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Encountering anti-black prejudice in Italy during a college semester

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But I was so caught up in my excitement that I neglected a crucial difference between me, my roommates and the majority of the other students I was studying with abroad.

They were white. I, on the other hand, am an African-American woman with skin the colour of dark chocolate and full lips.

In the United States, I was aware of racism in a broad sense, but perhaps because of my age, my eyes weren’t fully open to it. My mother seemed to know better, saying things to me like “take off that hoodie” when we walked into stores. When she muttered, “You don’t see how they’re looking at you,” I assumed she was bothered by my fashion choices.

After my semester in Italy, I realized what she meant.

When I arrived at the New York University campus, a 57-acre estate in Florence with lush greenery, tan stone walls and rows of olive trees, I was captivated.

Before I landed in Italy, I was unaware of the growing anti-immigrant sentiment in the country, a main entry point for migrants into Europe. I had not known about the hostility toward the first Black government minister in Italy or the racial problems that followed talented Italian soccer players and, even years later, Daisy Osakue, a Black Italian-born star athlete whose eye was injured in an egg attack.

For me, it began with passersby on the street calling me Michelle Obama, Rihanna or Beyoncé — as though I can resemble all three — and the Italian men selling Pinocchio marionettes in the piazza near the famed cathedral, il Duomo, shouting “cioccolatta” (chocolate).

These incidents were minor compared to what happened a few weeks later. I took a trip to Cinque Terre, the five scenic villages on the rugged Ligurian coast in northwestern Italy, with about six friends.

I was in my own world on a crowded beach, sitting underneath an umbrella while the other women in my group were by the water, when I noticed an olive-skinned man in swim trunks with a beer in his hand flirting, unsuccessfully, with them. When we were getting up to leave, he approached our group — and he did not seem drunk.

I assumed he was just going to continue bantering, but before I knew it, the rejected suitor started aggressively telling my white friends in Italian-accented English to pick up their trash.

He ignored me and the only other Black woman in the group as if we were invisible, but I wasn’t struck by this at the time.

After a few heated words were exchanged between them, we all started walking away. As we trudged through the deep sand, I suddenly felt a cold liquid hit the side of my body. When I turned, another splash of beer went directly to my face. The man in the swim trunks was hurling the contents of his bottle on me and the other Black female — only droplets landed on the women he had argued with.

Before I could figure out a response, the other Black female began yelling at him.

The rest of us stood watch for a minute until he grabbed her like a rag doll — she had such a tiny frame, his hand seemed to fully wrap around her arm. The other women did nothing, so I quickly stepped in. When I gave his arm a solid punch, he finally let her go.

I looked around and saw the sea of white faces staring on the packed beach — not a single one had made a move to help. I then locked eyes with a Black man. He appeared to be an African migrant because he was selling beach gear draped from his body, much like other migrants I had seen who usually sold knick-knacks or knock-off purses on the street.

We stared at each other for what felt like a full minute and his eyes seemed full of sympathy.

As my group walked away, one of the women made an observation I’ll never forget. “Did you hear that? He just called you ‘disgusting Black women.’”

When I returned to the apartment where I was staying with a fair-skinned Italian woman and her biracial teenage daughter named Ami, I told her, with great emotion, what had happened. She shrugged and said in a mixture of Italian and English, “It happens to Ami,” whose father is Black.

But I couldn’t shrug it off so easily.

Several weeks later, as the weather cooled enough for me to wear one of my favourite oversized sweaters and a beanie hat, I was walking along a street lined with cafes and shops in Florence, making my way down one of those impossibly narrow sidewalks, head bent over my phone.

As I passed shopkeepers setting out signs and sweeping storefronts that morning, I noticed a short middle-aged white woman with a pixie cut walking a couple feet in front of me with her purse on her shoulder. She quickly stopped and turned around. She looked at me and screamed then pressed her back against the wall. I looked around in alarm, thinking something had happened, but couldn’t figure out what.

She screamed again, and this time, she fled the sidewalk. At this point, I could see the shop owners staring. The woman continued to look at me and shrieked once more. When I asked “what?” she gasped as if she were both frightened and disgusted that I had the nerve to speak to her. She then shielded herself behind a parked car. I was dumbfounded. So I kept walking, trying to leave my embarrassment on the street behind me. I wish I could say that was the first time someone had avoided me on the sidewalk in this world-famous city full of international tourists and students. It was not. But it was, by far, the most blatant.

