Wednesday, December 12, 2007

fine art and friendships


Oh, man – this is really going to end, isn’t it? I just got back to Sam’s after the Fine Art school’s end-of-semester student exhibition and everything is just so bittersweet. The show was really great, SO satisfying; I was kind of worried about how my final piece would be received, since it’s kind of, well, out there, but once it was finished, with all the layers of drapery finally materialized, it just came together exactly how I wanted it to. And I’m so happy that Kirsten asked us all to write artist’s statements as well, because in all honesty, mine really did need an explanation to be fully understood and appreciated, and just knowing that people would actually have the opportunity to UNDERSTAND the piece made me feel so much more relaxed and allowed me to enjoy the show in a way that I just wouldn’t have if I knew that everyone was going to be walking around being like “yeah, the show was cool, but what was up with that one freak-show piece with all the red satin??”

And luckily it WAS received pretty well – I overheard some girls who I had never met before being like “yeah, that one was definitely my favorite”, and my professor told me that the director of the entire Syracuse in Florence program LOVED my piece and was trying to find me to introduce myself but had to leave before she was able to track me down. So flattering! All my bests came to see my stuff and DJ even brought me a little rose (red, of course, in the spirit of the piece haha); just a great evening overall. Host mamma Elisa came and despite my broken attempt to explain abstract artistic concepts in my limited Italian, she seemed to really genuinely love the piece. So cute.

But now I’m just hanging out at Sam and Tyler’s apartment, doing homework while they cook their dinner, and it’s just been a really nice night. I feel like I have such a family here, and as the trip winds down, we just want to be with each other 24/7 – we seem to have all loosened up on feeling the desperate need to do everything and see everything we originally set out to do and see from the start of the semester, because we realize now that Florence will always be here for us, relatively unchanged, but what IS fleeting, what IS really unique about this whole experience is getting to do it all with THIS particular, dynamic group of people. We can always maintain the individual friendships and can always return to the city of Florence, but the integrated experience, the combination of THESE people and THIS place, is something we really will never have again. And it’s not that we have no interest in trying that one last restaurant, or crossing the Arno one last time, or finally seeing that church; it’s just that, instead of being destinations, they have been recast as the extraordinary settings in which we get to experience our last week all together.

Monday, December 10, 2007

bliss.






Oh, man. Where to begin. Barcelona: still amazing. Being with Danny: even more amazing. I really don't know what else to say. Except maybe, DO NOT try to stay in a hostel with your boyfriend and 6 strangers. It's just awkward.

Ok, I can't ACTUALLY leave it at that. We ducked out of class early Thursday afternoon to catch our lovely RyanAir flight. (Another FYI: RyanAir's no-assigned-seating policy is totally fine for single flyers. For two or more, it is MISERABLE. You run to get in line, which doesn't matter anyway since everyone cuts you, only to stand there for 30 minutes in order to get on a tram that takes you to the plane. Meaning, your place in line did not matter AT ALL. Meaning, you could have been sitting down comfortably, waiting for your seat like a civilized person. Guess no one told the Italians that...) But once we arrive at hour-out-of-the-way Girona airport, it was relatively smooth sailing; we got to snuggle into a comfy bus, and could walk to our hostel, Kabul (apparently famous, although I found it pretty damn grimy in comparison to the glorious Wombats in Vienna), in Plaça Reial.

After checking in, I led Danny immediately to the heavenly Buen Bocado for a revisit to the fabled spicy-falafel-with-mint. Just as good as I remembered. We hobbled our stuffed selves over to nearby Oviso for some killer mojitos and called it a night after a couple of hours.

Friday was awesome: after essentially a hunk of bread and some butter and a little coffee sludge at the hostel (oh, how I missed the chocolate coffee and peanut butter of yore...), we wandered over to the Boqueria marketplace and found a stall bursting with color and fruity fragrance - it was a juice vendor, who sold a cup of inconceivably fresh, pure fruit juice for €1, in TONS of flavors - mango, strawberry, orange, kiwi, pineapple, coconut... We finally settled on a raspberry and a kiwi and were endlessly happy with our dirt-cheap breakfasts. We stopped at Richard Meier's sleek MACBA building for some sketching/photo-shooting on our way to Danny's first encounter with the famed Barcelona Pavilion. He was, to say the least, awed, and so psyched to be there - it made me appreciate it all over again. After hiding from the cold in the cozy book shop for probably longer than is culturally acceptable, we set out in search of La Champañería, a boisterous cava-and-tapas bar in Barceloneta which was recommended to me by Arielle's Spanish roommate Paola. All I have to say is : THANK YOU, PAOLA.

I must admit the place was COMPLETELY overwhelming upon first glance - the crowd was spilling out onto the street and there wasn't an inch to move once inside; you had to push and elbow your way to the bar for a good 15 minutes before you could even find a square foot to get an order in. But once we found our little spot, wedged between our neighbors, we managed to order a greasy, sloppy bocadillo stuffed with jamón serrano, queso manchego, pimiento (a giant grilled green pepper) and cipolla (grilled onion), a plate of glistening chorizo hunks, and the house specialty, a €3 bottle of cava rosada, or pink champagne. The chorizo - greasy, snappy, all around phenomenal. The sandwich - I mean, just read the ingredients. HEAVEN. And the cava was so delicious that we promptly bought two more bottles to go, and I FULLY intend to order a case of it back to LA when I get home. It was THAT good.

Buzzed, stuffed, yet determined to go on, we took a lengthy stroll along the coast, stopping to watch the sunset and again to admire Frank Gehry's enormous fish sculpture. Finally, we headed back to the Barri Gòtic, stopping at a teeny charming bar, who's cozy atmosphere ALMOST made up for the too-sour, made-from-a-powder-mix mojitos. Hey, you win some, you lose some, right?

Saturday was architcture overload: having never seen any Gaudí before, Danny set off to see the Sagrada Família, as well as the Fòrum, a modern building housing hundreds of models of the city of Barcelona, as it is now and as imagined by different architects, while I opted out of the architectural biznass in favor of some good, old-fashioned self indulgence: a trip to the major flea market, Mercat del Encants, followed by some clothing- and chocolate-shopping in the Barri Gòtic. After some near-perilous loss of communication (the map-less Danny's phone died, leaving me to basically panic, imagining him dead in a gutter), we were happily reunited at Gaudí's famous Parc Güell (SO exciting for me, as I'd missed it on BOTH of my previous visits to Barcelona), where we shared on of our precious bottles of cava rosada while overlooking the entire city and coastline of Barcelona, iced in pink frosting due to the unusually spectacular sunset. The city was sure showing off for us...

We headed back to the hostel to recharge and get primped before a balls-out evening of authentic tapas - tortilla española, champiñones, pimientos, gambas al ajillo (or garlic shrimp), chorizo (far inferior to La Champañería's) pan con tomate, and a pitcher of sangría, to be specific - followed by Danny's virgin voyage into the magical world of absinthe, experienced nowhere other than Marsella, of course. We managed to snag a table and by the time it was sufficiently crammed with people and laced with tobacco smoke, we had mutilated enough sugar cubes for one night and headed to bed.

Sunday turned out to be a longer day than expected - we didn't realize that our plane didn't depart until around 9pm, so we got a full extra day of sightseeing in. We packed up in the morning and grabbed a strawberry-banana-mango-pineapple-orange juice at my old standby from fall break, La Bordinys, on our way to check out the wavy, technicolor roof of the Mercat d'Santa Caterina. Next we wandered past the Gaudí housing projects, the Casa Battló and La Pedrera, and by the time we made it back to the Barri Gòtic, we had worked up enough of an appetite to inhale probably one of the richest street foods you can find, who's saccharine aroma had been beckoning us the whole weekend - a belgian waffle (but a REAL one, the kind that are small but super-dense and buttery) topped with chocolate sauce, a sprinkling of candied hazelnuts, and a giant scoop of dulce de leche gelato, the one flavor that the Italians refuse to tackle. You'd think we would stop there, but oh no, we made a special trip down to Buen Bocado to grab two MORE falafel to go, to eat later at Parc de la Ciutadella.

After a substantial amount of bench-parking and rampant gluttony, we still had a good couple of hours to kill, so Danny decided to take me back to the Fòrum, becuase he couldn't stop talking about it and was dying for me to see it. And boy, was I glad I did - that place was SO amazing. The building itself was so inventive, and the interior was basically an ode to the awesomeness of Barcelona - countless models of different plazas and proposed building projects throughout the city, including one expansive model of the ENTIRE city, from mountains to sea, from river to river, which occupied an entire ROOM. Plus, there was this awesome project called 24-Hour Barcelona, in which cameras were set up in ten major locations throughout the city (for instance, there was one filming the Plaça Reial, one filming the Boquería market, one filming the turnstyles in a major Metro stop, etc etc) and the footage was sped up so that one 24-hour cycle could be viewed in one minute - SUCH an innovative way to look at the rhythms of a city. One second it would be dark and empty, then suddenly the sunrise would come splashing across the screen, along with floods of people, only to taper down after the flash of sunset until a moment of stillness the moment before the sun rose again. It really was quite beautiful.

