Sunday, April 25, 2010

Eurodogs

European dogs are cuter than American dogs. Easy. Minus the mangy, dirty strays that roam all around (and sometimes these are cute, too) these dogs are all extremely well-groomed. They are all well-behaved. They don't smell. The variety of dogs in Europe is astounding; instead of seeing every woman walking a mini chihuahua and every man walking a fat little pug, the Europeans like to mix it up. There are big goldens, weiner dogs, thin Greyhounds, and poodles. Lots and lots of poodles that are so well-maintained they actually look like poodles. In America, poodles don't have the fluffy balls on their feet and tails. In Europe, they do. I've had more than one conversation with friends about how seeing all the Europeans walking their beautiful dogs makes me want my best friend Bobo here in Italy with me. I miss him so much. I'd do pretty much anything to have my dog here in Europe. Dogs are everywhere and I desperately want mine here to fit in. Plus, I think my crazy dog could take a page out of the European good-dog handbook. In Europe, there aren't any regulations against having your pets on the train. You can bring your dogs into the bars, into the clothing stores, and even into restaurants. It's abnormal not to. They are so well-behaved the owners feel safe bringing them into these places. I haven't seen one bad dog, yet. Even the mangy street dogs are good. They even allow their dogs to roam freely, unleashed, and they faithfully trot alongside their owners. They know to look out for cars, they know not to wander too far away, they know not to stop for too long to catch a wiff of another dog's pee. I feel such longing when I watch how good these dogs are, and I DESPERATELY WANTED TO PET ONE.

I knew which dog I wanted to pet. Outside of my apartment is the San Lorenzo church. There is a piazza outside of this church and my favorite breed of dog next to a Huskie lays out there every day. Right in front of the steps, begging to be pet. Every morning before school I walk through this piazza and restrain myself from stopping for ten minutes to sit with this dog. He is bigger than a bear, fluffy, adorable. I'll stop myself from continuing. As I approach everyday I can't help but feel like all I want in the world is to bend down and pet this dog. His owner is one of the only non-creepy San Lorenzo marketplace shop owners. I wondered if his non-creepiness would be displaced to meanness and was terrified to ask if I could pet his dog. I tried to smile at him every day to let him know I was friendly, hoping my friendliness would incite him to allow me to pet his dog when I finally bucked up the courage to ask. The closest I ever came to asking was one beautiful, sunshiney morning when he asked me if I wanted to buy a belt. No, sir, I don't want your belt, but can I please pet your dog? It didn't sound right. How agonizing it became to walk past this dog every day and not bend down and pat his soft, brown head. He just layed there, unmoving, every morning. I daydreamed. I'd buy a ball and sit with this dog and play fetch forever, watching him bound around the piazza with his long tounge lolling around. He'd run back to me with a slobbery tennis ball and drop it in my lap and I'd throw it again and again. I know, I'm pathetic. I just really wanted to pet this dog.

It wasn't until nearly halfway through my schooling, during Spring break time when I was lonely and unhappy, that I couldn't take it anymore. Screw the language barrier, I was going to ask this San Lorenzo man if I could pet his dog. The dog was so cute, just laying there on another one of the only sunny days in the history of Firenze, I just needed to pet him. The cobblestones weren't wet, I could sit there for a minute or two. I'd had a good breakfast and was feeling brave. "Scusa, Signore," I said, hesitantly. "Ciao bella!" he cried. Of course, I'd underestimated his creepy. I suppose the Ciao bella's come with the San Lorenzo territory. It must be part of the job description. Anyway, I asked "Questa e sua cane?", "Siiiiiii" was his long, drawling reply. He wasn't getting a sale and I wasn't interested in making out with him later and so all that San Lorenzo friendliness was gone. "Posso coccolare il cane?" A curt nod, and I was elated! I practically bounced over to the dog, completely out of my mind with happiness. I bent over and put my hand out for him to sniff. He didn't even bother. To my great disappointment he took one look at me, got up and walked over two or three cobblestones before lying down in exactly the same position he'd been in before I'd disrupted him.

I guess Eurodogs are just as unfriendly as Europeans. And Bobo, you're still the best dog in the world.
Arrivederci, for now.
Love, Gabby.

Eze

Eze was my last stop in the French Riviera. Why not go and look out on the place I was leaving from a medival fortress nestled in the clouds? I haven't been to most of France but I'm gonna go out on a limb here and make the claim that Eze is one of France's most beautiful places. The first thing I did when I got here was go into France's famous Perfume shop, called Galimard, to sniff some stuff and buy some gifts. I came out of there and I don't think I'll ever smell the same.



I hiked to the fortress and on my way up I couldn't stop feeling overwhelmingly reluctant that I would be leaving France. The French Riviera is not the most French place in the world; its got alot of Italian influence from the nearby Italian Riviera, Morocan influence from all the illegals, and German influence from all the rich folks up there who travel to the Riviera for holiday. I didn't feel like I'd really experienced France. Sure, I thought when I first arrived how French everything seemed, but I realized I was mistaken. With a Kebab stand on every corner, a Chinese food restaurant every block, and a KFC, its hard to feel like you're traveling in France. Eze, though, completely rearranged this feeling. Its truly no wonder that F. Scott Fitzgerald was so inspired by the Riviera. All Eze made me want to do was write and paint and be creative. I went into two hole-in-the-wall shops which turned out to be art galleries. The artists were both sitting at their easels in their oil stained pants and smudged white t-shirts working their day away. I had the most desperate need, then, to be one of them, sitting in a shop inside a medieval fortress painting for a living. What other kind of life is there?
Outside there were spice sellers. Seriously. I bet that every day they work in a garden growing crazy herbs, grind them up in their kitchen, and bring them outside to sell. There were ceramic shops and jewlery shops and everything is made right in front of your eyes. Small business still booms! Its just in France and not America. Too be in that flourishing little town was a great way to say bonjour to France.
Arrivederci, for now.
Love, Gabby.

French Crazies

I guess the monsters of Nice aren't it's only problem. Nice is home to alot of absolutely crazy motherfuckers. Like this guy:



While I was walking through Old Nice I came across this man. I suppose you can call the dance he was doing interpretive, but I like to think of it as something other than dancing entirely. I'm at a loss for words to describe this guy. He was running, jumping, gyrating, and stringing together a series of dance moves in the strangest way. The wave, followed by the worm, followed by som plie-ays (if there is a dancer reading this, please correct my spelling). He was spinning and kicking, hopping and doing push-ups. Interpretive dance.

The next really crazy person I encountered I didn't even think was a person at first. I thought Swamp thing was roaming the streets. This man was wearing an esemblage of rags, bookbags, plastic bags, maybe 20 hats, 2 cats, and one ferret-ish thing. Maybe it was animal skin and not a ferret, but it looked alive. The cats were perched on his shoulders pawing at the gigantic boombox that was sticking out of one of his bags. I didn't catch sight of his face, but I can only guess how long the beard on it was. This guy was purchasing candy from a woman on the corner. There are these cute little candy stands set up all around Nice with gummy bears and strings of marshmellow and caramel, and this Swamp thing was there buying candy with his cats and his boombox as if he were the most average fellow in the world. I think, perhaps, the woman at the stand was crazier than he was because she was completely at ease with this man. They laughed, joked, and even shook hands. She gave his cats 2 little chocolates, as if that isn't an animal hate-crime.

What the fuck is in the water in Nice?
Arrivederci, for now.
Love, Gabby

Saturday, April 24, 2010

Nice

Oh, Nice. I reiterate, Nice is pronounced niece and it is the unofficial capital of the French Riviera. I've gotta say, its a kind of weird place. I'd been told that the most important part of the Nice experience was going into the city's old town, and so I set out to see it. I wound up getting sidetracked along the way by a mile long stretch of shopping bliss. I'm not really that big of a shopper but the friends I was with were desperate for some Longchamp bags and so I spent hours with them looking at this color and that size. Before I knew it, half the day had gone by and all I wanted was to get into town and see Old Nice. I was so anxious to get there that when I finally did I had that reaction, the reaction one has when they are on a road trip and in 100 miles there is the world's largest ball of yarn and at every mile marker you anticipate this giant ball of yarn and when you finally drive the 100 miles all you see is just one giant ball of yarn. Same situation with Old Nice. There was a water fountain, some pretty palm trees, and multi-colored buildings. Cool. It was more interesting shopping for Longchamp bags. However, I call Nice a weird place because while I was in this sqaure I noticed these strange sculptures lining the roads of pale men in strange positions. They were situated on tall poles and were so out of place with my surroundings that I really appreciated them. They looked like the blue dude from Watchmen and I couldn't stop staring upwards at these strange men in the sky. Thank God for these, because without them Nice failed to interest me.

Until the next day. I sprung up out of my bed aroung 9 a.m., threw on my bathing suit, and booked it down to the beaches of Nice. I'd done a little research and knew I wasn't going to be lying on a smooth, sandy beach. No, I was going to lay my towel out on a pebble beach. I don't know how many of you have been to one of these, but they are difficult to handle. Not only are you lying on uncomfortable stones that can't ever be rearranged into something vaguely resembling the shape of your body, but they leave your skin and towels chalky and heat up to ridiculous temperatures so that your body is very literally being cooked.
Whatever, I didn't care. I sprawled out on that pebble beach and didn't get back up until 3 p.m. By the time I left Nice my skin had effectively changed color completely and I felt pretty darned good about it. I happen to love tan lines. Anyway, being on a pebble beach is odd for any regular beach bum, and so I count this is strike two in the Nice is weird game.

