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.

Thursday, May 13, 2010

Come on, San Lorenzo, I've only got 2 days!

You know, San Lorenzo, I haven't complained that much. You wake me up every morning. Poles clatter to the ground, bouncing and echoing up the walls and to my ears through my thin windows. Your vendors shout to one another from blocks away and yes, their voices carry. They wheel their carts in for hours, as if they line up from blocks away and drag their elephantine contraptions across the streets one by one. Your daily rumblings, San Lorenzo, begin at 4:15 a.m. on the dot and they continue until each and every one of your vendors have set up their carts. Then the tourists come. They flock to you in the hopes of bartering and bantering, back and fourth and back and fourth. Their elevated tones reach me in my bed by 9 a.m. the latest. Below my window a man blasts the same playlist of party music from 1987: The Way You Make Me Feel followed by Video Killed the Radio Star followed by Material Girl. Sometimes he mixes it up and plays some modern dance music and once I was even suprised at 11 a.m. with select songs from Motley Crue. Walking through the San Lorenzo mid-day is another sort of noise altogether. With one ear I tune out the cat calls of the men. They always open with a "Ciao bella" and as soon as I hear it I know to shut myself down. With the other ear I tune out the seven different languages blabbering away about this pashmina scarf or whether or not to spend 200 euro on that leather jacket. On any given day the language I pick out of the crowd is differnt, but I always rest assured that I will hear some Italian, Japanese, Albanian, and of course English being spoken. The daily San Lorenzo ruckus, well, I've grown used to it.

Why, San Lorenzo, have you decided to increase your torments? I've only got two days left until I leave Firenze for good. I'll never have to wake up to you again. I'll not be subject to the relentless noise you produce each morning. Why are you trying so hard to make my last two days miserable? I woke up this morning to the sounds of whistles. Blaring, nonstop whistles. They were the metal ones, the fireman kind of whistles that ring in your ears and leave you with headaches. The San Lorenzo market is known for its strikes, and when the vendors strike they make all sorts of commotion in the streets. This morning it was the whistles. Later in the day I was alarmed by a decible of shouting so high that I actually stuck my head out the window to see what was going on. I'm used to the shouting, but I was actually concerned about what I was hearing. When I poked my head out the window I saw two men beating the fuck out of each other. One guy even had chains that he was flailing around, managing to repeatedly miss the guy he was aiming for and hit a vast majority of the onlookers instead. I've never seen a fight last so long. I'm amazed at the lack of law enforcement that happens in Florence. These guys went at it for at least twenty minutes before their friends managed to break them up. They went their seperate ways. Another twenty minutes passed before the howling of the Carabinieri rang down below. They made it to the scene just in time to see the last of the shattered glass from the bottle that was smashed over one of the fighter's heads swept away by a vendor. Later in the evening the racket increased, like usual. The San Lorenzo was closing up. After all the clamoring of the poles and the shouts to fellow vendors began to slow, I heard them. Gunshots. That unmistakeable sound of gunfire. Maybe I'm crazy and it wasn't guns, but I'm pretty damn certain it was what I was hearing. I think there was a San Lorenzo festival happening where guns were shot into the air because there was a huge crowd outside the church. After each gunshot went off the lot of them would scream and cuss and yell at one another in the square. Another gunsot rips through the air. And another and another.

Its late at night now, or better yet its early in the morning. Today is the last day I will spend in Florence and I'm spending it dog-tired. I leave first thing tomorrow morning to take a train, leaving behind my four-month home. I wish I could have called it humble. Instead, I'm sitting here thinking bitterly how crappy it was to wake up every morning to those fucking poles falling to the stone ground. In the middle of the night the San Lorenzo shit right on my last thoughts of sleep. Right beneath my window a group of six or seven gaggling girls stood, huddled together ceaslessly Wahooing, screeching Italian profanities into the night, and cackling like a bunch of stark-mad idiots. A few minutes of this, and then the horrendous sounds of vomit splashing on the ground roused me from my bed completely. I went into my kitchen (for the first time sparkling because we are leaving tomorrow) and sat down, seething. I haven't slept since.

Arrivederci, for now.
Love, Gabby

The Fabled Secret Bakery Exists!!

