Wishes all over Italy

All this time wishing I could go back to Florence is making me think about all the famous locations in Italy that are supposed to bring its visitors good luck and make their wishes comes true. Here are three that I visited–all of which I’m pretty sure I had the same desire at: “I wish I could keep living in Florence!”

1. The Trevi Fountain

Probably the most famous of these locations is the Trevi Fountain in Rome. Tradition says that those who throw a coin into the fountain are guaranteed a return to Rome someday. While I did have a deep moment of wishing for a return to Italy, I did not toss in a Euro. Maybe I should have.

2. Giulietta’s statue

A less-known practice of good luck takes place at la casa di Giulietta in Verona–Juliette’s house. Below her balcony is her statue, which tourists swarm around for the chance to commit the act of good luck: rubbing her nipple….which is now quite faded. Yes, absurd; no, I did not partake. But I did get a kick out of watching others leap at their chance as if all their happiness depended on it. (Maybe I should’ve given this a go too).

3. Il Porcellino

Perhaps the least-known superstitious act of making dreams come true is located right in my other home town, Firenze.

For months I heard about “the pig” from my housemates. “I bought this by the pig!” “There’s this great guitarist playing by the pig!” “We should take pictures at the pig!” “Come meet us at the pig!” I would be told, only left to wonder Where and what the hell is this pig?!

Well, this little piggie went to the market…He’s a bronze fountain nicknamed “Il Porcellino” (“Piglet”) and located at one of the leather markets near the Uffizi. This is something I didn’t learn until late April, on what happened to be the most romantic night of my life. Something about the translation for “wish upon a star” came up while my date and I were on the Ponte Vecchio admiring the starry sky’s reflections on the Arno River. This topic then led to this damn pig statue that I constantly heard about yet knew nothing about. “You never visited il porcellino?!” he asked in amazement. “No, e non so dovè.” I finally admitted it: I just did not know what or where this pig was. My Florentine date was shocked. “Elisabetta, you must come make a wish!” He took my hand, and all of a sudden we’re running through the cobblestone streets of Florence so that I can rub the boar’s nose, make my wish, and put a coin in the piggie’s mouth to ensure a return to Florence someday.

My wish can still come true 🙂

From the Renaissance City to the Big Apple

New York sure as hell isn’t Florence…and I mean that in both good and bad ways: there wouldn’t be modern skyscrapers, there wouldn’t be laws against drinking outside, there wouldn’t be free tap water in restaurants, and I wouldn’t be designing mobile apps as a job. It’s easy to list the differences between my surroundings, culture and lifestyle from a couple months ago compared to now, but it’s surprisingly easy to find similarities as well. My Florentine life has fortunately carried over to my New Yorker life in many big and little ways.

A city of many languages. Every day I find myself surrounded by different languages no matter where I am in the city. Just thinking back on today–I heard Spanish in the subways and from the door woman of my office building; I heard German in Madison Square Park; I heard Chinese in a cafe; I heard French in Penn Station; I heard Hebrew in the streets. I deeply miss hearing and speaking in Italian–a beautiful language I don’t hear nearly as often as others–but I love this soundtrack of diverse tongues.

A city of architecture. I’ve never been so attentive to the older architecture abundant throughout NYC. The city is full of stunning buildings and architectural decorations–they just need to be found among the clutter of run-down buildings and monstrous, modern skyscrapers. There is plenty to visit and admire.

A city full of tourists. Manhattan is always swarming with tourists, just like the center of Florence is. In both cities, I find myself annoyed at their slow walking, amused at their awe, patient with their oblivion, and pleased to help them out.

A city full of beggars. Unfortunate, but true. Same goes for pick-pockets. I am less scared about getting gypsied now, though…

A city that beats up your shoes. From cobblestone to concrete, my shoes still take a bad beating every day. Both Florence and New York require lots of walking, and high-intensity walking for commuters like me who are walking with a purpose.

A city that’s traffic could kill. Buddy the Elf got it right: “The yellow ones don’t stop.” European driving is pretty crazy–especially in a dense city like Florence with its narrow streets, weaving of mopeds, herds of pedestrians, and risky driving regulations. While New York and its vehicles are much larger, the traffic is just as congested and wild.