I had a series of minor epiphanies on this beach, though, and this struck me as very strange, too. I couldn't stop having these breakthroughs about myself and life and people. It was just weird. My mind was on some sort of crazy genius kick. I don't know what it about the French Riviera that made me feel so poetic; perhaps it was the influence of F. Scott. All I know is that as I sat there gazing out at that turquoise horizon I saw the world expanding in my view. For a while, its been shrinking. Every new place I go, I feel like I shrink the world a bit. But when I looked at the ocean I saw endless possibility. Epiphany 1. I looked away from the horizon and toward the sky. Nice is very close to an airport and when one lies on this beach they might notice overhead a steady incoming and outgoing of aeroplanes. I really lost it when I was looking at them. WHAT THE FUCK? Have you ever really thought about planes? People say that the laws of gravity can't be broken and this is essentially true, but really, planes come pretty fucking close. Millions of passengers fly through the air every single day at impossible speeds on planes. Epiphany 2. Right after I noticed all the sailboats and realized that for centuries man has been defying gravity in these.And religion. Man can't walk on water like Jesus, no, but he can build gigantic steel ships that can float on water through massive waves and storms without sinking. Oh, and he can build submarines that go underneath the ocean so far that certain fish can't even survive the pressure. Genuis. Seriously. Epiphany 3. I had a number of these epiphanies, not all having to do with science. I had a surpluss of novel ideas, mused about love and friendship, and thought of a new series of paintings I want to work with. Nice, it seems, is my natural thinking cap.

When I finally got up I took a walk. I hiked up the side of a cliff to sit underneath a manmade waterfall and look out at the Riviera. Yes, the view was picture perfect. The waterfall was really spectacular. I have no complaints other than that it seems that this hike is the gnat hub of Europe. I literally had to push them aside to make it through, they were so thickly and densely concentrated. Yuck. I walked back, stopping in the cutest cupcake bakery in the entire world and refusing myself the pleasure of eating anything because I'd regret it if I did. Its just nice to know that cupcakes exist in Europe, I guess. I can say that I left Nice wonderfully contented regardless of how strange I felt I'd acted, how strange I felt the place was, and how much differnt I was as I was leaving.
Arrivederci, for now.
Love, Gabby.

Your Typical Elderly French Woman

French women, beware! Something in your DNA, something you're eating, some activity you do, is reacting with your estrogen to produce monsters. Honest to God monsters live in France, and they are all over 60. I have never in my life seen this kind of thing. Its a fucking phenomenon. One in ten French women over 60 will experience a major breakdown of cells in their brain that turn them into monsters. It starts when they stop matching. One day, their brains will tell them that yellow shoes are okay. A month or so later they will pair those yellow shoes with a red pashmina that has had fluffy pink balls sown onto it. After a year or so of this disease the full-monster is born. These monsters wear every color under the sun, together. They wear bright lipsticks. Their heels are so high even runway models would shudder. They wear vintage hats paired with see through flower stockings, their hair seems to have been styled by 5 year-old girls after a nice fresh box-dye, and their faces have been plastered over with enough makeup that one could peel it off. Seriously.

Of course the first time I came across a woman with this disease I thought she was just an old kook. I didn't realize she was suffering from a bad-outfit epidemic. The first thing I noticed were the legs. They seemed to go on forever and ever and I expected when I looked up to see a skinny, gorgeous French woman. Instead, I saw a plaster-faced old lady with stringy blonde hair that poofed out in all directions from underneath her bonnet. She was one of those old ladies you knew couldn't possibly be blonde naturally and was supposed to be sporting grey hair by now. I looked her up and down again, not being able to put the legs with the face. Then I really saw. Her stockings were fishnets. Her stiletto heels were perhaps an entire foot long. Her skirt was shorter than any I've ever worn (and I'll admit to having worn some really short skirts before). Her low-cut shirt showed off nicely her sagging breasts. The entire outfit was black, too. Jet black. Even the bonnet was jet black. I promise I'm not making this up.

When I saw my second old French monster I thought that maybe French women were just weird. This woman, whose poorly dyed blonde hair fell well past her shoulders, was wearing the most hideous orange jacket I've ever seen. I love the color orange. This color orange was slightly terrifying. The black embroidery on this coat really made me feel like I was looking at an advertisement for halloween costumes. I can't decide what the best part about the ensamble was. It could have been the orange lipstick, the gigantic, brown,bug-eye sunglasses, or the orange sneaker heels. You tell me, reader. I finally realized that these monsters were suffering from a diseaseI came across a third. I've always thought that black women who dye their hair blonde are a little bit out of their minds. It never ever looks good. This woman wore the tightest red dress in history, effectively giving herself rolls, and her huge red heels were so bright they almost blinded me. Seriously. Not to mention, she was covered in gold bangles.

My personal favorite, though, is this woman. See, I'm not making this shit up. Please note the purple clip in her hair. It was the best.

Arrivederci, for now.
Love, Gabby

Cannes

I recently spent some time researching my zodiac. I was born on August 9th, 1990, a Leo sun sign. I'm primarily a fire sign; I'm attracted to the sun and enjoy warmth and light. True statement. I've clocked more hours on the beach than I have in any other environment on this Earth, that is for certain. My skin has a sort of year-round tan from all the sunshine I get in the summer. What I didn't know about my zodiac is that I have another sign, too: my moon sign. Someone explained to me that the moon sign is just as important, if not more important, when analyzing a person's zodiac because it outlines your personality. The sun sign really only outlines your predispositions. My moon is Pisces. I'm a Leo-Pisces. I've got a personality that flows, apparently, and I actively seek the comfort of water. I'm suppossed to find a certain peace near water. Another true statement. It is no friggin wonder that the beach is such an important place to me.

Since I've lived in Florence I've noticed that my agitation at the city grew and grew. The only body of water is the ugly green Arno, and its fresh-water (but please don't drink it, its toxic). I'm used to humid, salt air in my lungs. I need that ocean breeze; without it, I've realized, I'm a real bitch to deal with. I get really annoyed when I can't see the ocean for long periods of time. I've been in a city where salt-water is scarece for about four months now. I've been having the beach kid version of PMS. I knew when I went to the French Riviera that I would be close to the sea. I knew I'd be on the beach. What I didn't know or understand was that when I got onto that beach I'd lose my mind completely. Cannes, pronounced con, is one of Europe's only white, sandy beaches. The second I stepped off the train and smelled salt in the air, I'd lost myself. I walked in a sort of trance toward the ocean and when I caught sight of the inviting sand I felt the most overwhelming relief. I put my stuff on the ground, took off my dress (I was wearing a bathing suit, don't worry. I'm not European enough yet for nude beaches) and sat my ass down in the sand. I looked out at the sea and basked in the sun and felt like I was almost home. Leo-Pisces. I fell asleep in that sand for two hours, allowing my skin to drink in as much sun as it possibly could.

When I came to, I noticed behind me a man building a sand castle. I love those people. Professional sand-castle builders-what a life! If I ever became serious about sculpture, I'd be a sand castle builder. He was making a life-size Ferrari in honor of the Grand Prix. It was seriously sweet. I watched him for a while before taking in my surroundings. The actual city of Cannes is alot like San Diego. I guess this makes sense. The two cities have the same kind of environment and are both really close to Hollywood. San Diego is about an hour drive from L.A. and Cannes hosts the most important film festival in the world, which makes it close to L.A. too. I noticed all the Europeans lounging on the beach: hairy young men in their rolled up jeans with no shirts on, topless elderly women, naked little boys and girls tossing sand up into the air. A typical day at the beach. Behind me a small old man played an acordion, a melody befitting only of France. The white sails of one thousand sailboats floated past my vision and fisherman sat on the shore with their lines cast out to sea. I sat and noticed things for hours, barely speaking to my friends and letting the sun wash over me like waves. Speaking of waves, there aren't any in Europe. There are little ripples because it is the sea and not the ocean. This never fails to disappoint me, often so much that I don't even bother going in the water. Like today. I was too busy enjoying the sunshine to bother pretending the sea was anything like the ocean. Whatever, salt in my lungs, sand in my hair, and sun in my skin makes me a happy person.

We stayed there from 9 a.m. until 5 p.m. Sun-soaked. When we got onto the train to go home I felt forlorn. I was leaving the salt, the sea, the sun. Sadness was about to engulf me when I realized with a start that I would be back at the beach (although a much different beach) tomorrow. Ohhh, sweet, sweet relief.
Arrivederci, for now.
Love, Gabby

Friday, April 23, 2010

F. Scott Fitzgerald

I've officially negated my 21st birthday. Any excitement the big two-one might have had in the past has been diminished by Europe on this vacation. I've been, as you all know, drinking like a fish since coming here and it's been completely legal. I've gambled legally now, too.

