Monday, June 21, 2010

Mona Lisa

I am officially DONE with art from any time before the 1600s. And half of the art from the 1600s I'm done with, too. I absolutely cannot stomach one more Mannerist, Renaissance, or Ancient work of art for at least another twenty years. At least.

The number one thing on my list of "Shit I've got to do in Paris" was visit the Louvre. I'm an art student. If I walked away from Paris without the Louvre under my belt Michelangelo himself would rise up from the Fields of Elysium and punch me right in the teeth. I ventured into the Louvre on my own, Nicole and Shakira figuring the kids wouldn't be able to handle all such an overwhelming display of fantastic works of art. The Louvre is a palace, renovated for the housing of these works, and as I walked through the archway and into the courtyard where the entrance to the Louvre is, I had a moment with myself. I stared at the glass pyramid that announced my descent into the vast world of that museum and felt my breast swell with pride. I made it to the Louvre. Against all odds, I made it to Paris. And my ultimate triumph in that city was before me. I spent three long hours in that labyrinth of suppossed artistic magnificence, and when I came out I wasn't quite the same.

Because, God damnit!, the Mona Lisa was the biggest disappointment in history. Truly. I love you, Leonardo, but seriously? The Mona Lisa is the size of a fucking place mat. And the closest you can get to it is 10 feet away. Seeing the Mona Lisa was suppossed to be monumental. And it wasn't. That feeling permeated throughout the rest of my visit to the Louvre. I saw some amazing things, sure. Some of the sculptures made me nearly cry, especially Athena. But the rest was all pretty boring. Of all the things I enjoyed the most about the Louvre were the Mesopotamian and Egyptian collections. So sweet. There was an entire room of Egyptian sarcophogi and mummies-I couldn't help myself in there. I did the mummy walk when no one was looking. And gigantic tablets of heiroglyphics hung from the walls. I also really enjoyed walking through the preserved section of the ancient framework of the Louvre. They had all the original blueprints spread out for us to look at as you walk through a hallway made of stones fromthe 1200s. It was really freakin' cool. And thats about it for the Louvre.

In three hours, thats all I've got. Maybe I'm just too fed up with ancient art. Probably. I can't appreciate another piece of Western work that dates up to the Renaissance until I've immersed myself in contemporary art. An immersion so long and deep that I can't even remember the Renaissance. Cause I'm totally over it. And the Mona Lisa was the nail in the coffin.
Arrivederci, for now.
Love, Gabby

Hunchbacks aren't the only weirdos in Notre Dame


After my visit to Notre Dame, I was inspired to purchase Victor Hugo's novel The Hunchback of Notre Dame in a futile effort to extend my Parisian experience. For those of you cheaters who've only ever watched the Disney movie, it's a completely different story. That Quasimodo is almost cute. I can assure you, though, that the Quasimodo of the story is the most wretched, horrible human disfiguration ever created, in reality or imagination. The hunchback from the movie 300 doesn't compare. Anyway, my point is, all of the characters in that book are total freaks. Whether they had freakish looks (Quasimodo), freakish imaginations (Esmerelda), freakish life stories (the Hag), or freakish ideas (the Priest), freakiness pervails around the cathedral of Notre Dame. And I realized this before I even read the book.

When I approached the monstrosity that is Notre Dame, my eyes immediately picked out the gargoyles on its facade. I really, really like gargoyles. My eyes roved it's flying butresses and its windows, drinking it in. I waited on a line for ten minutes to get inside, and immediately I was overcome by the eerieness of the inside. There was constant music, whether a recording of a choir or an actual choir I don't know, but the tones were deep and sonorous, reverberating off the cold walls to echo up the rafters. The hues of the stained glass weren't bright, but rather they cast dimly colored hues across the stone floors. The sculptures and paintings that decorate the cathedral are lit dimly by the few tiny lights that dot the church. There are chairs set up in the church that serve as pews, where people sit while the rest of the masses that are touring the cathedral drone by. The flashing of cameras is constant and the noise of tip-toeing feet and small whispers is so loud that there is no peace or serenity to be found anywhere inside. I lit a candle in honor of my loved ones, which I normally don't do. But considering that its Notre Dame, I figure having a candle lit in your name is a kind of a big deal. And after sitting for twenty minutes unable to muster any sort of prayer from my breast, I degectedly left.

I went back outside into the cold, which even in the middle of the day during summer was biting in Paris, and waited for my family to come out. They'd got on line to enter after I did and hence took an extra 45 minutes to exit. I sat on a chilly stone stump outside of the church and people watched for those 45 minutes. I discovered more weirdos entering and exiting this cathedral than is possible to mention. Two groups in particular stand out in my mind. First, there were the snake skins. A couple, both decked out in snakeskin EVERYTHING stood next to me taking tacky photo after tacky photo. The girl had long, grimy blonde hair twisted into knots. She wore about 17 earrings and a snakeskin bracelet. Her snakeskin boots pointed up toward the sky and the heels on these beasts were at least 4 inches. The best, though, was her snakeskin belly shirt. In 40 degree weather. The shirt was complemented beautifully by a pair of RIPPED snakeskin pants tighter than they should have been. So tight that what little fat she had was burstig through the rips in her pants in a really unbecoming fashion. Her I'm guessing husband wore a white snakeskin coat that reached his ankles, around which were snakeskin boots that matched his wife's. He had on a snakeskin hat, and his long, grimy blonde hair was even longer than hers. The only thing on him that wasn't snakeskin was his leather pants. And 10 minutes after I tore my eyes from these two, I saw on line to enter the church a huge group of gangstathugs. I haven't seen their like in a long, long time. Baggy pants whose waists are resting at the place where butt meets leg, shirts long enough to be old women's moo-moo dresses, sideways and backwards hats with flat rims, and bling. Lots and lots of bling. I was almost tempted to get up and see if they had gold teeth. I should have. Instead, I chuckled at them on my cold rock thinking to myself how wonderful a profession people-watching would be.

And so I rest my case on the freakishness of Notre Dame.
Arrivederci, for now.
Love, Gabby

Disneyland Paris

(VIDEOS PENDING)
I remember my first time at Disneyworld. I was eight. For the remainder of my life I've remembered Disneyworld as the most magical place in the world. I'm sure that I'm not the only person who believes in the power of Disney, either. When Nicole, Shakira, and I planned out Paris, we made sure to plan on going to EuroDisney. We wanted to share that same Disney magic with the kids. And we kept it a secret. On our second day in Paris we got up early in the morning and got the kids ready to go. During the entire ride the kids didn't understand why Nicole, Shakira, and I were bouncing up and down in our seats. And when we pulled up to the EuroDisney sign and told them to look out the window, their excitement could have blown off the roof of the car. Which made us three adults even more enthused about the day. Walking into the park was something like a dream. I ran backwards on the little flat escelator things with the kids, spun around in circles with my arms stretched out, and engaged myself in all of the kid-like activities I could. All this before we even entered the park.

When we made it to the Disneyland Paris sign, I could hardly contain myself. I wanted to run right through the gates and give Mickey a big giant hug. Instead, I suffered through all the pictures and browsing the Goofy ears before we made it inside. Even though I royally sucked at the directions around Paris, I designated myself official map holder in the park. First stop: Frontierland. We went through the Wild West in Paris. I ran through an old western townhouse before taking off through Frontierland in search of a ride. While I ran around with the kids I came across a place called "Woody's Roundup". Since as far back as I can remember, my two favorite movies were The Lion Kind and Toy Story. I have a special relationship with Toy Story, though-when I was a kid I shared this movie with two of my very best friends, and we always sang "You've got a friend in me" together all of the time. To my delight, Woody's Roundup was a place with all costumed characters. I got to meet Goofy, Minnie, Mickey, and none other than my favorite cartoon character in history: Woody Himself. My niece Kayla bought a signature book and got all of their autographs, and secretly I was really jealous of her. I was ecstatic to have met and taken a photo with my hero Woody, regardless of my lack of an autograph book. We ran around after this in search of rides again and alas! the kids were too small for the only one we found, so we left and went next to Adventureland. It was like a jungle, and hosted rides like Pirates of the Caribbean, which the kids again were too little for. We were all starting to get a little irritated at the lack of rides available to ride and then it started to rain. So we sat down for some lunch. Disneyland in the U.S.A defintiely does themepark food better. We made our way to Fantasyland next.

Where, thank God, we finally found some rides. Our first order of business was to go on the merry-go-round. I had a pretend sword fight with my nephew Jazzy ontop of spinning horses. As we were going around I saw a sign for the Alice in Wonderland Maze. And immediately after we stopped spinning we ran into the maze. (Video to come). We ran around that maze for at least an hour. Its seriously trippy in there. When you first walk in, there is a small hedge maze with funny little creatures, including the White Rabbit, roaming about. You make your way through the hedge maze and into a pathway made of purple bubbly fountains that shoot water back and fourth from fountain to fountain. After this you come up to the Catepillar, faithfully smoking his hookah and blowing smoke rings into the air. Directly past the Caterpillar is the Chesire Cat. His gigantic face is an entire garden, made up of purple, white, and pink flowers. They also made him eyes, which spin around and around in an attempt to hypnotize all the small children inside. I wonder what for? Anyway, when you get past the Chesire Cat you go through another small hedge maze, where Cards stand on the alert for people who are about to enter into the Queen of Hearts' Castle. Which is awesome. Kayla, Jazzy, and I climbed to the top and shouted down at Nicole, Shakira, Anaiyah, and Isaiah below. We looked out at the whole park from up there-a magnificent view of the Queen's queendom, full of magic and surprises. The castle was so strange it was almost Dr. Seussy. Or Tim Burtony. It touched the sky in crazy spirals, with alternating puple and pink stairs winding their way to the top. It was fringed by a fence of pikes with hearts on their tips and surrounded on all sides by flowers in full bloom. It was truly an incredible place. From my vantage point on the top of that castle I saw the beginnings of a parade, and so with all haste we ran out of the maze and tried to find a good place to watch the procession go by.