In the first week of my new life in Florence, I heard about it: The Secret Bakery. Students from my university would proclaim loudly about how their late night rendesvous ended at this bakery. What makes the pastries from this bakery different from any other in Florence is that it opens at 2 a.m. and is completely impossible to find. It caters to those students returning from nights of revelry and debauchery whose sole desire in the world is a late night snack, and because Italian's don't belive in 24 hours this bakery provides the perfect solution. The thing is, though, only certain people know how to find it. It is a secret, and not a very well kept one. All the American students know about The Secret Bakery; its just a matter of finding it. During that first week I started to hear from friends that they'd gone and enjoyed the freshly baked gooey goodness of an Italian pastry in the late hours of the night on their way home from partying.

"Where is it?" I'd ask.
"I dunno," was always the reply, "Somewhere near the Santa Croce, I think."

How discouraging is that? Week after week I asked questioned my friends hoping to find the whereabouts of this bakery. Soon enough almost everyone I knew had been to the Secret Bakery and I hadn't. When I found out that Casalinga had gone, I was desperate. It seemed to me that going to the Secret Bakery was an integral part of the Study Abroad Florence experience. By mid-semester, I'd devised a plan. Have you ever watched Beerfest? In that movie, there is a scene where the American Beer Team is trying to find the place where the secret Beerfest games take place, in the heart of Munich. Two people had gone the year before, but couldn't remember how to locate the place, when one of the team members suggests that perhaps they would remember better if they got drunk, since they were drunk when they went in the first place. This was my plan. I would get my friends drunk hoping they would remember the way. My nights out with them always ended this way:

"Wanna go to the Secret Bakery?"
"Shoore, dooo you knoow how to gat there?" slurring.
"No, but you've been there before, right?"
"Yah, I jisst can't member how to gat there." more slurring.

I lost all hope in the Beerfest theory until last night. I'd lost all hope in ever getting to enjoy a hot pastry in the middle of the night. I went out with my friends for one last hoorah before we left Florence and the Secret Bakery wasn't even on my mind. All my roomates and apartment building friends, the guys, and some friends from school, went out together for our farewell party. The night wore on, we all got drunker, and at around 2:45 Casalinga, my Sculptor friend, Foto, two of my other friends, and I all decided we wanted to go home. We're walking (or at least trying to walk), laughing, and singing Shania Twain, when Foto looks at Casalinga and says: "I'm starved". SHE REMEMBERED! Apparently the guys from Beerfest have touched on a real scientific discovery. Drunk people CAN remember forgotten moments from previous drunken experiences.

When we got to the Secret Bakery I was giddy. We turned a corner and saw posted on the ancient walls signs, all reading SHUT THE FUCK UP OR LEAVE, basically. If you aren't completely and totally silent when you get to the Secret Bakery, people from the floors above will pelt you with water balloons. We turned another corner and saw a group of people with pastries and even pizzettes in their hands and none of them were making a sound. There was a line which my eyes followed to a closed iron door. In a few seconds it opened, revealing a stout Philipino woman proferring pastries, dripping with sugar and marmalade. I felt a screech of delight welling up in my chest and it took all of the will power remaining me in my drunkeness to not let it out. For 1.50 euro, I got my pastry. I made it to the Secret Bakery, and damn was it delicious.
Arrivederci, for now.
Love, Gabby

Wednesday, May 12, 2010

My Favorite Place in Florence


I finally figured out where my favorite spot in the entire city of Florence is. I'm a regular Florentine, now. I can safely say that after four months in this beautiful city, I've systematically conquered it's highlights. I'll make the claim that I'm a fairly good judge of character and after four months worth of deliberation I'm making the assertion that my number one favorite place in Firenze is the Piazzalle San Michelangelo. The first time I came to this place is was at 7 in the morning and the sun was fresh on the horizon. I was drenched from being sprayed with a garden-hose, tipsy from the fading effects of multiple shots of tequila being soaked up in my stomach by chicken nuggets, exhausted from pushing a car through Florence that had run out of gas, and completely and totally humbled by the view I was offered. The second time I came to this Piazza it was during the sunset. I went with friends before seeing some Monks sing and enjoyed music and wine on the steps overlooking a city dancing with the ebbing heat from the sinking sun. The third time I came to this Piazza was at 10 o'clock at night. I remember thinking that the Arno was lined with stars and that the city was glowing with the residual energy from the people inside.