I went to the French Riviera. This is sort of a monumental thing for me; I've been reading about this place since my freshman year of high school when I became a dedicated F. Scott Fitzgerald fan. I expected to have a sort of literary catharsis, here, and I did. As we approached the sea I felt the profoundness coming out of me in droves. "Wow", I'd think, "how my skin has needed to taste the sea" or "Scenery is so much more beautiful when viewed from behind a window. I wonder how different this place will look when I am sitting on the shore." I'm a regular poet, I guess. When we got to our little hotel and I looked around at France, I realized, "Oh true, I'm in France" and for all my profound thinking I couldn't seem to be able to concentrate on anything other than that. The pale windows were French, the musty, sea smell was French, there were French words I couldn't understand being spoken all around me, and outside a nearby bakery waved a red, white, and blue flag that wasn't American, but French. When I got into the room of my hostel and looked around, I noticed how very French it all was. The pastel blue walls with pastel blue bunk-beds made up with pastel blue sheets all screamed France at me; there was a painting of French sailboats and a small French coffee table with cute little French designs carved into the legs. Outside my window a man sat in a white button up shirt and suspenders, reading a book with his circle-rimmed glasses falling down his nose and I couldn't help but notice how very French his little moustache was. I passed out on my bed and promising myself that I'd eat a crepe.

We went to Montecarlo the next day. Please tell me you know what this place is, reader? Next to Las Vegas, Montecarlo is the most attractive place in the world to gamble. Montecarlo is also a place you go to only if you're so rich you can afford to spend 20,000 Euro on a game of blackjack. It was raining out-a cold, dreary rain that persisted the entire day-but the day was gorgeous regardless. I sucked sweet salt air into my lungs and, after hiking through a palace garden that glistened with rain, I arrived in a square that looked out over the entire Riviera. After hearing a small talk about the Grand Prix, which is taking place here in Europe and starts in the Riviera in only two weeks, I took off. Let the crepe hunt begin!

I walked all over the small town, through small passageways where French men in dirty wifebeaters and aprons cooked crepes at every corner. I couldn't decide which man to purchase my very first crepe from and so I walked onward and I found a cathedral. I went inside and looked at the art, said a few prayers, and continued onward. I passed the Jaques Costeau Aquarium and desperately wanted to go inside. The Little Cayman Marine Scientist in me almost did so but remembered my crepe hunt and remembered I needed to meet friends in a half an hour. I reluctantly left but I've vowed that one day I will return to that Aquarium and go inside, identify some corals, and get another crepe. I walked along ontop of the cliff where Montecarlo is situated, watching sailboats laze along in the rain and fisherman catch net after net full of fish. I passed the Ferrari museum, fantasizing about myself inside one of those cars driving along the Riviera with my European license plate and sunglasses. And then I found the crepe of my dreams. I don't know what it was about the little man in this shop but if I had to guess I'd say it was the moustache. Since France I've become a little moustache-happy. He was wearing a cute purple hat on his head and the smell of his crepes tickled my nose. I couldn't take it anymore and I bought one; he smothered it in Nutella and whipped cream for me and I have officially eaten a crepe in France. Achievement.

I met my friends after that and together we went to the Montecarlo Casino. Its really quite grandoise on it's facade, with golden cherubs and a garden with a fountain. We would have gone inside the actual casino but without 20,000 euro to drop on a blackjack game, paying 10 euro to go into a casino seemed a little frivolous. So we went next door to the cheapskate casino and played 5 eurocent Keno for a couple hours. Sorry, 21st birthday, I didn't mean to ruin you! I had my first interesting European toilette experience in this casino. I know, what a miracle, you'd figure I'd have plenty of toilette horror stories by now. When I'd finished in the restroom and went to flush the toilette I realized it was automatic. Something strange happened, though. The actual toilette started to break apart and the toilette seat started to rotate. It was like The Shining of toilettes! I realized afterwards that this was some sort of sanitation mechanism (an actual toilette shining) which is probably revolutionary, but at the time it really freaked me out and I left that restroom very quickly.

We went back to our hostel after that, but not before going to a French diner and ordering ourselves an entire MESS of cheese fries. Bless you, cheddar cheese, bless you. Yup, I've had french fries in France.
Arrivederci, for now.
Love, Gabby.

Thursday, April 22, 2010

Detoxification

Carbohydrates. All girls know they are supposed to avoid them if they want to be skinny. They are they arch-enemy of a good physique. I can't tell you how many times I've commented with my roommates and friends on how awful we feel that all we can eat in Italy is carbs. Pasta is incorporated into every meal the Italians make. Not to mention that Italy is famous for pizza and bread. We're all going home extra-heavy from beig here for so long. All I've done in Italy has been consume, consume, consume, and most of that consumption has been carbs, topped off by the fact that in Germany I literally flooded my system with beer-more carbs. I decided after returning home that I was detoxing.

Detox diets are simple. Do not drink alcohol. Do not drink coffee. Do not eat carbs. Do not eat meats. Do not eat sweets. Eat only water, fruit, veggies, and sometimes nuts. Flush your system with freshly squeezed lemon juice every morning. Take a vitamin. Drink 2 litres of water daily. Drink tea at night. Have salad. I did this on day one and by lunchtime I started to get hungry. I'd had an apple for breakfast and lemon water replaced my daily double espresso. After my lunchtime salad I started to feel it: the caffine headache. Fellow students passed me with their Moka machine espressi and foamy cappucini and I started to lose my grip. All I wanted was some damn coffee. When I got home I had broccoli for dinner and green tea for dessert. I was miserable, but proud that I'd made it through such torture. I only had three more days to go.

I woke up the next morning and poor Casalinga had to deal with my neverending complaints about coffee and my cranky rage. I chomped on my apple bitterly and sucked down my lemon juice with a big giant sour puss on my face that wasn't forming because I was drinking lemon juice. I barely made it through the day; at one point I stood in front of the Moka machine for a solid four minutes, 60 euro cents held firmly in my hand which was hovering in front of the change slot. Walking away from that machine took more effort than anything I've ever done in my life. By the time I got home I was really looking forward to sitting down with a bottle of red wine and putting myself to sleep. I opened my bottle and was about to pour myself a glass when I realized, wait, I couldn't drink alcohol. I was seething at the dinner table, so pissed off at my corn and peas that I swallowed them all whole and gave myself a stomach ache. I got into my bed, kicking my blankets around and fluffing my pillow a hundred or so times before finally falling to sleep.

The rest of my detox passed in a similar fashion. I found myself so weary by the end of the four days, from headaches and stair-climbing with no energy, that I could barely get myself out of bed Friday morning. Casalinga was wary of me as I slowly sat up stared her down with bloodshot eyes and mussed up Medusa hair. No one was more relieved than she when I got up and made myself an espresso.
Arrivederci, for now.
Love, Gabby.

Monday, April 19, 2010

Reconnecting with my Spirtual Side

There is something about living in a Renaissance city that really brings out the Bible in you. Since I've been here, I've actually finished reading the Bible. I pride myself on being a quick, dedicated, and motivated reader. I used to get made fun of for it. When I was in seventh grade I had a friend who literally used to make fun of me every single day because I was never without a book. I even count the books I read. Okay, off track here. The point is, I read every damn word of the Bible. You don't realize exactly how long that book is until you try and make it through the Old Testament. UGH! That book is chock-full of wisdom and enlightenment, but smite me now, God, if the Old Testament isn't dreadfully boring. I counted ten seconds before writing this sentence and yes, I'm still living, and so I think God gets it.

He knows, though, that reading the Bible has seen me undergo a personal transformaton. I went to Catholic school for nine long years. I was force-fed the stuff everyday of my life. Not only did I go to church at school, I had a church outside of school. I went to mass every Sunday. I prayed at the foot of my bed. I even participated in the nativity scene every year as an angel. By the time I turned thirteen, I fucking hated being a Catholic. So I quit. I don't know that its possible to up and quit being a Catholic, but I did it. When my mom forced me to recieve Confirmation, I did everything I could to thwart the process. I chose Valentine as my name (ridiculous), I was an upstart in CCD, and I got myself in loads of trouble for telling the priest in confessional that I'd murdered a guy and buried him in my backyard. If my mom hadn't of taught at my church for a number of years I'd have been kicked out immediately. When I did get confirmed, I stuck my tounge out in my pictures with the Bishop who'd come all the way from New York as a last fuck you to Catholicism. I started reading the Bible before I came to Florence because yeah, I missed God. And I've noticed that he and I are really kind of close, again. Close enough that I don't really hate being inside churches anymore. I don't feel like God is giving me the stink-eye anymore.