This parade was the Welcome parade for Tiana, the newest addition to the princess family from the Frog Princess. I found that there were tears in my eyes during that parade. All of the princesses (Snow White, Belle, Cinderella, Jasmine, Sleeping Beauty, Arielle, Mulan, and Tiana) all floated by, twirling in the arms of their loves and enchanting the eyes of all the little girls around. Wow! is the same in French as it is in English. I found that all the enchantment that was in the air had a particular effect on me. I've never been a girly-girl, I was actually kind of a tomboy for the majority of my childhood, but I found that among all those dreamy-eyed girls I could be one too for the first time. I had my first out of body experience. I projected my "self" into one princess after the next, until I'd twirled and danced to the French Disney love tunes of each of the Princesses. The only one that was boring was Arielle, cause she didn't have feet but only a flipper so I just sat there and waved my arms around. Whatever, I had a costume flipper for a moment. When the music stopped and the Princesses waved, their floats moving on, I turned and saw behing me my #1 favorite ride of all time and sqeauled like the little girl I'd been pretending I was for the past few minutes. Its A Small World. I saw the Earth sprouting up from the center of a fountain, where little puppets were perched their ethnic habitats. Shakria nor Nicole had ever been on it, and since it was the kids' first time in Disney I was thrilled to share their first Its A Small World Experience. For which there are no words. PLEASE CHECK BACK FOR THE VIDEO. This sign was our departing gift from all of the world. And after this, we rode another of my favorite rides, the Teacups. Mad Hatter Style. I was actually extremely disappointed in them, they haven't been WD-40'd in at least 4 years, so I literally struggled to spin the teacup around 1 time. Meanwhile, my little neice and two little nephews are yelling at me to spin faster.

We left Fantasyland after this and made our way to the Discoveryland, the final area of EuroDisney. And I discovered in Discoveryland that Enrique Iglaisias is a skinny, twerpy little guy whose voice reminds me of the voice of a friend I have at home. At least when he sings live. As we walked into Discoveryland, two chicks in red shirts invited us to go and see him because he was performing for a select audience. We walked into a little underground venue where sure enough, he was singing. Shakira and I stayed for a few songs, listening to the shouts of love-struck teenagers and watching Enrique look each of them in the eye, inviting them backstage with his looks. It was really kind of fun to see him perform. I was extremely impressed with the hair of his backup singer, it was this wild crazy afro she had poofed out to match the hair of the bassist, who if I had to guess I would say she is fucking. During one song, Enrique shut up and allowed a guitar solo from his lead guitarist, a puny little white guy with long blond hair that hid a pale, shy face. It was perhaps my favorite part of the performance. We left after he invited a girl onstage to kiss her cheek. When we got outside and met the kids I took everyone to the Buzz Lightyear ride, and together we blasted aliens out of space for two minutes with out Lightyear blasters. I'm a truly sad marksman. I managed to have the worst score out of all of us. And afterwards, while the kids rode on a space-shuttle version of Dumbo the Flying Elephant, I went into a theater where I sat with Isaiah and watched re-runs of the original MickeyMouse show. I have to say, those writers were really strange fellows. And I will forever contend that children's shows were written not for children, but adults. The very first episode I watched (they only last around 7 minutes) was the one where Mickey and Pluto swallow bugspray and trip for 5 minutes. Bugs turn into gigantic crazy creatures that, in various other-worldly ways, try to kill them. Pumpkins grew and walked around, tree limbs attacked them, and caterpillars turned into snakes the size of houses. It was nutty.

By this time our day at EuroDisney was coming to a close quickly, and for one last ride I brought Kayla and Jazzy to Space Mountain to see if they were tall enough. Unfortunately, only Kayla was, and so I shared her first upside-down roller coaster experience with her. Luckily, it was in the dark, else I think she wouldn't have gone on. I forgot how friggin' cool Space Mountain is. We walked past images of constellations and galaxies before boarding our "ship" which blasted off in a hydraulic explosion which propelled us up, down, and around planets, stars, and galaxies which hung suspended from the inside of the mountain. We went through what looked like a red space vortex before finally "landing" back on Earth. Kayla couldn't stop talking about how awesome Space Mountain was, which made me immensely proud to have been the sugguester of said ride. We met up with the rest of our group, hopped on the EuroDisney train, and rode back to the entrance. Where we spent another hour souvenir shopping. I spent too much money. Who cares? When is the next time I'll be in EuroDisney?

I was loathe to leave the park, but my legs were tired and my soul at peace. When we got into the car, I feel asleep and slumbered like a baby until we got back to the hotel. If only I were a kid again and my dad could have carried me inside....
Arrivederci, for now.
Love, Gabby

Le Tour Eiffel

Finding the Eiffel Tower may have been the hardest thing in the world, but enjoying it? That was easy. Seeing the Eiffel Tower in person had the same effect on me as seeing the Leaning Tower of Pisa. I didn't know how colossal of an impact it would have on my life until I actually did it. After we parked, we walked the streets of Paris just waiting for that one glimpse of the Tower that we needed to figure out in which direction to head. We turned a bend and there it was, lit up in the nighttime-a beacon to light our way. Dazed, I followed that beacon like a fly towards a lightbulb. And when I got close, the tower started to glitter. Glowing, sparkling, and dancing in my vision readers, was the Eiffel Tower. The honest-to-God Eiffel Tower. How unreal?

Of course we took a bajillion pictures. Thats what you go to the Eiffel Tower to do. Pictures offer proof and I sure as hell wanted to prove that I've been to the Eiffel Tower.

Before we went up the tower, we decided we wanted to go across the street for crepes and french fries. You need them when you're in France, right? I'm not joking even a little bit, the french fries were out of this world. They were perfect. There is no other way to explain it. Golden, crisp, ungreasy, and topped off with Heinz ketchup. Thank you, God. After we enjoyed the frenchiest of french foods, we bought our tickets and went up the tower.

It didn't matter that it was June. IT WAS FREEZING COLD. I'm talking biting cold that burns your ears here. I couldn't believe it was that cold during the middle of summer in Paris. It also didn't matter that it was cold. The top of the tower was spectacular. Being up there and seeing all of Paris laid bare before me made me seriously regret the little time I had there to discover it. If only I could explore every city I wanted the way I did in Florence. I stood on the platform and marveled at this metropolis. So many lives have spent themselves in this place, in love with it and all its treasures. And I was so sad that I may never know them all. I decided up there that I will make it to as many places across the world that I can. I'm gonna explore for the rest of my life. I can't imagine a life without traveling. Its a sorry existence for those who don't explore. I was loathe to leave, but we had literally stayed on the platform until the very last moments it remained opened. We rode a sideways elevator down to the bottom, realizing when we got there that we'd been up there until 1 a.m.

Being down at the bottom, looking up at this massive structure again, the light that guided me through the street of Paris, was quite the romantic moment for me. Sure, I wasn't there holding some boy's hand, but I was having a tender moment with the city of Paris. I could have stood there staring for the rest of that cold night, enduring the harsh winds, so long as that moment lasted. But, alas!, my duties as Aunt Gab called, and the little hands of my newphew Jazzy were wrapped around my neck while I carried him away. When we got back into the car, we drove over the Alexander bridge. This bridge was featured in on of the last episodes of the Sopranos, which I watched during some lonely moments in Florence. It struck me again where I was and how I got there. And I hereby vow that one day I will go back to Le Tour Eiffel and rekindle my love affair with Paris.




Arrivederci, for now.
Love, Gabby

Boulevard Peripherique

Reunited, and it feels so good! I still can't believe how happy I am to be back amongst the members of my family. I was even happier when Shakira and my sister-in-law Nicole approached me with a proposal.

Paris? they asked. FUCK YES! was my reply.

And so off I went to Paris. Ramstein isn't that far from Paris, straight shot, so we decided to rent a car and drive there. I've gotta say, I'm pretty excellent with traveling. Planes? No problem. Trains? A synch. Driving? Well, normally I'm aces at directions. I memorize maps, I can retrace my steps, I've got a perfect record with MapQuest. Paris is the first time in my life where I've ever completely sucked at being the map. And I can tell you why. Boulevard Peripherique. What a shitty, shitty road.

I sat in the front, co-captain of the big metal ship we were driving through Paris, and I think I might be the worst direction giver in history. The directions led us on and off of Boulevard Peripherique a million times. We got lost a million times. We were in traffic that was truly worse than Manhattan traffic, driving in cicles around the city of lights. And none of us knew any French beyond Bonjour. Lets go toward the city center signs, Shakira suggested. But we didn't want to get any more lost. We waved down a bunch of cars, asking them to direct us towards the Eiffel Tower. We had alot of folks roll their windows up at us. We stopped and got directions from a few people. They explained that there wasn't any such thing as The Eiffel Tower. Were we looking for Le Tour Eiffel? Um, yes, we are. So we went in about a hundred differet directions. We saw the city center signs again and Shakira again recommended we take those roads, but felt like we were close. We didn't want to mess anything up. So we wound up staying in that car for about 2 and 1/2 hours more than we needed to be. The kids were pissed off in the back, we were confused and angry in the front. And Shakira kept on telling us to follow the city center signs. When we found ourselves again on Boulevard Peripherique, winding around the outside of the city, we lost it. And we followed Shakira's instructions.

Looming outside out windshield, hours later, was Le Tour Eiffel.

