Excerpts from my Italian Adventure: Part 5

September 3, 2006 at 6:20 pm | Posted in Uncategorized | Leave a comment
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June 21, 1999
Stacie and I rode in a convertible (going at an uncomfortable 180 km/hr) with Vladimir, Ande (two Albanians we met) and Matt (their American roommate) to Cinque Terra. We were supposed to meet our friends at the train station, but we overshot it by about 3 hours. Probably because we were driving so fast. The ride there was gorgeous–tunnels through the mountains and valleys on either side of the road. We stopped at the tiny port town of Comgoli to see Vlad’s friend, an artist who was all smiles. We went to eat at a seafood place right on the shore–windows overlooking the hills and beach were breathtaking. We hiked up the mountain to a small village–a hike that was a little more up hill than I would have liked. The top was astounding. We hiked back down and went for a swim at the rocky beach. AT first I hated it–the rocks hurt my feet, and it was hard to get comfortable laying out on my towel. I discovered wearing my shoes in the water allowed me to make it past the surf and into the surprisingly clear water. I could see my feet as a tread water. I could even make out the rocks at the bottom. I ended up talking to this 10-year old American girl named Grace, who was living there with her ex-pat parents. She was wise beyond her years. Later, a storm rumbled in at sunset, blue sky against black clouds, and I was glued to the window overlooking the water for almost an hour watching it come in and snapping pictures. We got caught in the storm on the way back to the car–the sky was green and omnipotent. Lightening struck the sea and thunder mixed with the torrential rain and surf. Standing under an awning briefly before conceding we would have to live with getting soaked, I was amazed by the sight. I’d never seen a storm this big on the shore before.

June 27, 1999
It’s our last night here in Florence. My feet are tired and blistered, and I feel like I’ve lived more of my life in one month than I have in the last year. Although I didn’t stay in Venice as long as I had wanted to, I feel like I’ve pretty thoroughly explored Italy (well, the tourist spots, anyway). Someday i’d really like to come back to Venice with James. It was more beautiful than I could even describe, and I think it would have been more so if I could have shared my time there with him.

I’ve eaten a lot of good food, not even all Italian. I had some great Egyptian food at Amon, Vietnamese food at Saigon something or other, and a great hamburger and fries at this place Birrere across from the laundromat. I also had yummy ravioli at Trattoria Alfredo and tortellini in Bologna (where it was invented, apparently). We watched some American movies at the Blob Club–a little hole-in-the-wall behind the Palazzo Vecchio that very few people seem to know about. Sometimes we had to pound on the door before they would let us in. Once inside, it was cozy. Anna, the Irish bartender, was really interesting to talk to.

I’m really looking forward to Rome–for the change of scenery and James will hopefully be meeting me there. (He did.) We went out dancing last night, though I wasn’t really in the mood. I had fun, though. Dan and I swing danced. I bet Europeans don’t see that on a techno dance floor too often.


Excerpts from my Italian Adventure: Part 4

August 31, 2006 at 10:01 pm | Posted in Uncategorized | 1 Comment
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June 16, 1999
Ah, Venice. Truly exotic and beautiful. I was fascinated with the canals, and enjoyed exploring the city–getting lost most of the time…Our hotel is small, but at least it’s clean. I’m sharing a room with Ariel that’s smaller than my room back home. My bed blocks the window/door to the patio–I have to move it back to shut the window, then move it forward to open the hallway door. We share a bathroom with everyone on the floor, and we share a shower with just about the entire hotel. I think that explains much of Italy’s stench…This is the third beach I’ve been to, and each one is different. Pisa had large waves and filthy, seaweed-filled water. Here the sand is chock full of shells, but the water is wonderfully clear. The beach isn’t very pretty, but it still feels nice to be in the sun. I’m here with Karen and Stacey B.,–two I don’t get to see that often. I like being in Italy with a large group (there were about 25 of us in all). Every night I’m with someone different, or I can be alone if I choose…The animals here are not afraid of people–especially the pigeons. I really have grown to hate those birds! They fly everywhere and have no qualms smacking right into you.

June 17, 1999
Tonight we played a drunken game of Ucker (pronounced Yook-er) in the Piazza San Marco. It was almost surreal. We scouted a spot near the big tower while string quartets played on all sides of us. People in formal attire crossed the Piazza, stopping to waltz when the song was right. A man sang and a wino yearned for my bottle of cheap table wine. After many attempts, a gypsy sold Bill roses for each of us girls. I got the only pink one.

June 18, 1999
We went to a modern art exhibit in Venice–Venice Biennale 1999. Very creative, original pieces here. Like a room made of green milk crates with red carpet you could walk inside, wooden chairs that did a sort of dance, mattress frames and couches made into drums that you could play. My favorite was a video display in a small, dark room. A man facing the camera and with his back turned to his audience sang first on one screen while a woman in an empty auditorium kept her backed turned on the opposite screen. Then, when he stopped, she started singing. He and his audience stared out amazed. Her voice and movements were mysterious, captivating, beautiful. I stayed for two showings. I later realized the woman was being played backwards. Then there was “Nothing,” a piece that blew soap bubbles filled with smoke into the air. Each one burst, emitting a puff of smoke. Then there were the Asian clay figures–full-scale, and left to crumble as the artist constructed more each day. Sad.

Excerpts from my Italian Adventure: Part 3

August 30, 2006 at 9:32 pm | Posted in Uncategorized | Leave a comment
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June 8, 1999
Pisa didn’t inspire me as much as I hoped–a combo of the heavy scaffolding on the facade I came all this way to see and being tired from last night’s trip to the dance club.