This place wasn't in the original running for #1 in the beginning. There were three other places I'd considered before it. But then I read my diary. I brought my diary with me and sat on those stairs day after day, night after night. The ugly letters from my almost hectic flow of ink to paper managed to arrange themselves into a series of thoughts and feelings I never knew I had the capacity to express. I found myself, on those stairs, with that pen, overlooking that city. In a failed attempt to capture what I felt on those stairs, I wrote one of my final pieces for Travel Writing. Let me know what you think:

Maybe I come here too much. I don’t mind that it takes me over a half an hour just to walk here. I don’t mind that I can only find the time to come here after my classes have ended for the night and I’m exhausted. I don’t even mind that just to get here I’ve got to hike up a never-ending set of stairs so steep that I’m out of breath for at least ten minutes after the climb. Through all this, being here is worth it. I come here three or four times in the week. There is nowhere else in the city of Florence that has the effect on me that this Piazza does and I find myself eager to get back every time I leave. I don’t even do anything when I get here. I just sit. I sit and I look; I breathe. With every breath in I find myself filled up not with peace or tranquility, but calm; there are a lot of things a person can do when they’ve got calm. I’ve discovered that I need this calm, that I’m addicted to it. So yeah, I come here a lot.
I do a lot of watching here. I watch Florence, which even in the nighttime seems to move and writhe like something living. I can’t ever make sense of why it seems to writhe to me-I tend to associate that word with sickness. The city has energy and from here I can see it plainly. Whether that energy is a fading one I can’t ever tell. The atoms of this city are put under a microscope for me and I can safely identify its element. I watch the river slithering through the city, a snake so massive it can cut a valley in two. If I concentrate hard enough, I can see flecks of green in those black scales, forever creeping into the night. I watch the lights illuminate “The Big Three” of Florence. I find sometimes the image of these three buildings,-Duomo, Santa Croce, Palazzo Vecchio-these three beacons lit so brightly they blot out the stars, makes me laugh. It’s a subtle laugh, one of knowing and understanding that seems to bubble inside my soul and escape my lips in bursts. I watch the people I share these steps with: groups of friends drinking wine, lovers cooing shyly to one another, feigning privacy. They seem to find something else here, romance or serenity or even just a place to make a happy memory. It must be nice to be them. Then I remember that it’s nice to be me, too.
I slip away when I’m up here. I’m above the world I live in, not in it. I recognize which buildings are my favorites. I can point to a section of the city and identify the places I know; I can even map out the rifts between the buildings that are the streets I’m known to walk down. I’m not down there, though, and I’m no longer a part of the energy that circulates inside Florence. I’m an artist who takes a step back from the canvas to really observe what she has just done. I analyze each new color I’ve put in my painting, each stroke of my brush, each image I’ve created. I can see what mistakes I’ve made and how to fix them. I can re-work the image to make it more like the vision that first inspired me; I can even change my vision if I want. I can re-create Florence on these stairs. From here I truly see this place, this city I live in, and with that sight comes the calm I need. It’s not the kind of calm that sinks into your skin after a fleeting moment of comprehension. It’s the kind of calm that overpowers you, consumes you, and fills you up. It eliminates everything else. In this calm I’m someone new, someone who can finally grasp herself. When I’m in this calm I can make sense of my thoughts, my needs, my hopes, my feelings. And this is the only place in the world where I can find it. When an addict gets the urge, they succumb, and I often succumb to this Piazza.
I come here so much because I don’t want to let myself go. I want to hold onto my calm; I want to remain forever in the depths of ME. In ten minutes or so I’ll have to leave, I’ll have to re-enter that labyrinth of terracotta which from here seems so much less immense. I’ll have to shuffle home on those broken cobblestones pursued endlessly by the jeers of men who slink along the walls. “You dropped something,” they’ll whisper to me, and they’re right. Somewhere in this maze where I’ve been weaving, pulling my blue string through all the people and sights and smells, I dropped myself. So in a day or two, when I absolutely need to feed this addiction from which I suffer, I’ll go back to the Piazzale Michelangelo. Through my exhaustion I’ll hike those stairs and embrace my calm, in tune once again with me. I’ll watch and know and understand; I’ll see the areas where my painting needs change. For now, though, I’m just another atom orbiting Florence again.


I'm gonna miss being an atom.
Arrivederci, for now.
Love, Gabby

Tuesday, May 11, 2010

The Gates of Paradise

I've written about these doors. They are the doors of the Baptistry in the Piazza del Duomo. They were created by the blessed hands of Lorenzo Ghiberti during the height of the Renaissance out of solid gold. Three years ago I stood outside these doors next to my father whose eyes were blinking madly in a futile struggle to stop himself from crying. He and I have that in common. We weep over beauty because we appreciate beauty.