Nicole and I screamed. We were so excited we rolled down the windows and shouted about Le Tour Eiffel. We made it to Paris, Boulevard Peripherique be damned.
Arrivederci, for now.
Love, Gabby

Thursday, June 17, 2010

Family Reunion

I was in Germany for a few days before Shakira triumphantly announced that my sister-in-law Nicole would be arriving the week after I left. Juuust my luck. I thought about changing my flight and staying in Germany. I'm was in sore need of family. As I've already mentioned, RyanAir sucks, and due to their suckiness they wouldn't allow me to switch the dates of my flight. So I just bought another round trip ticket and resolvd myself to spend a week back in Italy, agonizingly awaiting the flight from Treviso airport that would bring me back to my favorite country in Europe. The week passed painstakingly slow. I thought every day about how Nicole, my niece Kayla, and my nephews Jazzy and Isaiah were coming, how I'd hear they arrived in Germany and know they were closer than they'd been in 6 whole months and I still had to wait to see them.

The other passengers must have thought I was suffering from a crack addiction. I sat on that plane shifting in my seat. I was wringing my hands like a person in pain, shifting in my seat and looking all uncomfortale even though the flight was only an hour long. I was seconds away from digging trenches in my neck. I was simply that excited. Try to understand my position. I've been living in Italy for 6 months and haven't spoken to any of my family members save my parents, and I'm a girl whose number one priority is family. For the past month in Italy, I've been living with my Italian family. To be amongst a family is refreshing to someone whose lived in a young adult compound for so long, but at the same time it is a constant reminder of the one I've left at home. To sit on that plane and know that part of my own family was about to be reunited with me, something I'd been counting down the days for, was one of the most intensely emotional times of my life. I could picture my little buttheads (niece and nephews) seeing me walk through the terminal doors. They'd run up to me and jump into my arms; I'd cry. Then I'd hug my sister-in-law who'd faithfully reassure me that I don't look any fatter even though I know I've turned into a house. I couldn't wait. Literally. I had to have been freaking out the other passengers with my antsiness.

When the plane landed I was smiling. When I walked off the plane I was beaming. And when I walked through the terminal doors I could hardly contain myself. I looked around, anticipating the arms of my buttheads around my legs. I scanned the small crowd at Frankfurt Hahn. My smile slowly drooped off of my face. They werent there. Instantly, the anxiety started. It came on in waves, probably because I'd been so excited on the plane. I thought they forgot me. Maybe they just forgot I wasn't there. Maybe they knew and rethought visiting with me; maybe they didn't want me there. I resolved myself to sit and wait on the steps, hoping they were just late. I waited, and waited, and waited. I got a pretzel and waited some more. I didn't want to be the annoying person who called to check up and see where they were. I was afraid to call and remind them if they forgot. I was nervous, but after about 45 minutes of waiting I knew I couldn't sit on those stairs much longer. I went to the stupid airport payphones I've had trouble with before. After it ate 3 of my Euro I finally got through to Shakira's house. Heaing my sister-in-law's voice made me almost want to cry. She was sleeping, but the rest of them were supposed to have been there already, she said. And a few minutes later, they came.

I hugged my niece and nephew and kissed them on their little butt heads so hard I gave myself a fat lip. I cried. I've had some serious ups and some serious downs on this trip. The ups were realllllly far up there. But seeing my family... I haven't been happier yet.
Arrivederci, for now.

Monday, June 14, 2010

La Cena Sotto il Baldacchino di Natura

If there is one thing I am going to go home and remember about living with an Italian family for a month and half, its going to be dinnertime. I've worked myself into a routine here at my Italian family's home. I wake up around 10 a.m., take a shower, and read or write until 1:30. At 1:30 I go downstairs for lunch. By 2:30 we finish with lunch and I go back upstairs. Until around 5 or 6 p.m., I read, write, or paint. Then, I'll normally take a short drive with my Italian mother to run errands of some sort or another. By the time we get home, she busies herself with cooking dinner and I take up whatever activity I was doing before I left until 8:30. Then, its dinner time. And I enjoy that dinner time more than anything. We sit together until 10:30 and even 11 at night sometimes, talking and eating and enjoying the simplest, most peaceful of activites.

Every night I go downstairs and can expect to eat one of my Italian mother's heavenly creations. Some nights she makes homemade pesto, my single favorite Italian dish. Other nights she makes zucchini zeppoles. She makes barbeques on their homemade grill, she knows how to cook about 100 different pasta dishes, her vegetables are sometimes more delicious than the main course. I can't explain how excellent of a chef this woman is. If she came to America, she'd make billions. This is my every night. And every night she prepares a dinner table outside, underneath a canopy they'd been growing for years. The llimbs of this tree twist around and around overhead until they reach the side of the house. In the summer and fall, this tree flowers; delicate blues and whites blossom forth and grace the moonlight. I sit underneath this canopy of nature and enjoy the life I'm living. My little glass of wine is always full, my satisfied stomach groans with pleasure-for those two hours underneath that fabulous canopy I enjoy the company, my life, and myself.

I'm in my own world. I talk spend that time with my Italian family, but I'm always musing in my own head. I may not pray, but over dinner I certainly count my blessings. Of which there are quite a few. I think about the fact that I've been living in Italy, one of the most picturesque countries in the entire world. I think about how I was lucky enough to live with a family so wonderful and kind. I think about how amazing it was to have such fun in Florence. I think about how blessed I am to have traveled through five countries, and how blessed I am that I've got time to do more. All of these things occur to me underneath the canopy I love so much. And then I take another bite out of whatever my Italian mother has cooked up that night, and I count my blessings all over again.
Arrivederci, for now.
Love, Gabby

Saturday, June 12, 2010

Mosquitos

Kamikazee Italian mosquitoes are dive-bombing me in my sleep. They are everywhere. I wish I could say that the mosquitoes were biting me outside, but they find their ways indoors and they swarm me in there, too. And they're fucking eating my flesh. Just now I counted fifteen mosquito bites on the lower half of my body. There is nothing I hate more in the world than mosquito bites. Especially right now. I want to smash them all.

If I escape Europe West Nile free, Providence has deigned fit to bless me with a miracle.
Arrivederci, for now.
Love, Gabby.

Tuesday, June 8, 2010

Fields of Elysium

Suffering behind the glass
With yearning
Burning in me to stretch my limbs
To span this range, this boundless stretch
Of green?

Shooting, sprouting, stemming ____
Green cell unseen by you or me
Breeds cultured rows
And wild tufts
And seeds to seek the perpetual sky.

Blocks that change in hue and tone
Of green
Or gold or brown or lavender,
Wrought by those cracked hands, of leather
Sown by greed.

These green Fields of Elysium,
Reserved only for those that see,
For those that live,
For those that die,
With hands outstretched toward green.

Wawi

Italy is famous for its foods: cheeses, wines, pastas, pizzas. So is Germany: wurtzels, beers, pretzels, and CHOCOLATE! Some of the most accomplished chocolatetiers in the world who've made the most famous chocolate delicacies are from Germany. While in Germany for the second time, Shakira asked me if there was something specific I had in mind to during my week vacation from Italy. Truth be told, I didn't really want to do anything but enjoy the comforts of a friend and of a home so far away. I told her so, but she insisted that there must be something that I wanted to do while I was staying with her. So I thought about it. What did I want to be able to tell my family and friends about Germany when I return to America? Of course I want to tell them about the perfect meadows and fields, the hills and valleys where the green grass grew uninterrupted, where yellow and purple-flowering weeds sprung up without fear of being ripped away. Of course I want to talk about Beerfest and about the friendly people I met, and of course I want to explain how the German homes are the most charming, quaint little cabins in all of the world. But I realized that the best way to explain Germany would be to bring them back a little piece of it, and what better thing to bring from Germany than some famous German chocolate?

We researched. We found a chocolate factory with a tour, free samples, and a gift shop. They would even make you chocolate bars on request. We went there on the day before I left to go back to Italy-a chocoate icing on my German cake. And when we got there, we kind of laughed a little. The warehouse we showed up to was really rather small, the unguided "tour" was a brief walk past a few photographs whose descriptions were in German, and the factory itself was manned by three ladies who were bustling about in an effort to clean up before their shifts ended. I watched a ten minute film about chocolate production, purchased 65 euro cent chocolate bars as souvenirs for friends, and left the way I came. Turns out, the chocolate bars on request means you pick out an already formed chocolate bar which they melt and shape into a chocolate bar again with nuts in it or into little lollipops. The free sample were broken up pieces of a strange chocolate with rice puffs that the cashier took off the shelf. At least it tasted good.
Arrivederci, for now.
Love, Gabby

Monday, June 7, 2010

Over the Hill

I've only got 50 days left in Italy. My time here is totally Over The Hill. I can't even believe that time has run out so fast. I've been here for 132 days. I've lived one whole forever in a space of time condensed into 132 days. And my forever is almost at its end. Is it horrible to say that I'm kind of excited, readers?

I guess the general progression of my posts has reflected my homesickness. I've been feeling displaced, lonely, and uncomfortable. When the pace of the outrageously fun times I was having back home in Firenze started to diminish, so did the feeling that I was living in a dream. When I woke up and realized I was still 4,000 miles away from home in New Jersey, it was a little bit terrifying. Being 19, alone, and abroad is scary. And I'm an anxious person. So I reconciled myself with the fact that my family would be here in July. I thought that I could make it through one more month and a half without them, and then the time would start to fly. But the time has begun to pass by ever so slowly. Much slower than it ever passed in Florence, and truly there were times in Florence when I felt the days were creeping by. Time has drawn itself out so much that I feel like I can hear my fingernails growing. And while time passes by so slowly for me, I feel like everyone else is speeding through their lives the same way these Italians zip by in their Fiats.