But alas, it was time to go pick up our bags and head back to the reality of midterms, packing, and saying goodbye. But what a fantastic memory to have and experience to have shared with such a great companion. Adios, Barcelona - until we meet again!

Thursday, December 6, 2007

barcelona, take two


Oh. My. God. I’m on the train, on my way to Pisa airport, to go to BARCELONA, my favorite city IN THE WORLD, with my BOYFRIEND. Could there be ANY better way to spend my second to last weekend on this heavenly continent? I think not. I am SO excited. That is all.

Wednesday, December 5, 2007

la VERA toscana

So I just got an adorable email from Lorenzo, an Italian boy who I met this summer (in L.A., ironically – Pat, Paul, Shannon, Maris, you guys met him too, he was at the fish-fry) who was staying with my mom’s friend David Warren, looking for work (he wants to be an actor; all I have to say is GOOD FREAKIN’ LUCK). He lives somewhere in Tuscany (he says he’s from “Florence” the same way Long Islanders say they’re from “New York City”) and we’ve been trying to meet up all semester but he studies in Rome, so it’s been kind of hard to coordinate (the one weekend he was home was ironically the same weekend I was in Rome, haha).

But last weekend, after I had emailed him about Rome and he told me he’d be home, he sent me this cute email:


"Io abito in un paese che si chiama Stia. Per arrivare potresti prendere un bus SITA dalla stazione degli autobusa vicino a santa maria novella. Ci metteresti 1 ora e 45 minuti. Questo finesettimana probabilmente saro' li'. Mi fa molto piacere se mi vieni a trovare prima che torni in america, e anche i miei genitori e i miei amici saranno molto contenti di conoscerti.
Se accetti il mio invito questo finesettimana o un altro giorno puoi benissimo portare una amica o un amico per non fare il viaggio ad sola, e se avrete bisogno vi posso anche ospitare a casa mia per una notte senza problemi nella mia bella campagna toscana. I'm very proud of this and every time I can invite a friend there I'm very happy!

Let me know.. my phone number is XXXXXXXXXX (what, you think I'd publish his private phone number? pshh!!)
Text me, it's better than use mail.

Anyway I can't send you back without have meet you.

Bye Bye Lorenzo"


Which, for the non-Italian speakers, is essentially directions to his house in Tuscany and an invitation to come (with a friend, if I’d like) and stay with him and his family for a night in his small town in the Tuscan countryside this weekend. Um, COLOR ME THERE.

Of course Danny came to mind as travel companion of choice, but it just seemed awkward bringing a boyfriend to go stay with a hardcore Italian family who I barely even know, especially considering the extent of his Italian is pretty much “ciao” and “va bene.” So I invited my girlfriend Sam who is not only super fun and outgoing but essentially fluent in Italian. Va BENE. I wrote back and told them that I will be in Barcelona this weekend but if the offer is extended until next weekend, Sam and I would love to go (tutto in italiano, certamente). I’m SO excited. What a perfect way to spend my last weekend in Italia, no?

Sunday, December 2, 2007

so little time...






Blaaahhh my insides are a giant stew of emotions right now, and I think it’s giving me heartburn. No pun intended. Everything feels like SUCH a blur – I feel like I’m running down a hill and have reached that point where you kind of lose control of how fast you are going – I cannot make these next three weeks slow down for the LIFE of me, but I desperately want them to.

So anyway, ROME – God, it went by so fast, you can’t even imagine how much they crammed into those two days (which I obviously extended to three, thanks to Alex’s-adventures-in-hotel-sneaking, volume 2…). Just for the sake of solidifying it all in my mind, I’m gonna do a quick run-down, so bear with me.

Friday morning: we stepped off the bus and into a miraculously empty Vatican Museum. Granted, it WAS 9am on a Friday and all modes of public transportation were on strike, but still, this was ridiculous. There was NO line. Whatsoever. Sweet. In the two or so hours we were there, we saw so much Raphael you wouldn’t even believe (the Transfiguration, the tapestries, the Stanze – hallelujah for art restoration, those things were astounding), and… dum dum DUM… the Sistine Chapel. Talk about sensory overload.

After a much-needed lunch break, we got St. Peter’s Basilica and Michelangelo’s Pietà. Quite possibly the most beautiful church I’ve seen so far – that LIGHT! I must say, though, the display of the Pietà is almost as disappointing as the Mona Lisa – you can’t even SEE the intricate latticework of veins in the figure or the high sheen of the marble from so damn far away! Bitches.

They then bussed us to the Church of St. Peter in Chains but I think we were all too delirious by that point to really appreciate much of anything. In all honesty the Moses just looked like he had some seriously bad gas.

Saturday was even more intense: in the morning we got not one but TWO private pleasure villas – the first, the Villa Farnesina, featured Raphael’s Galatea, which, in its unrestored state, appeared flat and rough in comparison to the gorgeously restored works in the Vatican; the stark contrast was a total testament to the value of restoration in revealing the true quality of an artist’s work as it was originally intended to be seen. There was also another room in which the ceiling was intricately frescoed with a garden scene depicting of the bounty of spring, complete with the equivalent of a Renaissance dirty joke – a particularly phallic zucchini accompanied by two humorously placed figs. Horny bastards.

Next up was the Villa Borghese, a once-pleasure villa, now-museum, and most definitely my favorite sculpture collection on Earth. OH MY GOD I want to BE Bernini. I’m so pissed they made me check my bag – I would have KILLED to sketch those sculptures!! Aenus is officially a hottie and the Pluto and Persephone was straight-up scary; that man really knew how to work his marble.

After lunch we backed up a few centuries to antiquity, checking out the Colosseum (there are NO WORDS to describe how utterly awesome that thing is), plus the Forum and the Pantheon, both of which were conveniently closed (good planning, Syracuse). However, on my own time, I managed to hit the Pantheon during its opening hours the next day (one question: where the HELL did they find all that colored marble??), plus I took a peek at the Trevi Fountain (overwhelming/reminded me of something Hugh Hefner would have installed in his backyard), and checked out the massive Christmas market in Piazza Navona, as well as obliquely saw the Spanish Steps and Richard Meier’s Ara Pacis (a.k.a. met up with friends on the Steps for some pre-clubbing wine, and watched my arch friends hiss and boo the Ara Pacis as we passed it on our way to a bar... I guess it was kind of ugly…).

And speaking of the archies – not only did I get to see acres of oil paint, fresco, ancient marble and brick, but I got to share the whole experience with my best friends: the ENTIRE architecture AND pre-architecture program were on the same trip, which means I got to frolic through glorious Roma with Sam, Tyler, Jess, Bryan, Ali, and the whole gang, including Danny. SO nice. I swear, that boy makes me so happy – he just LOVES me so much, man, it’s crazy. He ran all over the freakin’ city to meet up with me on any break he had (the arch kids had a different agenda than the ahis kids; I smell discrimination…), even if we only had a few minutes and even for something as unexciting as sitting on a bench. It was really sweet. We had a particularly idyllic lunch break just chilling out and picnicking on smuggled hotel-breakfast goodies in a sweet little park in the shadow of the Colosseum. And even though MY trip only included one night in a hotel, Friday night, the arch kids were staying Saturday too, and thus I had my second opportunity to exercise my stealth skills and sneak into their hotel for a free bed Saturday night (or I guess it was more like half a bed…).

Good thing, because today I had a glorious, rather extravagant lunch date with my friend Jen (the one I met in Capri who studies in Rome). The last of the Syracuse kids left EARLY this morning, so I took a nice shower, packed up, and confidently asked the guy at the front desk where I could leave my bag for the day. So badass, haha.

I spent the morning wandering through the rainy, deserted, Sunday-morning streets, unintentionally found myself at the one coffee shop in all of Rome that I was specifically told to visit (Caffè St. Eustachio; I was actually waiting in line at a caffè across the street but the line was too long, so I popped into the nearest alternative, right across the street, which turned out to be THE place to get a fantastic cappuccino. Sa-WEET.), so I got myself a delicious cappuccino and my favorite kind of apple-raisin pastry and set off to stroll by the sights I hadn’t seen yet. Come lunchtime Jen and I met up for an incredible, unexpected brunch BUFFET at an acclaimed restaurant she had always been looking for an excuse to try, called Gusto, and OH MAN. SO good. 15 minutes and €60 later, the two of us had shoveled veal piccata (animal-lovers, don’t kill me! It was my only offense!), rigatoni pesto baked with Romano cheese, MOUNTAINS of every variety of fresh, grilled and sautéed vegetables that you can imagine, plus 4 different kinds of cake onto our plates and into our mouths, and spent the next three (yes, THREE) hours gabbing and finishing the bottle of Pinot Grigio we ordered (it was past noon, okay??), ultimately catapulting ourselves into the deepest food-coma I’ve experienced in a good long while. Our grand plans to check out the well-received Rothko retrospective at the Palazzo di Exposizioni went straight out the window, but we couldn’t have cared less – the food, the wine, and the fantastic conversation made a perfect end to my Roman holiday. Now nothing sounds more enticing than stepping off this train and snuggling into my nice warm bed. Va bene? Va bene.

Friday, November 30, 2007

roman holiday...


