Rome and the internet

A few months ago I thought that for a living I would like to be a travel blogger. For a moment I thought that the idea was going to be like any other: I get really excited and put everything into it, then lose interest because other people are much more proficient or at least more passionate about it. Then I realized that no one is as proficient at and passionate about being me as myself and that to blog I don’t really need to be much more than that.

Today I am going to write about Rome. It is the first trip I have ever done on my own where I didn’t meet anyone I had previously known at all. Some think it’s great, some think it’s sad. For me, it feels like the ultimate act of liberation. I’ve been working so hard that making this holiday about what anyone else wants to do on the day is a truly outrageous possibility.

Before coming here I went to Portugal. I was massively under budget, but admittedly I was saved by some family and friends who were really generous and gave me some money spontaneously. Up until that moment, I must have had around €10 to spend. I wasn’t planning on asking for any money but things like busking, fasting and online dating crossed my mind.  Thankfully I have been able to pass all of those.

I am glad I brought some money with me. Can’t think of anywhere worse to be ripped off. Salesmen in Rome have these special techniques that are so next level you have to be ripped off at least once to understand. This African guy placed an elephant on my table whilst I was dining outside, I said I wasn’t interested, he said he wasn’t trying to sell anything, he was giving it away because he was celebrating his wife having had a baby. He placed a turtle next to the elephant. I then said I’d give him €1 as a kind gesture. He picked up the elephant, left this boring turtle and walked away. I wasn’t even sure what to think of it.

The waiter told me afterwards that apparently this man becomes a father on a daily basis. He was very nice to me. The restaurant seemed a little cheaper than the others I had seen, but I ended up paying €25 for an unimpressive risotto, a beer and a bottle of water (because a beer cost more than beer in London and they added service charge). So as far as restaurants go, only enter restaurants where you can see a menu in Italian only. Not only will you have better food, but nobody will try to rip you off.

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I didn’t really want to spend a lot despite having been given that money so I decided to walk everywhere. Rome is truly gorgeous. Although traffic lights and road crossings have decorative function only and you should be careful because, God forbid, you might get an Italian into trouble for running you over, walking around Rome is like being a woman: there are high peaks around every corner. You begin to take in what you have just seen and “bam!”, along comes another magnificent sculpture or building. There is no getting bored around here. And I don’t know about you but I just love the smell of churches, of which you’ll see a lot. Perhaps it takes me back to being a child, when dipping the tips of my fingers in holy water was a fantastic sensory experience.

Also if you are indeed a woman, you feel so beautiful because everybody who greets you calls you “bella” too. It’s almost impossible not to say hello back. I am currently sitting in Villa Borghese, while this guy is playing the accordion a few meters away from me and it’s so much like being in Paris: super romantic. However, I was a bit perplexed to find that this park has signs for the Wi-Fi area but no signs for the toilet. I suppose if you can connect to the internet, google maps can point you in the right direction eh?

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The Vatican city is a must see. It is worth booking a tour, for which you pay €35-40 if I can remember correctly and you skip all the insane queuing. I had the pleasure of being guided by this beautiful knowledgeable Italian woman who told me so much about the history behind it and so many impressive stories about Michelangelo and the Catholic life I felt inclined to dedicate more time to studying religion. I guess that once you rebel away from it so much and realize your potential as a human being capable of making self informed choices, knowing about religion and even participating in it can’t hurt. You need chaos to find yourself but order to succeed.

I believe I would come back here one day, the same way I go to Lisbon and would return to Barcelona. They are all super rich (in content). However, I feel that I should first explore all the places I haven’t seen. Either way, I think travelling solo gives you so much clarity. It is the only way I can get enough time to reflect upon each experience and find the motivation to share it with more people, in this case you. I mean, if it weren’t for the internet, how could my experience become true? How would it even matter? It mattered in terms of present energy of course even if I will never cross paths with the people I have spoken to. However, I am sharing because I think humans can sometimes achieve more when in touch with their inner universe. Get on it!

Put that cigarette out

We are all experts when it comes to giving our own opinions on a matter. This entry will be all about how I stopped smoking. I am an expert in the field of Barbara-quitting-smoking as are all of those others who have written books on the subject. Before you read on, I just wanted to say that most of it will probably not even make sense to you, but you should try whatever you think will work for you. I tried everything. And everything worked.

So it all started with fear. I saw my mum smoking every day of the first decade or so of my life. I don’t think I ever spent a day away from her and she smoked a lot. At first, I thought of cigarettes as the forbidden fruit. It seemed like a disgusting thing to do, but it had to be amazing because my amazing mum did it, so in my head I thought: “let me just grow a little older and then I’ll be able to do it in style, just like she does”.

Around about when I was twelve or thirteen I asked my mum to try it. She had always been quite liberal and allowed me to make my own choices. Thus, she let me try a little puff, so I could see how disgusting it was. I thought that much when I tried, but I had suddenly lost fear: the fear that I would try cigarettes behind my mum’s back and either be caught or feel guilty and end up telling her anyway, after which I’d get a big slap.

For most of my childhood, I also had this fear that smoke might kill my mum, but suddenly, I was not so afraid any more, I thought: “Hey, I smoked and I am OK. Maybe in the future I will do it a bit more”, but I also convinced myself that it would take a whole lot of cigarettes per day and a whole lot of bad luck for her to die from it. Besides, I was probably going to become a smoker, because that is what I saw my role model do, so we’d be in it toegther.

When I was fourteen, I moved away from my mum for the first time ever. I was living in Asia and she was living in Europe. Coincidentally or not, I started smoking. Of course she would hate to think she had an influence in this, but deep down, I believe I kind of missed the second hand smoke. And also my boyfriend and his buddies thought it was a cool thing to do. In fact, it was almost like I was addicted before I even started. That is why I say to all the people who ask me about it that I started trying to quit from the day I had my first cigarette.