Whats worse is that, can you believe it, I'm getting really sick of Italy. I'm over the pasta and pizza every day, I scoff at espresso because its the most unsatisfying coffee in the world, and I've discovered that I can't stand most of the people I meet. They've got their noses so far in the air that I want to get some fish hooks, stick em' through, and reel these snobs right back down to reality. The thing that makes me the most angry, though, is siesta. From around 1 in the afternoon until 4:30this country is a ghost town. Everything closes so the Italians can take a nap. Seriously? It seems really nice at first. To spend four hours midday napping seems kind of nice, right? The truth is that nothing gets done in this country because people spend too much time relaxing and not enough time working. I tried to adopt this when I moved from Florence to Pordenone. I tried to spend my days reading, writing, painting, and relaxing. After one week of doing nothing I found myself desperately searching for something to do. All I want is to go back to work at Barnes and Noble or be in school studying. Anything but sitting. Anything but siesta. I found out that Italian students go to school from 8 a.m. til 1 p.m. until high school ends and college students have the liesure to choose when they feel like going to class. Mostly all of them don't work. I went to school from 7 a.m. until 4 p.m. every week, and sometimes on the weekends I went for all my clubs. I worked from 5 til 11 at night, and 8 hours shifts Saturday and Sunday. I never missed an honor roll and I managed even to have free time for friends and reading. I'm loosing my mind with all of the nothing!

I think about it often. I'm living the dream. I'm experiencing another country, bravely facing this world on my own, and traveling to other countries besides. What kind of spoiled, stuck up brat must I be if I'm not appreciating and making the most of every minute? Who am I to be so judgemental? I've been living the dream for too long, I guess. With only 50 days left here in Italy I find that I have never been more excited to get the fuck back home.
Arrivederci, for now.
Love, Gabby

Tuesday, June 1, 2010

Cheese Its and Dr. Pepper

I haven't been to every country in Europe yet, but I'm pretty sure that I like Germany and its natives the best. Maybe it was because they were all so friendly during Beerfest and maybe its because I thought the countryside was stunningly beautiful, but I've dreamt of Germany since I left there in April. Luckily for me, my sister-in-law Nicole and I share a close bond in sisterhood and friendship; she told me that if I wanted to I should go and visit her sister who was stationed on an airforce base in Germany. I'd met her sister a bunch of times before and thought she was just as fun and wonderful a person as Nicole. Nicole and I are two of the biggest goofballs together and the prospect of letting out the GoofTroop inside me was tempting. I thought to myself: you're gonna be in Europe on your own til July when your parents get here. Why not see a friendly face, get out of Italy, and visit Germany and piece of America at the same time? So I contacted Shakira and she was more than happy to have me come and visit. I booked a flight on RyanAir (worst European airline. EasyJet is just as cheap and way less annoying) and flew into Frankfurt-Hahn, where Shakira met me with a gigantic hug. I can't explain the feeling I had when I saw her. The first familiar American face I'd seen in all of five months made the strings of my heart that are connected to home tug in a ferocious way. She brought her one year old daughter Anaiya and I can't explain how cute she is. Shes got these little balls of poofy black hair that stick up on her head and bobble when she runs; her little smiley face made me want to cry with happiness.

We joked and laughed in the car the entire ride home. After nearly a month of total submersion into an Italian family, speaking plain English with someone felt much the same as drinking a glass of ice cold water after running in 100 degree weather for an hour. It was nighttime by the time we made it to the Ramstein airforce base. She took me into the Shopette so I could buy a few things for myself. I had my first real wave of culture shock. Not only was I suprised at how strangely long the American dollar bills are, I was overwhelmed by the vast selection of items the Shopette had for sale, and the Shopette is a military convenience store about the size of a 7-11. I stood staring at all the food while Shakira urged me to pick some things for myself. I just couldn't, though. I had to walk down every single aisle and look at every single item on sale before I could choose anything, and I completely forgot to buy the neccesaries I'd been denied by RyanAir, i.e. soap, contact solution, and disposable razors.

I chose my favorite snack in the entire world: Cheese Its. I also bought myself my first soda since I've been in Europe, a Dr. Pepper. I normally don't drink soda but Dr. Pepper is liquid candy and I love it. Being in that Shopette, completely indecisive and unable to purchase more than two things for myself because I was so overwhelmed, made me 100% certain that I will suffer culture shock full force back in America. I don't want my time here in Europe to end, but I sure can't wait for Walmart.
Arrivederci, for now.
Love, Gabby.

Monday, May 31, 2010

Holiday Swapping

HAPPY MEMORIAL DAY!

Italy doesn't really do holidays. The only holiday they really celebrate is Christmas. They've got an Italian Independance Day and a few other minor holidays that are about as exciting as the 100th day of school. They do, however, celebrate wine 1 day of the year and it just so happened that this celebration fell on Memorial Day. This was lucky for me because I was truly sad that I wasn't going to be able to enjoy the annual Memorial Day barbeque I attend every year. Instead, I toured the region of Fruili with my Italian dad, mom, and sister, in an effort to truly partake in the festivites of this holiday as much as possible. pordENOne. Enoteca. The holiday of wine.

All the wineries in Italy open their doors to the public. They put out samples of that years production, along with cheese and bread spreads, and you're allowed to tour their vineyards and wineries. A regular day of wine tasting, all for free. Each person is allowed six glasses of wine to taste at each vineyard they stop. For free. Fucking gratiuto! You get one wine glass which you put into a little pouch that hangs around your neck and literally walk around with it that way. A wine necklace. So I hopped into the car with my Italian family and drove to a vineyard near their home, where I drank six free glasses of sweet red wine and ate a bunch of fresh formaggio. We took a tour of the villa next, walking through one of the most spectacular backyards I've ever been in. It had two little lakes and each area had a section of imported flora from different parts of the world. They had American maples, Japanese cherry trees, crazy Indian trees and all sorts of cactii. There was a whole section of bonzai. After six glasses of wine I was thoroughly inspired by all of it. We walked through a rose garden and looked into the windows of the villa, where marble sculptures decorated each room. When we left the garden we were all given a free potted flower. We decided we hadn't had enough wine and moved on to another winery closer to Pordenone. I drank six glasses of the first wine I tried, I liked it so much. It was a Cabernet Franc and I bought two bottles for my parents. I ate some more cheese before taking another tour, this time of the actual winery rather than the villa. We went through the sorting room, the mixing room, the bottling room, and the barelling room. I didn't understand any of the explainations about the processes but satisfied myself with looking around at all the cool tools and supplies needed to operate the gigantic winery.

At this point it was getting late and I was truly twelve glasses of wine into the day. We called our evening of free wine quits, then. I must truly commend the Italians, though. Holidays in America are really awesome. Halloween, Valentine's Day, Thanksgiving, and even smaller holidays like Memorial Day are all tackled by the Americans with gusto and pride. We really embrace the holidays we have. Italians, on the other hand, don't really celebrate much by way of holidays. The one they do have, though, is genius. For a country that doesn't know much about how to really do holiday celebrating, they invented one so perfect it could contend with any one of our American festivities. God damn, I love wine.
Arrivederci, for now.
Love, Gabby.

Sunday, May 30, 2010

American Breakfast

I could never move to Italy permenently. There is no way I would survive. Alot of things about life in Italy are beautiful; kids only go to school for about four hours a day, adults only work for about four hours a day, they take naps after lunch, they have cheap wine, they lead active lifestyles, etc. etc. Italians are so lassaise-faire about everything they do in their day. They've got this come-what-may attitude about everything from ants in the house to living in sweltering heat without any complaints and it has made me realize how strung out my life is at home. If I ever saw an ant in my room I'd scream at the top of my lungs and blast the thing with RAID. Seriously? Its only an ant. And if its 70 degrees (farenheit) outside, my house is known to blast the air conditioner because we obviously cant's survive such a blistering hot temperature without an icebox for a house. Italy has taught me to get over myself when it comes to such small things as these. Discovering the lifestyle of the Italians has effectually rearranged the way I feel about life back in the U.S. Many of the things about the laxadazical lives of the Italianfolk would be beneficial to Americans like me to adopt. But I seriously, seriously miss American life. I am a pampered American princess with my ice cubes, drinkable tap water, and hair conditioner. I'm not complaining. I've prospered here in Italy, mentally and physically, and I've been enjoying the experience of living like an Italian. If I'm going to live in a developed country, though, its going to be America. And I'm going to chalk up about 20% of the reason for that choice to the American way of eating.

People knock American consumption, because yes, alot of us are fat. I'll go so far as to say most of us are fat. But I really miss the American way of eating. I miss food that isn't pasta, cheese, or tomato based. I miss salads, simple sandwiches, and food that is quick. (Don't mistake this for fast food. I don't miss fast food. But I miss the speediness and selection from places like Panera Bread). I miss American supermarkets, where I can find canned goods and fruit juices that aren't orangeade or lime water. I miss soup. The thing I miss the most, though, is American breakfasts. Croissants, or cornetti in Italiano, are good every once and a while. They stuff them full of nutella, marmelade, and creme, and let me tell you how delicious they are. They're really delicious. Other normal Italian breakfasts include caffe, fruit, or biscotti. Thats it. By the time lunch comes, my Italian family is very hungry and eat about a full two courses worth of food. I prefer to have a good sized breakfast, i.e. one bowl of cereal, and then a good sized lunch, i.e. a sandwich. I don't want to starve myself in the morning just so that I can consume enough to feed me for two days during lunch time. I like to space my meals out evenly, and at good intervals. Which is why American breakfasts are so good for me. They set me up to eat at regular intervals, rather than one HUGE lunch and a HUGE dinner eight hours later. I can eat a bowl of cereal, wait four hours then eat some fruit, then wait four hours and eat a little dinner. I'm never stuffed until I feel like my pants have stretched beyond their limits. Maybe the way I like eating, where food is spread across the day, isn't as healthy. I mean, the Italians are all thin as rails and it seems like they consume everything in sight. But strike me down if American eating it isn't a hundred times better than the way Italians eat.

