some pictures if you don’t believe me):

 

I decided it would be a statement- a reminder, if you will, to anyone and everyone who goes or has ever been in a foreign country and has experienced culture shock or loneliness, call it what you wish, and to tell them it’s OKAY. Living in a different world is a challenge, and you, and all of us with you, are brave just by being here. So eat that extra gelato. Hang out with the people who seem cool but you’re not sure if they actually are and decide for yourself. Go on the city tour that you want to go on but seems touristy. Abroad hasn’t been perfect so far, and it won’t be in the future, but at least you’ll look back and find comfort in the fact that at you lived to the fullest (yes I know it’s cheesy but it’s what I got so bear with me).

That’s all I’m trying to do. I’ve definitely gained five pounds in Italy, but for every pound and every unnecessary gelato run has come a new experience and a new memory to cherish in the hopes that one day I can tell my kids, “Guys. This one time, I got a heart-shaped pizza for five dollars with these girls I just met, and it was awesome.”

Allegra vs. The Highland Cows

One of my favorite things to do as a kid was decorate the Christmas tree… okay FINE YES it’s still one of my favorite things to do. My dad would pull out the eggnog, we’d play some Mariah Carey (you guys know what song I’m talking about, and if you don’t go watch Love Actually right now I don’t care if it’s February), and we would all hover around the ornament box trying to find the coolest things to hang up. Because we didn’t just have good ‘ole colored spheres, we had all kinds of plastic food, including apples and lemons, and types of shoes, and I think we even had tin soldiers?? – Mom if you’re reading this, you’ll have to fact check me on that one. My brother actually had not one, but TWO ornaments of his face, crafted specially by him in the first grade, and both of which he would place smack in the middle of the tree, right next to each other. Here is a photo of myself in front of the tree that I instagrammed- not only can you still see Arthur’s ornaments, but it was actually brought to attention by my good friend Michelle in the comments. Thanks Michelle, really.

ANYWAY. This relates to my time in Scotland because not only did we have various ornaments of my brother’s face as well as food, but we also had an ornament of a Highland Cow bought in Scotland. What are highland cows, you ask? Well, they’re a Scottish cattle breed that lives in a very cold, mountainous area of Scotland called The Highlands. Except that they’re not just cows, they have HORNS. Horny cows. But not like horny sexual. You know. Right, okay. So, on the ornament, these cows look adorable. The ornament we’d always put on the tree was actually made of a gingerbread cookie years ago in the shape of the cow’s face, with little gingerbread horns to complete it, and BONUS: after all these years, it still smells a bit like cookies. These cows have extremely thick orangey hair in order to survive Scotland’s hellish winters, and if you look them up on the internet they look like this:

 

However, this past weekend I was presented with the rare opportunity to see said Highland cows in person and fulfill my childhood fantasy of meeting an animal that smells like gingerbread.

SPOILER ALERT: They do not smell like gingerbread!!!

When the time came on a frigid, blustering Saturday afternoon to feed the coos (because that’s their nickname and yes, these cows have a nickname), me, my friend, and the owner of this farm ventured into the farmland mid-blizzard with a giant bag of grass for them to eat. Being from Miami, I couldn’t help but be miserable as the snow whirled around me while the farm owner, a wonderful woman named Elaine, cupped both hands around her mouth and yelled: “TIME TO EAAAAAATTTT!!!!”

This continued for about five minutes, all of which I highly doubted any sort of animal would be dumb enough to emerge during a blizzard, until all of a sudden I saw one orange head appear in the distance.. then two, then three. And then all of a sudden thirty giant orange blimps were sprinting towards us at a surprisingly fast pace.

“They’re not going to hurt us, right?” I nervously said to Elaine as she began filling a set of bins with grass. Elaine laughed.

“Of course not, they’re just cows!!”

And then the coos were upon us, and everything was fine as they lingered over their grass feast. Until finally, the grass was all gone, and the massive cows turned towards the three of us standing there with empty bags.

Now, please keep in mind these aren’t cute little ducks or anything. They are COWS with HORNS, and until you’ve actually seen a cow in person, I think it’s a bit hard to bear in mind how big they are. Think of a sumo wrestler. With horns. And then multiply that by 30. For a few seconds, I simply stood and stared.

“Time to go!” Elaine said cheerfully, and she turned around to head back to the jeep on which we came. HAH, GOOD ONE. My friend and I alternatively chose to walk backwards, which might have been more frightening because with each backwards step we could see just how close these animals were to us.