After that, I was hyper aware of the stares and comments as I travelled around the country, from the chocolate festival in Perugia to sightseeing in Milan and Venice, and visiting the Colosseum and the Vatican in Rome, even tossing coins for good luck in the Trevi Fountain there.

On my last night in Florence, I was supposed to meet a few of my friends at a bar for farewell drinks. Earlier in the evening, I had a lovely dinner with a group of Italians to whom I had been introduced by a mutual American friend. This was the first time I had truly felt accepted in Italy, and I regretted having to leave them to go to the bar.

I figured that I’d ask for directions when I got to the neighbourhood because I had purposely let the money run out on my pay-as-you-go phone, just as I tried to spend the last of my euros.

In my passable Italian, I walked around trying to ask for directions in the same favourite outfit I had worn on the day the pixie-haired woman screamed on the sidewalk.

I was taken aback when a group of white men brushed past me as if I were asking for money, not the location of a popular bar.

Then a youthful, nicely dressed white couple, walking arm-in-arm, stopped abruptly as the man moved in front of the woman defensively, protectively, only to tell me he didn’t know where the bar was.

After even more attempts to get directions were ignored by passersby, I gave up looking and went back to the apartment where I was staying that semester. The next day, I had an early flight back to the United States and I now just wanted to go to bed.

When I told NYU program officials about my first racial encounter on the beach with the beer-wielding man just after it happened, they apologized profusely and vowed to mention racial issues at future orientations. Tyra Liebmann, the university’s associate vice president of global programs, told me that after my experience, and hearing from others with similar issues, NYU held conversations with faculty and students so the university could implement ways to better prepare students from a variety of demographics for life abroad.

To my surprise, two of my Black friends who had studied in Rome in another college program had a great time that same semester. One actually met her Italian fiancé there. I don’t know what made the difference in our Italian experiences. Was it a more cosmopolitan Rome? I can’t say.

My engaged friend is getting married in Lamezia Terme, a city in southern Italy. So five years later, I’m returning to the country that left a deep scar on my heart.

Whenever I go back to my childhood home in Orange County, Florida, I am not surprised when I see the Confederate flag flying on high poles, plastered on car bumpers and worn proudly on T-shirts. But it surprises me that even the Dixie flag — and all it represents — doesn’t get to me as much as the outright and physical disrespect I experienced very far from home.

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Travel & Escape

Why your hotel mattress feels like heaven (and how to bring that feeling home)

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(NC) Choosing the right mattress is a long-term investment in your health and well-being. To make a good choice for your home, take a cue from luxury hotel-room beds, which are designed to support the sound sleep of tens of thousands of guests, 365 nights a year.

“When we’re shopping for a mattress, we do lab testing, identify the best materials, bring in multiple mattress samples and have our associates test them,” explains David Rizzo, who works for Marriott International. “We ask for ratings on comfort level, firmness, body support and movement disruption. It takes 12 to 18 months just to research and select materials.”

Here, he shares his tips to pick the perfect mattress for your best sleep:

Understand your needs. People have different food and exercise preferences, as well as different sleep cycles. So, it’s no surprise that everyone has unique mattress preferences. Not sure whether a firm or a soft mattress is better? Rizzo says the best gauge is to ask yourself, “Do I wake up with aches and pains?” If the answer is no, you’re golden.

Foam versus spring. All mattresses have a core that is made up foam or innersprings or a combination of the two. Today’s foam-core mattresses contain memory foam — a material engineered by NASA to keep astronauts comfortable in their seats. It’s special because it retains or “remembers” its shape, yielding to pressure from the sleeper’s body, then bouncing back once the pressure is removed.

An innerspring mattress has an encased array of springs with individual coils that are connected by a single helical wire. This wire creates continuous movement across the coil that minimizes disruption if the mattress is disturbed, such as by a restless sleeper. According to Rizzo, the innerspring is “bouncier.”

Temperature preference. Consider how warm or cool you like to sleep, and factor in the construction of the mattress to find one with a temperature that suits you. The air space engineered into an innerspring mattress promotes ventilation, which some people find keeps them pleasantly cool. To accomplish the same purpose with a foam mattress (or the foam layer of an innerspring) it may be infused with metal, usually silver or copper, to help dissipate heat and humidity.

Need to test out the right mattress for your needs? Find the right fit during your next trip by booking your stay at marriott.com.

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Travel & Escape

How to make the most of summer travel

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(NC) One of the best parts of our short Canadian summers is the opportunity to enjoy them a little bit extra on long weekends. If you need ideas, check out these creative things to do whether you decide to stay in town or go away.