I decided to give my Italian family a taste of what it was like to eat an American breakfast. My Italian mother tapped me directly on the forehead to wake me up, saying "Sveglia! Svelgia, Gabri!". She sometimes confuses Gabby with Gabri, which I think is the most delightfully funny thing in the world. I cooked up a storm that morning, realzing that brunch would be better suited to my Italian family's way of life. I made alot of food so they could all try a little something and enough that it was about the same amount of food as they would eat at a normal lunchtime. I scrambled eggs with some shredded cheese, pepper, oregano, salt, and garlic: my famous recipe. I fried up some bacon (which was nearly impossible to find) and although I don't eat meat the smell of that sizzling pork belly made my mouth water. I grated potatoes and cut up some onions and garlic to make homemade hash browns, and if I do say so myself, they fucking rocked. I made toast in their little yellow toaster and slapped some butter on each piece-an abomination to the traditional Italian oil and bread combo. I topped all this off with a batch of pancakes. My Italian family had a package of Aunt Jemima that they'd been given some time back as a gift from my brother Justin, so I used this to make a stack of pancakes so high they'd have layered the kitchen table had I spread them out. Miraculously, my Italian family was in possesion of some syrup. I made American coffee from their what is probably stale Starbucks coffee grinds and put out some orange juice to drink.

They smiled and ate what I'd made, but I could tell they'd never have eaten it had I not invoked the "I've tried everything you put before no matter how grossed out or I was or too stuffed after course number seven to enjoy now do me the same respect" rule. I wanted desperately for them to give the meal I'd truly slaved over a chance, but their Italianness pervaded the entire breakfast. My Italian sister liked some of what I'd made, but I could see my Italian family's reluctance to eat anything I'd cooked besides the pancakes. I, on the other hand, was moaning with pleasure during the entire meal. My scrambled eggs were perfection. They weren't runny or over spiced, and the mozzarella cheese I added gave them just enough but not too much flavor. My pancakes were heavenly. They were thin and yet fluffy, and instead of water I'd added milk to make them more like buttermilk pancakes and less like flour patties. I poured enough syrup on them to fill a maple tree. In this short 25 minute span of breakfast consumption I realized exactly how American I am. One of the top five meals I had in Italy was a breakfast I cooked for myself.

It was during this breakfast that I realized why I could never live here in Italy. I'm proud to be an American and I'm proud of my American breakfast because guess what, Italy? Breakfast is the most important meal of the day, and its totally my favorite. And as much as I love Italian food, pesto gnocchi and raviolis with spinach and ricotta cheese and all those other favorites, America in its short reign over the land of the free has managed to make regular eating even better than the country with the best food in the world.
Arrivederci, for now.
Love, Gabby.

Confirmed Alcoholic

Hello. My name is Gabby, and I'm an alcoholic.

I realized, just last night, that my tolerance for alcohol has finally reached the point of no return. My Italian sister invited me to go to a party with her, and I happily agreed. I enjoy seeing what the teenage life is like in Italy. I put on a nice shirt, some makeup, and the only pair of heels I own that don't torture my feet. We drove to some kid's villa, where he charged me a 10 euro cover.
"Italian parties are the best parties! I promise!" he shouted at me when I revealed my American-ness. I struggle, still, to say the simplest things in Italian, and I never fail to give myself away. He lied. My Italian sister and I stood in a tight knot with two of her other friends, waiting for the small group of people at the party to multiply. 20 minutes passes. Then 30. I finally decided to get a drink.

"Ciao!" I said, approaching the "bar". A pimply-faced boy whose face hinted that it might be ready to grow some peach-fuzz soon, stood in attendance, ready to pour me a drink. My eyes scanned what was on the table. Cocktail drinks. More Cocktail drinks. Campari. More Cocktail drinks. Pineapple juice, fruit punch, and frizzante water. And more cocktail drinks.
"What would you like?" the boy asked, in English.
"Is that all you have?" I was hopeful. Maybe they had another table with some rum, or wiskey.
"Si. Can you give me your drink card?" Because my ten Euro cover got me 3 free drinks. The insolence.
"You don't have any rum, or whiskey, or even vodka?" I pleaded. I wasn't going to survive that party with only cocktail drinks or spritzers.
"No, but there is vodka in these," he said, pointing to a bottle of Strawberry flavored cocktail mix. "Here, I'll just make something for you." And me made me a weak mix of Stawberry cocktail with frizzante.

When I finished that drink, I looked around. The trickle of people through the party gates was starting to increase, and with it increased my hopes of a fun night. I went back up to the bar, hoping that the weak drinks would at least give me a little buzz. I another strawberry drink and couldn't believe how frustrated it was making me. After three mouthfulls, I'd finished it. A few people were dancing to the music, here and there. I had no one to talk to since I'd lost my Italian sister and her friends to the increasing selection of boys, and I knew I wouldn't be able to talk to the Italians without some liquid courage.

"Scusa," I said, approaching a new "bartender". She looked at me, unsmiling, unfriendly. It was hopeless. "Parli inglese?"
"Yes, yes I do!" She liked me now, realizing I was an American.
"Is there any chance that you can pour me a cup full of that?" (I pointed to the strawberry cocktail mix).
"Nothing else?"
"Si." I nodded, for good measure.
"Are you sure?"
"Si." I nodded faster.
"Va bene."

I walked around the party for the rest of the night with a cup of vodka and strawberry syrup. And I drank it as if it were a regular drink. When I offered some to my Italian sister and her friends, who I'd relocated, their mouths puckerd.
"Is very strong!" they said.
And it was. I was drinking a glass of vodka.
I wasn't drunk when I finished it.

I am a confirmed alcoholic.
Arrivedrci, for now.
Love, Gabby.

Thursday, May 27, 2010

I Found Trullo in Croatia

I've wanted to go to Croatia for a really long time. I read once, in Conde Nast Traveller (my Bible), that Croatia is the new chic destination of Europe. At least it was six years ago. I remember thinking then, when becoming a travel writer was my loftiest goal, that I had better get to Croatia to get a leg-up on the hip travel trends. There are actually trends, in traveling. During my second trip to Italy I begged my parents to take me to Croatia, but the four hour car ride was not in my cards during that trip. When I wrote up my list of 25 things to do before I die, going to Croatia was on that list. During my last visit here, it was the one thing I was passionate about doing. When I came back here, some vague reminisces of that lost Croatian hope lingered, but I didn't truly think I was going to make it there. Being able to live in Italy, to live in one of the most amazing cities in the world, ontop of being able to visit three different countries in the meantime, has proven to be a lifetime's worth of blessings. However, I made it t Croatia and the tour I took of the Northern coast of that country managed to surpass all of the experiences I've had thusfar. And it managed to do by simply being beautiful. I didn't need to sing and dance on tables or lay out in the sun until I turned pink or drink Absinthe to have an experience so far above the rest that I'm still astounded. All I needed to do was look around and take it all in.

My Italian brother had been telling me for some time that Croatia was the place to go. He talked about it with clasped hands and eyes raised toward the sky. To see him so enraptured by a place built my excitement. He promised me that he would bring me on a tour and he didn't disappoint. He and one of his friends took me first to a town called Pula. Pula is an ancient Roman city, complete with Roman baths and a Colosseum. We toured the entire city. We walked through the ancient Roman ruins, walked along the shoreline, and went into the Colosseum. I can officially say I've been into three Colosseums in my life: Rome, Verona, and Pula. Seriously? I must be among an elite core of people in the world who can say that. The three of us sat in that broken stone oval and talked about how gory the Colosseum games must have been. Unlike the Colosseums in Rome and Verona, I could go down onto the field in this one. While we walked, my Italian brother told me about an ampitheatre in Greece; if you sit in any of the seats in this ampitheatre, no matter how far back or high up, you can hear what happens down below perfectly. He told me he saw a man stand in the center of that ampitheatre and crumple a paper and said that it sounded as if the man were crumpling it right in his ear. Sometimes I marvel at how much genuis has been exhausted with time. I came across something so funny that I stood there, pointig at a wall and laughing, making a complete fool of myself. Even Croatia hates you, George W. And half of the American population couldn't even locate Croatia on a map!


Our next destination was a campsite. I was kind of sceptical of where my Italian brother was taking me. We were driving down a lonely dirt road through an overgrown, unmanned forest. We were submerged in a tangled mess of tree limbs and underbrush, and when we emerged from our car my Italian brother started to lead us further into the woods. I was struck by anxiety and kept thinking we'd be lost or murdered. They led me up to a dense patch of bushes and urged me through. I stood there and let my mouth transform itself into a Croatian fly net. I couldn't believe my eyes. The water of Little Cayman Island, that warm, blissful blue water, was stunning. I dream about the water on that island. But this! That vision of the Adriatico, God damn I'll never forget it. Never in my life have I regretted so much forgetting a bathing suit. Every single cell in my body begged me to jump in. And I almost did. There was no beach, only the jagged rocks weathered not by feet but by sea. I sat on one of the only smooth rocks I could find and let the water splash softly around my toes. I looked in all the cracks and crevices, marveling over every shell, every small fish that twittered in and out and around. I almost cried when we left.



Can you believe, reader, that the next place we went was even moe beautiful? I couldnt. In the city of Rovinj, there is a public park and bathing area. The entrance to said park is an ancient Etruscan ruin; a massive stoe wall, built only a few years after man learned to farm, was erected here. Today this wall forebodes the insurmountable beauty you're about to find. I've said this before: I know I haven't been to many places in the world. But if I were Mother Nature, the park of Rovinj would totally be my summer home. Yes, it's tended by man, but after all these years I'm pretty confident that man has gotten pretty good at gardening. The Rovinj park is a testament to that. There are smoother stones here, and all the Croatians lay around on them and get tan. Their white sailboats sit in the richest of blue colors. To me, I felt like I was living in Harry Potter's world, where paintings come to life. It was so traquil; the slightest of breezes brushed through my hair, carrying on it the distinct perfumes of sea-salt and soil. In the shade, underneath the canpy of 100 trees, I sat on a cool wooden bench and rotated in perfect unison with the spinning Earth. I did cry a little, here, when I had to leave.