A city with nice, mean, crazy and creepy people. I suppose this goes for all places, but it’s an important similarity. Both Firenze and New York have many nice people who will hold the door for you, mean people who will bump into you, crazy people who will shout random things, and creepy people who will use very bad pick-up lines. Except instead of pretending that I don’t understand Italian, now I can pretend I only speak it–“No parlo inglese!”

A city of spontaneity. Running into surprises was a wonderful aspect of Florence–an aspect that I’m often experiencing in New York as well. From a swarm of people in costumes doing a pub crawl, to a guitarist jamming out on a corner, to funny graffiti in the subway, to the sudden outburst of a flash mob–New York is gem-full of fun, spontaneous acts of surprises.

A city with cheap Mediterranean food stands. New York may not have the classic kebabs we saw all over Europe, but there are many similar stands with cheap Mediterranean food like felafel and gyro. I have yet to try, but it’s certainly nice to know the option is there.

A city with illegal vendors. I’ve told many tales of the illegal vendors in Italy who sell everything from bizarre glowing toys to umbrellas to roses. Well, they’re all over the streets of NYC as well…although, they don’t chase guys with bouquets of flowers or do the classic sales pitch for putty (smack the odd gooey toy on the ground, show Abra Kadabra gestures, smile and ask “You want?!”

A city that drains my bank account. $12 cocktails, $3 slices of pizza, $20 of Metro rides that don’t last long enough…This city would really wipe me out if I wasn’t making such an effort to save up right now (to make up for all the spending in Europe). At least I don’t need to convert Euros anymore!

A city of endless exploration. As I’ve shared in past posts, some of the best discoveries and most rewarding experiences in Florence came out of a wrong turn. “Get lost in Florence” become an inspiring way of thinking, because exploration usually led to incredible sights, awesome adventures, warm friendships and new discoveries. There was always more to encounter. New York is the same way: the city is a playground that can always offer something new and exciting. I find myself meandering different ways to work, trying new places, and fearlessly exploring new areas just to observe new territory and welcome the chance of something good.

I deeply miss Firenze. And nothing could ever compare to the kinds of sights I saw, interactions I experienced, and challenges I overcame on a daily basis. But New York is indeed a wonderful city–one in which some of my favorite aspects of Florentine life can live on, and one which can offer plenty of other great opportunities. Now I have the right attitude to take advantage of everything this city has to offer.

Climbing out of the rabbit hole…

I didn’t mean for my last [depressing] post written on my final night in Italy to be so, well, final. In fact, I’ve tried writing a follow-up post several times since I returned to the US–now over one month ago. But reflecting on my time there and looking at pictures just spirals me into this abstract realm full of both good and bad feelings, both concrete and intangible memories, both gratitude and desire. Abruptly ending such a distinct, significant life experience has made this a confusing, apprehensive transition back.

Transition back….Back? Or forward? Or just onward? (And down the rabbit hole of feelings and wishes and realities I spiral…)

Every time I try to make sense of all these thoughts, I find myself with an overload of memories, observations, discoveries, ambitions and missing pieces. It’s why they all end up chaotically spiraling into nothingness; it’s why I feel completely disconnected from my own present life.

So, I’m gonna start taking some time now and then to just focus on one aspect at a time. Starting now, I’ll be posting some articles about different aspects of my experience–whether it’s reminiscing on a memory, contrasting Italian and American culture, voicing observations I never expressed, digging up a gem of a photo, or telling a story I haven’t yet shared. Once again, I thank everyone who kept up with this blog during my time in Italy, and I hope some of you will still enjoy its continuation 🙂

One of my memorable moments during my last week in Florence was acting as Alice in Heather’s Alice in Wonderland Florence photo shoot for her photography class, which my housemates and I had a blast modeling for. I’ve left our Wonderland, and now time’s-a-tickin’ to climb on out of that rabbit hole…

Photo Credit: Heather Ayvazian

La mia ultima notte

My last night.

My last night of greeting people with “Buona sera” and a kiss on each cheek.

My last night of spending time with friends sitting in a piazza as opposed to in front of a TV.

My last night of freedom from the constant interruption of e-mails and notifications.

My last night in a land where delicious red wines cost 3 Euro and are expected to be consumed with dinner.

My last night of feeling like the most gorgeous girl that the men charming me in the street have ever seen.

My last night that all this knowledge I’ve accumulated about this incredible city and beautiful culture will actually be of use.

My last night of casually walking by amazing Renaissance palaces and churches on my way home.