“Elaine, do they normally get so close?” I yelled to her as we began to head faster and faster back to the jeep.

“No, actually.”

It was all I could do to keep falling over. Until I did fall over, into a very small ditch, and I panicked.

“Veronica, I AM SO FREAKING SCARED RIGHT NOW,” I yelled at my friend, frantically brushing the snow off my body as I fast-walked to the jeep.

“You don’t have to yell, I’m right here!” She screamed in my ear, equally panicked.

Moments before my fall (please forgive the poor quality of the photo):

 

A few seconds later we were in the jeep, safe from the coos and their horns, and everything was fine. In retrospect, Elaine must have thought Veronica and I were complete wimps, though she withheld her laughter and proceeded to make us cake for dinner (shout out to Elaine). All this to say: if you ever find yourself in the Highlands of Scotland- refrain from touching the coos, they are more dangerous than you think!!! I’ll say it again for good measure- moral of the story: DO NOT PET THE COOS.

My Flatmates and Shia LaBeouf

When you enter my flat (because it’s not an apartment it’s a flat), the first thing you’ll see is a piece of paper taped to the kitchen door that reads “JUST DO IT” in very messy handwriting. You make a right turn into a hallway with 5 bedroom doors on the left side and two bathroom doors on the right, and the next thing you see on the wall is this:

Yes, that is a picture of Shia LaBeouf making what appears to be a guttural noise and gesture to match. And yes, those are two motivational quotes he says (no, yells at the top of his lungs is more like it) in a video he apparently made for fun on YouTube titled “Just Do It.” My flatmates, two other girls and two guys, took inspiration from this video to help motivate one of the guys, who we will call James, ask a girl out on a date.

If you walk down the hall, you are confronted with several more lovely pictures of our man, who we refer to as Shia, as well as other quotes that will serve to motivate you in whatever endeavor you may be struggling with, such as:

FACT: Thanks to good ‘ole Shia and my adorably concerned flatmates, James did ask his crush out, and they have been dating for 2 months now. Of course, the Shia portraits and inspiration phrases are still up.

I figure if I’m going to allow my readers to get to know me and my experiences while in Europe, they might as well get to know who I’m living with, right? So this is just one example that gives you a VERY VERY SMALL taste of what they’re like. And while I was a bit weirded out when I first walked into the apartment and found 6 Shia LaBeouf photos (okay yes I thought they were insane and worried my sense of humor wouldn’t be, ah… out-of-the-box enough for them), since then I’ve come to the conclusion that they are all absolutely wonderful and I am lucky to be living with them.

Three of my flatmates are Physics majors, and one of them is a Biological Sciences major. This is odd for me for several reasons:

  1. I am an English major. While I am taking a class called Place & Space in Literature, which is absolutely fabulous and in which you have deep discussions about how and why a certain place might be important to you, they all take a class together called Physics 1B: Stuff of the Universe. When we were all still getting the formalities out of the way and sitting around the kitchen, I once made the mistake of asking what exactly that entailed. “Well,” one flatmate began, his eyes lighting up with interest, “right now it’s about what happens when you shine light through a single slit, a double slit, or a crystal!” I honestly didn’t know whether to respond by  a) asking more questions and making myself look stupid, or b) trying to change the subject to something English-y they might not care about, so I awkwardly stood up and started washing the dishes.
  2. When, on the rare (VERY RARE) occasion I find myself drinking too many glasses of wine, I will play music I very much enjoy and ask people about their feelings*

*I know this is weird, but I’m an emotional person and I believe in love and everyones’ happiness and I like to talk about it, it’s fine, it’s less weird than it sounds once you get to know me.

When it’s my flatmates that drink too much wine, however, they don’t talk feelings but instead make graphs. Yes, you read correctly. GRAPHS. Exhibit A:

 

As translated to normal people terms (aka me) by my flatmate:”sexual frustration oscillates in proportion to self loathing, and are therefore represented by (T) the horizontal axis as time, and E/J on the vertical axis as energy in joules.”

I’ll leave you as the reader to attempt to decipher what that may mean, because I haven’t taken any sort of mathematics class in two years, nor do I intend to in the future.

Cumulatively speaking, my flatmates are very different from me, as well as from each other. One was raised in Northern Ireland, the other in Cambridge, England. One could easily have a drink with her mother, while the other wouldn’t dream of it. I think I am the first Colombian my flatmates have ever met, and the only knowledge of  sororities or fraternities they have is from American Pie. 