I was never a heavy smoker, but I knew that one day, I would stop, just like I knew, as a child, that I would be a smoker one day. It’s just one of those things: you either like it or you don’t. But you also need a motivation to stop, if that is what you actually want. If you are reading this, you are probably interested in letting go of that terrible habit. I have had many motivations: the fact that it deeply disappoints my dad, the fact that I have been sick on a couple of occasions and felt how sensitive throats and lungs can be and the fact I live in England, where you almost have to sell your organs to be able to afford it and at this stage, I am not so sure you’d even be in good hands, if you were to be hospitalized with some smoke-related disease, with the cuts that are currently happening – so there you go, take this as motivation!

If you think about it, smoking drives a lot of business. What would be of the factory workers, the drivers, the distributors, the ashtray makers, the newsagents, the doctors, nurses, healthcare assistants and radiologists, the dentists and hygienists, the funerary agencies, the researchers, the campaigners, the teachers, the salespeople, the bankers and so on. Smoking actually creates a lot of purpose for people, perhaps more than it leads to death, but is it a risk worth taking? Do you want to be part of that cycle? Aren’t there better cycles in life to be part of?

Smoking isn’t good for anything – please feel free to add comments below regarding the ways in which it is good, if you can think of any. Initially, you get over that fear barrier and it doesn’t attack your throat so badly, so you start building a little routine around it. You have it after breakfast, you have it after lunch, you have it when you drink and you have it whenever you feel like throwing a punch. Then you have it while you’re on the toilet or after having sex or whenever it suits you. You start associating it with basic needs and therefore you make it a basic need. Then you start smelling, your teeth start yellowing, you start coughing and you start becoming socially unpleasant, because you have a little routine, which others don’t follow, so you miss out on the flow of conversations. You start feeling sorry for yourself, so you have another useless cigarette.

I tried to go cold Turkey a million times. I once ran a tap and put the tobacco pouch I had on me under the water so that I would deliberately waste it and never feel inclined to buy it again, so as to not be inclined to ruin it again. My smoker friends told me off massively, as I could have given it to them instead, but I thought that idea was great because it bought me a few weeks off the cigarettes. Later on, I found myself on the verge of having a panic attack from not having tobacco on me, so I tried to have it all the time, but not smoke it, but again, it would only last a few days. Then I tried not having it on me, but that only annoyed the smokers around me, because I’d be asking them. Thank you if you were one of those people – you helped.

I tried to chew on nicotine gum, which I thought was disgusting, I tried nicotine patches, which work when your mind is cooperating, but then you just want a cigarette, because you enjoyed smoking in the first place; I tried vaping and I guess that was the most effective method. I stuck to vaping for several weeks and when I got a bit tired with the faffing, I realized that it had actually helped me break the habit of smoking for a few months. I thought to myself: “What the hell… Buying refills, charging this damn thing, producing bubble gum smelling vapour, I look pathetic! I have been off the cigarettes anyway so why even do any of this?”.

This was when I realized that smoking had actually been pretty irreplaceable up to that point. But this also made me realize that smoking is not a physical addiction, it is a mental one: you do it, because there is nothing else like it without the harmful effects. You get addicted to it, because not only you made it a basic need by incorporating it with other habits, but you have created a gap for it in your life. A gap that allows you to have a break from the job you hate, a gap that allows you to break that awkwardness with people you have no topic to talk to about, a gap that allows you to think that having that one cigarette is going to make everything better, until it starts making good things worse.

Everyone can quit smoking. They can quit for a day – that is the hardest one to do. It’s the same with facebook. Going a day without the urge to post something on facebook is the hardest thing. The easiest thing to do is to go a week without it. Then it gets a little bit hard, because you think: “Hey, one week, way to go, I can do this any time! Light me up, please?”. Doing it for a month or even three is super easy too, but the hardest one is to have that one cigarette without going right back to where you were, smoking three, five or ten a day. I can’t say I have experienced smoking that much at any point in my life, but I have had days when I smoked a lot.

One thing I found really useful was to run. After I started running half marathons, I found that smoking genuinely felt like I was stabbing myself “in the health”. There was just no way that I could feel good about smoking a cigarette while my body was trying to be clean and strong. But retrospectively, running was just another thing I tried within the ten year period. In fact, every single example I have given you in this post helped a little. Every little thing did its job at the time and is doing its job now. Once you look at your commitment to telling yourself daily how bad it is – for years – and once you look at what you’ve tried, not only you recognize a respectable practice, but you also start thinking: “It’s time I paid some respect to my body”.

I know that different people have different perspectives, but we have this silent fear of quitting smoking that replaces that fear we once had of taking it up. Humans live off fear. If you exercise losing your fear of everything, you will actually find strength to quit smoking as well as do a million other amazing things in life. Some people may fear the gain of weight, some people think that your body goes crazy when you take cigarettes away and that this is the stage in which you will develop cancer. If that is the case, just practice quitting every day of your life until you believe that you will be fine, the same way you thought: “I will be fine, I don’t smoke that much” or “I have smoked this much and I am fine” or “I am fine, why stop now?”. Nine cigarettes is better than ten. One healthy day is better than none. A million attempts will reverse the ratio of smoking days to non-smoking days. One day you will be having one cigarette per week and you’ll think “One cigarette, why do I even need it? I am fine without”. And like myself, one day you will glance at that person who has a cigarette, you will know that you can ask for one, but you will choose not to. And it will feel fucking great! Please never ever give up giving up.

Love,

B.