I didn't go far. That night I walked up one giant hill into the city of Rovinj. My Italian brother led me along, for the first time since Florence, cobblestone streets. He explained that this port used to be owned by Venice and the city was constructed through their inspiration. We went through an outdoor market and for the first time I fell in love with one of them. I was prejudiced against them since I lived above the San Lorenzo for so long, but this humble market was way too old school not to adore. It sold sea shells, wooden toys, fresh and dried fruits, oils, wines, and the cutest wooden toys. I wanted to live there and be a vendor in that market. We continued up the hill until we got to the top, where an old marble church tolls its bells every hour. And right below the church is the sea. Our view over the coast of Croatia was so breathtaking I started to choke on my own astonishment.
The three of us stood on that hill and watched boats glide gracefully by, sails erect and catching the wind. A few feet away there was a lighthouse. It was simple and small and on the top there was one huge lantern, lit up not with electricity but with a happy, dancing fire. I wanted to live there and be the lighthouse dude. We walked slowly down the hill and drove, even slower, away.

When I left Croatia, I was reminded of my soulmate: my T.A. from Firenze. One day in class he sat and drew me a map of Italy, putting dots in all the places he thought I should visit before I left. In a Southern region of Italy, Puglia, there is a town called Lecce. My T.A. said that just outside this city there is an ancient Etruscan village that is still inhabited today. People live in stone huts called Trullo. He said that he'd never been to a place more inspiring in the world. I desperately wanted to go and see the Trullo, to find that same inspiration. I couldn't get to Lecce. But THERE ARE TRULLO IN CROATIA. We drove past one, and I thought I was dreaming. And then we drove past another. I shouted, startling my Italian brother and his friend. I told them how I thought I'd just seen Trullo, and they told me that in fact, I did. During the rest of the car ride I vowed inside that I'd go back to Croatia, rekindling that old flame of desire I had to be in that country. And I drove home to Italy with the goofiest puppy-love grin on my face.
Arrivederci, for now.
Love, Gabby

Vino, Pane, e Formaggio

Wine, bread, and cheese. I've been basically living off of only these, in their many variations, since I started living in Italy. Before I came here, my aquaintence with Vino went only so far as boxed Franzia with my best friend from home on the weekends; I always loved Pane but would never eat any other kind than Wonderbread; and the only Formaggio I could tolerate in any amount were cheddar and mozzarella, and those only melted and ontop of other foods. Now, I can claim to be at least an amateur taste tester of Vino, Pane, e Formaggio.

I took a drive with my Italian brother and three of his friends to the Slovenian border, where there was a small Italian vineyard that served food in their backyard. It was in a tiny Italian village in the mountains. We went at twilight; the moon was full and the stars were shining brightly, illuminating the canopy of freshly bloomed springtime flowers and young, green leaves above me. It was a mini paradise. I sat there with my Italian friends and waited for my meal: vino, pane, e formaggio. I didn't need anything else to eat for dinner to be happy and satisfied. They came with three pitchers of homemade red wine, two full loaves of homemade baked bread, and a hunk of freshly cut cheese. I ate my fill of bread, wine, and cheese that night, and can truly say I've never felt more Italian. And with my newly discovered love of bread, wine, and cheese, I will go home and never go hungry again. Where I used to get frustrated at my refrigerator for not offering me good leftovers or something easy to throw in the microwave, I now have bread, wine, and cheese. The echo from my refrigerator door which used to reverberate through my house is no more!
Arrivederci, for now.
Love Gabby.

Tuesday, May 25, 2010

Attack of Mothra

I have to write about this. It was just too fucking strange to leave uncommented on. While I was in Trieste, I stayed at my Italian brother's apartment where he lives with his best friend. They have two other roommates and both of them are mysterious characters. One of them I met and he was totally a dungeonrat. He came out of his room maybe four times in the week I spent in Trieste. The other, they say, never comes to the apartment. Who pays to rent a flat in one of Italy's biggest cities to never sleep there? They said they've seen him in the apartment maybe four weeks out of the entire year. How strange? Anyway, because he was never there they offered me his vacant room to use as my own while I stayed there. The unused bed was clean and crisp, the empty closest space was a welcome comfort, and I spent alot of time writing in my journal on the empty desk.

What I thought was the best part about the room, though, was the window. Not only was the view incredible, but when I sleep at home I always sleep with the windows wide open. I love fresh air. In Pordenone and in Florence, the windows were always closed, and I hate feeling like I'm suffocating. I opened that window and left it wide open the entire time I was there. I luxuriated in the sea breeze while I slept. In the morning I took in huge lung-fulls of air to get myself up. I enjoyed that brief happiness maybe more than any other thing about living in Trieste. It was wonderful, accept for Mothra.

While I was sleeping on my second night there, I woke with a violent start. Something was buzzing in my ear. I've got an awful bug phobia while I'm sleeping, I always think they are in my bed, and the buzzing was so close to my ear I thought I was hallucinating. Which I often do about bugs in the night, so I calmed myself and tried to go back to sleep. The buzzing persisted. I felt terror growing inside me until finally I couldn't take it anymore. I sat bolt-upright and waited for my eyes to adjust. I hastily got up and turned on the lights. I discovered Mothra, the biggest flying bug I've ever seen. It was so big that I could see the hairs on its back and the pincers on its face. We battled, and it was fierce. I didn't want to kill the thing, and so I swatted at it in the hopes of leading it back out the window. It took me twenty minutes to get the thing outside. And twenty minutes later it came back in. We fought again.

The next night, Mothra returned. And every night after that until I left. I couldn't resist the tempation of opening the window, and every night my calm slumber was interrupted by my massive flying friend. The thing was obsessed with me. It was the most bizarre thing in the world. The bug wouldn't fly in during the whole day, but once I fell asleep it would haunt me all night. I'm convinced it was the animal spirit of the boy whose room I was occupying telling me that I was unwelcome.
Arrivederci, for now.
Love, Gabby

Trieste

I really hated California. I've been to California 3 times and each time I went back to that abysmal state my hatred for it grew exponentially. Experience keeps telling me that California isn't worth my trouble and yet I want to return. I've been up and down that state and somehow I missed San Fransisco along the way. I've got to go to San Fransisco before I die and I can only hope (probably in vain) that the city of SanFran will change my mind about the entire state. If I wind up hating California just the same after I come back from San Fransisco, it won't bother me so much. And thats because I've been to Trieste. Everyone tells me its the European version of San Fransisco, with its tram-car public transport system, hilly terrain, and spectacular view out over the shoreline. Sounds alot like what people go to San Fransisco for, and because I loved these things so much in Trieste, I've got to make it West to compare.

I know I haven't toured all of Europe yet. I've only been to six countries on this continent so I know I can't rightly make this claim. I'm gonna do it anyway, though: if I were going to move to Europe, Trieste is the city I'd move to. Sorry, Florence, but you don't have a shore. On my last trip to Italy, I came to Trieste and had a miserable time. I was a hormonal 14-year-old doing my best to be the most ungrateful, spoiled brat in history. Trieste, then, was just another stop en route to making my parents hate me. My Italian brother's University is in this city and he invited me to come and spend the week at his apartment. I was super excited to see what University life was like in Italy. To be honest, the University part was really unexciting, but the rest of Trieste blew my mind.

The first thing I did was take a ride with my Italian brother on the historic Trieste tram. The inside came direct from 1970, where mustard yellow curtains complemented maroon leather seats. I was immediately overcome by humidity and stuffiness and neither presented much of a problem after living in this country for four full months. I glued my face to the window and watched the lanscape pass slowly by. The tram was engulfed by green; I was mesmerized with flowers, trees, and bushes. I couldn't stop telling my Italian brother that this was the most beautiful place in the world, to which he respectfully disagreed. We cruised at a trecherous angle for fifteen minutes and got off. I stepped out and struggled with myself to remain calm and placid. I can't truly say what I'd have done if I let myself go-maybe scream and run in circles waving my arms around or fall to my knees and weep. The view was just so spectacular. The cerulean sea swarmed around a jungle of terracotta and leafy green trees, all tucked into the face of a mountain that I was now standing atop. My view was framed by a tree on my left whose white flowers were in full bloom and vines on my right that climbed up the sides of an old, broken wall. I could have stood there for hours, enjoying that sight, and I'd have been perfectly content until sundown. We got gelato and wound our way back down the mountainside. We went through one of the many nature reserves in Trieste. Broken sea-shells made our path, descending through the forest at the same angle we went up. The fact that Trieste has more than one nature reserve, well, thats friggin awesome.

I was suprised to learn that Trieste is the former home to James Joyce. I've spent alot of time in my life reading Joyce (I've only got Finnegan's Wake left and I've read them all) and I was kind of ashamed of myself for not knowing that he lived here. In the center of town, an effigy of Joyce has been erected in bronze. I went there and paid my respects to him. I was also surpsied to learn that Trieste houses two gigantic contemporary art museums. I went into one of them on my last day in the city and I was hugely disappointed that I didn't go into the other, which was a sculpture museum. The one I went into was full of paintings from the early 1900s onward. I saw some names of artists I knew, learned some knew ones, and discovered some interesting new styles of painting. There were 3 floors filled with contemporary paintings, and the first and most contemporary floor was my favorite. This trip has convinced me that abstract art is totally my favorite kind. I found a painting in that exhibit that was one of the most interesting I've ever seen. The canvas was unprimed and was a series of color washes with splotches of color strewn throughout. It was my favorite because the palatte was so rich, with deep reds and browns making up most of the image. Another work I got to see was the Slashed Canvas, which is a work by some dude who, instead of painting on the canvas he'd made, decided to take a knife and cut right through it. It sold for millions. I remember making fun of this work with friends back home in my ignorance. Seeing it in person brought back fun memories and offered me the chance to re-think my position on it. I decided that after all these years, the work still wasn't worth millons. I love learning from the art of the ancients, but I'd live in Trieste where the art is all contemporary anyday.