Florence probably has the highest denisty per square mile of churches in the world. I'd bet on it. Santa Croce, Santa Maria Novella, San Miniato, San Marco-the list goes on. My favorite one, though, is the Orsanmichele. I walk past this church every single day on my way to school. It has famous statues in little nooks all over its walls, beautiful relief sculptures decorating the outside, and a pair of the most fabulous doors in the entire city. It used to be a grainery and was eventually converted into a church alot of years ago. The inside is truly spectacular. The sculpture and decoration is some of the best in the city (and that kind of says alot) and the tabernacle is so ornate and delicate I could admire it for hours and still find new things to be impressed with. Inside is, what else, a Madonna and Child, but the rest of the church is so beautiful not even that can bother me. There are frescos EVERYWHERE of scenes that somehow seem alive because the stained glass lends them color. The first time I came to this church it was with my sculpture class. Perhaps I fell in love with the church because I followed my professor who I am in love with around as he spewed out knowledge about the works inside. Nonetheless, I fell in love, and found myself so overcome with joy that I decided I really needed to pray. It was such an intense feeling, such an overpowering feeling, that I knelt in a pew and opened myself once more to God. Anyway, I wrote a short story about it for my travel writing class and here it is:

She hadn’t been inside a church to pray in years. She’ been in them to study artwork and admire the architecture, but not to pray. A long time ago, she stopped praying. It wasn’t because something tragic happened in her life and she blamed God. She didn’t have a bad experience with any of the members of her church. She never went through a period of teen-angst that led her to explore the idea of Atheism. She just stopped praying and she didn’t know why. Before, prayer had been a ritual. She would say a thank you prayer in the morning, a thank you prayer at mealtimes, and a thank you prayer before bed. It had become redundant; there was no feeling, no real connection with God. Prayer, in her life, was a habit. One day, she didn’t say a prayer before her meal. Nothing changed. The next, she didn’t say a prayer at all. Still, nothing changed. She wasn’t struck dead by the hand of God, she didn’t suffer a series of plagues, and inside she felt exactly the same. With the passing of her prayers, God evaporated from her life. Soon after, the suffering started. Her pain wasn’t physical. What she suffered from was fear-fear of death and dying, fear of an afterlife and of eternity, fear of herself in her own loneliness. Night after night sleep eluded her, replaced by thoughts that led to fear so strong it threatened to claw straight through her soul.
And then she went to church. She had moved to Florence to study art; every corner boasted another masterpiece, every building held some small treasure. Each worn cobblestone seemed to guard some important memory of years gone by and ages past. She was grateful to be having the experience of a lifetime, but she didn’t know to whom she should give thanks but herself, for working hard. She went with her art class to study the sculpture and decoration of the Orsanmichele, a famous Florentine church, and felt welling inside her that same overwhelming gratefulness. Carved into the brick walls were sculptures, masterfully crafted, and reliefs so old it was truly a miracle they remained intact. She was so proud of those artists, so proud of herself for appreciating them. She was proud that she worked so hard to get there. Art was a gift to the world, and somehow she had opened it. She could understand it, and she was thankful. She could see it and love it and know, deep down, that it was special.
She expected, when walking through the wooden door to the church, to stand in awe of the gifted hands of the tabernacle’s maker, or to bask in the colored lights of the stained-glass. She didn’t expect to feel the urge to pray. At first she ignored it. Her classmates were all there; praying would seem foolish to them. I can’t pray, she thought, I don’t even remember how to do it. I haven’t even blessed myself with holy water on my way in. She’d always blessed herself with holy water before going inside a church, and she hadn’t done it in the Orsanmichele. She knew she was standing inside a church so rich with history and spirit that thousands traveled to see it, and she forgot to bless herself. There was no point in going back and doing it, now. But she felt guilty. It seemed to smother her, to wrap around her like an itchy, woolen blanket, and she knew then that she needed to kneel and pray. She didn’t know what to pray for, at first. She didn’t know how to say she was sorry; she wasn’t sure she even was sorry. All she knew was in that moment she needed to talk to God.
She knelt down on a worn pew, made the sign of the cross, and said “Hi, God, its been a while.” And suddenly every missed thank you prayer, every missed cry for help, every missed feeling, came pouring out to God. A weight didn’t lift off of her shoulders, no, but the red, swollen claw marks all over her soul seemed to finally begin healing. She saw the art of the Orsanmichele in a new way, after her prayer. She saw the pieces as the thank you’s of those artists; they were outpourings of their gratefulness to God for his gift. And suddenly, everything was more beautiful.

Hope you liked it, reader! Arrivederci, for now.
Love, Gabby

Sunday, April 18, 2010

Neuschwanstein Castle

I've officially been to a castle. A real, live castle. Neuschwanstein is a small village in Southern Germany about two hours away from Munich. On my way home from Munich I made a pit-stop here. Neuschwanstein is a charming little place important only because of it's castle. I saw it approaching from the bus, a mere dot cut into the face of a small mountain, and thought to myself that it was going to be a big waste of time. The closer we got, the more incredible it became. That thing was seriously in the mountain. I can't imagine how they got all the materials up there to build it. Our tour-guide started giving us some fun facts about the castle over the bus's loudspeaker and I learned that this particular castle is the one that inspired the Disney castle. How cool is that?

When I packed for Germany I packed for moderately warm weather. I was thinking between 50 and 60 degrees and thats what I got in Munich. I was drunk half the time, anyway, and so the weather didn't really effect me. I wasn't expecting the cold slap in the face I got from the mountaintops. Shit, there was snow up there and I'm wearing leggings, a t-shirt, and a teensy jacket. I should probably also have expected that it would rain when I'd purposefully left behind my umbrella. Just my luck. Good thing I didn't wear flip-flops. My body was one giant goosebump within five seconds and I found myself thinking "Well, there goes any hope of sweatin' all that beer off". Great.

Turns out I did sweat some beer off, though. My tour-guide told us he was taking us on a "nature hike" up to the castle, and boy we were in for it. We hiked up a damn mountain is what we did. In the rain, by the way. Caah and I walked arm in arm (she, being the smarter of the two of us, brought her umbrella) slipping and sliding all the way up to the castle. It was really spectacular when we got to the top, sure, but it was definitely anti-climactic. Great view, cool castle, lots of souvenier shops. Caah and I walked back down that mountain, slipping perhaps ten times more than before, commenting extensively on exactly how worthless the hike was. Oh well, we worked off some beer, at least.

By the time we got back into the village I was soaking wet. My glasses were literally useless and my hair was a giant mop. The best part of it all was my jacket didn't button and I was wearing a white shirt. Yup. I've officially gone wild in Germany. Caah and I knew that we needed something warm, immediately, but literally looked at every single menu in every single restaurant before deciding on one. The only thing we really wanted was hot chocolate and warm apple pie. Hot chocolate in Florence is strange. In short, its a brick of chocolate that has been melted with a little bit of hot water. I love chocolate, but thats a little heavy. Hot chocolate in Germany, on the other hand, is perfection. I even got to have some whipped cream with it.

We got back on the bus after souvenir shopping. I was able to buy a shot glass for my collection (a little beerstein) and some postcards. We got back onto the stuffy bus reeking of wetness. It was a combination of the I've-just-been-outside-in-nature-for-hours smell, the I've-just-sweat-alot smell, and rain smell. It equals a bunch of putrid people on a bus for hours. At least we were warm.
Well, Arrivederci, for now.
Love, Gabby.

Round 2 of Beerfest

Beerfest.
Seriously, don't I look so happy? Because I was: 1. I was dancing. 2. I was wasted. 3. I was chillin' with some really fun chaps from London. 4. I was singing really loud. 5. I was wasted.

The night actually started out horribly. Caah and I showed up at Beerfest around 7; I'm feeling pretty certain that I'm gonna have a fabulous night. How could I not if the night compared even a little to the one I'd had before? I was determined to get myself on some rides after I'd had a few steins and it seemed that the beertents were a little less crowded than previously. I walked into the beertent and was immediately hit by a wave of noise and smells and I wanted to throw myself into the crowd headlong. Caah, on the other hand, got hit with that wave of noise and smells and found it made her sick. So sick that within moments she was white as a sheet and looking like she was about to spew up all the beer she'd ingesting in the past 24 hours. She tried to stick it out but was so nausious that she had to go back to the hotel. I was going to leave with her but luckily Benny Lava and Sway were there to rescue me. The three of us searched for probably an hour for a group to let us stand with them, but apparently the reason beerfest was so much less crowded was because people were fed up trying to find somewhere to stand.

Finally, our searching came to an end. A group of older English fellahs from London saw us in our distress and invited us to join their table. We hopped up quickly and started in the effort to get a waitress to sell us steins. Failed attempt after failed attempt left me so agitated I was honestly ready to cut my losses and follow Caah home. The English guys seemed pretty boring to top it all off. Finally, a German man standing at a table opposite me decided to invite me to his table, which I did. I hoped that the influence of a lederhosen-clad local would gain the favor of a stein-bearing waitress. He introduced me to his brother and friends and the group of us made some funny Pope jokes for a while. They were wearing these hats they'd gotten from a brewer outside the tent and they looked like Pope hats, so we made Pope jokes in English and German. I suppose making Pope jokes isn't a sin because as I'm laughing uproariously a waitress came over and I was thanking God that I had gotten a stein. My new German friend came back to my English table and we all wound up dancing and cavorting for hours together.
Those are the English dudes. They wound up being really fun guys to spend beerfest with. Benny Lava, Sway, and myself were all having a really incredible time and who should we recognize walking past our table but Fresco and Tic. We prosted with them (my stein broke Tic's little pint) and danced and were merry. As the night drew to a close things in this beertent started to get incredible sloppy. I watched two big German girls fist-fight, saw a dude fall backwards into the crowd which had the effect of creating a maze of human dominoes, and saw someone slip and fall on a stray hot-dog.

