Questa non è una fine, ma è veramente un inizio

As I opened the neatly wrapped, small package, I didn’t quite know what to expect. Earrings, perhaps? Or maybe a medal for surviving “Italian Writing and Culture”? Prolonging the suspense, I waited until after class to discover its contents.

It was a snail, otherwise known as una chiocciola.

Imperatrice, my Italian professor, had given me a snail charm as a farewell gift. I could almost hear her soothing voice: Stai tranquilla, parla piano piano, continua con calma. Throughout the semester, Imperatrice has given me pearls of wisdom, everything from how to say the Italian word for hiccup (singhiozzo) to how to express complex thoughts, like the purpose of literature or my opinions on the controversial art of Maurizio Cattelan, in Italian. But her gift represents the lesson I cherish most: move slowly.

As an anxious, overachieving Georgetown student, I desperately need this reminder. I care so deeply about my family, friends, studies, and extracurricular activities that I tend to race through semesters rather than take time to enjoy them.

My experience in Italy has allowed me to see the value in moving slowly. I’ve grown accustomed to lingering over meals for hours, spending Sundays as actual days of rest, and taking the time every day to journal.

And I’ve noticed how these habits have impacted me. Although I’m still a planner, I now wander with ease and crave spontaneous adventure. Although I still care about my academic success, I now prioritize reflection as an integral part of my day. Although I still worry about the future, I now focus more on the present. Because how could you not when you’re gazing out on the Tuscan countryside?

How difficult it will be to return to “reality” is a much-discussed topic at the Villa. But can’t I take this reality with me back to the States?

Yes, I can. And I will, with the help of this quote from Annamaria Testa’s Minutti Scritti:

“Lavorate sodo ma, poi, riposate e regalatevi dei momenti di vacanza. Difendete i vostri spazi fisici e mentali. Concedetevi piccole ricompense senza stare a chiedervi quanto le meritate. Camminate. Leggetevi un libro o andatevene al cinema. Coltivate amicizie solide. Dormite. Ogni giorno, trovate un’occasione per farvi una risata” (216).

Imperatrice shared these words with me, which I rewrote in a self-addressed letter so that I can prop queste parole onto the window in my room as soon as I return home. The quote loosely translates to: work hard, but relax and give yourself moments of leisure. Preserve your own physical and mental space. Allow yourself small rewards without asking if you deserve them. Walk. Read a book or go to the movies. Cultivate solid friendships. Every day, find an occasion to laugh.

Indeed, I will. Questa non è una fine, ma è veramente un inizio. In other words, my journey has only just begun.

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Meno Male

New Departure Time : 1:30 AM.

“Is this a joke?” My friend Viviana and I said simultaneously as our flight to Palermo, Sicily got delayed another three hours. Originally supposed to take off at 8:50 pm, it was now 10:30 and no one seemed to know anything. After a few glasses of wine at the airport and some panini, we felt better. We even met Michele, a very friendly, helpful Sicilian airport worker, who gave us suggestions of where to go in Sicily. But that sinking feeling that we might not make it to Sicily couldn’t seem to go away.

Finally the staff told us the flight would most likely be cancelled, especially since the flight crews would need to rest. We’d spent five hours at the airport and had to take a cab back to my apartment in Florence for the night.

Needless to say, we were deluse, crushed that we couldn’t spend the weekend lounging on the beach drinking granitas and eating cannoli. It was especially disappointing for Viviana, who is just began her spring break from her program in Milan. Although we were exhausted, we spent an hour after returning to my house searching for an alternative adventure.

Of course, rain was forecasted for everywhere on Saturday. O Dio! We felt as if the travel gods were punishing us for some unknown crime.

But then, I thought of the best city to go to when it rains: Bologna. 40 kilometers of porticos, friendly people, and hearty lasagna: yes, Bologna would make everything better.

So we set off for a train to Bologna and prayed this trip would be free of delays and disappointment.

IMG_3839Words can only scratch the surface of what Bologna means to me. Everyone we asked for directions gave us a little more than we requested: a smile, a story, a hearty Buongiorno. Bologna bustles with a youthful energy, perhaps since it houses the oldest university in the world. Bologna is a comforting city, with its lofty porticos that remind me of the high ceilings in my childhood homes in New Orleans.

We walked aimlessly through portico after portico, until we stopped at a café for a cappuccino. Viviana had been craving cannoli since she “knew” she was going to Sicily, but we both figured we wouldn’t find them in this northern Italian city. But fortune was starting to favor us, and we spotted two beautiful ones in the window. Things were looking up!IMG_3833

After our midday Sicilian snack, we continued ambling through the city. This was the Italian experience. Not having a specific plan, admiring fresh food markets, immersing ourselves in a different place. Sure, we weren’t in Sicily, but we were somewhere special.

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We stumbled upon the Cattedrale of Bologna, a grand, beautiful space filled with candles people had lit in prayer. My mom has always loved lighting these candles, and Easter is her favorite holiday, so I chose one for her and for my cousin Emily. Seeing all of people’s illuminated prayers was a powerful reminder of the hope that people cherish, hope that things will turn out alright.

After our spiritual experience in the Cattedrale, we decided to feed our stomachs as well as our souls. Bologna is known for its delicious meats and pasta, so we relaxed at a restaurant nearby and immersed ourselves in the city’s culinary culture, which was just as wonderful as the rest of the city.

After lunch, we both decided we wanted to do something pazzesco or crazy. Something to commemorate our roller coaster-like journey. Something that neither of us would do alone. We decided to get piercings: for me, my upper ear, and for her, her nose. After mistakenly going to a tattoo shop and getting directions for “Body Bag” (which didn’t quite settle my nerves) we arrived at a professional studio for piercings. The Italian woman working there comforted both of us in Italian, state tranquille, non vi preoccupare, as we both nervously looked at each other. As I lay down, I thought of Maine, always the place I mentally return to when I need tranquility, and it was over before I knew it.

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It didn’t hurt nearly as much as the initial disappointment of not going to Sicily, AND now I have a reminder of my trip to Bologna, the importance of flexibility and patience.

Both of us astounded at our “rebelliousness,” we continued walking around the city, our goal accomplished, with only more absorbing of the city to do. Although less than 12 hours long, this trip was a true vacation, filled with adventure and relaxation.

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While reflecting on this whole turn of events, I thought to myself: meno male. Instead of saying “Thank God” or “it could have been worse”  Italians say “meno male,” which literally translates as “less bad,” and is somewhere in between these two phrases. Linda Falcone, in her book If They Are Roses, explains this phenomenon: “In Italy you can be happy, but you can’t do what you want. Things will not work as you plan, but they will work– and often in the ‘less bad’ way,” (51). Meno male indeed.