And yet, they are a family. They were one when I got here, and since then have made some room for me as well. At the end of the day, that’s the whole point of life, isn’t it? It’s being able to go to a place, meet people who you might have never have known of but who have somehow come into your life, and let them in so that everything that’s different about them somehow becomes a part of who you are.

I think that’s why some people study abroad, because maybe they need a break from the same old circumstances and people from home they’ve been around so much they’ve become sick of them. (To my friends at home: NO THAT’S NOT MY CASE). I don’t think that’s why I’m in Scotland. I think I’m here because I saw the opportunity to do something, go somewhere that’ll make me a better version of myself, and I took it. My flatmates aren’t perfect. They’re not what I thought they would be like, but I couldn’t have expected that- how boring would life be anyway if it were everything you always expected it would be?

They’re wildly different from me, I’m wildly different from them, and collectively we’re wildly different from each other, and yet we are a family. All we can do is take what each person can give and make ourselves better because of it, and I am so so grateful.

P.S. Here is the video of Shia LaBeouf’s “Just Do It”. Watch it. It’s hilarious:

 

 

 

 

A Serious Conversation about Relationships with my taxi driver

~me, making conversation with my taxi driver. Day 3. En route to Lithe, the “cool, trendy” part of Edinburgh, but we’ll get into that later.~

Post flagging down the driver by waving viciously as though I were in New York (do people even do that here? If you find out LMK) and then running across the street where he was dropping some other passengers off. Then I knock on his window, and he gestures me in with a wave of his hand.

“Hi!!” I say, far far too loudly for the confined space between us. “Did you see me waving? I was trying to get your attention, because you were moving past me, you know, and I didn’t know…” I trail off. In retrospect, I can’t decide if I was just really excited to be going out to a fancy dinner (which is what I was doing) and not thinking straight, or I was out of breath from running, or I was nervous about getting in a taxi?? (in which case I would be truly screwed, because traveling= taxis), but in any case, I really was rambling on.

The cab driver, rolls his eyes. A glance at his registration tells me his name is Angus, a good hardy Scottish name.

“Sweetie,” Angus drawls in a thick Scottish accent, “I couldn’ta missed ya if I tried.”

I blush. Shit. I really need to learn how to be a little more discreet. If there is one thing I have noticed about myself while I’ve been in the U.K., it is that I am so freaking loud. Any time I walk into a coffee shop with a friend I notice immediately the way heads turn just at the sound of my voice, which tends to be at least three volumes louder than that of the soft-spoken British.

“I’m sorry,” I say to Angus, whose driving resembles that of a 15-year old boy who just got his permit. The taxi lurches to the side, and I grab hold of the ceiling handle to steady myself.

“I’m American. I tend to be pretty loud, and uh, expressive. Sorry.”

Angus laughs. It’s a deep belly laugh, the kind you know is real, that comes straight from your gut and permeates the air, the kind that no matter what sort of day you’ve been having, when you hear it you can’t help but join in.

“That’s not a bad thing, I tell ya,” he says as he takes a left turn. We’ve turned on to Princes Street, which is a fantastic representation of Edinburgh’s ability to transition to 21st century/ popular culture while still maintaining its beauty of hundreds of years. On the left of the street, you have your average American mall stores, such as TopShop and H&M and Urban Outfitters. But on the right, you have this enormous, majestic field of beauty called Princes Street Gardens, that separates modernity from history with an iron fence. This is what it looks like in the summers:

 

But back to Angus. My being loud isn’t a bad thing? What?

“Really?” I say, leaning forward with interest. “I thought the attitude of the British and Scottish is that American woman are just loud and stupid and all voted from Trump.”

Angus smiles  at me through the review mirror in a grandfatherly way, his cheeks ruddy and pink from the cold.

“Well I don’t know who you’ve been talkin’ to, but I much prefer the American women because they say exactly what’s on their minds, no beatin’ around the bush,” he says matter-of-factly.

I laugh loudly. This is great. And sort of relieving. Not that I would at all be interested in this guy, of course, he’s like my dad’s age, but hey it’s nice to know not everyone thinks I’m a dumb-ass!

“Well then, what are the women generally like here? Are you married?”

I know, I know, this is a personal question. But it’s a fascinating topic, and I figure if I’m gonna make conversation, it might as well be about something genuine, and not, like, the weather. (BTW all it does is rain. But not a real downpour, like the kind you have in the States with lightning and you can drink hot chocolate and tell scary stories, it’s just a little annoying drizzle. A constant one.)