Benny Lava, Sway, and I wound up pretty sloppy, too. I don't know how many steins they had, but I had five. That is ALOT of beer. We left the beertents with stolen steins and wound up dropping them and breaking them on the streets of Munich. We decided we were going to hunt for th 24 hour Burger King becuse we wanted milkshakes and honestly we were a bunch of serious messes. We took about 8,000 pictures jumping around the streets of Munich. At one point we had a photoshoot with a super expensive looking car parked in the street. Our photoshoot was so dynamic that we even took pictures underneath it. Since we were on the ground already, we decided to just continue taking pictures there. We were pretty good models, I think:


We wound up at Burger King maybe an hour after we left beerfest. We took another 8,000 pictures of the people eating there. We had milkshakes and chicken nuggets and SMOTHERED them in ketchup since Italy doesn't have any. By the time we got home it was around 3 in the morning and I passed out in my beerfest gear, meaning I passed out in my still beer-soaked shirt and leggings. FTW!

I woke up the next morning with a hangover so intense that I sat inthe Yoga position called Child's Pose for about an hour before attempting to stand and shower. Which, when I did, was a big misake.
Arrivederci, for now.
Love, Gabby

Dachau

So, I went to Dachau. It was one of the most emotional experiences I have ever had in my life. I honestly feel like I came out of Dachau a different person. I feel, after having been inside of a concentration camp, the enormous gravity of man's cruelty toward man. The horror of it hit me like a sack of bricks. I'm not going to describe Dachau to you, reader. I'm not going to tell you what I did and how I did it, what I saw or what the weather was like. Dachau is a personal experience for everyone that chances on experiencing it and it isn't something I care to recreate except for myself. I don't imagine that I could adequately relate to you what it was like to be inside of Dachau, anyway. I will, however, post a stream of consciousness piece that I wrote for my travel writing class. This experience, the one I write in the context of in this piece, this experience that I had was real. I went into the movie theatre of Dachau to watch a complementary introduction film that the concentraton camp offers at certain times of day as a preliminary supplement to your Dachau tour. What you're about to read really happened to me. I hope you aren't offended by what I wrote. Anyway, here it is:

Whoa. Crowded. Dark. Don’t bump these people. Late, hate being late. Ugh! Shut up behind me. No respect. People watching movie. Are they all American? English speakers, at least. So crowded. Can we even sit? Further down, maybe seats. More English speaking than others in Dachau, I guess. Weird. No seats anywhere! Why are there so many people here? How long is this movie? Standing will suck. Wait. Seats, two.
“Caitlin.” Whisper. Can’t be loud. Respect. “Seats, two rows down.” Quiet. All the way in. Don’t want to bump this family. Move. Don't get it. Why is this little girl in Dachau? Parents, so irresponsible. “’Scuse me, ‘scuse me.” Move your feet. Sorry. You’re rude. Sorry. Okay. No cushions? Wooden. So dark. Okay.
Dachau was the first concentration camp opened in Germany. It was meant to be a model… I wonder how they got these pictures. Awful. Graphic. This is intense. Grey walls. Look burnt. So offensive. Concentrate, Gab. …layout applied to later camps. History will never know how many died here… Oh, God. Can't believe that picture. That poor little girl. Hope her mom covers her eyes. So vivid. Murder. I don’t like this. The walls, fried. Why? Charred, gray, bumpy. So mean. Why? Wait. Why is the door closed? Concentrate. …occupied from 1933 to 1960. Sources estimate that there were over 200,000 prisoners held… Holy shit. Can they show that? Oh, oh, oh my gosh. They can’t show that. …political prisoners and the rest were Jews. There is no evidence of mass murder in the camps. Dachau’s massive death tolls can be attributed to poor sanitation, starvation, no medical care, exhaustion, medical experiments… Holy.. Holy shit. I don’t want to see this anymore. Walls. Burnt. Why? They look so burnt. Insensitive interior designer. Asshole. Oh my God. This is horrible. …crematorium built to get rid of the bodies. At this point there were so many they were left in piles in the back of the camp. It is still intact… Ew. Why? Take it down. Not memorial, just mean. Don't need the crematorium anymore. Can they show this stuff? These walls. …gas chamber, but may have never been used for mass murder. It is unknown whether… Oh my God. The walls. Dark. Closed door. Oh my God. No. They can't still have a gas chamber. Out. Have to get out. Gonna gas me. Air. Need air. Don’t understand. Why is the door closed? Can I get out? Need to get out. Get up. Can’t stand up. Gab. You’re not going to be gassed. Relax. Calm down. Ridiculous. So many people. You’re on a trip, they wouldn’t kill you. Gonna kill me. Don’t want to die. Okay. Breathe. Can’t breathe. Deep breath in. Relax. Watch movie.
…torture was unbearable, but the hunger was worse. Oh my God. They can’t show this! I’m gonna cry. Don’t cry. Don’t sniff. So small, so thin. No food. Its gruel. Climbing over each other. Just gruel. Starved animals. Kill each other just for gruel. Only one spoonful. Bones. Skin and bones. Can see the ribcage. Are there organs in there? …they decided who got fed on which days. Certain prisoners were never given a meal. They were only allowed scraps and leftover breadcrumbs. Water was a privilege… Gonna gas us. Can’t breathe. Gonna die. Young. Can’t die. Holy shit. God, please help me. Please help me. I don’t want to die yet. Please, God. The walls, grey, burned. Bumps of burn. Gonna cremate me. No one will know. Please help me. Why? Okay, Gab. Pull yourself together. Chill out. You’re fine. You’re not going to die. No one is going to gas you. This isn’t a war. There is no more holocaust. Watch the movie. Don’t cry. Stop crying. Not afraid. So sad. Why? …typhus outbreak, taking more lives than… Don’t cry. Don’t throw up. Wish I could save them. Piles, bodies, souls. Where are their souls? Can they show this? …mountains of dead bodies that the American liberators found… Gonna vomit. Feet. So thin. Bodies. Pale. Thin. Dead. So many. So pointless. Who were they? Gonna gas me. Pile us all. No. Gab, relax. Shave my head. Make me work. Starved. Pain. They can't show this. How do they have these pictures? Piles, mountains, dead. No, no no. I don’t like this.
second camp to be liberated by American troops. Can they show this? The walls, so rude. Please. God bless America. So many. Boys. Poor kids. Dead. No family. I want my family. Am I gonna die? I don’t want to die. The walls. Are they gonna gas me? So many dead. How many survived? Tell me some survived. They need to survive. Oh, God. This isn’t real. I want to go home. Is it over? Lights. Thank you. Lights. Oh, God, thank you. Open the doors. Please, open the doors. Thank you. The doors. Opening. Standing. Moving. He’s crying. That man is crying. Caitlin is crying. I’m crying. Outside, air. Oh, God, thank you. Air. Light.


Thats how I felt inside the movie theatre. Just imagine how it was inside the camp. I encourage you, reader, to visit a camp if you're near one. Or if you go to D.C., go to the museum. Pay respects.
Arrivederci, for now.
Love, Gabby

Fruhlingsfest

Alot of people are of the opinon that the German language is ugly. I've heard people describe it as brutal, grotesque, hard, ugly, husky, you name it. I disagree. You see, the most beautiful word in the world is a German word, and if a langauge can boast having the Helen of all words, its got to be far shy of ugly. The word is: Fruhlingsfest. You've probably never heard of this word; I didn't. Munich is famous for alot of things, but its shining achievement happens in September during the Oktoberfest. (I know, why not have Oktoberfest in October? Don't ask me, ask the Germans). Oktoberfest is huge; thousands flock to Munich to celebrate beer, drinking beer, making beer, everything beer. Its a beautiful holiday. Its famous for rambunctious drunk singing and sloshing beersteins around. People come from all over the world for the Oktoberfest which makes Oktoberfest more for the tourists than for the Munchen locals. In the springtime Munich decided to take back their holiday, celebrating beer again during the Fruhlingsfest, sans toursits. It is the exact same thing as Oktoberfest just without the overflow of people. The experience is that much more enjoyable for it. Fruhlingsfest is the most incredible place in the world. If there is a heaven, its probably alot like Fruhlingsfest. Okay, I'm exaggerating. Heaven probably has alot more angels eating grapes and strumming harps, but please understand that I loved this place so much I could have never left and been perfectly happy for the rest of my existence.