I've only got a few days left in Florence and I made the effort to go and see these doors to shed some tears there for my dad. I normally walk past them without a second glance. I see them everyday, and normally my view is obstructed by a swarming mass of Japaneese taking one hundred photographs of themselves next to the doors. I never bother attempting to get a good look at them, normally. I know a secret, though, that all the tourists don't. 4 a.m. is the best time to go and see those doors. Not many folks are on the streets at 4 a.m. and they certainly aren't standing outside of the Gates of Paradise. I realized this one night as I attempted to walk home without falling when I realized through my blurred vision that I had a totally unobstructed view of the doors. I was too drunk to really see them, though and suprised myself in the morning when I remembered that as I walked away I'd noted mentally that I could go back at 4 a.m. sober and stare at the Gates all I wanted. I wound up back there at 4 a.m. more times than I can remember, really, and thats mainly because I was always back there drunk. Not once did I go back sober until finally I realized my time in Florence was coming to a rapid halt. If I wanted to get some one-on-one with the Gates, I needed to make a conscious effort to get there at 4 a.m. without drinking.

I was wide awake at 4 a.m. and had maintained a perfect sobriety the entire night. I grabbed my camera, walked five minutes to the Duomo Plaza, and sat down on the vacant marble steps directly across from the Gates. And then I cried. I sat there until the sun came up, as the San Lorenzo hawkers wheeled their carts past and a the first brazen, bleary-eyed tourists hustled by, beginning their day extra-early in a rush to cross everything off of their itineraries. I beheld those gleaming doors until my view became obstructed. For that one brief hour, they were mine. I could finally look at them and see the intricacies, the details, the love and devotion that had been poured into their making. I'm still unable to grasp the reality that a man made them with his two hands. I cried because I knew my dad would have been thinking the same thing if he had been sitting there with me. I cried because my time to appreciate those doors had run out, and I'd only done it once. I cried because they weren't going to be a part of my every day anymore. I won't be able to walk past them on my way home from school ever again. The rushing tourists would stop and look, and sure enough that huge mass of gawkers was beginning to form. It was time to go. When I stood up my heart was heavy, as if the marble of the stairs had seeped through my skin, settling down-a thick marble coating in my chest.
Arrivederci, for now.
Love, Gabby

Finals

Its that time. Finals. It happens every semester, and I've got to say I'm suprised at how easy mine were. As promised, I'm giving my teachers some final grades.

I've got to hand it to my painting professor. She suprised me. By the end of this semester I completed more works than I've ever done before. I'm a much better painter for it, I'd say. Because of this teacher, I discovered that I'm way more into abstract painting than anything else. For that, I don't think I'll ever forget this class. She was, next to my Sculpture teacher, my favorite this semester. And, turns out, shes a pretty accomplished artist. She showed us a slideshow of her works as the last thing we did in her class, and she is a surprising level of talented. Not only that, but she has been painting professionally since she was fifteen. I've got loads and loads of respect for this woman. If any of my readers are interested, I can give you her website. I don't know what grade I'll get in her class, because admitedly I was so overwhelmed by all my studio courses that I didn't work half as hard in her class as I would have if it were my only studio, but I'm going to give her a B+. This is my final project for her class, a triptych I was extremely excited to make.



I've hated Italian from day one. I liked the teacher, she was a total sweetheart, but I resent her for teaching me literally nothing. I didn't pay loads of money to be here to learn nothing from my teacher. So, unfortunately and in all fairness, I have to give this class a big, fat, red F. However, some of my best journal writing came out of this class, and for that I need to pat myself on the back for doing something worthwhile instead of wasting 3 and 1/2 hours every week drooling in the back of my classroom. I breezed through the final and I didn't pay attention to one word that woman said all semester. So another pat on the back for knowing Italian before taking Italian.

I used to dread Drawing class. I hated nude models. I hated that I needed to be there for five hours, drawing. The class exhausted me. I could complain about this class until I'm blue in the face, but the truth about this class is that I'd never have improved the way I did without it. I'm going to go ahead and say this class was the biggest challenge for me. I knew squat about proportions and techniques before taking this class. I'm kind of good at them, now. I discovered what mediums I like to work with. I discovered the type of style I'm good at. I learned how to draw my own face REALLY well. I may have dreaded going to this class, but guess what? I'm sort of an artist, now. Amateur, at best, but still an artist. At certain points in the semester I really hated my teacher. At other points I thought she was brilliant. I lean more toward the brilliant when I look back at her class. So, for that, I give her a B-. Here is my final project. Its in my favorite medium, in my favorite style, and its of my own face. Its really symbolic and happens to be one of my absolute favorite works this semester.