Standing Still: A Weekend in Firenze

After traveling almost every weekend since February, I spent this past weekend in Florence, which was a nice change of pace. Not having to run to make a train, plane or bus or stuff all the necessities into my backpack automatically made me more relaxed.

Other weekends I’d spent just in Florence, I visited museums and tried to pack in as much “culture” as possible. But this time I bounced from coffee shop to coffee shop, took long walks around my neighborhood, and had some interesting conversations with Italians.

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My host mom recommended a caffè that just opened only a few minutes from our house called Caffè Il Piacere. It has everything a student needs: free WiFi, a cook who makes all the panini/pasta dishes, and a cozy environment. The barrista was very friendly, and I could tell it would be a study spot right up my alley (literally and figuratively!)

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But that day lunchtime was my break, so I took my panino out to Villa Il Ventaglio, a gorgeous park nearby. Those who know me, or who’ve been reading so far, are familiar with my love of parks/gardens/greenspaces, so this was the perfect way for me to take a break from the books.

IMG_3822Saturday my friends Staci and Fabiola and I planned to go to Vivaldi, a gelateria that our classmates Julia and Janhvi used for their City of Florence project. We ended up taking the wrong bus and finding ourselves in a neighborhood we’d never seen before. Although closer than we thought to the Santa Maria Novella Station, at the time, we were a bit turned around. As we were walking to find the correct bus stop, we walked by a restaurant/caffè/pasticcceria, then did a double take. Enticed by the fresh squeezed juices, from fruit that you could hand-pick and give to the barrista to make your chosen concoction, we found a big table in the back and camped out for 6 hours. We had no intentions of staying that long at H12, but since they had WiFi, great food, and lots of space, that’s where we ended up. Since I usually like to plan every detail of my life, spontaneous experiences like this one are healthy for me, so that I remember to go with the flow.

On Sunday afternoon I frequented Papero Viola, a small, cozy pizzeria just a few blocks from my apartment. I’d been there many times before with friends, but today I went solo. I’ve grown to know and love the owner, a short, bald man wlsho always cracks jokes. After a soccer game late at night, Shannon, Staci, and I, ate at Papero Viola. As we were walking away, I felt someone grab me. I panicked. About to whip out my self-defense moves, I arched my elbow back just as the friendly owner of the restaurant called out, “Aspetta!” (Wait!) Turns out he had only been trying to return Shannon’s scarf that she had left. After that incident, the owner and I had a running joke about how “scary” he was, and now we greet each other with “buongiorno!” or “buonasera!” as I walk down that street to go to the gym or my Pilates class.

When I went for lunch on Sunday, an older, white-haired man with a pipe kept staring at me, to the point where I was uncomfortable. That’s something you have to get used to in Italy, especially if you’re a foreigner. The staring. Eventually he spoke to me in Italian, asking me where I was from, the usuals. But then he made some jokes that I clearly could not understand, which is when his friend jumped in to help.

“He’s quite the joker,” he said, in Italian, and proceeded to ask me about what I was doing in Italy. The jokester man continued to pretend to stick his finger in my water, do the old “you’ve got something on your shirt” and finger nose flick move, and even gave me a lemon candy. According to his friend, this man doesn’t eat sweets himself, but only gives them to his “amici,” or friends.

It was a bizarre but wonderful experience, and as I was racing back the 200 meters or so to my house in the rain, which my new friend had predicted ten minutes before, I couldn’t help but think of how special this neighborhood has become for me. More than the Academia, the Uffizi, or the Ponte Vecchio combined.

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Here’s to remembering to stay still and cherish the neighborhood you’re in.

Roma: La Grande Bellezza

La Grande Bellezza or The Great Beauty, La Città Aperta or Open City, La Dolce Vita, or La Dolce Vita: these movies feature as a protagonist in their films the city of Rome. A city in which ruins lie while cars and motorcycles zoom past, in which fountains flow and you can feel the life of the city run through your fingertips.

The first time I went to Rome, I was jetlagged, hungry, grumpy and not in the mood to almost get hit by cars at every turn. I grew to love the city on that trip, but my first impression of the city was less than I expected, probably because of my mood and sleep-deprived condition.

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Piazza Navona

This time, however, I could see how Rome is an eternal city as well as actress in numerous films. On our fast-paced tour through Rome with Linda Reynolds, our Art History professor, we practically ran through museums, churches, and ruins, but when I found times to soak it in, I was full of awe. Because we saw so many places, I’ll highlight my favorites:

Piazza Navona: an amazing work of sculptural genus by Bernini. Many fountains adorn Rome, but this is by far my favorite. Each of the four river statues represent the four ancient continents: the Nile representing Africa, the Danube representing Europe, the Ganges representing Asia, and the Riò de la Plata representing the Americas.

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Apollo and Daphne

Villa Borghese, complete with Bernini’s Aeneas, Anchises and AscaniusRape of Prosperina, David and Apollo and Daphne, all of which are incredible works of art. I’m currently writing an art history paper about Bernini, who was a deeply devout artist that revitalized Rome during the Catholic Reformation.

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The Baroque, illusionistic ceilings such as this one above by Gaulli in Il Gesù

Below are some of my favorites from the Vatican Museum, including Raphael’s School of Athens, the corridor full of map paintings, and Laocoön and His Sons.

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Linda Reynolds gave us an extensive tour of the Forum, with its former Roman

IMG_2111temples, aqueducts and fallen columns.

 

One of the most interesting things we did was tour Le Domus Romane, the former homes of wealthy Roman senators. Through a virtual tour, we could visualize how these senators lived, with aqueducts, pools, and mosaics in their houses.

Perhaps one of the most magical moments was seeing the Colosseum at night. On my first trip to Rome, my parents and I walked to the Colosseum our first night and I remember it having the same awe-striking effect on me. Imagining how much history is in Roman soil makes the city like a living, breathing museum.

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While at the Trevi fountain, I tossed in a coin in as a normal tourist would, but I forgot to make a wish. After reflecting on why on earth I’d just throw my coin in without thinking, I believe it’s because my wish of living in Italy, and returning to Rome, has already come true.

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Cinque Terre

Jarring pain filled both sides of my stomach as my palms sweat and my head pounded: this is unfortunately the state of mind I was in the night before my trip to Cinque Terra. I couldn’t stop thinking about the six papers that are due in the next three weeks, the blog posts I have to catch up on, and how little time I have left in Italy.