It disguises itself as a carnival. There are rides, theres cotton candy, you can throw balls at milk bottles and win plush animals. There are stands that sell pretzels the size of my face, fresh roasted nuts, and bricks of chocolate. You could buy all these things and spend two euro. I didn't, though, figuring I was going to be consuming massive amounts of beer. Which I did. Caah and I walked into the beertent and then music hit me. Loud, German music which everyone was singing to. Those of us who didn't know the words, pretended. Then we noticed all the lederhosen. Its the traditional German beer-drinking attire and pretty much everyone was decked out in it. The female lederhosen consists of knee socks, a poofy dress, an apron with lace running up the middle, and poofy white shoulders. The male lederhosen are brown leather over-all shorts with leader shoes and tall white socks, a white shirt (sometimes plaid) and a hat with a feather in it. It was like a Germany-themed costume party. I found myself wanting lederhosen maybe ten minutes after walking inside. Halloween costume for the rest of my life, accept they cost at least 100 Euro and there wasn't a shot in hell of me buying something for that much money when I could spend it on beersteins. Which is the very first action I took after orienting myself to Beerfest. Caah and I realized that the only way we were going to find somewhere to stand (since you don't sit on the beer-soaked benches) was to just jump up and join a group. We found a fun looking group of fellows and asked if we could join them. They had no clue what we were saying because they only spoke German but gestured for us to stand on their benches and so we did. They summoned the waitress for us, ordered us two beersteins, and we prosted, looking each of our six new friends directly in the eye. They knew the stare-down-to-avoid-bad-sex rule; must have grown up with it. This video doesn't do the craziness of beerfest any justice whatsoever, but listen to the music and look at the steins and please try to comprehend how completely wild things really were:

video

By the middle of this night I'd made my way through two full steins and I was definitely pretty drunk. You try drinking six beers as quickly as I did and you'll be drunk, too. The six guys whose table I was standing at wound up being the most fun Germans in the world. I didn't understand any of the German songs, but they taught me how to sing along. They told me when to shout, to jump, to fist-pump, to do-si-do (because at one point that happened). We never stopped dancing, we never stopped singing, we prosted to every single song that came on. We prosted every time we took a drink, really. After a while, who should I see but Benny Lava and Sway! We somehow managed to meet up in Munich and they joined our small table. We were crowed, hot and sticky, and all of us were swinging steins around. I was covered in sweat and covered in beer and probably looked like a glorious hot-mess.

video

The night started to come to a close around 12. Beerfest ends at 11, but we stayed a little late! I'd made a ton of new German friends, danced my heart out, and I'm pretty sure that by the end of the night my body was 90% beer, 5% water, and 5% anything else. I woke up the next morning 100% hung over, for the first time since I've been in Europe, surprisingly.
Fruhlingsfest is my new favorite place in the world.
Arrivederci, for now.
Love, Gabby

Day 1 of Munchen

What do you know about the city of Munich other than that it is the place where Oktoberfest happens? Probably not much. I know alot about this particular city now, and guess what reader? Its my new favorite place in the world. Were I to come back to Europe, I think you'll find me in Munchen.

My first day in Munich was spent on a bike. Caah and I got up bright and early and got ourselves ready for a day of sightseeing, tourist fun. Our group met outside our hostel and we took a short walk into the center of town for our first stop on our tour of Munich. The famous Glockenspeil clocktower is one of Munich's main attractions. We walked through the amazing "old town" of Munich, arriving in a square, with, what else, a giant palace. Medival, thank god. To see a palace that wasn't Renaissance blew my mind a little bit. I stood there for a minute or two and let a reality I'd long forgotten sink in: there are places in the world that the Renaissance hasn't taken over. Thank God for that. Anyway, the Glockenspeil tower is particularly exciting at certain intervals in the day. Our tour guide told us that at exactly 12 the clock was going to "Come to life", and it was then that I noticed about halfway up the tower is this cage. Inside the cage are all these little puppets in odd positions, with trumpets and funny outfits. Totally medieval looking :) My anticipation was definitely on the rise and at 12 exactly I heard a bell toll. Then another. I'm really excited now. I got out my camera and started to take a video. Literally, a solid two minutes passed of me taping two bells tolling. Thats it, two bells. Then the puppets started to move. The little trumpet guys started to move in a circle, ever so slowly. There is no more bell-tolling, now, either. The trumpeteers made way for two guys on horses, a red and a blue. It was a jousting match. They went around once (it felt exactly as annoying as waiting for dial-up) and when they passed each other I thought it was over. Yes, I was relieved. But no, it wasn't over. They went around a second time and ten minutes later the horses were back. This time it seemed one of the riders actually was supposed to knock the other of his horse. Okay, kind of cool, I guess. They met, lances raised, and the red rider lost. This is what it looked like: the blue rider remained the same and the red rider leaned back on his horse at perhaps an 110 degree angle. Whew! Finally over. WRONG! The oddly positioned puppets started to rotate, and another ten minutes passed of these creepy little puppets (desperately in need of a paint job) rotating. I think it was supposed to look like they were dancing? Then, and really this time, that half an hour show ended.

We met our bike-tour guides at a fountain. It was actually an interesting fountain. It was really kind of abstract and instead of perfectly formed naked men surrounded by cherubs spouting water, it was a sculpture of fish. Our tour-guides beckoned at our dazed group, many of us still suffering a sort of horrible tourist entertainment hangover. One was a cute little American girl, one was a tall, buffed out Aussie, and the last was this pale, skinny Irish bloke. I loved all of their accents, but the Irish guy's accent made me realize that if I have a soul-mate, he is in Northern Ireland somewhere. We were split into groups and I prayed and prayed that we would be in the Irish guy's tour-group. I almost whooped for joy when we were. We got on our bikes (mine was so tall that when stopped riding I needed to lean to the side to avoid having a metal bar in my crotch) and made our way through the town. First stop: the Hofbrauhaus, Munich's most famous beer-drinking hall. The most important thing I learned here was that if you live in Munich, you can literally rent a locker there for the safe-keeping of your own personal beer stein. And, by the way, beer steins hold one full liter of beer. We left the Hofbrauhaus and made our way past some important statues and buildings, learning about Munich's kings (who were pussies), their generals (who weren't good in battle), and their citizens (who were really quite smart). They told some really great stories about the citizens. My favorite was about how one of their buildings was burning down and so to put out the flames the citizens made a chain from a beerhall to the fire and put it out with buckets of beer. Nice, Munich! FTW!

Halfway through our bike tour, the guide brings us to this fabulous park. Why, Florence, can't you have a place like this? It was incredible. Fields, river, gardens, pathways, trees, and all sorts of little structures dispersed with people sitting underneath or inside reading books and drinking beer. Then my Irish tour-guide hit me with another fun fact. The "English Garden" was nudist. People, if they so chose, could take their pants off and run around in a park and not be arrested for it. They could walk their dog naked, if they felt like it. I watched a guy drop trau and sit in the grass. Irishman explained that there is a particularly fun tourist attraction who roams around the nudist park named "Robocock". I couldn't make that up if I tried. We wound our way around the nudist section and into the world's second largest beer-garden. When he told us beer garden I'm thinking of a garden, with flowers and maybe a beer fountain. It wasn't like that at all. Park benches and a restaurant constitute a beer garden, I guess. It was really awesome and it was here that I enjoyed my very first beer stein. Before drinking, Irishman explained that when you "Prost", cheers in Germany, you absolutely have to look the person you're prosting with directly in the eyes. If you don't, you'll have bad sex for seven years. Since Germans prost to everything, its like a never-ending staring contest because no one wants to have bad sex for seven years. Thats worse than no sex for seven years. I complemented my liter of beer with rotisserie chicken and mashed potatoes. For the first time since I've been in Europe, there wasn't a pasta dish on the menu! WOOOOOOO! It may have been the greatest meal of my life.

After drinking my full liter of beer in under an hour, I got back on my bike. I operated a moving vehicle under the influence in Europe. I suppose I can safely check that off my list of "Things not to do in Europe". We rode for a couple minutes before coming across the single most astoundingly awesome thing I've ever seen. River-surfing. I watched a group of Germans surf in a river. This river made waves, in one area, and people surfed in them. Thats on the level of in-door snowboarding! We rode around Munich for another hour after that, coming across more nudists along the way, before finally making our way back to the Glockenspiel with our group. My four hour long tour of Munich had convinced me already that it was the greatest place in the world: no Renaissance, cool art work, beautiful weather, beer steins, people who replace water with beer, a park, a nude park, surfing, and I hadn't even been to beerfest yet. God, I love you, Munich.


Arrivederci, for now.
Love, Gabby

Germany by Bus

I'm used to traveling on the road. Every summer for the better part of my childhood I traveled with my family in a big van across the country. Once, I sat in that van for over 16 hours without stopping. My dad refused to acknowledge my desperate need to pee and I was taunted by two of my brothers about Niagra Falls and how the sound of the engine really sounded alot like the sound of a toilet flushing. I didn't pee my pants and so I consider myself a seasoned road-tripper. I was actually kind of excited to go on my first lengthy European voyage-ON THE ROAD! I got myself some Pringles (Europeans are super fond of these), made myself a peanut butter sandwich, and packed my bag up in a hot twenty minutes before booking it out the door Thursday night to catch my overnight bus to Munich, Germany.

I met my girlfriend Caah and the two of us made our way to the bus station outside of the Santa Maria Novella. We got there early to secure the good seats. These are the seats that are in front of the center-of-bus door, where there is just a little extra leg room and a perfect view of the second half of the bus's (I spent twenty minutes trying to figure out if it was bus' or bus's and decided that the majority of the reading community probably wouldn't understand if I wrote bus' with the intention of it being pluralized everyone forgets third grade grammar lessons and that when you want to make a word that ends in s plural you just add an apostrope, anyway. I even tried to Google it because grammar is so important to me, but of course I can't figure it out. So bus's it is). We munched out and watched the most motivational movie for a trip to Muncih: Beerfest. After that we watched Wedding Crashers, significantly less motivational but watching it sucessfully kept me unbored since sleep eluded me the whole 8 hour ride. I shifted around uncomfortbly, definitely irritating Caah. I complained about the cold, the noise, the light, the air quality. I even found it in me to complain about the view from my window, which was dark of course since we were driving through the night. We got to Munich at 2 a.m. and I was never more happy to get out of a moving vehicle.