Do a dinner crawl. Pub crawls are fun for couples, friends and also families with older kids. For an exciting twist that stretches your dollars and lets you taste food from several spots before you get too full, try a dinner crawl. Eat apps at one restaurant, mains at another and dessert at another.

Go on a mini getaway. You don’t need to go very far to enjoy a vacation – exploring a Canadian city over a summer weekend is great way to treat yourself to a holiday. Whether it’s checking out the museums in Toronto or the parks in Vancouver, there’s something for everyone. For upgraded benefits, special experiences and the best rates guaranteed, join Marriott Bonvoy and book direct on Marriott.com.

Host a potluck. Perfect whether you’re staying at home or going to your cottage, gather friends and family together for some food and fun. A potluck is an easy and affordable way to host a big get-together and lets everyone try something new and swap recipes. Make the festivities extra special with a fireworks potluck, too – ask everyone to bring some fireworks or sparklers and put on a light show. Just be sure to follow local regulations for consumer fireworks.

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Travel & Escape

Lottoland: Here’s why Canadians love it!

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Lotteries have been in existence for many centuries now and it’s an open secret that most people enjoy playing a good lottery.

Asides from gauging your own luck, the thrill of playing, the anticipation of the results and the big wins every now and then is something most people look forward to. Since 1982, the lottery has been in Canada, but now there is a way to play both the Lotto and other international lotteries from Canada, all from the comfort of your home.

With Lottoland, all you need to do is register and get access to numerous international lotteries right from their website. The easy-to-use interface has all the information you need, and great amount of care has been taken to ensure that the online experience is similar—and even better—than if players were to visit each location personally.

The Powerball and Mega Millions lotteries are hitting record highs with their prize money, in what the organizers claim to be the largest jackpot in the history of the world. However, the U.S. has gambling laws that are state controlled and buying your ticket through an online broker can be considered gambling.

“No one except the lottery or their licensed retailers can sell a lottery ticket. No one. Not even us. No one. No, not even that website. Or that one,” Powerball’s website says.

Therefore, to stand a chance to win the $1.5 billion-dollar lottery jackpot it means you have to purchase your lottery tickets directly from a licensed retailer such as Lottoland.

Since 2013, Lottoland has been operating in Canada, rapidly growing in popularity amongst Canadians. Due to its easy of use and instant access to lotteries that were previously considered inaccessible—as Canadians had to travel all the way to the U.S. to purchase tickets in the past—Lottoland has attracted lots of visitors.

Currently, there about 8-million players on Lottoland, a figure that points to the reliability of the website.

One of the core values of Lottoland is transparency and that’s why a quick search on the website would show you a list of all of their winners. Recently, a Lottoland customer was awarded a world-record fee of $137 million CND.

Also, due to the incredibly slim chances of winning the grand prize not everyone would take home mega-dollar winnings, but there are substantial winnings every day.

Securing your information online is usually one important factor when registering on any platform and as the site explains, “Lottoland works very hard to verify your information.”

The site has a multi-verification process that will ensure that you confirm your identity and age before giving you a pay-out. However, in the rare case that a player has immediate luck and wins a lottery before completing the verification process, Lottoland will hold on to the winnings until they complete your verification.

While this might seem like a tedious process, it is very important as these safety features would ensure that your information wasn’t stolen and ultimately your winning routed to another account.

Lottoland is licensed with the National Supervisory Bodies For Lotteries in several countries such as the United Kingdom, Italy, Sweden, Ireland and Australia—where it is called a wagering license. Typically, most gaming companies don’t establish insurance companies as it entails that their activities have to be transparent and the must be highly reputable in the industry.

Nonetheless, Lottoland has no issues meeting up to these standards as they have established themselves as the only gaming sector company who has its own insurance company—an added advantage for new and existing users.

Lotteries aren’t the only games Canadians enjoy playing and Lottoland recognizes this by providing players with other types of gaming. As an industry leader, video designers of online games often make them their first choice when it comes to publishing their works.

Online games such as slots, blackjack, video poker, baccarat, keno, scratchoffs, roulette and many others are always on offer at the Lottoland Casino. There’s also the option of playing with a live dealer and a total of over 100 games.

Lottoland has received numerous rave reviews from its growing list of satisfied customer and their responsive customer service agents are always available to answer any questions users may have, along with solving challenges they may have encountered.

More and more Canadians are trooping to Lottoland in droves due to the unique experience of going to a casino without having to leave the comfort of their homes.

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