The final deciding factor, for me, about Trieste's greatness was the shooting star. I was looking out my window at my Italian brother's apartment in the middle of the night. I couldn't sleep and decided to take some time to digest the view. Before me was the city and the shore, lit up enough to blot out the stars, and still the city was silent. The only sounds were the mewing of stray cats down below. It was strange and eerie and I was compelled to pray. I was praying for about half an hour, giving thanks for blessings old and continued in my life, when I looked up at the sky. Within an instant it was gone-I'd seen my first shooting star. A white ball of fire blew past my eyes, surrounded by purple and trailed by green. The entire thing was glittering. I'm serious. It was the brightest thing I've ever seen in my life. I started to cry because it was so out of this world. I made a wish and continued to pray, thanking God for letting me see something so cool. Not even the lights of Trieste could diminish the colors of that star.

The next day I left Trieste, but I was never more determined that I have to get back.
Arrivederci, for now.
Love, Gabby

Sunday, May 23, 2010

The Italian Superbowl

I think its funny how obsessed the Italians get over soccer. All Europeans, actually, get excited over soccer. I'm of the opinion that soccer is the single most boring sport in history. I'd watch NAASCAR over soccer. Or even rowing. Or marbles. When my Italian brother and father told me that the soccer championship was happening and that it was the European equivalent to the Superbowl, I thought perhaps I'd finally be privvy to the apparent excitement of the game.

Its a shame that Italians think that the Superbowl is anything like this championship. I got excited for nothing. My Italian father told me that they go crazy for their team, Inter-Milan, and that everyone must watch with their full attention on the game. Inter was playing Bayern (Munich) for the European championship. We all gathered in the kitchen to watch the game, huddling around the television in anticipation of a good match. I expected shouting. I expected my Italian father and brother to holler every time the ball touched a player's foot. Instead, we all sat there silently. Once or twice they gestured at the T.V., claiming the refs made bad calls, and when goals were scored they would, in their inside voices, say "Yes". No exclamation point neccesary. Halfway through the match I had my head perched ontop of my hand in a desperate attempt to stop from crashing into the table because I was in that half-sleep half-trance state where you don't notice yourself drooling.

I think that maybe there were 2 goals scored in the entire game, but don't quote me because I was barely paying any attention. I felt like I was watching a game of Pong-the computer version. My eyes moved back and fourth, back and fourth, and by the end of the game I was hypnotized. How could the Europeans possibly think that this championship was anything like the Superbowl? I scream for teams that aren't even my Giants during the Superbowl because thats what you do. I drink beers and eat bagelbites and have a huge celebration. I paint my face and dress up in football gear and toss a pigskin around my house even though I've been told since childhood that throwing balls in the house is forbidden. I place bets and check fantasy football scores on the internet. I found myself looking forward to the commercials in this championship only to learn that they would never come. The Italian government banned commercials during broadcasted sporting events. What the fuck? There was no fighting, no contact, no nothing. It was one long session of nothing. Not even the fans in the stands were getting animated. Someone please explain to me, what the hell is so exciting about soccer?
Arrivederci, for now.
Love, Gabby.

Friday, May 21, 2010

My First Festa

I'm gonna go ahead and designate myself as an exceptional house party host. Last summer before I left for Little Cayman I threw a series of parties in my backyard that were kind of amazing. One was so much fun that people started calling it Woodstock; there were guitars everywhere, people singing, and I don't think anyone had a bad time. Which is saying something for house parties in New Jersey. When I got back I threw some more. My pool was open, my grill was working, and the fire pit raged until all hours of the night. My parents are always okay with me having these parties because I always clean up in the morning and nothing ever got out of hand. Before I came to Italy I had another bunch of really good house parties, indoors this time. We turned my living room into a dance floor and my kitchen into non-stop a beer pong tournament. We played Rock Band and flip-cup in my basement and blasted music throughout my house.

Italian house parties (festa's) are hugely different. My Italian brother invited me to the surprise birthday party of one of his friends, which was being held in a town half a minute from the Slovenian border called Gorizia. I went there with no expectations. Expecting anything in Italy to be similar to things from America is sheer folly. It took us about 2 hours to get into Gorizia and I wasn't surprised at what the town was like. It was exactly like every other Italian town I've been to. We went into the apartment where the party was being held and I was definitely surprised by how nice it was. The apartments in Northern Italy are maybe 100 times better than those in Florence. There were not that many people there, making it less of a house party and more of just a birthday party. I was pleased to learn over the course of the night that a majority of them spoke English. I wasn't completely left out of the conversations due to my lack of skill at speaking Italian.

I wound up having alot of fun. I was introduced to everyone, having gone there knowing only my Italian brother, his best friend, and the boy whose birthday we were celebrating. I almost immediately made some friends. I spent the majority of the night talking with one girl who'd studied English in England and had the funniest Italian-British accent I've ever heard, a half Italian half Slovenian boy who (there is no doubt in my mind) if he lived in New Jersey would be 100% guido, and a Sardinian boy who made my night by talking books with me. When the birthday boy came, unaware of the surprise, he was drenched in Champagne and confetti. There was cake, there was wine, and there were lots of laughs. They played some good music, too. I heard Bob Dylan, Bob Marley, and Bobby McFerrin play from the different iPod's which had been connected to the T.V. I was surprised to learn that Italians don't have a clue who Sublime are. Poor souls. I spent a long time talking to them about America and how different Italy was. They were all interested to know about how I decided to come to Florence and stay in Italy. I wound up going out for a walk in Gorizia with the Sardinian and the Italian/Slovenian, where they taught me all about French history and Italian politics. When we got back and everyone had drank a little more, there was dancing until around 4 in the morning.

By the time I went to bed the sun was coming up. My eyes were bleary and felt on fire because smoke had managed to fog up the contacts I never wear. I pulled them out of my eyeballs and went blind for the rest of the time I stayed in Gorizia. They gave me a pull out mattress to sleep on and I passed out still wearing my shoes. I woke up early, around 10 a.m., drank a cappucino in the cafe downstairs, and left Gorizia and the friends I made there behind. As I drove home, my Italian brother driving at top speeds in his little Fiat, I thought about how very lucky I was to have experienced life the way the young Italians do. I can boast, now, that I've really lived in this country like one of them.
Arrivederci, for now.
Love, Gabby.

One Week of Pordenone

Okay. Leaving Florence wasn't so bad, after all. I was well practiced in the art of switching trains with Trenitalia and albiet the difficulty of lugging 2 huge suitcases, a duffelbag, and a bookbag with my laptop (and all of these things were stuffed to bursting) from train to train was at a nearly impossible level, I made it back to Pordenone in once piece. And now that I'm here I'm so happy to be out of Florence. I'm living the life. Seriously. I've never been so stress free, so completely relaxed, uninhibited by the toils of living. I've got an open schedule every day for the next 70 odd days-no school, no work, no obligations. What a fucking blessing. The best part about it all is that the time is passing ever so slowly. The slower time passes, the more I feel like I've got an eternity to do whatever the fuck I want.

I've spent this past week doing everything I've felt like doing but hadn't had the time for. I started by spending one day painting. I had an idea to paint an abstract musician but wasn't able to explore it in my Painting class. So I sat out on the deck at my Italian family's house, bathed by the sun and caressed by the breeze, and I painted. I could stop when I wanted, start when I wanted, and I've never had a more perfect day. The next day I spent writing. I wrote in my journal, wrote in this blog, and started jotting down ideas that have been boiling in my head for a while now. I'm going to spend some days working on developing those ideas: novels, artistic endeavors, books I want to read, things I want to study. I got to get work done. I sent e-mails to schools back home, worked on finances, and basically situated my life so that I can continue to be worry-free when I get home. I read books. I finished reading two books in one week. I read John Grisham's Playing For Pizza in one day. It was a shitty book and I was happy it was over. I finished reading The Idiot by Dostoyevsky and started reading the biography of Georgiana, Duchess of Devonshire. It was the second most enjoyable biography I've ever read, the first being the biography of Hugh Hefner. I've got books lined up, too, because with all this free time I'm going to blaze through them. Next I'm reading The Dirt by Motley Crue, followed by Jane Eyre by Charlotte Bronte.

Spending time with my Italian family has been the happiest part of this first week in Pordenone, though. Actually, its been the happiest part of this whole trip. It feels truly like home here, and I'm completed humbled by their unfailing kindness toward me. In this first week they've taken me around Pordenone. I've gotten to see their local winery and taste wine there with my Italian father. I thought perhaps my wine consumption would slow now that I'm away from Florence. Oh, how mistaken I was. I've gotten to make cannolis from scratch with my Italian mother. I went with them and my Italian sister and saw an incredible art exhibition in their local library. A local Pordenonian whose become a hugely successful artist in Italy set up two rooms here full of his works and I left there full of inspirtation. They also took me to my future Italian residence to meet the woman who my family and I are renting from in July. Ponte nelle Apli. Hands down the most gorgeous place I've been to in Italy so far. Next week I'll go with my Italian brother to his school in Trieste. Could I ask for a better life? Does one even exist?

Living here in Pordenone is going to be my favorite part about this trip, I'm sure. My Italian father is the nicest man in the world, my Italian mother the nicest woman (and best cook), and my Italian siblings are such beautiful and giving people. I couldn't possibly expect anything better of my life.
Arrivederci, for now.
Love, Gabby.

Tuesday, May 18, 2010

Reflections

Ciao, Firenze.

I've said goodbye to Florence. Officially. At this time one year ago, I wasn't even thinking about going to Italy. I was planning a study abrod trip to Little Cayman Island. How the hell did this happen? How did I fall in love with Florence in only four months? How did I even get here in the first place? It seems so absurd that I have to leave. I've fit an entire lifetime's worth of experiences into four fucking months. Mostly everyone gets that feeling about the important experiences in their life-they look back and they can't imagine their life without them. Well duh, I say, because your life didn't happen any other way. The issue I'm having is that even now, after all I've done, after all I've seen, and through all the changes I've undergone, it still feels like my life in Florence was just one long ass dream.