I am on the train to Rome right now and I am so, SO excited for this trip. It is the crack of dawn but the train is bustling – all the teachers seem to have brought their spouses and kids on this trip, and our entire car seems to be filled with excited Syracuse kids - quite a sight at 8 am. I have a feeling that this trip is really gonna be a culmination of my time here in Italy - all of my best friends are coming, we are finally going to the city where I was originally hoping to study in the first place, I get to see some of the most gorgeous art EVER, in the presence of some incredibly knowledgable professors, AND this is the last weekend of Syracuse-organized trips, and the last of four trips to Rome; after this weekend, there are only two weeks left before we all get on a plane and head back to reality. HOW did this happen.

I can't imagine what it's going to be like leaving this place. Just thinking about the flight back makes me so, SO sad. Even though I know that the people who have meant the most to me here are people I will definitely see again (most of them go to Syracuse, where I get a funny feeling I will be visiting several times this coming semester... and those who don't will be working in NYC this summer), but still - it will never be the same. Maybe that's a good thing though. We shall see... for now, a Roma!!!

Sunday, November 25, 2007

wanderlust.




Yep, I'm screwed. My career choices keep getting narrower and narrower now that I know that there is nothing that makes me happier than packing up and going to a new city, soaking it up and getting to know it, then doing it all over again. The amount of traveling that I want to be able to do just necessitates me being in Europe, but also kind of cuts any steady career out of the picture. Looks like I HAVE to be a writer, as it's the only thing I enjoy that I can do on the run (I'm on the plane home as we speak). Or maybe photography. Maybe a little of both.

Paris. is. magical. I hate myself for falling for all of these touristy-as-hell cities, but God damn Paris is cool. It probably didn't hurt that I was staying with a local (Ars has been living in Paris for two and a half years now) and her kickass Spanish roommate, Paola (from Mallorca, lived in Barcelona for four years, cool as hell in all ways), in the picturesque, quaint-village-within-a-big-city Montmartre. It's weird, as my time here in Europe is winding down and I'm coming closer and closer to the conclusion that I will be back here at least semi-permanently within the next five years, I have started to feel less rushed to see EVERYTHING, to taste EVERYTHING and do EVERYTHING that everyone recommends to me. I was perfectly content to spend a good chunk of my weekend exploring Montmartre with the girls, to go back to le Marais twice because there's just so much to see there, to walk past the Eiffel Tower and Notre Dame and feel no pressing urge to go up/inside either of them this time around, and to eat multiple meals of homemade coffee, fresh baguettes with butter and jam, and creamy yogurt at the house. Because I am finally realizing that this IS Paris, the Paris that is appreciated by those who know and love the city for what it REALLY is. Going to one of Arielle's French friends' party instead of a trendy, impersonal club gave me such a better feel of the city and the people in getting to talk to other people my age who live there (and it's not like we didn't all make it to a trendy club AFTER the party; I mean, come on, don't you guys know me at all by now?) There were actually a few Italians there who totally charming and it felt SO GOOD not having to speak English for once (although, at least for the simplest of exchanges, no one ever questioned my limited French unless I did, which was cool).

But yeah, that night at the party, and even today just wandering through the Centre Pompidou (AMAZING collection, by the way), I am BLOWN AWAY by how stunningly gorgeous the people are here, particularly the men. OH. MY. GOD. Why will I never learn that gorgeous, arrogant men are NOT a good idea? I have an incredibly sweet boy waiting for me back in Florence who just wants to love me to pieces but I couldn't help spending an obscenely large chunk of my day planning out in my head my strategy to learn French and move to Paris and be swept of my feet by a Pierre or two. If nothing else, all this traveling I've been doing has really made me realize how incredibly far I am from being anywhere near ready to settle down. I don't know if I ever will, really. All I can hope is that I can find a job that allows me to travel and find someone as wander-lustful as me so that I won't have to do it all alone. We shall see...

Thursday, November 22, 2007

la bella parigi.





What a surreal day. Went to sleep last night at like 10:30, woke up at 3 am; fell asleep in the cab, woke up at the train station; fell asleep on the train, woke up in Pisa; fell asleep on the plane, woke up to a breathtaking view of the French countryside out my window; got off the ghetto plane and onto a ghetto bus (thank you, RyanAir), fell asleep again to the soothing greens and yellows of the autumnal French farmlands and awoke to the jarring industrial factories issuing columns of smoke along the outskirts of the city, which rapidly transformed into the gorgeous Parisian architecture that we all know and love. Talk about disorientation.

The fact that this trip was planned a mere 72 hours ago (and by "planned" I mean flights being bought - I really can't pretend I had any "plan" beyond that, including transportation to or from the airport. I know my goal for this semester was to loosen up but my God, this is getting a little excessive) did not help with the disorientation factor. Especially because my gracious hostess, Arielle, is notoriously hard to reach even in the States, so of course that gets exponentially worse once you cross the Atlantic and leave the world of "can you hear me now? ...good!", so by the time I had to get on the bus from Beauvais to Porte Maillot in Paris, I STILL hadn't managed to get in touch with Arielle to figure out what the hell I do once I get to the train station. I had no address, no map, and absolutely no French. Yikes.

But obviously it all worked out, as I am sitting here alive and happy in a little café after a glorious day of frolicking rather than dead in a Parisian gutter. I managed to get a hold of Ars on the bus and got some vague directions to "find the Metro, take the 1 to Concorde, and meet me by the big ferris wheel." Um, okay?? But with the help of my New Yorker subway intuition (and a few signs with arrows), I managed to get my ass to "the big ferris wheel", which was indeed big, and also in perhaps the most beautiful square in Paris. Good job, Arielle!

And despite our rocky, non-communicative start, Ars jumped into her classic hostess mode - she is so cute and enthusiastic about having someone to show around and was pointing out all the landmarks and history of the streets we passed and within 30 minutes of my arrival, she had already managed to fill me with two forms of chocolate (the most glorified, goo-filled Parisian version of a brownie, called a moilleux chocolat, and a tiny, incredibly expensive box of SUPER high-quality chocolates from Michel Chaudun), teach me the key French phrases I needed to survive here ("I'm sorry, but I really don't speak French", "where is the bathroom", and "I would like..."), and led me directly to the foot of the Eiffel Tower. And this was all four hours before she had a paper due of which she had only two out of six pages written. What a champ.

So after our delicious chocolate picnic in the Champ de Mars, beneath the crisp autumn sun (which, according to Arielle, I must have brought with me, as it had been really gray the previous few weeks), in the shadow of one of the most breathtaking piles of iron in the world, Ars left me to some solo exploring while she dashed back to the library to finish her paper.

I took a leisurely stroll along the Seine towards the Musée d'Orsay, stopping at a cool outdoor photo exhibition hosted by the eccentric nearby Musée du Qaui Branly, and couldn't help wishing Danny was here with me to witness all of this crazy-beautiful stuff. It's amazing how quickly things can change - I've lived so long being a pro at alone-time, having a grand ol' time on my solo strolls through Vienna, Amsterdam, Barcelona, and back home in Florence, but now that I've gotten a taste of that novel experience of having someone around who wants to share everything with you, even if it's just a walk to the grocery store, it's surprisingly hard to go back. It's not that I CAN'T enjoy my alone time anymore; it's just that all of the sudden, it takes some getting used to at first.

But anyway, the Orsay was unbelievable - but god damn this stupid metro strike, because usually on Thursdays the museum is open until 9:45pm, but today it closed at freakin' 5pm so that museum employees would have time to get home before the few remaining forms of transportation shut down for the night, so I ended up with only about an hour and a half to soak up some of the best art in the world. I mean, the sheer number of Degas they have! And the Van Goghs! I swear, the Van Gogh ROOM in the Orsay was about as impressive as the entire Van Gogh MUSEUM in Amsterdam. Going to a really established museum like that always re-ignites my amazement at how truly massive the canon of so-called "masterpieces of art" really is - that one museum can house that many famous works and still have some left over to stock all the rest of the museums in the world never ceases to amaze me.

Right now I am chilling in a little café (in which I conducted my first all-French exchange - woo hoo!) waiting for Ars to finish her paper, and after that, who knows what the night will bring. I'll keep you posted... bisoux!


LATER

I have been having SO MUCH fun hanging out in this café, reading my little art history article in English, listening to the French exchanges at the counter, and eavesdropping on this table full of Spanish girls who I swear keep slipping into Italian. GOAL: fluency in Italian and Spanish by 2010; fluency in Italian, Spanish, and French by 2015. Ready, set, GO!

Tuesday, November 20, 2007

the end has no end


AHHHH everything is so damn amazing right now. I can't BELIEVE I have to go back to America in a month! Com'e possibile??? I have so many updates. All fantastic.

First of all... I'm going to PARIS for the first time in my LIFE this weekend!! I've been toying with the idea for months now and with some gentle anti-neuroses coaxing from both Danny and my mom, I threw the idea of saving money and my report card out the window and booked up my last free weekends with fantastic vacations - this weekend I'm in Paris kickin' it with Arielle, one of my closest friends from high school who has been studying at AUP for the past two years; next weekend I'm in Rome on a class trip, which AGAIN conveniently coincides with the architecture program's Rome trip (which I am DEFINITELY extending to frolic around with Jen who is studying there); and the following weekend, my last free weekend before finals week, I'm going back to Barcelona with the boy. SO exciting.