The ride home, though, was about 75 thousand times more awesome. We rode through Austria, Germany, and Italy. The sun was up for most of the trip and we passed the most spectacular countryside scenery I've ever had the priveledge of seeing. Hillsides, trees, snow-capped cliffs, deep valleys, and yes, trees. Tree after tree. It was stunning. I found myself thinking that there is nothing that can boast this kind of overwhelming, nonstop beauty in the U.S. It was wonderful, truly, and I couldn't help but think that I was so blessed to be viewing the things I was from my window. They were all picture perfect. When the light faded I noticed the glittering lights, illuminating cities I would never have seen in the darkness. It reminded me of home, when I drive along the parkway and the lights of the cities litter the sky. I realized then that even though Europe is different than America, both of the places offer breathtaking things. I've never been more proud to be an American since I've lived here, in Europe. The selection of movies on the bus was awesome, too: Mean Girls, Step Brothers, and Sherlock Holmes. People forget easily how outrageously funny Mean Girls is. I love that movie. I was even able to write in my journal, which always makes me happy.

My first European road trip reminded me alot of the road trips I took when I was back home. Maybe I wasn't with my family, maybe I wasn't being nagged, but riding along in that bus had an effect on me I can't recreate in any other situation. Which makes it the same as the family road trips I've taken. If that makes any sense, at all. Re-reading that statement, it makes no sense, at all. But I'm leaving it in my blog because A. I've got a belly full of champagne and red wine and B. Right now it makes alot of sense to me. So...
Arrivederci, for now.
Love, Gabby

Thursday, April 15, 2010

Dating David

Have you ever heard the story of Pygmalion? Its about this master sculptor who absolutely hates women. He thinks they are evil, filthy, and the downfall of man. He decides one day that he is going to make a sculpture of a woman without any of these
flaws because he wants to prove that it is possible for a woman to not be any of these things. Or maybe he just wanted to prove to himself that he wasn't gay? He creates a sculpture so astoundingly beautiful that he falls hopelessly in love with it. He pretends to feed the sculpture, gives it gifts, and even kisses it. Aphrodite, the goddess of Love, takes pity on the man eventually after his desperate pleas to her for help and she makes the statue come to life. I'm no Pygmalion, but I can totally relate to him because I'm dating a sculpture, too.

Michelangelo's David is the protector of Florence. He is said to be the thing that has kept Florence so wealthy and so influential for all these years. David brings good luck to this city. And he is my boyfriend. I figured, since I'm not going to date a live Florentine, why not date their most famous sculpture? The relationship has actually been a good one. I visit him in the Piazzalle Michelangelo maybe twice a week and see him briefly everyday in the Piazza Signorina. But I've never gone to David's home: The Accademia. I've been here for a really long time and haven't had the courage (or time) to make it there. What would his family think of me? :-/ I finally went, and let me tell you something. David, when he stands in his home, the real, true David, the David who was made by the gifted hands of Michelangelo, is more beautiful than those copies that stand around the city. He is, in every sense of the word, a marvel.

Okay, seriouly now, going to the Accademia was awesome. Not only are Michelangelo's Prisoners housed there, but also his unfinished Pieta. I'm someting of a Michelangelo addict and seeing those works he could never complete made me slightly giddy and extremely satisfied. There were alot of paintings in the gallery, none of them really that important. Renaissance paintings start to all look the same after, oh I don't know, the thousandth Madonna and Child or Crucifixion. Casalinga, who came with me, noticed on one of the paintings a funny ghost-hand though and it was fun trying to think of Davinci Code reasons for the image. The truth is the guy probably just forgot to fix a mistake. There was a magnificent museum off to the side with the Medici family's personal musical instrument collection, which was a wonder to see. There were pianos and lyres and violins and it was a gorgeous collection. Another room was filled with busts and sculptures, all practice work, of various Renaissance artists. Pretty boring. Too much marble and plaster really hurts a person's eyes after a while.

The most important thing about the Accademia is definitely David. The detail on this thing is seriously amazing. I can't imagine that it only took old Uncle Mike 2 years to finish such a masterpiece. Who care if David is horribly disfigured? (His proportions are super inaccurate). All that matters is that when in Florence, you see the real David. It is the single most spectacular thing I've seen so far. Plus, being able to see your boyfriend naked in his own house rather than outside makes the relationship a little more intimate.
Well, Arrivederci, for now.
Love, Gabby
repubiic.

Monday, April 12, 2010

Fuck You, Thigh High Boots!

HAPPPY 21ST BIRTHDAY SELVAGGIA!

To celebrate, Divertimenti set Selvaggia up on a table at a club near the Piazza Repubblica called Yab. We've (and by that I mean all our roommates, all the guys, all our apartment building friends, and alot of other friends from school) been anticipating this birthday celebration for months. Selvaggia, Casalinga, Benny Lava, and myself went to H&M weeks ago to buy birthday dresses for the occasion. When the day finally came we were all really excited to drink and be merry in honor of Selvaggia's big day. The most exciting part, though, was the dress-up.

We invited everyone to our apartment to pre-game and before they all arrived Casalinga spent quite a while beautifying me, Selvaggia, and one of our neighbors. Casalinga has a very forthwith personality; she is passionate, wise, and strong in her convictions. She is such a strong person that you wouldn't guess her soft-side, ever. You wouldn't assume that a woman whose off helping change lives and standing up for her beliefs and opinions would have the time to know how to do hair so well. She rocks at it. She has done my hair a bunch of times and honestly I've never looked so good. She does magic, with my hair. Not to mention, she also does makeup. She seriously made the whole group we were with glam to the core. It was awesome.

This is what I looked like by the time she was done with me. I'm never going to look this awesome again when Casalinga goes home!

Anyway, the point is I made a big mistake this night. I figured that since my face and hair looked fabulous, my dress was slammin', I was in the company of a group of totally incredible looking people (including Moda who'd decided he was going to wear this amazing Tom Ford shirt which definitely cost more than I'm worth out on this night), and I was feeling like a million bucks, I would wear the thigh highs. I bought this particular pair of shoes at H&M on sale. Each of my roommates marveled at these boots when I got them because what was originally 120 euro I bought for 20. And yes, they are hot as hell. I bought them at the beginning of the semester and my roommates have ceaselessly urged that I wear them out and every time I told them no. I wasn't in the mood. I didn't think it worked with the outfit I had on. Etc. Etc. Tonight was the night and when I walked out of my room sporting this black sexy boots my roommates all exclaimed loudly, overjoyed with pride. I was finally going to wear them.

WHAT A STUPID STUPID IDEA! I've written in older posts about American girls who wear their tall shoes and regret it. I'm a stupid, stupid American girl. I was feeling really great about my decision to wear these shoes at the pre-game festivities in my apartment. The small group of us were having a great time. We were jamming out, clapping, and we had our own personal photographer snapping shots the whole time. I had no pain in my feet and I thought Hell Yes! Finally a pair of boots that won't ruin my ability to walk normally tomorrow. The thing is though, I was in my apartment. Not walking, mostly sitting. How dumb can I be? The minute we started down the stairs I understood the folly of my choice in the thigh highs. Yab isn't that far away from my apartment. Its about 8 minutes on foot. I felt every second of those 8 minutes. Halfway through and Moda says to me "Girl, you're stompin'" and this was true. I knew then I was in for it. My feet weren't going to forgive me.

I danced. I danced alot. It was Selvaggia's 21st birthday and I was determined to put the pain aside and dance until my feet were stumps. I stood as much as I could, and when the pain became unbearable I sat down at our table. Yab is a really sweet place, by the way, just super expensive. The music isn't dreadful, either. Anyway, after about five solid hours of dancing my feet were protesting loudly in my shoes. I tried so hard to ignore it but for the last hour I absolutely had to sit down and give my swollen toes a rest. When we exited the club around 3 in the morning I would equate the feeling in my feet to that of a Chinese traditionalist who binds her feet every morning. PAINFUL. Walking home was a mistake. I don't care if I live 8 minutes away on foot, I should have called a cab. I wanted to cry. Truth be told, I was sniffling a little. I thought I was going to have to get my feet amputated or operated on or something because the feeling in my boots was dreadful.

I took the elevator up to my room. A monumental thing for me to do. That elevator wants to kill me. I walked into my apartment and Selvaggia and I spent a solid five minutes trying to get my shoes off. Sweet, sweet relief. My feet looked like post-pregnancy feet. I had fat pink balls on the ends of my legs. I limped around the whole next day, refusing to take stairs anywhere and remaning in my bed as much as possible. I'd say, though, that coming home with fat pink balls for feet is a sure sign of a fun night.
Arrivederci, for now.
Love, Gabby

Sunday, April 11, 2010

Osteria Volpe drugged me!

So the other day all of my roommates, Selvaggia's visiting boyfriend, and myself all decided we wanted to go out to lunch to celebrate his being here. I was really excited because I got to pick the place. There is this amazing little trattoria tucked into the corner of nowhere in the center of this city and for eight euro they give you three courses and alot of wine. I couldn't stop singing the praises of this restaurant the whole walk there. Lucky for me, the restaurant was closed for siesta when we arrived. Casalinga took the reins, then, and brought us to a nearby osteria called Osteria Volpe. Alot of students go to this place so I shoved my disappointment aside and allowed myself to be excited for something new. We were all half-starved by the time we got there and I was ready to eat some food. For the first time since I've been to Italy I had to wait to be seated. Okay Gab, I'm thinking, look at the bright side. Waiting for food will be worth it. If there is a wait it must mean this place is good. We waited about ten minutes and I was pretty impressed when I walked inside. It was very old-timey, with worn benches for seats and scuffy, scratchy tables. It looked like a place that would serve me something good, and it was priced reasonably.