…My way home.

Home…

They say “home is where the heart is,” but too many pieces of my heart will be left here in Florence–in the awe felt besides the Duomo, in the eerie silence of San Miniato al Monte, in the exhilarating tranquility of the Arno River’s soundtrack, in the local musicians who summoned gatherings of strangers in piazzas,  in the restaurant owners who treated their staff like family, in the bartender who reminded me that I’m in charge of my own life, in my Italian friends who I somehow learned to understand despite the language barrier,  in a special someone who taught me that movie-style romance can be real.

Hell, I might even miss those damn flower guys.

Tonight is my last night, la mia ultima notte, and I’m not ready to accept it. While I know the concept of Florence as my home cannot last, I hope the millions of amazing memories tucked away in so many places and people of this city will last forever. And I hope that everything I’ve learned here will not just be a memory now, but will remain a part of who I am and the way I live my life forever.

Rome in a Day

Everyone told us we’d need more than one day in Rome to see all we want to see, but we proved them wrong–even on a beautiful Friday in May!

We started with a trip back into ancient times, with the Colosseum and incredible city of ruins.

The Colosseum

The Colosseum

The Colosseum

I thought I only could experience ancient, ruined cities like this in video games 😮

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This building is incredible…

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The Pantheon

Trevi Fountain

Next we headed over to the Vatican City. It was crazy how it was an entire little “city” walled off from the rest of Rome.

Vatican City

The Vatican Museum …Now I can see how the Pitti Palace in Florence (post-Medici takeover) was an attempt to mimic the classical Roman styles with lavish Baroque-style and manneristic architurecture/decorations.

The Vatican Museum

The Vatican Museum — The Sistine Chapel — Michelangelo’s “The Creation of Adam and Eve” and “The Last Judgment”

It took a very long time to actually exit the Vatican Museum…We kept getting led through more and more halls, until we got to this staircase and decided that we are probably being sent to hell……especially after Heather yelled “Jesus!” in response to strong sunlight, but right in the face of the nun she wasn’t expecting to see upon turning away from the sun glare. (Instant sun glare to nun glare).

St. Peter’s Basilica

St. Peter’s Basilica

St. Peter’s Basilica

St. Peter’s Basilica

St. Peter’s Basilica — “It’s like God himself is radiating through the dome!” -random man

St. Peter’s Basilica

St. Peter’s Basilica

St. Peter’s Basilica — Michelangelo’s “Pieta”

St. Peter’s Basilica…Definitely one of my favorite sites I’ve seen in Europe.

After the Vatican, we STILL had more time to explore Rome! We ventured along the river, met with a friend of Heather’s for dinner (Rome has awesome pizza), roamed around Rome more, and then headed back to the train station for Florence–all before it got dark.

Looking at these pictures, it still feels surreal that I was actually there. It’s so weird to learn about and know of these sites in such a distant way since elementary school, and then to actually be there. I’m so glad I got to experience it!

Munich Springfest: PROST!

Springfest 2012 in Munich, Germany

Springfest, modeled after the famous Oktoberfest, is not just a festival of drinking beer into oblivion. It’s a giant, culturally-themed fair with rides, foods and German traditions.

This attraction is one of the most bizarre things I’ve ever seen in my life. The children are put into giant balls and then sent afloat to struggle like hamsters who can neither gain any momentum nor maintain any stability.

Groups of attendees in elaborate costumes would spontaneously spring into traditional music and dances of the old German culture.

I was so impressed to see even young adults embracing the cultural traditions. They clearly planned with large groups of friends to coordinate choreographed dances and matching costumes.

The theme decorations were so cute!

You could get your schnitzels and bratwursts at every few stands, including a half-meter one!

And there were cutely decorated sweets all around as well.

And, of course, BEER. Beer served in these giant steins. This is the Radlermass–the most refreshing beer I’ve ever tasted. It apparently involves lemonade, which wasn’t distinguishably tasteable, but certainly added a little sweetness.

The waiters serving beers in the tents were kept VERY busy. I wonder how many giant barrels of Augustiner were consumed 😮 …What was even more amazing was seeing the waitresses carry up to ten filled steins at a time!

This is what the Augustiner tent looked like during the day–pretty family-friendly.