But like... that's it. Then it's OVER. I cannot BELIEVE it. I am so incredibly happy here, so unbelievably inspired (my final project for painting is going great), falling in love, traveling all the time... I mean, it would be nice to have my mom here and maybe my dog and obviously all my bests from the States, but otherwise... there is really no reason to leave. Like, AT ALL. The only consolation is that whenever I get sad I can always remember how great it is to be really happy with every aspect of your life and that there is no point to be any other way, and if I can't find that anywhere else, then I can always move back to Europe after college. There's only one more year, after all...

But there are definitely some great things to look forward to back in the States as well. Like, I don't know, maybe the fact that my mom bought an apartment back in our old 'hood in Brooklyn, therefore making me a permanent resident of the best city in the world (or at least America) once again come summer? Or perhaps the fact that Mom and I are taking our first trip to Vegas together where I can actually blow some money with her at the tables for New Year's? Or that I get to see my fantastic family and my beautiful ranch for Christmas? Not to mention the 40+ hours of TiVo my mom has been saving for me back in LA.... So things are looking up all around.

But for now... Paris, here I come!!!

Sunday, November 11, 2007

Fiesole frolicking


After the never-ending festaggiando Sunday-Tuesday, I took a much-needed break Wednesday night to try to let my poor body recover a bit. Along those same lines, Danny and I nixed the Barcelona idea for this weekend in favor of really DOING Florence - there are tons of things here that I've wanted to see and do but STILL haven't yet, and since Nicole's boyfriend was coming to town for the weekend and they were going to be doing all the traditional touristy-Florence stuff, and since pretty much everyone was still recovering from fall break and were thus staying in town as well, I thought I'd take advantage and do a little low-key sight-seeing. And maybe a little hard-core partying as well, who knows.

So come Thursday there was indeed some hard partying on the horizon - I ended up going dancing with some friends and somehow throughout the course of the night, my phone must have managed to jump out of my pocket and be trampled on by thousands of drunk people, or so I would assume, since when I went to pick up my purse from the coat-check and realized my phone wasn't in it, the coat guy asked me if it was "il telefonino tutto rotto," or "the totally broken one," to which I obviously replied "DEFINITELY not...", at which point he then presented to me my lovely little phone, pleasantly bent in half, with a gorgeous kaleidoscope of broken shards decorating what was once the screen. And of course, overly-dramatic me proceeded to silently take the phone, make a beeline for the door, and promptly scream at the top of my lungs once outside. Just one concise, forceful yell, and then I put the useless scrap of metal back in my purse, threw on my coat, and threaded my arm through Danny's. He looked down at me, gave me a kiss on the forehead and said "you are such a nut-job," and we proceeded to have the loveliest walk home. Classico.

The next day will most likely go down in history as the most perfect sight-seeing-in-Florence day EVER. Poor, phoneless me woke up and made a beeline to the WIND store, closed my eyes, held my breath, and dropped €90 on a shiny new tri-band Motorola. Shit happens, right? Once re-connected to the world (although completely without ANY numbers), I headed down to school to meet Danny at a designated meeting spot (so old-school; how did people LIVE before cell phones??) and we walked down to the Duomo to meet up with Nicole and her boyfriend Brad, hilariously running into at least 10 of our best friends along the way.

Once we met up, we commenced our tourist-site tackling; first stop, climbing to the top of the Duomo. I've got to say, its kind of embarassing that I had never ONCE been inside the most well-known landmark in all of Florence, the point from which we know how to get to all of the bars but the history of which I know little-to-nothing about. SO lame. But hey, better late than never, eh? And with architectural-genius Danny in tow, we basically had our own personal tour guide the whole way up. Fantastico.

After hundreds of teeny-tiny little stone stairs leading your through the walls and other indeterminable skeletal parts of the cathedral itself, you are suddenly spit out on this circular balcony that lines the entire interior dome, and are thus inches away from the massive frescos covering the entire thing. SO incredible. It's amazing how truly crappy frescos look up-close, and yet how powerful and nuanced they seem from afar.

After a few more claustrophobic flights of stairs, we are spit out once again, this time to a churning, black sky, threatening rain over an incomparable panorama of the entirety of Florence, Fiesole, and all surrounding countryside. It was simultaneously terrifying, breathtaking, and incredibly romantic. And OF COURSE it started to rain, which OF COURSE to me made the whole experience even cooler and more unique. SO awesome. After like 50 pictures of basically the same thing we finally made our way back down to Earth, changing our minds like 30 times about what to do next, and ultimately splitting up to do our own thing until meeting back up for a jaunt up to Fiesole for dinner.

Danny and I ended up checking out the Duomo's Baptistry, which I had no idea was completely decked out in gilded mosaics (if I have learned nothing else from my time here in Italy, it is that I am ceaselessly drawn to anything shiny, sparkly, or otherwise "pretty." What am I, a freakin’ raccoon?). Very cool. We were gonna try to swing by the Uffizi for a minute since he'd never been yet, but alas, the line was too long and we decided to check out the Palazzo Vecchio instead, Florence’s main government building, which was so overwhelmingly covered with crazy frescoes and gilding and random little rooms that it just made me tired. However, Danny did tell me a crazy-cool story about how when the Medici family took over the Palazzo Vecchio - Florence's freakin' town hall - as their private home (pretty ballsy, if I do say so myself), they asked the architect, Mr.-Renaissance-man Giorgio Vasari, to build them a secret passageway that ran all the way from the Palazzo Vecchio (and perhaps even from the Uffizi, which was originally built as an office building - hence the Italian word for offices, "gli uffizi" - to replace the no-longer-functional Palazzo Vecchio), across the river along the Ponte Vecchio, all the way to their "country estate," the Palazzo Pitti and Boboli Gardens, which, thanks to urban sprawl, are no longer so much in the country. The whole passageway is apparently lined with portraits, and you can still traverse it today, with a reservation and most likely a hefty fee, starting in the beautiful Uffizi and ending up in the even-more-beautiful Boboli Gardens. But alas, we'll save that for another day.

After sufficient Renaissance reminiscing, we stopped for a much-needed caffè on our way to meet back up with the lovebirds for part 2 of our Florentine adventure: sunset exploring and dinner in the neighboring hill town of Fiesole. We hopped on the good ol' number 7 bus at Piazza San Marco and watched my house go by as we took it all the way to the end of the line, up through the hills to Fiesole's central piazza. Tyler, Bryan and some of the boys wanted to come up and meet us for dinner, so while we were waiting for them, we wandered up a windy street to check out some ruins that we had heard about, stopping along the way to ogle the unimaginably beautiful and expansive views of the entire city of Florence, all twinkling lights and romance. We eventually had to admit that we were all freezing, however, so we headed back down to a cute little pub to wait for the boys. Nicole's boyfriend is currently studying in Dublin and thus recommended to me a KILLER cider, Strongbow, which was cool, since I am really not much of a beer-drinker but always feel like such a loser ordering a vodka or something at a pub.

When the boys arrived, we headed over to the restaurant Tyler had in mind, but alas, our party of 13 would have overwhelmed the tiny hole-in-the-wall of a restaurant, and so we were directed across the street to a restaurant called Perseus. Upon looking at the menu, it all made sense - not only was this the restaurant that Irene had recommended to me for great bistecca alla fiorentina in Fiesole, but it was also a 2nd branch of the Perseus in Florence where my foodie Italian professor recommended that I take my friends Mike and Ani for - you guessed it - bistecca alla fiorentina when they came to visit me earlier in the semester. So not only was in the company of great friends but we were guaranteed great food as well. And the atmosphere didn't hurt either - between dinner and dessert, the boys discovered an old piano hiding in the corner and proceeded to serenade the entire restaurant, with Valenti and Tyler on the keys and Danny on vocals. Adorable. I love my friends.

After plates and plates of crostini, pappa al pomodoro, various pastas, and steaks in all shaped and sizes, we headed back to the pub for a drink while we waited for the hourly bus back to the city, which conveniently dropped my food coma-ed ass off right at the bottom of my hill (dear number 7, how I love thee). All I can say is - what a day, what a fine, fine day.

Wednesday, November 7, 2007

the carousel of life




Man, what a fantastic birthday. It's so funny, last year was the really serious year, where for the first time in I can't remember how long, going from 19 to 20 felt like a HUGE leap - I felt so much older waking up on November 5, 2006 than I did the day before.

This year, on the other hand, was the joyful, jubilant, celebratory year. I didn't feel any different when the clock struck midnight last Sunday, except maybe a little tipsy from all the drinks that my amazing friends here freely showered me with. Maybe the gravity of turning 21 would have set in more if I had been in America, but being here, this birthday really just made me realize what amazing people I have in my life, and that there is never a cut-off to the flow of great people you get to meet; after only two months here, I found myself surrounded by a table of incredibly genuine, fun-loving and life-grabbing people, who were all gathered together to celebrate my birthday with me. SO amazing.

That table, by the way, was a table for 12 at the celebrated La Giostra ("The Carousel" in Italian - how fitting, right, Mom?), a fantastic restaurant that has been recommended to me by everyone who has ever eaten there, that I've been DYING to go to but never had the occasion until now. Everything about whole experience was incredible - the food, the hospitality, the beautiful dining room strung with tiny twinkling lights (Marissa, you would have died), the amazing people I was with - my friend Sam actually turned to me at one point and said "how did we manage to find such great people in our time here, and how fantastic is it that they are all here tonight to celebrate YOU?" And it really was so amazing.