The meal wasn't spectacular. The house wine didn't do anything for me. The reason that Osteria Volpe even gets a mention in my blog is because after the meal was done and all of us were sitting there waiting for the check, we all started feeling funny. "I'm suddenly really tired," Benny Lava said, and then so was Sway. One by one we all started noticing we were all feeling tired. This struck me as odd, for myself at least, because I'd clocked a solid 10 hours of sleep the night before. It was the weekend. Tiredness evolved into an exhausted, bleary-eyed, tingles-up-my-spine, weird feeling all throughout my body. I felt sluggish and worn out. We were dragging our feet all the way home. I've officially been drugged in Florence. A roofie split six ways, maybe?
Arrivederci, for now.
Love, Gabby

Saturday, April 10, 2010

Pisa/Lucca


You don't realize what the major milestones of your life are until you actually complete them. Going to Pisa was one of those major milestones in my life I didn't realize I needed to do until I actually went and did it. I had one of these moments when I went to the Uffizi and saw Laocoon and his Sons, as you should all remember. To be honest I wasn't all that excited to go to Pisa. I'd had more than enough opportunities to go there. The train from Florence to Pisa is only 5 euro. I kept putting the trip off, though, because Pisa wasn't that exciting to me. I'd seen pictures of the leaning tower. Did I really need to be in one? Yes, in fact, I did need to be in one. I went with my school who offered a day trip there, accompanied by Casalinga and another friend who I'm naming Caaah. We took a bus and I couldn't help but be a little bit mind-blown as we rode through the hills of Toscana. I can't believe I live here.

We got to Pisa at around 10 a.m. We got ourselves some cappucini, took some bathroom breaks, and walked into the Piazza. We had a really incredible tour guide who told us how Pisa decided to be innovative and instead of putting their Duomo, Baptistry, and Campanile in the center of town they put it on the edge of town. Apparently in the 1100s Pisans were the center of everything, economically and artistically, and I find it a shame that the city was sacked by Florence. The Renaissance would have happened so much sooner and for so much longer if the Florentines hadn't have been so irritatingly over-confident. When we walked through the city gates and I saw the three buildings I staggered, practically floored. I was looking at the Leaning Tower of Pisa, and damn does that thing lean. We went into the Baptistry first, a structure so advanced for its time (the 1100s) that it outdid every other church or cathedral then known to man. When we went inside our tour guide pointed out the sculptures of crazy animals particularly significant in their weirdness before leading us up a bunch of stairs. For a minute I thought I was going to be subjeced to another Brunelleschi-like hate fest but the stairs in this building ended far short of 463. After our tourguide loaded us with some more facts about the place, we were hushed by a security guard. She'd explained that the building was designed so perfectly (they can't decide whether this was by accident or if the Pisans were just so advanced) that it has never been matched for more perfect acoustics. A man stepped onto the alter, then, and I couldn't believe how truly other-worldly the acoustics were. He hit maybe three different notes, chanting, and it sounded like there were fourty-five men singing as loud as they could. The sound didn't just reverberate of the walls. It was too big for that. I felt like I was standing in a circular, marble death-trap because this man's voice was going to shatter the walls.


We went into the Duomo next. It done up in imported Renaissance paintings and sculptures because the originals were destroyed or something. The Medici family commissioned the renovation of it after it was burned down, I think. It was ornate, gorgeous, and exactly like every other Renaissance church I've seen. Snore. The real attraction, though, was right outside of the Duomo. The way these three structures are set up, in every Italian city, is the same for a reason. A circular Baptistry to signify the eternal life you're granted at birth during Baptism, the Duomo to represent the importance of law and whatnot to gain eternal life, and the Camanile, or bell-tower, that chimes out a reminder that yes, you're going to die. We'd made it to Pisa's bell-tower, leaning a solid four-feet, and I couldn't help but think that this bell-tower over any others was a reminder of death. If that thing falls it would snuff the life out of any unfortunates underneath. We broke for lunch before taking all the cliche leaning tower pictures. I'd packed myself some peanut butter (I rejoiced after finding a jar) and some bread but I'd totally forgotten to pack myself a knife to spread it with. I walked into a cafe and asked the man behind the counter if he had a plastic spoon. He informed me that I could only be in their store if I was going to make myself a customer. I guess Florentine rudeness stretches to coastal Tuscany. He had weird mutton-chops, anyway. I went to a gelato stand after that and asked for a sample of the menta. The guy gave me a little taste on a small gelato spoon, I thanked him, and left. I went and sat on the steps of a cherub fountain, spreading my peanut butter with my gelato spoon contentedly in the warm sunshine. I had a banana, too. It was one of the better lunchtimes I've had here. After my lunch I met my friends and we took close to a hundred cliche leaning tower shots. It was funny to just sit and watch the congregate in that field. All of us were taking the cliche shots, and without the tower to supplement the image of all those people pushing air, leaning over at strange angles, kissing air, doing handstands, punching nothing, etc. etc., was really hysterical. I felt like I was looking at a people zoo. I would go back to Pisa solely to people-watch.


We got back on the bus after that, headed to another famous Tuscan town called Lucca. I don't really know why it is so famous, there wasn't anything that special to me when I went there. It was really Italian-ish and it had some cool ramparts, but that was all. We rented bikes and rode along the ramparts for the remainder of the day. The bike ride was extremely pleasureable for me. Why? I rode through trees. Anything to do with trees, I guess. I'm a regular Mary Katherine Gallagher. It was nice to be on a bike, too, though. It made me feel alot like I was living in Italy rather than just staying here temporarily. Riding a bike is such a normal activity. I was able to work on my tan some more, too, in the bright Italian sunshine. I even had a little lemon lollipop.
video

I probably won't ever find myself in Pisa again. I'm not sad about this. Just like before, I'm not exactly dying to go back. The thing is, though, I can't imagine my life if I hadn't have gone. Its weird, but I somehow feel like going to Pisa was a HUGE part of my life. Arrivederci, for now.
Love, Gabby

Thursday, April 8, 2010

Giardino dei Boboli

There are alot of beautiful places in this world. I'm proud to say that I've been to alot of them. Today I visited another. The Boboli Gardens are pretty famous for being a beautiful place and I'm going to go ahead and agree with that designation. I woke up bright and early and gathered my two apartment neighbors and the three of us walked across the Ponte Vecchio and on toward the Pitti Palace. One of my neighbors said she knew of a way to get into the gardens through the back. Apparently there was a line to get in that stretched into forever. I didn't doubt this because today was one of the most absolutely gorgeous days I've experienced so far in Italy. There wasn't a single cloud in the sky and the sun was the perfect temperature. I wore a sun dress, thats how perfect it was outside.

My neighbor took us to a place called the Bardini Palace. There was no one in line and yes, it connected into the Boboli Gardens. It was a museum with old sculptures and a portion dedicated to fashion, but the main attraction of the Bardini Palace is another garden. It was, in some ways, more beautiful than the Boboli. There aren't alot of people and so the Garden goes from being a tourist attraction to a personal experience with yourself and with nature. You walk through quaint pathways lined with boundless feilds of newly bloomed yellow flowers (my favorite color). There are sculptures hidden beneath trees and through bushes. Turn one corner and there is a fountain, turn the next and there is a stream, and everywhere you look there is the greenest grass not bursting through ugly cobblestones in tufts but swelling over every spot of that rolling Tuscan hill. You all have to know by now how much I love being in nature. I must mention it once every other post. You know how special this was for me, then.




The Bardini Gardens were tiny in comparison with the Boboli. They served as a more than sufficient precursor to the vastness of the major league garden. When we walked in I was struck immediately with a sense that the place I was roaming was full of history. I understood, somewhere in my core, that at one point those gardens were more than just another notch on the tourist-belt. Which made them more than just another notch on my tourist-belt. My friends and I immediately went into the most open area of the garden, stretching ourselves on the grass to soak to increase our surface area for maximum sun absorbtion. The field was wrapped circularly around a manmade pond. In the center of that pond was a famous Renaissance sculpture, behind the pond was another, and off in the corners were more. The trees were just showing their buds, there wasn't a breeze to stir the branches, and the sun seemed to melt into and fill up my cells. I went home with a tan. We lounged in the grass for nearly two hours, talking and enjoying one another's company. After that we went and walked through a maze of bushes, into more fields with more sculptures, up and down structures so old the stairs barely existed any longer, and onto a terrace overlooking the Florentine rose garden that opens in May.

I stepped out of the hustle and bustle of Florence and relaxed in paradise today. The dichotomy of the two is strange. It felt like I'd inserted myself into an entirely different world. It was good. I was able to have a day of girl-talk, which every female reader of mine knows is an absolute neccesity at least twice a month. I was able to catch my body up on some much needed vitamin D. I was able to get some quality personal reflection time in. Most importantly, though, I was outside. I re-charged by a vitality that only nature can do to me, and ahhhhh what a relief it was.





Thank god for my museum pass, readers, because I will absolutely be frequenting the Giardino dei Boboli. Arrivederci, for now.
Love,
Gabby