“No, I’m not married. Not anymore. The women here are so quiet,” he tells me as he swerves to the right. “You ask them, what are you thinking, what are you thinking for Crist’s sake, and they never tell ya! American woman aren’t like that.” He nods stoutly, as though affirming what he’s just said.

“They tell you exactly what’s on your mind. And now I live alone, outside Edinburgh. I play Xbox. It’s better this way.”

I don’t know what to say. Poor guy doesn’t sound like he fell in love. This sounds like a personal problem. But obviously I’m not gonna say that, so I stay quiet.

Just as we pull up to my destination, which is a lovely little French restaurant with fantastic duck that I highly recommend, good ole Angus holds up a finger.

“I tell ya,” he says to me. “If there’s one thing you learn about the men in this country  before you leave for America, it’s this: All a Scottish man really needs in life is enough money to live on and a fine woman.”

I smile, thank him, pay him, mull this over as I join my friends inside our seductively lit restaurant. Money to live on and a fine woman. Hm. It doesn’t sound like he has either of those, but I’ll take it.

To Angus if he ever gets around to reading this: I really really hope you find that fine woman some day.

 

Pre Departure !!?

If I’m going to have very random people reading about my life for the next six months, I’ve decided that I’m going to have to be completely truthful. And the absolute truth is that I’m winging this. I’m really entirely unsure of what I’m doing. Unlike a lot of people who decide to go abroad, I haven’t dreamed of it since my time in the womb. I never fantasized about all the weird cockroaches I might eat in China or something like in Eat, Pray, Love, or fantasized about meeting the man of my dreams that has a perfectly exotic accent and will take me to his Scottish castle. Trust me. Making the decision to go abroad was extremely last minute, and is definitely not something I would advise for the majority of the population.

But then again, I am 21. Oh, right. My name’s Allegra Hanlon, I’m a junior at Cornell University, yaddayaddayadda, and I’ll be studying for the next six months in Edinburgh, Scotland. (That’s the exciting part). Also, here is a picture of me at the beach. I’m from Miami. My friends make fun of me for posting pictures in bikinis. But it’s a Miami thing.

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Anyways, my point is that I’m 21, I think (hope) a lot of my readers will be around my age, and we’re supposed to make some spur of the moment decisions, right? Being at Cornell has definitely taught me to NOT do that- to always have a plan, and be precise, and network, so that by the time we’re 30 we’ll have six digit salaries and live in a penthouse overlooking central park, amirite? But the truth is (damn that truth is a killer) that I’m an English major. Probably won’t be making 6 digit salaries for a while. And yet, even if I was, we’re only young for so long, and therefore making occasional spur of the moment decisions is something we should do while we can. We’re not exactly supposed to have everything figured out. One of my parents friends told me just last night actually: Right now, as young kids with our whole lives ahead of us, etc., we’re little speed boats, like this:

3310663-small-size-luxury-speed-boat-stock-photo

 

We don’t have our whole lives mapped out yet, so we can afford to move in any which way quickly and suddenly, and without much consequence. However, the older we get, the bigger our boat gets as we add significant others, jobs, children into the equation, and suddenly, that boat is really hard to maneuver. And I will no longer be able to decide to go to Europe for 6 months with no ragrets (yea I said that). This is the Allegra boat when old (hopefully):

 

yacht-island-design-paradise-boat-690x345

 

Damn that’s a nice boat. (I googled “huge nice yachts” to get this, tho it may be a bit much…?)

So yeah, I’m going to Europe for 6 months. To Edinburgh, Scotland. The best man at my father’s wedding lives in Glasgow (which is 40 mins. away from my school), and I just spoke with him on the phone last night, and I could barely understand a word he said. Apparently, the Scottish and the British have COMPLETELY different senses of humor, and apparently, the word pussy is a compliment (I don’t know that’s just what I heard I’m just a tourist).

But I also know that I’m very much open to new experiences. I come from the ARTSIEST family you can imagine. My mother is a writer, and my dad is a latin recording artist- and he’s pretty famous, I might add. Shameless plug: CHECK OUT HIS MUSIC HERE:

ARTHUR HANLON

And I love different cultures and environments and foods (unless it’s fried cockroach I really do love food), and so I’m ready. Just have to finish packing. And find a phone. And get some sheets for my bed. But you know, I’m ready!

Scotland, I’m coming for ya! WAHOO

Class Blog: Voices from Cornell Abroad

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