As for the food - now, La Giostra is that kind of place where they know that you are ready to drop some big bucks for a lovely, leisurely meal, and they definitely treat you accordingly. As we were getting settled into our seats, taking our first glance at the mouth-watering menu, the waiter came by and poured a full glass of Prosecco for every one of us, completely free of charge. After we placed our order, out came two ENORMOUS platters of mixed antipasti, with at least one piece of every variety for each person, again, on the house - bruschetta topped with the most deliciously basil-y and olive oil-y tomatoes and others with a rustic pate; delicately fried and generously stuffed eggplant; grilled peppers and thinly sliced zucchini; and mysterious little vegetable croquettes that were of course fantastic as well. Once our actual appetizers arrived, we were blown away by the quality - Jess ordered the most amazing platter of fresh burrata cheese, dressed with grapefruit marmalade, a drizzle of olive oil and a sprinkling of black pepper, and Danny ordered a fantastic tuna tartar laid on a bed of zucchini and pomodori carpaccio, and just those two appetizers were large enough to make at least two trips around the table with at least half left over for the true owner of the dish.

Next came the primi: Sam and I decided to split two pastas as our main course, and I couldn't have been happier with our decision - we ordered a fantastic tagliatelle with fresh porcini mushrooms (probably my favorite two food items on earth, together on one plate.... ahh, the glory), and the house specialty, ravioli filled with pear and fresh pecorino cheese, dressed in a delicate butter sauce - the STRANGEST flavor combination upon first bite, but indescribably subtle and complex and UNBELIEVABLY addictive. And of course, being MY birthday, I enforced a strict open-plate policy to ensure that everyone got to taste the bounty of deliciousness spread across our table, so in addition to our fantastic pastas, I also snagged a bite of Ali's equally strange-yet-delicious pennette (little dwarf penne) with pistachios, pears and gorgonzola; Tyler's perfectly-cooked risotto with langoustines; and yet again, mooched way too much of Bryan's order, gnocchetti with baked ricotta and spinach (that boy sure knows how to order Italian food).

And leave it to the men to hit up the secondi menu as well: I managed to score an ENORMOUS bite of perfectly cooked Chianina beef laid over a bed of rucola and shaved Parmigiano-Reggiano from Danny, and ANOTHER bite of Chianina, this time dressed only with olive oil, garlic, and rosemary - another buon'ordinazione di Bryan.

Three hours, four courses and countless bottles of wine later, I assumed it was time to make our way to our next leg of celebration, but no - out comes an ENTIRE chocolate cake, decked out with birthday candles and the whole she-bang. After some bi-lingual serenading, we chowed down and finally called over the check...

Which NO ONE let me pay for. It was the sweetest thing, I 100% intended to pay like everyone else since it was me who suggested such a crazy, balls-out restaurant in the first place, but they wouldn't hear it. I've got some good friends.

So I grab the giant bouquet that Sam, Jess and Tyler had brought for me and we head out to dance the night away. Couldn't have been a better night. Happy birthday to me, indeed.

Monday, November 5, 2007

whoa.

Ok, it's been taking me FOREVER to copy down the MASSIVE entries I've written about my fall break into this damn thing, and it's been preventing me from updating you guys on what's been going on in more recent news. And there's been a LOT. So I've decided to just go ahead and post the more recent stuff and you'll just have to backtrack a little once I get my fall break entires up. Mi dispiace.

So ANYWAY..... holy shit. What the hell just happened. I just got back from Barcelona yesterday afternoon and was planning on taking it easy, unpacking, getting re-settled back in Florence, resting up before my birthday... but I somehow managed to go out until 3:30am and, where I received a profession of love, more or less. What the fuck.

Ok, let me back up a little. So I was chilling back home, recovering from my whirlwind traveling, and I see that my friend Nicole is online and I realize that she is home, as is Danny and all the boys that I traveled with in Vienna. Nicole and I have been wanting to just chill out and watch movies and order takeout with them for WEEKS, so we decide that this is a perfect night to do that because everyone is excited to see each other again but we're all tired from traveling and will jsut want to take it easy.

So we get our takeout and head over to the boys' place, and after we eat they are like, um... lets go watch the Patriots game at a bar downtown. Which - I'm not gonna lie - sounded really appealing to me for some reason. I've been scorning all the super-American bars like the one we were heading to ever since I got here, but for some reason, after all that traveling and sight-seeing and language confusion, nothing sounded better than a bar full of American kids watching some good ol' football americano.

The place is packed so I ended up squeezed on a bench next to Danny, kinda separated from the rest of our group, but it was really fun; I'm dying to go back to Barcelona this weekend and was showing him pictures of the trip and was like let's go! And he was like, no seriously, I'm down. He's never seen it and it's basically an architect's dream; we'll see if it actually happens but that would be so fun.

Then all of the sudden, midnight rolls around and we all realize, oh wait, Alex is 21... I had totally planned to take it easy that night to save up for partying tonight and tomorrow night with the rest of my friends who are trickling in over the next couple days from their various trips, but when everyone started buying me shots and singing "Happy Birthday", what am I supposed to do, say no?

So we're all having a great time, but it's getting late, and everyone's remembering that we actually have class tomorrow for the first time in over a week, so everybody starts making their way back to Piazza Savonarola, the central meeting point where most of the apartment-dwelling Syracusers live, and where I usually call a cab from. Me and Danny are talking and then all of the sudden we realize that everyone else is gone (they most likely stopped to get a kebab a few blocks back at their favorite late-night munchie spot, Mesopotamia), so we just keep heading back towards Savonarola and figure they'll catch up.

Me and this kid are so weird - I know that he likes me, he's told me before and I can just tell, and it totally intrigues me, because I can tell that it's not in an "ooh she's hot" kind of way, but in a much more sincere, "she's really cool" kind of way, but it's weird because we don't ever really get the chance to talk one-on-one and he still seems to be vaguely involved with that girl he was with before, Tamar - they are still broken up but they are doing that "maybe-I-still-like-you" flirtation thing, so I have just assumed that whatever crush he thinks he has on me is not any big thing.

But that was before last night. I don't even know how the converstaion turned, but all the sudden it got super serious. I know I won't be able to do justice to what was said, but more or less, it came up that he still really cares about me and feels that there is some weird, inexplicable connection between us, which I definitely think is true and equally strange, but that I have such a guard up all the time that he almost feels like pursuing me in any way is pointless, but that regardless of if anything romantic ever comes out of the relationship, he just wants to know me, to understand where I am coming from, to be there for me even if it's just as a friend. It was really moving and kind of disorienting because I have never met a guy who was able to - or wanted to - care about me like that, without any expectations. It totally overwhelmed me, because he hit the nail so precisely on the head, about me being guarded and not really trusting the male race in general and not believing in their ability to ever be sincere, especially in expressing their emotions and particularly their feelings towards me. I don't even know what more to say about the whole experience, it was just really intense and overwhelming and incredibly comforting and relieving at the same time and now I have absolutely no idea what is going on in my life at all. I feel like this is a person who would do anything to make me feel safe and loved, and for that I am totally attracted to him and feel like I should let myself be taken care of for a little bit. But I'm worried that I may not actually be attracted to him otherwise, which would not be fair to him at all. Oh man this is so damn confusing. But the very most exciting kind of confusion ever. I am so excited for the coming weeks.

Sunday, November 4, 2007

barthelona.




WHAT a fuckin' vacation. Ho-ly Jesus. Where to begin, where to begin...

Ok, so I forgot to mention in my Amsterdam entry the fact that much of my time there was spent sitting in front of Katie's computer in a desperate attempt to find some sort of shelter for my time in Barcelona. EVERY hostel in Barcelona was booked - no joke, every HOTEL was ridiculously expensive, and my phonelessness prevented me from being able to get in touch with any of my other friends who I knew would be in town to ask if there was any way I could crash with them. So if it weren't for my guardian angel/best friend from preschool who was studying abroad in Barcelona at the time, I would have been completely fucked. She gave me the name of an obscure little "hostal" (more expensive than a hostel but more bootleg than a hotel) that one of her friend who had visited her a few weeks ago had stayed in (unfortunately the NYU program through which she is studying is really bitchy about not allowing overnight guests), which I promptly sent a desperate email, literally BEGGING for any type of accomodation that they had, and by a stroke of luck, I got a response within a few hours notifying me that there had been ONE cancellation of a double room with a bathroom, which they would give to me for the price of a single since they knew I was only one person. VA FUCKIN' BENE. Needless to say I promptly booked it, laughed that I would be staying by myself in Barcelona with no way to know if my phone would work once I arrived, and hopped on my plane. Oh lordy...