The fact that I couldn’t seem to find my friend Teresa was the icing on the cake, so to speak.

Texting, calling, facebooking– nothing seemed to work. We figured we’d be able to easily communicate and therefore hadn’t had a set plan for when I would pick her up at the train station. Mistake number 1. As I wandered around the train station hopelessly searching for her, my mind went in all sorts of directions. What if she missed her flight? Or worse, was taken?

Ok, I admit. This was a bit far-fetched. But surely she would’ve contacted me after her flight, right?

Finally, thirty minutes later, we found each other. Turns out WiFi is difficult to get in the Santa Maria Novella train station if you don’t have a phone that works in Italy, as was the case with Teresa.

It was a stressful night to say the least.

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But the next morning we set off towards Cinque Terra. Trains are by far my favorite type of transportation because I can feel I’m moving somewhere. On trains I can palpably experience the transition from one place to another and enjoy the in-between time. We passed through the Tuscan countryside for a few hours until BOOM, there was the sea, rushing before my eyes.

I knew it was going to get better. Especially with Teresa around– she has a IMG_2237wonderful sense of humor and I’d missed her. Having her as my travel companion, I felt refreshed and ready. As we walked from the train station and looked out at our town of Monterosso, it felt like another world.

We booked a room through Airbnb, a vacation rental site which I’d used for Sardegna. Although the reviews of our apartment were sub par, the rent was cheap, and it was in a good location, so I figured it’d be fine. We had quite an interesting experience. Our host’s brother met us at the train station, insisting he would be in a leather jacket (although, I couldn’t help but wonder, aren’t leather jackets pretty common in Italy?). He was friendly enough, but when I tried to speak Italian with him, he refused and only spoke English. I had this problem throughout my time in Cinque Terra, probably because of all the tourists that vacation there.

IMG_2245After getting our bearings, we ventured out to explore Monterosso. We had a “panino picnic” IMG_2257on the beach and walked through the historic city center. Cinque Terre consists of five villages nestled in the mountains, which you can hike to get to the next town, or take the train.

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We first hiked from Monterosso to Vernazza, which initially seemed more like a giant stair stepper than a hike. But looking out onto the ocean, and the occasional flat, woody trains interspersed with vineyards and waterfalls were well worth the effort.

 

IMG_3777IMG_3808Gelato and pizza seem to be the best cure for tired legs, so naturally we ate as soon as we finished our hike. Pesto originated in the region of Cinque Terre so it was especially delicious there. One pesto pizza and chocolate hazelnut gelato later, we climbed what was advertised as a “castle” but was in truth more like a tower. In any case, it had beautiful views of all five villages.

 

IMG_3801The next day we took the train to Vernazza and hiked to the next village, Corniglia. The path was full of wildflowers and beautiful sights, but we felt less pressure to take pictures and more time to enjoy the sites with our natural lenses (or contact lenses in my case). Somehow finding that we still had energy, we ascended the next mountain to Manarola. Little did we know it was the steepest of the climbs and the longest. That being said, it may have had the most beautiful views, especially since we passed through a small vineyard town called Volastra, which according to Wikipedia, only has about 200 residents.

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Exhausted, we plopped on the beach to listen to music, collect sea glass (in Teresa’s case), and sink our feet into the rocky sand. I felt so relaxed- no stomach cramps, negative thoughts, or anxiety.

I think I’ve got to go to Cinque Terra more often.

Sardegna

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What could they possibly be doing here, the cab driver must have thought as he dropped us off in a small, historic neighborhood of Cagliari, Sardegna. He probably chuckled to himself as he drove away, thinking those tourists must be lost.

In fact, we had arrived at the right place. A beautiful, cozy neighborhood in which an older woman asked us, in Italian, who we were looking for. Shannon had found our apartment on Airbnb, a site on which you can rent places to stay, and since our windsurfer host Matias was out of town, we received the keys from his mother. A sweet, welcoming woman, she rapidly gave us instructions as she let us in to our apartment.

3 bedrooms, two terraces, a kitchen: we couldn’t have asked for more. It was the perfect place for the five of us to spend our time in Sardegna, especially since the neighborhood had a more charming atmosphere than others we saw in our adventures through Cagliari.

We spent the first day exploring the city, zigzagging through old, winding streets, turning whichever way we wanted. We

IMG_1828ended up going up an elevator to a piazza, where we could see the entire city. It was a wonderful way to begin our journey, and it kept getting better.

We stumbled on a palace which had free entry, a novelty for us since in Florence, everything except (most) churches costs something. We lounged on the couches, pretending the palace was ours.

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Since Sardegna was conquered by various peoples, such as the Austrian, Spanish, and Tunisians, it’s a modge-podge of cultures. The palace reminded me of those in Austria, yet the streets and general Mediterranean, relaxed, and beach-y atmosphere reminded me of Barcelona.

There was a church next door to the palace, so we figured we might as well peek in, even though I’ve probably seen at least a hundred churches since I’ve been in Europe.

This one was definitely worth it. I prefer churches that are less gaudy, yet make use of light and color. IMG_1855

Although the church was empty, choir music played as we gingerly stepped into the gigantic space. The ceiling was luminous, intricate and inspiring.

 

 

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There were no tourists besides us, probably because it was still a bit chilly.

But   it made me feel like I was an explorer, charting unknown territory. We walked along the Marina, breathing in the fresh air and listening to Bon Iver’s

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“Holocene” (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=-oCPAO3bp4Q) which captured the mood of our first cloudy yet beautiful day in Sardinia. I felt a sense of nostalgia being by the sea, since some of my best memories have been in both Florida and Maine. The sea air never ceases to calm me and encourage me to take more deep breaths. Or want to jump in, as Staci was contemplating (see picture to the left).

The next day, we ventured to the beach. Little did we know, we’d pass some of the lesser-known

IMG_1923sights of Sardegna, such as an old can factory, restricted military areas, and bike paths through the outskirts of the city. In other words, we got lost. Although it was supposed to take us an hour to walk to the beach, we arrived two and half hours after leaving our apartment. But for me, it was a way of taking a more relaxed, adventurous approach to exploring the city. And there was a “light at the end of the tunnel.”

We finally arrived at the beach, famished and thirsty for the sight of the sea. After tossing off my shoes and socks and sinking my feet in the sand, I knew the journey was worth it. The beach was beyond gorgeous, with people sprinkled here and there who were still wearing their winter clothes. IMG_1927

Seeing the cliffs beside the light turquoise water and the brightly colored sailboats made me stop in my tracks, my feet sink into the sand and ground me for a few moments.