Travel Writing remained at the forefront of my classes from the very first week and in finals held the lead by a wide margin. Every time I sat down to write a paper for that class, the things I would write were amazingly diverse and improving in a big way. I read almost the entire course packet, dedicated countless hours to working on my papers, and went out of my way to do things in my life interesting enough to write about for assignments. That class confirmed something I'd been suspicious of since I was a kid-that I would have to someday become a writer. I guess I kind of already am a writer, with this awfully long blog and volumes of journals dating back to the fourth grade. When I was a kid I was obsessed with children's poetry. I used to write it all the time. In the seventh grade I wrote poetry maybe everyday in my notebook. Then I went to the 8th grade, was forced to read an entire book of horrible love poetry, and quit the practice. I wrote a poem for the first time in ages for this class as part of my final. Thank you, Travel Writing, for giving me back my interest in poetry.
Don’t know your name,
Don’t know from where you came,
Or when,
But this valley was the same.
Filled it up with hopes and dreams
Same as me.
I met the lady in the morning.
Never got her name.
We felt her supple bosom ,
and we sucked it clean.
And then we sat to paint a river green.
Told our friends and here they are,
Lookin’ for an easy lay.
She wants pay.
Today I gave her extra stars for the night.
Yeah, too bright,
Cause in the light I see your old lady.
She’s ugly, made of ash.
When the wind blows, she’ll go.
Like smoke.
A million nothings on one gust of air.
I don’t care,
Neither does she.

I wound up reading the assignment I wrote about the Orsanmichele, posted in Reconnecting with my Spiritual Side in April, at the school's final exhibition. A bunch of my friends came out to hear me read and loved what I had done. It made me really happy. Read, let me know what you think. This class gets an A+, 100%, a perfect score.

Finally, Sculpture. My soulmate. I loved this class because he taught it. My sculptor friend always makes fun of me for how desperately in love with this man I was. Not only did I turn my head toward her and say "I love him" after everything he said or did, but I found sometimes I was lost for words, staring stupidly at him when he spoke to me. He isn't even the most handsome man in the world. I don't know what it was about him, I just couldn't stop myself. I wound up seeing him out on the town kind of often and never ever worked up the courage to go where he was or say something flirty to him. I've never had a crush this bad in my life. I got to see his art on the last day. He is a Land Artist. Which makes me love him so, so much more. He works with nature to create art with rocks and trees and sculptures hes made from wood and twigs. He spent time in Spain taking apart billboard to make art with all the colors underneath. He lives in a village on the beach, making totempoles out of driftwood. Someone please explain to me why I left without telling him he was my soulmate? The class didn't matter so much as long as it was taught by him. To be an honest and fair person, I'll grade the class and give it a B. This is my final, which I'm really proud of. I had no references. I just made this man, and made him in a really short span of time, too. I call him Edgar because it reminds me of Edgar Allan Poe.



I guess thats that, then. School has finished. My semester abroad e finisce.
Arrivederci, for now.
Love, Gabby

Saturday, May 8, 2010

Does everything have to break right before I leave?

I've got this friend back home. I guess I can't really say that because he lives in Colorado, but he is my best friend and we talk everyday. We've had this running joke for years now about how the two of us have the worst luck in history. We really, really do. One time, he fell asleep at the wheel and totaled his car. A week later, he was riding his bike and got a DUI for having a head-on bike collision with another dude. He didn't suffer a single scratch when he literally flipped his car upside down, but left the scene of his bike accident with broken bones. Another time, before he moved to Colorado, he got overly excited in the parking lot of a bowling alley and tossed a bottle of Gatorade into the air. The bottle managed to land in the middle of a group of beat-to-shit hoopdies of teens who were all bowling late night, bounce once, and hit this sparkling red trans-am whose owner I knew to have just purchased it as his dream car. The alarm went off and I ran away, laughing hard enough that I choked on my drink and coughed for literally an hour.