So I arrive in Barcelona to a desperate text message from Sam and Tyler, who were also going to be there that weekend but had told me that they aleady had their accomodations booked a while back. However, the girl who booked their hostel dropped off the face of the Earth without ever telling them the name of the hostel where she had made their reservation, so they were left totally homeless and freaking out. And let me tell you, seeing that I was that person only a few hours prior, it felt SOOO great being able to say "hey, I actually have an extra space in my room if you guys need it", which they DEFINITELY did. Hostal Levante to the rescue!! They had some friends from Vassar who were in town for the weekend as well who were able to add one of them to THEIR hotel, so in the end we all managed to party it up in Barcelona without anyone having to resort to sleeping on the street. Not too shabby...

What was a hilarious twist in the story, however, was that apparently Tyler and one of the girls in the other hotel had an, ahem, INTERESTING history, and therefore instead of Sam staying with me in my double bed, I got Tyler instead. Hahaha. And although he's incredibly attractive, he's just such a man-whore that there was never any risk of us becoming any more than the "estranged married couple" that we began to call ourselves by the end of the trip. Hahah, gotta love it.

And needless to say, the trip itself was IN-FUCKING-CREDIBLE. I do not know WHAT it is about that city, but the second I step foot on those windy streets in the Gothic Quarter, or look up at one of those crazy Gaudi creations, or find myself suddenly face to face with the Mediterranean, I just know that at some point within the next five years, I NEED to live here full-time. There is just something about the people there, the pride they have for their history and the unique culture that has sprung from that is just so damn cool. And having spent several weeks here a few summers ago, the dawning sense of familiarity made the whole experience just that much better - I actually got to play tour guide a bit since I had so many great memories of this place.

And since I was literally sharing a bed with Tyler, it made coordinating with them a complete no-brainer. So I got to spend my weekend in an architectural theme park with a bunch of relentlessly passionate architecture geeks. Who just happen to love food. And dancing. And are just generally hysterical. So needless to say, I had a freakin' great time.

My first evening I was flying solo, as Sam and Tyler's flight arrived a good five hours after mine, so I had plenty of time to get settled, actually UNPACK a little, get showered, and do some serious exploring and re-familiarizing with this incredible place. And thank you, Nina Moffitt, for directing me to a hotel in my absolute FAVORITE neighborhood in the whole city, the Barri Gotic (Gothic Quarter), so that all I had to do was step outside my door to be amidst the best boutiques and most beautiful, tiny streets imaginable. I grabbed myself a KILLER falafel with fried cauliflower, roasted mushrooms, super-tangy hummus and tabouleh (for €3, mind you - thank you, street food) and wandered the 'hood in garlicky bliss.

The next morning, our architectural tour of Barcelona commenced: Tyler and I set off to meet up with the girls at the Sagrada Familia, stopping by the most incredible juice bar a few blocks from our place for a kiwi-honeydew-banana-strawberry concoction, only to arrive with 20+ minutes to kill, during which time we dashed a few streets over to ogle yet ANOTHER Gaudí masterpiece, La Pedrera. When we finally met up with Sam and their two friends Whitney and Maria who were also in Barce for the weekend, we gabbed incessantly about the first 7 days of our respective trips (final conclusion: I NEED to make it to Morocco ASAP. Perhaps it will be my first vacation once I get myself settled in Barcelona...), and then commenced the "ooh"ing and "aah"ing once inside the Cathedral. It's so crazy to conceive how incredible it already is, yet how much further they have to go. It is projected that the Cathedral won't be completely finished until 2040! Crazy man. Quite possibly even cooler than the unfinished Cathedral itself, though, was the museum below it, which I had missed on my first trip to Barcelona; it displayed all of Gaudí’s original architectural plans and drawings of the project, completed and signed in his hand, plus this whole section that reveals all of his direct references to nature: the columns inspired by rainforest trees, tiny geometric details in the façade reminiscent of honeycomb, etc etc. SO cool.

After the Sagrada Familia we grabbed some bocadillos (Spanish panini) and set off on a lengthy wander through town: down Passeig de Gracia past La Pedrera and Casa Battló, and down through Plaça Catalunya for a little pre-dinner shopping. There we met up with their OTHER friend Kate, who was actually spending the semester in Barcelona, plus Jess and her friend Harry, who had done a different 1st half of the trip but were all meeting up in Barce for the last weekend. PAR-TAY.

With the gang in tow, Kate let us to a cute little plaza in the Barri Gòtic called, no joke, Plaça George Orwell, where there were a ton of little tapas bars and apparently the “best falafel in Barcelona”, according to Kate, but falafel was gonna have to wait – Sam, Maria and I had been DYING for tapas all day so we found ourselves a little outdoor spot and commenced a veritable feast: fried potato wedges smothered in a Spanish spicy sauce (“patatas bravas”), stuffed olives, grilled mushrooms (“champiñones”), Serrano ham and Manchego cheese, grilled bread rubbed with garlic and fresh tomato (“pa amb tomaquet”, in Catalán), and an omelette layered with potato and onion slices (“tortilla española”), this time with sliced zucchini as well. DEE-lish. Our first Spanish faux-pas of the trip, however, was committed by yours truly, when, having been ripped off several times during the day (they messed up our orders several times at lunch and tried to charge us for the extras, etc – the Spanish are particularly snooty towards tourists; probably why I love them so much), I expected the same treatment from our waiter at dinner, so when our regular sangría tasted suspiciously bubbly (they offered an €8 pitcher of regular red-wine sangria, and a €13 pitcher of sangria made with cava, or Spanish champagne), we were convinced he had given us the cava version to try to rip us off, so we sent Maria, the most advanced Spanish-speaker of the group (she is currently studying in Madrid) to complain to the waiter, who walked her back to our table and with quite the snarky look on his face, said “Querría enseñarte algo – en español, ‘cava’ significa ‘champagne’; champagne no es rojo. Comprendes?” Which translates to “I would like to teach you something – in Spanish, ‘cava’ means ‘champagne’; champagne is not red. Understand?” And sure enough, looking down into our pitcher, we turned about as red as the nice vino rojo. SO embarrassing. Sorry guys!!

After dinner, we all reconvened back in Plaça George Orwell, to wait for some of Kate’s “friends” to finish their drink at a nearby bar so they could join us at our next destination, Marsella. Well, these “friends” turned out to be none other than Miss Nina Moffitt, my best friend from PRESCHOOL and fellow Park-Sloper, and her best friend Sara Scott, Smith classmate of my best friend Kate O’Connor and ANOTHER Park-Sloper. Talk about a small freakin’ world… I knew Nina was studying in Barce but was having a hard time getting in touch with her with my shotty phone, and had NO IDEA that Sara would be in town, let alone on this side of the Atlantic, but it turns out the she is doing her junior year in – get ready – FLORENCE, ITALY! What the flip!?! The SMALLEST world. LOVE it.

So our big happy family migrated across La Rambla to Marsella, the favorite absinthe bar among the likes of Pablo Picasso and company, which didn’t open until 11:30 pm and by midnight was sardine-can packed. Being right on time, our monster group scored three out of the 12 or so tables in the place, and within 10 minutes were already constructing the perfect absinthe: they serve the full-deal, complete with sugar cube, mini-fork, and mini-water bottle with a hole poked in the top for a more even stream. You soak your sugar cube in the absinthe for a few seconds, then balance the fork across the rim of your glass, place the sugar cube on the fork, and light it on fire, letting it burn until it starts to melt; you then dunk the melty cube in the absinthe again and stir it like your life depends on it with the little fork, simultaneously squirting the water into the mixture until it turns cloudy. Et voila, a delicious, licorice-y, hallucinogenic treat. I must say, I think the whole hallucinogenic-properties rumor is false, but it DOES hit you pretty hard; after two or three, my friends managed to not notice that I wasn’t on the train with them as the doors were closing on our way to our next destination (some crazy dance club), and I managed to NOT freak out – uncharacteristic behavior on all parts. But it all worked out, I got on the next train, made it to the club, and have absolutely no recollection of the whole debacle. Hahah, ohhh man. But I DO remember that the club was crazy-fun, and SOO Barcelona, in the sense that it really didn’t pick up until about 2:30am and would have continued clear until morning if we hadn’t all been exhausted. I swear, I love these people more and more every day – they wake up at 11, go to work til 2, take a 2-hour nap/lunch break, go back to work, grab drinks and snacks at 10:30, drink til 3 and then dance til 6, and then do it all over again. Whoever routes the reincarnation highway must have been distracted when I came along – I’m pretty sure I was supposed to be Spanish.

We made like the Spaniards and slept in until noon the next day, and then made our way over to the Picasso museum. LOVE that place, almost as much as the chocolate store you pass on the way (Xocoa – best place ever. Meant to stock up before I left but alas, it was CLOSED; almost cried about it, but then realized that it’s just another excuse to come back to this awesome city). After the Picassos, I finally got a falafel from the fabled Buen Bocado, in Plaça George Orwell, and oh Jesus, was Kate right – that thing was like a fluffy cloud of heaven. The softest, moistest falafel I have ever eaten, dressed with crispy slivered cucumbers, tomatoes, onions and PICKLES, fresh lettuce, a generous squirt of spicy sauce on request (“picante, por favor”), and a handful of FRESH MINT – subtly elevates the whole thing into a whole new realm of deliciousness – all wrapped in a warm pita slathered with tangy hummus. OH. MY. GOD. I could have died right then, but then I wouldn’t have gotten to see the look of pure joy in the eyes of Sam, Jess and Tyler when we made it to our next destination: Mies Van Der Rohe’s Barcelona Pavilion.