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After eating lunch, relaxing in the sand, and getting a fabulous, well-deserved cone of gelato, Shannon and I ventured to another, lesser-known beach. Along the way, we saw what I like to think are Roman ruins, but in fact are probably remnants of military bases from World War II (when the Allies heavily bombed Cagliari).

Wildflowers filled the landscape, giving it a rustic beauty I didn’t expect to see. Cagliari as a whole gave me the impression of a sort of unrefined, undiscovered rustic beauty, which for me was far more intriguing than other built-up beach resorts in which I’ve vacationed before.

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When we made it to the beach, we found ourselves among five or so others there, including a misbehaving dog who its owners were commanding in Italian to come (vieni!). It always cracks me up to hear Emanuela speak to Isiede (our dog at my apartment in Florence) in this way.

We walked along the sand, in disbelief at how gorgeous the day was, as the sun was just beginning to make its descent. Although it was too cold to swim, just being by the sea gave me a sense of peace and ability to be truly present in this magical place.

IMG_1934 We decided to walk back to our apartment, soaking up the city of Cagliari for our last evening. Sardegna is one of the most beautiful places I’ve seen, with some of the most friendly people, who actually stop for you at crosswalks!

Shannon and I both decided we’d come back, perhaps in summer with a car to explore the island. But I think this trip will always have a special place in my heart. I felt so relaxed going with the flow of the day, walking for hours and hours yet having feet that still felt light with anticipation for a new sight around the next corner. I felt as if I were an explorer rather than a tourist.

La Vacanza di Primavera

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East Side Gallery: Berlin

Where to begin? 5 cities, 10 days, over fifty hours in a bus. Breakfast in Amsterdam, lunch in Brussels, dinner in Paris– when on earth will I ever do that again?

But first, let me explain my reasoning for this seemingly crazy endeavor.

I’m interested in too many things. I want to go EVERYWHERE. Hence why it took me 3 months to settle on Italy for a study abroad destination. I went through an Australia phase, a Prague phase, and to my mother’s horror, an India phase. Ultimately, I chose Italy for the language, culture, and, of course, food. Florence in particular was my favorite city when I came to Italy with my parents two summers ago, and it continues to be where I feel I most belong. But I digress.

Berlin

Berlin: our first stop (after fifteen long hours- thank goodness for Staci as a wonderful bus buddy). I’m not sure quite what I expected, but it was the city out of the five (Amsterdam, Brussels, Paris, and Barcelona) that I had the lowest expectations for, just because I pictured it as a more bleak, serious city. Although many people on our tour, including myself, described it as “industrial,” it also has a fantastically funky/alternative vibe. Street art is everywhere and is especially thought-provoking in the East Side Gallery of the Berlin Wall.

One of our first destinations was the Reichstag building, a stunning building in which the Parliament meets. The concept of the architectural design is transparency, so that the people can be more involved and directly see what goes on in the government. The wide, winding circular staircase leads to the top of the building from which you can see all of Berlin. It reminded me of the John Hancock building in Chicago, with its sleek, modern design.

Reichstag Panorama

Reichstag Panorama

Another highlight of Berlin: the DDR (Deutsche Demokratische Republik) museum, which was highly interactive and informative. For instance, I learned how during the Cold War period, East Berliners had different words for objects than West Berliners through a “guessing game” in which you could try to identify which words were which. Staci and I tried to learn how to dance in the traditional way in another interactive exhibit, and we read about how discoteccas weren’t supposed to play American music but did anyway because it was much more popular, and I can understand why after listening to some at the museum.

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Walking through the Holocaust Memorial and museum was a more haunting, somber experience. The grave-like descending stones made me feel as if I were in a cemetery, but without flowers or any sort of color. I chose to do the audio tour guide through the museum, which delved

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into stories of individuals who were affected by the Holocaust. The first quote within the building is from Primo Levi, an Italian writer who I’d read back at Georgetown. His words resonated with me as I walked through the museum, reading concerned letters to/from family members that somehow survived, even though the people themselves did not.

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Berlin recounts its tragic history with this Holocaust museum, but also with buildings that serve as relics, since some architects decided to keep bullet holes intact as a reminder of the violence that occurred. Most memorable for me, however, was the East Side Gallery of the Berlin Wall, in which colorful, powerful images and words revitalize the wall that once divided the city. I found it somewhat ironic that so many people (including me!) were taking pictures of themselves in front of this wall, which is now a tourist attraction in which you can take a trendy picture. In one sense it seems to trivialize the art, yet ultimately for me, I think these pictures remind me of the power of emotionally stimulating art. The part of the wall in the picture above particularly resonated with me, as it reminded me of my home, New Orleans, with its crawfish, music, and jubilant atmosphere. As I travel, I appreciate my “roots” even more, my love for a city in which art flourishes, rejuvenates, and reminds us of life’s pain and its beauty.

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Amsterdam

Before I came to Amsterdam, my dad compared the city to Venice, except that Amsterdam is a “city with canals” whereas Venice is “canals with a city.” I had the same impression, and I loved the feel of Amsterdam, its quaintness, its architecture, and its relaxed atmosphere. On the first night, we spent several hours walking around the city to acquaint ourselves and found a studio in an area that used to be a parking lot in which the artist, who we met, used different fabrics in her pieces to create a 3D-like effect.

For dinner, we had breakfast: pancakes. These were no ordinary pancakes, however. My “Canadian pancake” was filled with bacon, mushrooms, onions and cheese. Funnily enough, we were surrounded by Italians, since we were at a sports bar type of restaurant and there were two different soccer games playing. It almost felt like home.

IMG_1471The next day we visited the Anne Frank House, which was powerful yet not what I expected. When I read Anne Frank’s diary, I always picture her nestled in her attic, but the principle part of the museum was the annex of their house (although we did get a glimpse of the attic). The most memorable part of the tour for me, however, was the video of Anne Frank’s dad speaking about her, and how her diary showed a side of Anne that he had never known. He begs the question, “Can we ever know our children?” His words made me think about whether we can know ourselves, or every version of ourselves, since with each person we act differently, according to what qualities they evoke from us, or their disposition, etc.

Another thing that struck me in the museum were Anne’s handwritten journal entries as well as the beginnings of her novel, called The Secret Annex. Reading her words made me hyperaware of the tragedy of her premature death, especially since I know she would have continued to be a prolific and profound writer. As one who appreciates language and written expression, I feel especially touched by the story of Anne Frank, a girl who coped with her anxiety, anger, and sadness through writing, a girl I aspire to emulate.