I should have expected that after being placed in the haunted apartment, everything would break with only days left before I was scheduled to leave. We've had some serious bad luck in the apartment. Besides for being killed nearly every day by our resident ghost Mimi, we've had our shower burst and our sink spew up foul-smelling chicken water all over our freshly washed dishes. Within minutes there was a lake of yellow, putrid nastiness all over our floor and because our kitchen sink was broken, we had to wash our dishes in the bathtub. This was mid-semester. Somehow, our bad luck increased exponentially before we checked out. Our kitchen sink, which after the chicken water incident had been fixed, broke again. Now, whenever it turns on, water doesn't come out of the faucet. No, it shoots in all directions from underneath the faucet. Our shower decided it was going to blow up, also. Water would come out of it in spurts, angrily and in every direction, effectively drenching every inch of the bahtroom. Showers became a kind of nuissance in those last few days. Our toilet also managed to break. One must now take the lid off the the toilet, stick their hand into the years and years of neglected bathroom maintenence that is the flushing system, and pull on a slimy black wire to remove your excrement from the bowl. I always took for granted the If it's yellow let it mellow rule, but I was a firm believer in that last week of I lived there.

Finally, I went to do my last load of laundry before leaving Florence. I got all of my laundry done, and as I was putting my things into the dryer, I saw at the bottom of the washer my student cellphone. I wasn't worried, though, because various friends of mine this semester have damaged their phones with water. They are these old Nokia's that still have snake and are basically indestructible. All I had to do was put it in a bowl of rice overnight. I did. My cellphone never worked again. With only a few days left of school, I managed to break my cellphone. My luck here in Florence has definitely run out.
Arrivederci, for now.
Love, Gabby

Sei Divino, My Old Friend

I hadn't been to Sei Divino in a long time. I've been so busy going to Beerfest and the French Riviera and Prague that I haven't had time to party as hard as I used to. And when you go to Sei Divino, you party. Its a classier kind of party in a classy place, until it closes and Divertimenti brings you to some insane nightclub and you take shots until 8 a.m. After all the traveling and running around I'd been doing, I didn't think I could handle any 8 a.m. nights until I'd given myself a big chunk of recovery time. When I finally made it back to Sei Divino, I didn't realize that I'd basically be saying my goodbyes. I was grateful that I went on a Thursday and was able to take some video of jazz night.

I sat in my little chair, looking around at the strange black and white photos all over the shelves, and I thought to myself that I was never going to find a place like Sei Divino at home. I'm never going to befriend a bartender who invites me to his house to cook homemade Mexican dinners with the guy who owns half of the Ponte Vecchio. I won't know there is a place where I'll always get half off on my drinks simply for being me. I'll never be able to order an LIT in a pitcher again. It was in Sei Divino that I realized that its really over. Living in Florence, studying abroad, is done. Sei Divino is going to be a memory, soon. My favorite winebar in the entire world will be a kind of myth when I get back home. People can choose whether or not to believe that a place as incredibly fun and wild as this really exists in the world. Divertimenti will meet new students next semester and they will fall in love with Sei Divino, just like me. They'll dance for hours to jazz night, they'll bring all their friends to meet the coolest bartender in the world, and then suddenly, it will be over, and one of them will sit in a chair and realize that they couldn't recreate these things if they tried.

So I danced my ass off. I'll go back to Florence before I leave Italy in July and of course I'll go to Sei Divino. I won't be with friends, though, and instead of the authentic experience of being drunk and dancing to jazz in a huge group of the people I love, I'll be strolling through memory lane with my mom, dad, sister, and her boyfriend in tow. Divertimenti will smile, maybe forget my name, and act like a complete gentleman instead of the wacky, fun guy I know him to be. I'll tell them to order the mojito, order aperitivo, and before the jazz band even shows up I'm sure my family will say they are tired and need to rest for another day of tourism tomorrow. So I decided since I could never do it again, I was going to dance with complete disregard to my personal image and the well-being of those around me. I danced all night, enjoying jazz music from a band I've loved since day 1. video This song is one of their signature songs. Buzarro and I used to shout when it came on and dance all night. I was a little sad that I was recording, espeically since it turned out so horribly, instead of dancing.

By the end of the night I'm pretty sure all of us were hammered. The spaghetti vomit a few cars down was proof enough. Divertimenti did his best to make the night special for us, but we found that with the summer months coming, the place was too packed to be the same as we always enjoyed. There were folks in the crowd who kept on begging the jazz band to let them play too. They actually let this dude: video He played a few songs, they were awesome, before some guy in a robe and funny headdress climbed ontop of a table and started to recite Dante. Sei Divino, the one that I know with unrelenting jazz and non-stop dancing, had transformed. It was catering to the tourists, now. It doesn't make Sei Divino any less amazing-it wouldn't be so crowded if it weren't the best bar in town. But my old friend Sei Divino, it seems, has become a part of my past.

I hope that all my friends, like me, will remember that bar as the place where they were the happiest in this city.
Arrivederci, for now.
Love, Gabby.