What a BEAUTIFUL, serene place. Even my un-architectural self could really appreciate the clarity and simplicity of the design and the overall effect of utter tranquility. The archies promptly plopped down to sketch, while I took the opportunity to write some postcards and take some great photos. One woman actually approached me and gestured toward her camera for me to take a photo of her, and when I instinctually replied “Si, certo”, her eyes lit up and she asked excitedly “Sei italiana?” (you are Italian?), to which I obviously replied “Si!” She sighed with relief and we proceeded to make the whole exchange in Italian. SO cool.

After Mies we stopped off at home base to regroup and get dressed for dinner. We were on the hunt for paella, so we headed south towards the beach neighborhood of Barceloneta, popping into some cool little boutiques (records, clothing, jewelry) in the Barri Gòtic along the way (I snagged two fabulous scarves). We ended up at a semi-touristy place that nonetheless had DELICIOUS paella - we got one regular saffron one, and one "paella negra", or paella dressed with squid ink. Dark, rich and SO yummy. After sufficient seafood and sangria, we headed over to the Spanish equivalent of Florence's Shot Cafe, called Chupitos, with a list of shoots at least 200 strong, including "The Harry Potter," complete with flaming cinnamon that shoots up sparks, and some crazy green one who's name I forgot but clearly remember it entailing the inhalation of vaporized crème de menthe... oh my.

And just like that, fall break is over. I had to wake up at the ASS CRACK of dawn this morning to catch my plane, and after some minor travel-induced delirium, I am now back in my warm bed, the night before my 21st birthday, in Florence, Italy. This really is the life, isn't it? A presto...

Thursday, November 1, 2007

the 'dam.





What a weird week. My Amsterdam trip ended up being NOTHING like I imagined it - I mean, it's AMSTERDAM, I assumed I'd be out all night and asleep all day, window-shopping hookers in the red-light district, perhaps doing some things that would really damage any potential future that I would have had in politics, but alas, I spent most of my time either shopping, eating pancakes, going to museums, or hanging out in a dorm room. WHAT??

Ok, so I guess the whole saving-money-by-staying-with-friends plan kind of backfired upon learning that said friend, Katie Ryan from USC, would be in the middle of midterms the whole time that I was there. During the day it was totally fine, I had a ton of exploring I wanted to do and it was great getting to wander between the winding canals on my own and stumble upon some FANTASTIC vintage stores and boutiques, as well as check out some really great art, particularly at the Stedelijk Museum of contemporary art, where there was a super-thorough exhibit on Andy Warhol and particularly on the inner-working of The Factory, complete with photographs, audio recordings, and a screening room of ALL of the movies he ever made. However, I feel like I missed out on the whole part of the city that makes Amsterdam so controversial and such a tourist attraction - I mean, I never even SET FOOT in the red-light district, for God's sake! That's just WEIRD, no? I went to Amsterdam and: caught up on my sleep (??); did some laundry (???); ate lots of peanut butter, as dorm-style living absolutely necessitates it (????); and went shopping. I mean, I had a great time, but I definitely didn't feel like I was in the same place that all my friends said they went to when they described their visit to Amsterdam.

Now. Granted, a LOT of this was a result of the fact that when I stepped off the plane in the Schipol airport, my phone suddenly stopped working. This obviously made it VERY hard for me to coordinate with the 10 or so other people from the Syracuse program who I KNEW were in Amsterdam that very same week but who I really had no way to contact since our Italian phones for some reason had a particular vendetta against the Dutch. AND, I have conveniently left out the couple of times that Katie did manage to pull herself away from her work for a couple of hours to show me a fun, albeit low-key, time. One night as a quick break from homework we decided to go on a photo-taking journey of Amsterdam at night, and only made it about 3 blocks before some cute Dutch boys convinced us to meet up with their friends at a local bar, where they were all celebrating the end of their - get this - KINESIOLOGY exams. I mean, there was literally a bar in Amsterdam, that Katie and I went to, that was FULL of Dutch kinesiology students. What??? But it DID make for a completely spontaneous and fun good time.

Another night we went to meet up with some of Katie's friends, including an old acquaintance of mine from freshman year who was also studying with Katie through USC, Beth Liberty, who I had forgotten was really cool, and we had a pretty good time that night. It was kind of a bummer though, because I knew two of my good friends had arrived in town that night and were celebrating their birthday that night at a certain club, but no one from our group wanted to go with me to meet them there and without a phone, it seemed kind of shady to just show up to a random Dutch dance club with no way to figure out where they were, let alone whether or not they even ended up sticking with their original plan in the first place. Bummer.

But all in all, I WAS able to gather from my trip that Amsterdam is a really cool place, somewhere I would DEFINITELY want to go back, especially if I had some travel partners with me who were there for the same reasons I was, to soak up the art and the culture AND the nightlife.

But regardless, I am currently sitting in an internet cafe in Barcelona, and the second I stepped foot off the plane here I was bombarded with a familiar, welcoming feeling of "Hola, welcome back to the best place on Earth. We've missed you." I cannot express how happy I am to be here. Let the games begin.

Sunday, October 28, 2007

wien...er






I've gotta say, traveling with a ton of other people for my first leg was definitely a good idea - I'm basically going to have to fend for myself for the rest of this vacation, so the fact that I just take the back seat and let someone else tell me which train to get on and which gate to go to is really, really nice.

However, it's also really nice to not actually be STAYING with all of them - I don't know if I could handle a giant, co-ed, party-animal, 10-person slumber party for three nights. And since they are such a big group, they are in kind of a bootleg hostel, whereas mine and Marinna's hostel is freaking FANTASTIC. We're staying at the Wombats hostel, which is apparently the best-rated chain throughout Germany, Austria and Hungary, and it definitely exceeded OUR expectations - we took a chance with a 6-person, co-ed dorm, but it turned out to just be us two and three other girls who just HAPPENED to be studying abroad in Florence as well and were also on their fall break, and then our second night a very harmless boy from Chicago who's studying in Prague took the 6th spot. The place was clean, warm, super-accomodating and really friendly - when you check in they give you a ticket for a free drink at the in-house bar (which is always packed with other like-minded young travelers into the wee hours), they are happy to answer any and all questions you may have about things to do, how to get around, where to eat, etc etc. Internet access was only 50¢ per 20 minutes, I was able to buy a luscious towel from a vending machine (since I sure as hell wasn't gonna waste precious suitcase space bringing a freaking towel from home), they have umbrellas that you can use for free, and breakfast is honestly an all-you-can-eat HEAVEN for only €3.50. I swear to God the best coffee I had in Vienna was from a machine in my hostel's cafeteria. Espresso mixed with chocolate - no milky "mocha" shit; it was glorious. Plus they had PEANUT BUTTER - my first European encounter with what used to make up the foundation of my diet back in America; plus a strange-yet-delicious bowl of raw bell pepper and cucumber slices - surprisingly delicious when layered with cheese on a slice of the fresh-baked, grainy peasant bread that you slice yourself. I was truly so damn happy at that place.

The way the trip worked out, more or less, is that Marinna and I would frolic about the city during the day, seeing the sights we wanted to see, then we’d meet up with the other kids at night for evening festivities. I went out dancing every night with those kids into the wee hours – it was SO fun. And being with such a large group of friends was great, because we could all just go crazy and DANCE without worrying about dirty guys trying to grind up on us, which was a pleasant change. One of the girls who I know the least out of the group came up to me at one point and was like, “I just have to say you are a great dancer. You dance how I imagine Britney Spears would dance when she isn’t all choreographed,” which I couldn’t quite tell was a compliment or not, given the shoddy shape that Ms. Spears in currently in, but I think Mari sensed my hesitation, as she quickly specified, “I mean the OLD Britney, obviously. Pre-KFed.” Hahaha. Score one for the dancing queen.

The first night we went to this place in the city center that looked like a regular metro stop from above (… minus the bouncer, who almost didn’t let the boys in because they “didn’t fit in” with the crowd, but Pat sent them straight, replying “come on, man, we’re sexy Americans here to PARTY”…. definitely not my response of choice, and particularly hilarious considering Pat is like 5’6” and slightly rotund, but perhaps out of sheer confusion, the bouncer stepped aside and let ‘em through). Once you get downstairs, however, you find a massive dance club, complete with a massive cover charge (€13), but with my newfound klepto, fee-aversion skills, I managed to just walk in behind a different group without having to pay a centesimo. Sa-weet.

Once inside, we totally got the party started, as the dance floor was pretty sparse when we arrived, and was DEFINITELY not once we had been out there for 30 minutes. We tore it up, eliciting numerous freelance party photographers to take tons of photos of us, which are now creepily floating around Austrian cyberspace. Weird.