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Next we ventured to the Van Gogh museum, an extensive collection that shows his progression as an artist. I’d never been to an art museum focused on one artist before, but I enjoyed it and like the concept. Seeing his early period of more rural paintings and his style become more “radical” or unique with its swirls of color was enlightening, since I had only seen Van Gogh’s famous works. Perhaps my favorite small detail that I learned was that a curator found grains of sand in the painting featured on the right translated as “Fishing Boats at Sea”– Van Gogh loved to work outside when painting. That’s the kind of artist I’d like to be: an artist who gets sand in his paintings, who directly interacts with the environment around him and incorporates it.

Brussels

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We only stopped in Brussels for a few hours, principally for waffles and beer, but I enjoyed the opportunity to explore yet another European city. The architecture of Brussels was beautiful, a feature I hadn’t expected.

But, if I’m being honest, my favorite part of Brussels was the food. I don’t even really like waffles, but when I bit into mine, topped with nutella and a traditional Belgian crumbled cookie spread called speculoos, I was in heaven. It was the best food I ate all trip, hands down.

Paris

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Magical. The first word that came to mind when, after another long bus ride directly proceeded by a metro ride to the Eiffel Tower, until finally I rounded the corner to see one of the most well-known sights of the world. Before I arrived in Paris, I feared the Eiffel Tower may not live up to my high expectations. Luckily, my fears were unfounded. Against the purplish black sky, the Eiffel Tower glistened and glowed. Time stopped.

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Traveling can make the world seem surreal, as if I’m watching a movie of my life unfolding. In that moment, I felt I had to verify that I was actually here, in Paris, one of the most beautiful cities in the world. So I convinced Staci and David to go down to the Tower’s base, almost to establish its (and my) existence.

I practically skipped there and back– for some reason, all of my fatigue melted away when I saw the Tower, ran up to it, and looked inside at its scaffolding. David described it as a “web of steel,” an expression which resonated with me.

As I sat to watch the glittering show of the Eiffel tower, nutella crepe in hand, I couldn’t help but feel again a sense of wonder and disbelief.

It was love at fist sight. In addition to the Eiffel Tower, Paris’s art, gardens, Notre Dame, Arc di Triumph, e ambiente (atmosphere) astounded me, but also reminded me of home, since New Orleans has quite a bit of French architecture.

IMG_3423In Paris I felt more relaxed, especially with the sunny, beautiful weather. After trekking through the Lourve, which is stunning but overwhelming, we relaxed in the gardens nearby. Just sitting down for a few moments felt wonderful after so much time traveling and constantly moving. Perhaps the magic of Paris for me was this: taking the time to soak up the feel of the city and rest my feet.

IMG_1511But of course, there is much to see in Paris, and we only had two days, so we continued onwards to the Arc di Triumph, which we climbed. The view of the city from the top of the Arch was incredible– I hadn’t realized the beauty of the organized streets until I saw them from above. With the wind in my hair and time to catch my breath, I again felt a sense of disbelief, yet of utter happiness.

IMG_1542My experience of Notre Dame was especially meaningful for me. When I walked into the church, the color and light almost blinded me with its exquisite beauty. For me, Gothic churches such as Notre Dame affect me more emotionally than most of the churches I’ve seen in Italy, perhaps because I grew up going to churches with stained-glass windows. On our way out of the church, we passed the candles, which you can light in memory or in prayer for someone. I stopped in my tracks. My cousin Emily died of cancer in June, a tragedy with which I’m still struggling to cope or understand. Especially since she never had the opportunity to study abroad or travel in Europe to see such beautiful things as the Notre Dame. Emily was a beautiful, intelligent, and kind person, like a big sister to me. Lighting a candle for her seemed like a way to have her with me, to share with her this spiritual experience.

IMG_3480 Immediately after leaving Notre Dame, I caught sight of a King Charles Spaniel, the type of dog Emily had. For me, it was no mere coincidence; it was a miracle. Using my trusty “trip advisor” app, I looked for our next destination and found a bookstore five minutes away: Shakespeare and Company, which I know Emily would have loved. A cozy bookstore with a quiet “reading room” above, Shakespeare and Company won my heart with its old typewriters, fun staff suggestions, and smell of books, new and old.

Along with literature, impressionist art is another one of my favorite things. Although it was a dazzling, sunny day IMG_3461and everyone else wanted to remain in the gardens, I chose to embark on a solo journey to Musée d’Orsay. Across the river from the Louvre, past the

IMG_3460“Love Lock” bridge, this museum used to be a train station.

I felt as if I were in the movie Hugo, with its huge clock in the center of the exhibit. I was completely satisfied, surrounded by my favorite artists: Monet, Renoir, Degas. Unlike the Louvre, I felt more relaxed, less overwhelmed. I couldn’t take pictures of the paintings, which was actually a relief, so that I could simply gaze at them and not worry about capturing every moment. On one hand it was more relaxing being alone, so that I could go at my own pace, yet on the other, I would’ve liked someone with whom to discuss the art. I face this dilemma often: whether to do things I want to do, even if no one else wants to, or to go with a group and do something I’m not as excited about. In this case, however, I’m grateful I explored Musée d’Orsay, which may be my favorite art museum of all-time.

Paris exceeded my expectations, and I didn’t encounter any outrightly rude Parisians. Maybe it was because the weather was beautiful, but I think it was also because Paris was the kind of place I needed. A place to gather my thoughts, internalize art, and enjoy the moment.

Barcelona

Barcelona held a different kind of excitement for me, since my friend Adri who is studying in Seville met me here. When I saw her getting out of the taxi, I ran to her and had a reunion similar to that with Xime– a VERY long hug with lots of smiles and laughter. There’s nothing like a good friend, who you don’t have to make any effort with at all because they already know and understand you. Throughout the trip I had been meeting new people, and it was such a relief to just be with Adri and not have to try to make conversation but have it flow naturally.

We wanted to be outside, since again, the weather was lovely, so we ambled towards a park that we found on a map. I immediately loved the atmosphere of Barcelona, with its tropical trees, warm-colored buildings, and fruit stands on every corner.

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Park Guell is not exactly a park, but more like a huge garden full of architectural oddities, some of which were designed by Gaudi, the famous architect. It was the perfect place for our reunion, since we could chat, sit, and gaze out at the beautiful Barcelona skyline.