Inside Al Battistero–a huge, cavernous dome with columns and archways. We climb narrow steps and look over the railing. A guard steps to the center and belts out one melodious pitch. It echoes, bouncing from the circular surface in all directions. Then, he sounds another pitch, harmonizing with the first, reverberating through each archway, around each column, up to the towering dome and back to the floor again. The final note, perfectly pitched, turns one man into a chorus, and one museum into a house of God.

June 10, 1999
“Bologna: The City of Towers, Tortellini, and Tits”–so says my guidebook. I really like the archways and columns that tower over the sidewalks downtown. It rained for the first time since I’ve been here–and of course I forgot my umbrella. This is a small water fountain at the corner of a larger fountain called Fontana del Neptuno. This shocking fountain was hilarious–four women surrounding Neptune, clutching their own breasts, spread-eagle, with three spouts of water emitting from their nipples. Crudely soldered on at a later time, a fin from a fish below attempts to cover the, erm, crotches, and make them more tasteful, I guess.

June 11, 1999
Today, after a stop at the tobacco shop for Camels and a bottle of red wine (they even uncork it for you. No glass, though), I settled down on a curbside to attempt another drawing of the Duomo. Suddenly, I heard a ruckus and noticed everyone around me all walking in the same direction. Intrigued, I picked up my wine and sketchbook and followed. Along the way, I bumped into Stacy, one of my roommies. We found ourselves shuttled to the steps of the Duomo to watch a procession of men in white pointy hats and big crosses. Not KKK, but the cardinal of Florence and his entourage. As they walked, people in the crowd sang hymns, which were broadcast in the Piazza over loudspeakers. Being so religiously sensitive, and thirsty, I took a giant swing of wine just as they were rounding the corner. I figured they’re Catholic, they’re Italian, they’d be cool with it. One wrinkled, very purposefully-placed evil eye later, I re-corked my bottle. We were trapped on those steps a full 30 minutes while they made their way all around the Duomo and inside. Very surreal.

Excerpts from my Italian Adventure: Part 2

August 29, 2006 at 6:04 pm | Posted in Uncategorized | Leave a comment
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June 7, 1999
This police officer sort of stunned me. I was walking down a small, narrow street (aren’t they all?) when I came upon this officer holding a Machine Gun. I’d never seen that before on the street. I asked if I could draw his picture, and he smiled, turned a little red, and said, “That’s a strange question.” Occasionally his P.O. buddies would come by and stop to look at the portrait…

Those weird Italians:
–The sidewalks are 3 feet wide, and the streets are barely wide enough for cars to pass. Yet pedestrians cross haphazardly, and many times walk in the street while motor bikes speed through intersections, risking many near accidents. And bus drivers drive fast and pass cars, people, and buildings by mere inches. I even witnessed a moped hit by a bus, and neither driver bothered to stop! Weird.

–At restaurants, you rarely sit down. You buy a sandwich, stand around and eat it, and then pay. And it’s impossible to get ice in any drink. Wine is cheaper than soda, and grilled cheese literally means a hunk of warm, toasted cheese. No bread. The sandwich shops are the strangest. They make all of their sandwiches–meat, cheese, and veggies–ahead of time and set them under the counter, unrefrigerated. When you order, they set it in a toaster oven and serve it to you. Weird.

–Nothing is ever open when you want it to be. The museums are open Tuesday, Thursday, and every other third Saturday–that is if they’re not renovating. The restaurants run like the dorms, open 12-2:30 and 7-10. The grocery store closes at noon and reopens in the afternoon. The banks and post offices close by 1:30. The only reliable establishments are the bars. Coincidence? Whatever, drink up!

Excerpts from my Italian Adventure: Part 1

August 28, 2006 at 9:36 pm | Posted in Uncategorized | Leave a comment
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June 2, 1999
I wasn’t sure what to think of this foreign place upon arrival. The plane was tedious and I couldn’t wait to de-board. I couldn’t sleep a wink, even though it was 2 AM our time. The bus ride took forever, and ordering a sandwich in Milan was a charade–literally! The train station was beautiful. It was incredibly spacious and pigeons flew around the main corridor. It astounds me how incredibly old everything looks. The front facade of the train station was breathtaking, as was the view of the Alps from the plane…I was tired when I got to Florence, but fortunately I went out anyway. We went to a horribly overpriced restaurant near our apartment (in which I discovered the “doggy bag” is a wholly American concept), then Bill (our art instructor) took us around the city at night…The grandeur and ambiance knocked me back. Everything was beautiful, and big. I am completely inspired to pick up my pencil again and draw this wonderful city.

June 3-4, 1999
After climbing the biggest hill I’ve ever climbed (though, soon dwarfed by the hills in Cinque Terra), our group arrived at the Piazza Michelangelo. We took in the views and posed for some pics. Winded and sweating, I sought shelter in this church, San Miniato, to sketch. The church was built from 1019-1063…It has a modestly high ceiling and beautiful marble columns lining the two outer edges of the pews. I ventured upstairs to find a massive organ and beautiful painting in the domed ceiling inlaid with gold. I went through the tunnels shown here and found a deep, dark room secluded from the rest. On my second visit, I wisely took the bus. Somewhere in the depths, today men sing gregorian chants. I almost feel time warped, caught in the early days of this millennium, just as I’m ready to embark on the next. There is a harmony here of old and new, making this less a tourist stop and more a work of art.

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