The cover charge aversion was particularly well-timed, as just a few hours before, I had managed to spend €24 at the dive-y, authentic Viennese restaurant we went to for dinner. However, this was not just a case of me being a cow – I somehow managed to knock Pat’s camera off the table, cracking the screen and thus rendering the camera useless more or less, as it was too high-tech to have a regular viewfinder, so without the screen he had no way to even frame his photos, let alone look at the ones he had already taken. So I felt like the biggest asshole on Earth, he was SO bummed, so of course I paid for his dinner, as well as a MASSIVE litre stein of beer that he ordered to console himself. Which I can’t really judge him for, since I definitely ordered a few more vodka-sodas than I normally would have, thus racking up the bill even further. But at least it worked – we managed to have put the incident behind us by the end of dinner (perhaps with the help of the food – we shared this massive potato-dumpling thing stuffed to the brim with wurstel, resting regally atop a lavish bed of saurkraut. I also stole a significant amount of Bryan’s beef goulash. I can’t believe we went dancing after all that food. YUM.)

The following night ended up being equally as fun, albeit equally distressing at the start as well. On my way out to meet up with everybody, I stopped to check my email really quick and found a message from my friend Katie, with whom I am staying in Amsterdam, um, TOMORROW, saying that her teachers assigned her a bunch of homework and therefore she’d prefer if I found somewhere else to stay.

Um, SAY WHAT??

I was coming to Amsterdam to see HER! If I had known I didn’t have a place to stay I probably wouldn’t have even GONE to Amsterdam! Obviously anything even remotely decent, affordable, and/or centrally-located was already booked, so I was pretty much totally screwed. I sent her a message back explaining that I didn’t need any of her time or energy – there are plenty of things to see in Amsterdam and I don’t need her to play tour-guide, I just need a bed, a place to sleep and keep my bag and maybe shower a time or two. But with that sent and having come to the conclusion that she was kind of just gonna have to get over it, I let it go and continued on my merry way to go party it up with my boys.

Which I definitely did. Quite well, too, because seeing that I was minorly distressed and majorly exhausted, everyone just kept buying me drinks with Red Bull in them, so I ended up having a jolly old time. We were in a cool part of town, too, sort of the Viennese equivalent of Venice’s Campo Santa Margherita. It’s so great having friends who can make light of any situation and will do whatever necessary to make sure everyone around them is having a good time.

As for the daytime activities – OH. MY. GOD. There is SO MUCH to see in this city. Our first day, Marinna and I spent the entire day in the Kunsthistorisches Museum, Vienna’s main art museum, trolling through the ENORMOUS permanent collection, as well as the extensive Titian exhibit they had on loan (wait, wasn’t I in Venice LAST weekend…?). After about four hours of Flemish, Italian, and Spanish Renaissance art, we made our way over towards Stephensplatz (I’ve come to realize that nearly all European cities are built around some collection of squares, which all kind of sound the same regardless of the language: the German “platz”, the Italian “piazza”, the Spanish “plaza”… or Catalán “plaça”, the Dutch “plein”…. pretty trippy, eh?), the center of the city where the monstrous Stephensdom Cathedral is located, as well as all of the 5th-Avenue-equivalent, high-end shopping. On our way we stopped into a GORGEOUS little café called Oberlaa, where we proceeded to have the most elegant €5 lunch you could ever imagine: Marinna had a hot chocolate which came with a little foam and a LOT of whipped cream, I had an einspänner, basically a double espresso topped with even MORE whipped cream, and we split a dainty little open-faced finger sandwich with smoked salmon, a bit of crème fraîche, a sprig of dill and a sprinkling of salmon roe, and to finish, a slice of chocolate-vanilla torte. Impeccable. We stopped into the church after lunch for a quick peek, although there was a mass going on, but I actually found it even more beautiful for that reason, what with the singing and that pretty light that emanates from all the little prayer candles.

The next day was quite possibly even more perfect – we just happened to be in town for the giant Saturday flea market at the already-massive daily open-air market, the Naschmarkt, so we started off in that general direction. Having stayed out too late the night before to make it in time for the hostel breakfast cut-off, we popped into a little nondescript café for some coffee and pastries, and somehow stumbled upon a total gem. I got a cappuccino (which also involved whipped cream; I think the Viennese just might prize their whipped cream the same way the Venetians do their butter), Marinna got an espresso, and we split something called a golatsche, which was a scrumptious little croissant-like pastry folded over a generous dollop of sweet, ricotta-like cheese, and a slice of apfeltorte, which was basically a mix between the Italian torta di mela and good ol’ American apple pie. Deee-licious.

Once we made it to the market, however, we immediately regretted eating breakfast. The basic Naschmarkt consists, more or less, of like 5 blocks of food stall after gourmet food stall, usually selling either fresh fruits and vegetables, fresh and cured meats and cheeses, Italian antipasti, dried fruits, and falafel. Scattered amongst those were a few impeccable spice and tea stalls, a couple of artisanal bakeries, and one stall that had massive barrels of wine that you used to fill your own bottles on one side, and on the other, a rainbow of glass decanters, each filled with a vinegar made from a different fruit – and not just flavored with them, actually made FROM them. Fig, raspberry, plum, cherry – SO many different varieties, I almost cried when I realized that I wouldn’t be allowed to carry any onto the plane with me because of the stupid security rules. Fuck anti-terrorism precautions, this is ARTISANAL VINEGAR we’re dealing with here!! Oh, how tiny my world view has become after only two short months.

But ANYWAY, back to what REALLY matters – neither Marinna nor I could resist buying one of the horrifically overpriced, out-of-season, probably-from-Chile figs, because they were just so plump and luscious, and ultimately worth every cent in the end. After sufficiently ogling the foodstuffs as much as we could stand on our full stomachs, we moved on to the mountains of old sweaters, leather lederhosen, and mismatched teacups awaiting us a few blocks down at the flea market. Marinna of course came away with some funky, jodhpur-like €1 shorts, while I bought a measly bracelet – go figure. At least we worked up enough of an appetite to indulge in one of the enormous falafel that had been beckoning us all day.

Over lunch we decided to make our next stop the Albertina Museum as per Irene’s recommendation, and also because it was about a block from the market. SO happy with that decision – not only was the museum itself GORGEOUS, but they had some AWESOME modern and contemporary exhibitions as well – a whole floor of Philip Guston’s drawings, plus a bunch of other contemporary work, including a couple of awesome Alex Katzs and an acid-green, abstract Gerhard Richter that I loved so much I almost regretted not kissing it goodbye or something. I’m such a creep.

The next day was my last day in Vienna, and since my flight wasn’t until the afternoon, I set off on my own to do some last-minute sight-seeing. I was trying to decide which of the palaces to visit (I swear, they have palaces here like we have 7-11s; I almost drew a name out of a hat), but since it was kind of rainy I decided on Belvedere, because in addition to beautiful gardens and architecture, it also has a great art collection.

Boy, did it ever. Oh man, the KLIMTS! I didn’t realize I even LIKED Klimt until I found myself crying in front of The Kiss. Something about how much the woman in the painting looks like my mom… I don’t know. But man that stuff was powerful. How does one develop and aesthetic like that? With that ephemeral, ghost-like skin, right up against the crazy-decorative, gold-leaf EVERYTHING. So crazy.

After sufficient boo-hooing, garden-crawling and photo-taking, I descended from the heights palatial living into the lowly realm of Viennese street food. What’s right, I got myself a good ol’ wiener wurstel. Which was so incredibly phallic that I almost couldn’t get past the irony of the name (which I guess wasn’t technically ironic, since “wiener” actually just means “Viennese” in German, thus a wiener wurstel is literally just a “Viennese sausage” – it’s only us idiotic Anglos who call sausages “wieners” instead of “wurstel”…), especially since mine for some reason was filled with oozing, white cheese. I will stop there.

And to add to the utter gluttony (hey, it’s all for the sake trying authentic cuisine, is it not?), I finished off with a slice of sachertorte, essentially a chocolate brick laced with a touch of I think orange marmalade, of which I managed to consume nearly a whole second piece’s worth in samples at the duty-free shop once I got to the airport. SO good. And with my last taste of Vienna, it’s time for… who KNOWS what… in AMSTERDAM!! A presto…

Friday, October 26, 2007

wien.


I don't know why, but being here in Vienna is so surreal. The cold and the subways and the turning leaves feel like New York, the food and architecture remind me of the probably-misguided, romantic conception that I have in my head of Paris, and the language makes me feel like I am on a different planet. And what is hilarious is that I am finally the one who blends in here, what with the overtly Aryan blonde hair and blue eyes - EVERYONE starts talking to me in rapid-fire German and then laugh with surprise when I respond with my pathetic little "I'm sorry, I don't speak German," which I don't even know how to say IN German. It's SO weird not even knowing how to say "hello" (aufwiedersehen? or is that goodbye?) or "please", or "I would like", or "excuse me"; being here makes me realize that I really DO speak Italian, because THIS is what it feels like to NOT speak a language.

My first experience on a rickety European "budget" (read: potentially death-inducing) airline was actually surprisingly pleasant - I was able to carry my bag on (thanks, host mamma Elisa, for having a tiny roll-y bag for me!), I got searched by they didn't take anything (I think the x-ray machine got confused by my umbrella...ella, ella, eh, eh, eh...), and while we were waiting at the gate (apparently arriving at the airport only one hour before your departure time is more than early enough), we got to peruse the duty-free gourmet food and wine shop and ogle the jars of sliced black truffles (€65) while enjoying a €7 bottle of wine from paper Coca-Cola cups with the 10+ other people who I am traveling with for this leg. I think I'm gonna like this trip...