Adri was the perfect guide in Spain, since her Spanish is incredible and her knowledge of tapas very helpful. It was funny to hear her talk with some of the Barcelona locals, however, since she’s from a different region of Spain. In Barcelona most people speak Catalan, a language similar to Spanish yet with different pronunciations/inflections. There are also certain foods that Adri wanted me to try that but were specific to Seville. I’ve found it’s similar in Italy, in which every region has its own specialties and pride in its culture.

That evening we went to a flamenco show with our group that was incredible– one male flamenco dancer danced for half an hour, moving his feet in a mesmerizing, tap-dance like manner. Afterwards, we filled up on seafood paella and sangria, which, fun fact, Adri insists that only Americans, not Spaniards, drink.

The next morning after my first full night’s sleep all trip, we went to La Sagrada Familia, Gaudi’s architectural wonder whose construction started in 1882 yet that is still being built. Like the Notre Dame, La Sagrada Familia contains beautiful stained glass, but La Sagrada Familia is brighter, full of natural light. The architecture is astounding– Gaudi, like Leonardo da Vinci, was inspired by nature and constructed the pillars of the church as if they were trees reaching up to the sky.

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After seeing so many ancient works of art, it was refreshing to see a more modern piece which is still under construction. La Sagrada Familia not only inspired me spiritually but also artistically, in the sense that it convinced me art, like music, can still be created in new ways and to make us think and appreciate life.

IMG_3534Along with La Sagrada Familia, my favorite part of Barcelona was the Old Gothic section of the city. Adri and I headed in the direction of the beach after La Sagrada Familia but took many detours– the other “Arc di Triumph,” lunch, and a few artisan shops. This was a perfect reminder for me that the journey, rather than the destination, matters most, since some of my favorite memories of Barcelona involve our winding path to the sea. The Old Gothic neighborhood had a certain relaxed yet active, warm ambiance, full of colorful plants and trees. We came across a tree in the middle of a courtyard in this area, on which was written words that loosely translate to “if you walk by a tree but don’t really see it, you haven’t seen a tree.” For me, this tree was a reminder to stop and slow down, to admire the beauty around me, to really see the tree.IMG_3527 IMG_3532

 

Around mid evening, we arrived at the beach, where I immediately took of my shoes and sunk my toes in the sand. For me, the beach evokes childhood memories, since every year my family and I go to Florida, and I lived in Destin for several months after the hurricane. As the sun set, Adri and I sat in the sand together, recounting our day and discussing our desire to remember the small details as well as the large events during our semesters abroad. We found sea glass while walking on the beach, and I realized that keeping these pieces of natural art would enable me to tangibly recollect the way I felt being reunited with a great friend in a fascinating city, unlike one I’d ever seen before.

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Insomma, it was a spring break full of new, big cities and small, tangible moments. Nostalgia, excitement, sadness, felicity: a mix of emotions rolled into ten days and five cities. Processing all of the beauty I’ve seen has been difficult, but I hope to retain the images and sensations per sempre.

Copenhagen

I had ten minutes to catch my connecting flight from Frankfurt to Copenhagen, and we were only just boarding a bus to take us to the airport from the plane. I tried to calm my ferociously beating heart which was ticking off the seconds until my departure time. When we finally arrived into Frankfurt’s airport, I scanned the arrival/departure time screen. G65, three terminals away. I started sprinting. My backpack swinging from side to side, heart already overworking itself from anxiety, I felt like I was in a Home Alone movie. But then I stopped to think about the worst thing that could happen to me if I missed my flight. Stay in Frankfurt for a night? Would that really be so bad? My sprint slowed into a fast-paced walk/jog movement.

I finally arrived at my gate, to find that my flight was delayed 20 minutes.

I tell you this story because I think it was an important event for me to realize how often my anxieties/worries are unnecessary, especially once I think of what the worst-case scenario would be if my fears came true.

And so I began my trip to Copenhagen.

1890451_10152645831459418_1157889207_oI’ve never had someone photograph my reaction to seeing them at the airport, but leave it to my good friend Xime to do so. As she so accurately captures on camera, I was looking around to find her familiar face, until finally, there she was! Reconnecting with an old friend is one of the most joyful experiences, and this reunion proved that to me. After studying abroad in a new country, with new people for a few months, it was such a relief to see and actually hug her.

When we arrived at her house in Lyngby, a suburban area about 20 minutes from the city, I met her host parents, who kindly let me stay with them. They were on their way out, so we didn’t get a chance to speak, but it struck me how they turned off the lights right away as they left, even though we were still in the hallway. That’s how environmentally friendly they are. Xime later explained to me the importance of keeping doors shut and turning off lights, as well as biking. Bikers have the right-of-way over pedestrians and cars, a concept which is completely different from Italy, where cars barely stop for pedestrians.

After eating dinner at the house, we headed into the city to explore the nightlife of Copenhagen. Xime’s classes are held next to the Danish University, where there are a plethora of bars and clubs. We walked around the city, seeing lots of happy, drunk Danish students, and settled on a bar with an eclectic vibe near the university. As we shared stories about our study abroad experience, Xime told me about her classes, most of which concern environmentalism. Her program is very different from the Villa, in that she interacts with many American students studying abroad in her classes.

I find Danish culture fascinating; Xime told me that since Denmark is a welfare state, people avoid showing their wealth and privilege. Most Danes keep their windows free of curtains because they believe it’s best not to have anything to hide. Xime’s host father, Alexander, told her that while he was eating at a restaurant, he saw the Head of Parliament wait forty minutes for a table, just like anyone else would. I truly admire this aspect of Danish culture, this effort to transcend social class and recognize the equality of all human beings. I also admire their organized health and education system, which everyone can access, another statement of their nation actively pursuing equality. Although America is much larger and more diverse, I would hope we could learn something from the Danes.

1939918_10152645833744418_1458107843_oOn Saturday morning, we set out to explore the city the Danish way: by bike. Although I was a bit nervous I would forget how to ride and crash into people, it came back to me pretty quickly. Copenhagen is much chillier than Florence, especially while biking, so I managed to come up with a gloveless solution (see picture to the left). It surprised me how efficient the bike lanes were and how many people were biking with us-  Xime and her friend Sarah say even when it’s snowing people bike.

We started our journey with the Rosenborg Castle and the surrounding gardens. Xime gave me a mini history lesson regarding Christian IV, a well-loved yet ambitious king who also had a love for parties. Although today most Danes do not show off their wealth, luckily for us, Christian didn’t seem to have a problem doing so. Below are a few of my favorite parts of the Castle, whose relief ceilings, tapestries, and jeweled armory had a similar, yet different flavor than the art in Palazzo Pitti in Florence.