I wouldn't be doing this blog justice if I didn't reflect on my life in Florence. Of course I'm gonna miss the friends I've made. I'm gonna miss the landmarks I walked past every day. I'll miss my teachers, the restaurants, the favorite places I'd go out to with the people I've grown to love. I don't know how I'm suppossed to return to the States and go out to dinner. I will never get service like I did at Reginellas. One of the waiters there actually gave me a back massage once. I've got proof. I don't know how to survive without gelato and Loaker wafers, either. I'll miss being the person who people ask for directions. I'll miss being familiar in a city in another country. Blahblahblah. Those are the obvious things. Its the things that aren't so obvious that I feel I need to reflect on; I need to absorb them with my words before they fade into nonexistance. Because if I don't eternalize them in this blog I feel it will be impossible for me to look back and think of these experiences as anything other than a dream. The little things are what made living in Florence a reality.

I'm going to miss living in a place where people are always taking photos. Everywhere you look in Florence, there is another photo opportunity. I won't be so sad about losing the view; I'm weary of all the ancient shit. I'll miss being the asshole in the backround of all those photo-ops pretending I'm having a heart attack or picking a wedgie or my nose. There have got to be at least 1,000 pictures in digital cameras across the globe of me doing those things. I'm nearly always wearing a yellow coat. I like to think of myself as a sort of Where's Waldo in tourist photographs. It became a game for me, to see what new way I could ruin their pictures.
I'm gonna miss the waffle stands. When I lived in Manhattan my favorite thing in the whole world was that at any given moment a cloud of new smells would assault my nose. Unlike Manhattan, the smells of Florence were never good. Sure, sometimes I'd be hit a waft of B.O. or toxic air in Manhattan but the Nuts-4-Nuts, pretzels, good perfumes, pizza shops, etc. etc. give off smells that combat the nasty odors. In Florence, my only relief was the waffle stands. Every so often I'd catch a wiff of waffles cooking and my nose would rejoice. I looked forward to walking near those stands everyday.
I'm gonna miss the roofdeck in my apartment building. My building was the only one where students in my program had a roofdeck. It was here that I'd sit with Selvaggia, Casalinga, Benny Lava, and Sway and let the stresses of school and life burn away, eliminated by the rays of the sun. Whenever it came out, we'd be up there on that roofdeck because in Florence when the sun is out its a miracle. We went there and we'd sit in that hot sun, drink wine, listen to Eminem, and do our homework. Down below people walked past, rushing here and there and trying to fit all the sights of Florence in (which I've concluded is 100% impossible). But us? We were up on a roof, relaxing in the Italian sunshine and feeding the resident pigeon. I used to paint on that roofdeck. Nothing was better.
Another thing thats going to really be hard for me to exist without is the bread. If I was ever going someplace where I needed to pack myself some lunch, all I'd buy was a loaf of bread baked that morning. At first, I hated Florentine bread because there was no salt in it. It tasted like the Sacrament bread; eating something that tastes like the body of Christ every day was quite bothersome to me. In Italy, though, they solve this problem with oil. So I'd grab some oil and a loaf of bread and sit down in the Boboli gardens, ripping off hunks and pouring a few drops of oil on it for lunch. Who needs deli meats, hot dogs, or mac&cheese for lunch everyday? Not me. I'm good with a loaf of bread and Extra Virgine Olive Oil.

And then there are the things that I won't miss. I first and foremost will not miss my apartment. I won't miss Meme and almost being stabbed everday by flying knives. I won't miss the disgusting smell of my apartment. I especially wont miss my terrifying elevator. videoI won't be sorry to leave the Florentine people because the majority of them are rude and smelly. My feet will rejoice at leaving those streets; I don't think they will ever be the same from those cobblestones (and the constant tip-toeing around dog and horse poop). I won't miss the guys who sell random souvenirs on the streets, either. They would line up these blown up photographs of famous artworks, wooden letters that have magnets and can stick together, tripod stands, and dancing Pokemon, right in the middle of the street, creating the most annoying mess of foot traffic in history. I'll be happy to be able to purchase milk by the gallon rather than by the half liter. I won't miss the cereal, all of it sucks. Accept Choco-Crack. Its a bootleg version of Chocolate Rice Krispies that the Italians smartly titled Choco-Crack. It tasted like wet paper.

There were so many other little parts of the life-in-Florence experience that will be tough to say goodbye to. There are just as many huge parts of life-in-Florence that will be tough to leave, also. When I reflect on Firenze and add up all the components that made this dream, this once-in-a-lifetime life I've lived here, I can humbly accept that however hard it may be to wake up, the day before me will that much better because I slept and dreamed so well.
Arrivederci, for now.
Love, Gabby.

Friday, May 14, 2010

Antonio

I think God likes me. He has given me the most amazing going away present in history. Today is my last day in Florence, and I met the most amazing person in the world. While the rest of my Study Abroad friends are all excited about having met Billy Joel, who was in the Piazza Signorina having lunch today, I'm excited about having met Antonio.

I met him yesterday. In fact, I met him yesterday as I was sitting in the Piazza Signorina. I was sitting next to this statue, writing in my diary. I often take my diary to places around the city to jot down my life in Florence and this Piazza is a great place for me. I can sit here amongst the most famous sculptures in the world and people watch to my hearts content. I've sat here sketching, listening to music, and eating gelato, but mostly I've sat here writing. I had no idea that today would be the day I was interrupted. By Antonio. I was sitting there, chewing on my Mickey Mouse pen, staring at a pigeon who'd perched itself ontop of that muss of marble hair growing from my boyfriend David's head. I was thinking about the amount of pigeon shit that, for centuries, has been building up inside of the carefully crafted rivulets on this sculpture's head. I vaguely noticed an old man in faded brown leather sit down next to me. I turned back to my journal and commenced writing about the bird shit. A few minutes passed.

"Salve," he said. It took me a moment to register that this man was greeting me.
"Salve," I replied with a smile.
"Come lei?" He was being formal with me. Old man. I looked him over and decided he was harmless. His white hair was combed over carefully, his kind eyes looked out from a rather haggard and rough looking face, he wore leather shoes and a button down shirt and even cuffed his pantlegs. My eyes strayed to his hands. They were big and meaty and on his ring finger was the pale scar of years wearing a wedding band. He carried only his wallet and was clearly lingering in the Piazza in the hopes of someone to speak to.
"Bene, grazie," I said. "E tu?"
"Bellissimo!" He was jovial, clearly enjoying my horrible accent. "Parli Italiano?"
I told him yes, but only very little. Our conversation proceeded slowly, but it proceeded. All my thoughts of writing ended and I enjoyed talking with this man for nearly an hour. I learned that he used to work in the Uffizi as a tour guide. He spoke Japanese, French, Spanish, and Italian and understood not a single word of English. He lived in France for years in his youth as a military man. He was in love with a woman, there, and it was in France he learned how much he loved languages. I never learned what happened to the French woman. He then explained his love for Japanese culture. He fell in love with a Japanese woman, had a child with her, and ever since became obsessed about Japan. The woman left him, taking their child, and went to Japan. Her entreaties for him to come and join her there have never ceased, apparently, but Antonio is too afraid of planes to go there. He asked about my life, which in its brevity seemed so much less rich, and I explained about how I came to Florence. Somehow, our conversation made it to Zodiac signs. He is a Scorpio, I am a Leo. Scorpios are suppossed to be the sign I get along with best. It was right then that I knew I was going to be good friends with this man. I've been obsessed with Zodiac signs of late and my Leo sign has been stalking me. Remember, reader, that all of this conversation was spoken in Italian, so Brava! to me for understanding so much.

"Prendi caffe?" He asked. Yes, I would love to go and have some coffee. He led me to a place called Edizon, Florence's gigantic bookstore. I absolutely love that place and would sit there for hours reading The Idiot by Fyodor Dostoyevsky. Antonio insisted on buying me a cappucino and the two of us sat together for another hour and a half. We talked about so much more. He looked at pictures at young Japanese girls in goth outfits (which was a little weird) and I wrote in my journal. We made plans to meet at Edizon again and get lunch before I left the next day.

I arrived at Edizon a little bit early and sat in the same spot as the day before, waiting. Antonio came, we ordered cappucini, and talked again for some time before leaving for lunch. He told me he had a friend who would make us special food. He walked me all the way back to the San Lorenzo underneath his umbrella and I confusedly followed him through the red double doors of the Mercato Centrale. This is Florence's huge fresh market that I wrote about in one of my very first posts. The melee inside was overwhelming and I didn't understand where he was taking me. A shortcut? No. He introduced me to the cook who works in the Mercato at Florence's famous fresh food restaurant. This man uses food from the market that he buys on the spot to cook for the people who are shopping inside. They are served on small picnic benches with a perfect view of the craziness that is that market. He made us a special vegetarian risotto. I don't know that something that amazing has ever grazed my tastebuds before. Antonio and I sat and talked for a long time, watching people purchase any kind of nut in the world from the nut guy, sample fresh cheese, and order slabs of pork to be sliced (kind of viciously) from the hide of a recently murdered pig. The blood didn't stop squirting.

After I finished my risotto I discovered why Antonio's worn hands were so cracked and broken looking. Not only is he a retired Uffizi guide, but he is also a landscaper and gardener. He took my hand and opened it, dropping into my palm four pea pods. Into the other he dropped a handful of another green vegetable. He explained to me that he had picked me the very best ones from his garden that morning and wanted me to eat them on the train ride away from Florence. Then he gave me his phone number and made me promise that the next time I was in Florence I would call. I would tell him that I am Gabrielle, that I am back in Florence, and that I wanted to meet him again at Edizon for cappucino and to go to dinner at the restaurant of his friend. I had no trouble whatsoever making that promise.
Arrivederci, for now.
Love, Gabby.