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1557260_10152645840684418_2107505789_oSpeaking of flavors, food in Denmark doesn’t seem to have quite the same cultural importance as it does in Italy, but I still immensely enjoyed it. We went to a sandwich restaurant with a generous salad/sauce bar and a cozy atmosphere. Another aspect of Danish culture I respect and want to emulate: hygge, a concept which can’t directly translate, but the closest word would be coziness. In many cafés in Denmark, blankets lie on chairs for customers to use and tables are candle-lit for a more intimate atmosphere. I love this idea, this way of making dinners an experience rather than solely a form of necessary nourishment. Dinners can last for four hours in Denmark, complete with drinks and food, but, more importantly, conversation and leisure time.

1723562_10152645844259418_992388109_nWe headed next to Christiania, an autonomous state in the center of Copenhagen. Walking into Christiania is like walking through a colorful yet dirty version of hippie Disneyland. Graffiti and trash cover the neighborhood, while numerous signs command you to not take pictures, since cannabis is still illegal. Hippies established this “state” in the 1970s, the land of which previously held military barracks.

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The commune has its own laws, school and government structure. I couldn’t help but wonder what it would be like growing up in such a place when I saw a few younger kids running around. I’d love to research more about this mysterious, surreal place and its people.

 

 

1782530_10152645846674418_1457208180_oDeprived of pictures in Christiania, we decided to take a mini photo shoot in the picturesque Nyhavn canal. The different colored houses reminded me of those on Burano, an island we visited near Venice on my trip to Italy a few years ago. These playful, quaint homesjuxtaposed with the stunningly blue water convinced me I had to come back to Copenhagen. I’ve missed being by a large body of water, and it was comforting to see and feel the sea air. I felt similarly when I went to Venice. I’m learning that water does have a therapeutic effect on me, and I crave being around oceans, lakes, and rivers.

Our last stop of the day was the Little Mermaid. Based on the fairy tale by Hans Christian Andersen, the Little Mermaid statue and 1658343_10152645847554418_2051276428_oits surrounding rocks made me realize how beautiful such simple things can be. At first, I didn’t understand why the Little Mermaid was on the top of the list of things to see in Copenhagen, but after I experienced her presence, I understood. She’s a way for people to soak up just standing and looking out on the water, enjoying the sea breeze. She’s a reminder to me of the importance of reflection, both literally, to enjoy the simple beauty of the surface of the water, and figuratively, to remember and write about my experiences, to be as present as possible so I can carry my memories with me wherever I travel next.

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After a relaxing Saturday night, we arose early Sunday morning, with plans to get brunch. Instead, at 7:30 AM, I hear Xime, “The sun’s out! Come on, let’s go to the lake!” I jerked my head up and without thinking, started getting dressed. Just a ten minute walk away from her house is a beautiful lake, complete with picturesque bridges and nature trails. I felt the crisp air, warm contentment, and pure calm as I looked out across the surface. I’m seizing the day, I thought to myself, as I stole one last look at the lake before following Xime back to the train station.

I hope to carry this calmness with me through this week, which could be more stressful with midterms. My goal is to remember the Little Mermaid, take deep breaths, and walk, rather than sprint, to the next terminal of my journey.

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Le Impressioni Altri

There have been a few things on my mind about my experience here in Italy I’d like to share. This is more sporadic, less themed post than the previous ones, so bear with me.

Things that have surprised me about Italy

La moda della vita in Italia (the Italian way of life): In my Italian Cinema class today, we discussed how Italians have a sense of how difficult life is, but they enjoy it anyway. To give you some context, we’ve been studying the movie La Dolce Vita, a movie usually interpreted as a critique on materialistic society. Instead of using the term ironically (the “sweet” life), Fellini intended to show “the sweetness of life,” a concept I can understand after watching the movie a second time and reading various reviews of it. I can feel that appreciation for the sweetness of life in Florence, a sense that there’s more to life than work or concrete purpose. For instance, Italians rarely study at cafés, which astonishes me since I usually study at Saxby’s or Starbucks back in DC.

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Un cappuccino senza i libri!

Rather than rush you through meals at restaurants, waiters and bar baristas often encourage you to stay. I was discussing this phenomenon with someone, who told me the logic of Italian servers is as follows: customers who enjoy themselves will recommend the place to others and/or people from outside will see how happy the people inside look and will come to that restaurant as a result. Thus, pleasing the customers pays. In contrast, in America restaurants see lingering customers as a nuisance, a hindrance to serving as many customers as possible to maximize profit. While Shannon and I were in Venice, we encountered a friendly barista at a cafe. Every time we asked for the check, he convinced us to stay by pouring us a glass of white wine, which he never charged us for. Now that is my kind of service!

Another surprising thing: baristas at cafe counters don’t ask you for money right away! I still have to get used to not “earning” my drink before having it– sometimes I feel like I’m doing something illegal. I occasionally have to remind the barista that I need to pay, whereas in most cafés in America,  there is an immediate transaction.

Another observation: people stare. I have the feeling that mothers in Italy aren’t accustomed to telling their children not to stare at strangers as is common in the US, or at least their children don’t listen if they do. It can be creepy, especially when I’m alone, but I’ve come to accept it as a more honest expression of curiosity.

It is not cold here, but Italians dress as if it’s the arctic tundra, complete with puffy jackets, scarves, and hats. Whenever I wear shorts at dinner, Paolo, my host dad, looks at me as if I’m a lunatic. Emanuela, our host mom, told us that in Southern Italy, mothers don’t let their children get gelato, lest they catch cold. Keep in mind that the low in winter is about 50 degrees.

Personal Development

Every moment counts. I’ve realized how quickly my time abroad has gone by, as if I’m living in an upturned sand hourglass and can feel the grains swiftly moving from the present to the past. I want to savor each and every second of my experience so that I can carry it with me in my mental suitcase per sempre.

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Via Piazzuola, on the way to Ville Le Balze (for my classes)

Walking is therapeutic for me. Although it has always been one of my favorite pastimes, especially with my dog Daisy at home, my walks here have been senza iPod/smart Phone, so that I’m listening to only natural sounds. Even though my walk to school is 30-40 minutes uphill, I’ve enjoyed the trek several times because the greenery makes me feel more at peace and appreciative of each passing moment.

Language fascinates me. I’m an English major and Italian minor, so you’re probably thinking that I should have figured that out by now, but my love for words has intensified since living in Florence. I have the unique opportunity of taking an Italian Writing and Culture class by myself with Imperatrice, an incredible teacher who I hope to emulate if I decide to join the profession. She’s teaching me more than new vocabulary words or grammatical structure; she’s teaching me how to think in Italian. I’ve learned to abandon (at least temporarily) my tendency to write concisely, which I attempt to do in English, and instead string together Italian words in the poetic manner that Italian writers use to convey more emotional complexity to their work. I’ve also learned interesting connections between English and Italian words. One of my favorites is the word “albino,” which derives from the Italian word “alba” which means sunrise (like the sunrise, albinos are light).

Being in a home stay is hands down one of the best decisions I’ve ever made. The experience with Emanuela and Paolo is priceless; our family dinners are often the highlight of my day. Emanuela cooks us a traditional Italian meal, complete with il primo piatto of pasta, next il secondo, usually either meat or some other type of meat, with salad, vegetables, and other delicious cotorni (side dishes). Finally we have dessert, either fruit (I’m in love with the red oranges here) or some type of sweet, depending on the night. Emanuela is not only an incredible cook, but also a genuinely compassionate person, who always asks us about our days and truly wants to know how we are doing. Paolo’s contributes by making jokes throughout the meal and trying to pronounce English words in a hilarious way. For instance, he once stated, “I am style.” There’s Paolo for you. The combination of wonderful, fresh food and delightful conversation has become an important part of my life here, and I hope to continue having these family dinners in the US, whether it be at home or in DC with friends from school.

Another fantastic thing about being in a home stay but also studying at the Villa in Fiesole is that I have the opportunity to experience both city and country life. I’m a city girl at heart, but I also love spending time in nature, so this type of lifestyle is perfect for me. In addition, Viale dei Mille, the street on which I live, is about a twenty minute walk from the city center, so it’s more of a family-oriented, friendly neighborhood. I feel so blessed to have not only such a great family but also to live in a location I adore.

I love exploring with other people, but I also feel confident and independent enough to seek adventure on my own. Because time is so short and there is so much to do here, it’s hard to always coordinate plans with other people. For instance, I found out about a showing of Othello on Valentine’s Day night at a theatre on the Oltrano, a trendy, less touristy part of Florence. No one else I had talked to seemed particularly interested in going and tickets almost sold-out, so I decided to go for it and buy one of the last seats left, which happened to be front row. Initially I thought, wow am I lame to me going somewhere alone on the night of Valentines Day, but I couldn’t be more thankful that I went. First of all, it was an incredible performance. Very modern, but in an exciting and interesting, artistic way rather than “a oh geez get me out of here” kind of way. Since I was so close, I could hear the dancers’  breaths and their footsteps; I could see the sweat on their backs. At the end of the ballet, the character of Othello writhed in agony, clinging to the section of the stage directly in front of me, until he barely clutched the surface. I could easily have touched him. Seeing all of the performers after the show receive a standing ovation was just as emotional; their expressions were of true joy. This is love, I thought to myself, as I saw the faces of audience members and the cast illuminate with the realization of the sweetness of life.

That’s all for now, but I’ll jot down more as I think new random thoughts!

La Scuola del Cuoio

IMG_3202The smell of leather stuck to my nostrils as I entered La Scuola del Cuoio, surrounded by leather purses, jackets, and belts. Franciscan friars of the Monastery of Santa Croce partnered with the Gori and Casini families after WWII to found La Scuola del Cuoio, whose mission was to give orphans of the war a way to learn a practical trade. Since the thirteenth century, Santa Croce has housed tanners, who capitalize on the area’s proximity to the river for their work. We could still see frescos on the wall, created by the school of Domenico Ghirlandaio in the fifteenth century, and the monk’s cloisters, which now house work spaces for leather artisans. 

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Lydia, our guide, emphasized how patient and passionate the artisans at La Scuola del Cuioio are; it can take days for them to complete works. “We are not a factory; we are a workshop of artisans,” she said as she introduced us to Francesco, shown in the picture to the right. Francesco gilds a wooden piece with the utmost care, since if he touched the gold with his hands, it would fall apart.

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In a world full of factories, it’s easy to forget the joy of creating something with human hands (the Italian phrase is fatto a mano), yet places in Florence like La Scuola del Cuoio remind us to savor humans capability to transform ordinary objects into works of beauty. Francesco gladly posed with his work for us, which made me think of all the invisible hands that go into making everything we own, from clothes to books to computers. So often, I have no personal relationship with the people who make my food or my belongings, but in Italy, it is normal to know local artisans, butchers, etc. I aim to familiarize myself with more of these people who so often only make up a tangential part of my day. I’ve positively interacted with people at the grocery store or a coffee shop, but I’d like to have more than a superficial relationship with them, get to know them on a deeper level.

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One of my favorite parts of the tour was viewing the workshop of Francesca Gori, one of the daughters of the original founder, Marcello Gori. Francesca creates leather handbags with pieces of antique jewelry, which she finds all over the world. Her bags embody innovation and the beauty of the past, and I love that each one is unique. Lydia described Francesca’s relationship to her work as one between mother and child; for instance, she takes such pride in her work that she takes a picture with each person who buys the purse and has a scrapbook full of her creations.

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Lydia next took us down to the student work area, which used to be a stable. She explained to us that now, most of their students come from abroad to study the leather craft, which surprised me. How long will these traditional ways of creating leather goods by hand last, if younger Italians are uninterested in learning how to create them? It’s a troubling thought that these skills may be lost, but then again, perhaps a new kind of art form will emerge.

IMG_3223Other things I learned during our tour through La Scuola del Cuoio: suede is the underside of animal skin, there is such a thing as ostrich leather, and the way to differentiate between fake and real crocodile skin is through touch. To the left is a picture of the various types of leather Lydia showed us: deer, crocodile, ostrich, cow, and lamb. Crocodile skin is the most precious, yet also the most fragile: if you leave it out in the sun for too long, it will disintegrate. When I first entered the leather school, the goods didn’t disturb me, but these animal skins on the table caused me to consider the animals whose skin we’re now using as fashion items. It made me somewhat queasy to think about the process of removing the skin from the animal. However, Lydia addressed this issue, exclaiming her belief that doing this kind of work glorifies the animal in a kind of reincarnation process. I’m not sure if I completely buy into this argument, but I do appreciate the artisans’ dedication to their work, their patience, and motivation to create beauty by their own hand.