But from about 7-11pm (when it closed), the Augustiner tent evolved into “the routy tent.” When the band started playing, everyone ascended right up to stand on the benches of the table and remain up there for the remainder of the night singing, dancing, cheersing and drinking.

After the first night, I woke up with a swollen hand from holding my heavy stein all night 😮 PROST! (“Cheers!”)

To me, the most awesome aspect of this tent and the college-age Springfest experience is how innocently jolly and cultural it was. Yes, it was crazy in there–beer spilling all over the place, everyone being loud and routy, people jumping up and down on the benches, sometimes someone falling–but in a way that I don’t experience in American culture. Tables were shared among strangers who became friends, most the people were dressed in the traditional costumes, people were chanting along with ye olde historical drinking songs and German tunes, and the dancing was not distasteful the way it would be in a club. It was an incredibly unique experience that I will always remember. And as our German companions told us: “This is nothing compared to Oktoberfest!” …I can’t even imagine.

At 11pm, the fair shut down and everyone flooded out of the tents. This is unfortunately when my belongings got stolen 😦 but Springfest was overall too great to be spoiled.

My weekend in Munchen was not just about festing, though. My friends and I did lots of exploring through the city both on foot and with a bike tour!

We were slightly nervous about biking through the city in a giant group, but we managed!

Munich is full of beautiful architecture 😀

Hofbräuhaus Brewery

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St. Cajetan’s Church

St. Cajetan’s Church

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We spent quite a bit of time in the English Garden — a large and beautiful park.

The English Garden holds the Chinesischer Turm, the second largest beer garden in the world (where our bike tour guide of course had us stop for a stein at before continuing on our tour…)

There was a large, grassy area for lounging and playing sports, but it came with two major surprises: 1) Nude tanning. When we first approached the area, we realized that a lot of the sunbathers were naked. My friends and I chose to lounge at a spot near the stream that didn’t seem to have any naked people. After laying on my back a bit, I flipped around to read my book and was shocked to see an old, naked man sitting only a few meters in front of my with his junk hanging out. Not cool. 2) The stream went throughout the entire park and moved with a lot of velocity. Every now and then, we’d see people in the stream quickly float past us, carried with the force of the water. It looked fun but crazy!

This stream also had an area with waves for surfers, tucked away in the woods. Again, one of the most bizarre things I’ve ever seen….

Our weekend in Munich for Springfest is one of the best times I’ve ever had in my life….I hope I can go back for Oktoberfest someday!

A fragmented sense of political issues in Italy

As a Communications student interested in people, culture and art, I’ve done my fair share of attempting to delve into the minds of the locals surrounding me. One type of observation that always stands out to me are political issues prevalent in Florence (or in Italy in general). Through my cultural encounters, discussions with Italians, and lessons in class, I’ve developed a fragmented sense of five political issues in particular:

Snapped a photo with this street art for you, Dad.

  1. Silvio Berlusconi–that’s a funny joke. As I already knew before coming to Italy, the last prime minister was absolutely horrendous. He overstayed his turn, poorly used his power, contributed towards the European debt crisis, and, uh, touched young girls. Fortunately, he finally resigned in November 2011, but he sure is still spoken of today. Sometimes his name angers people, like the way one of my professors spoke about him. But sometimes his name is just a funny joke–like the “Bonga bonga” theme night at a pub that was all about mocking their ex-prime minister.
  2. Immigrant, shimmigrant. Acquiring your Permit of Stay is an expensive, annoying process demanded by the Italian government in order to stay here legally past a certain number of days. Likewise, it is mandatory to carry around your passport (or a copy) to prove your approval to be in Florence. However, complying with these perturbing tasks will feel absolutely useless as you pass illegal vendors on every main corner of this city. During our orientation, we were told what a major problem illegal immigration is in Italy right now–particularly from Eastern Europe and Africa. Many of these people make a living illegally selling goods on the street, and it’s amazing how it seems to just be accepted. It’s not like you see police going after them or asking for their documents. At night, I once passed a group of them sprinting to their van with their merchandise carried in blankets, so maybe they do get caught at late hours. The crime rate of illegal immigrants is high as well. Between the illegal selling and the crimes, it’s a shame that all immigrants here seem to be discriminated against by Italians–even if they’re legal. I’ve not only learned about it in my class, but have even talked about it with legal immigrants themselves, who are thankful for the better life here but are negatively affected with this. I guess these immigration issues are universal among different countries, because it sounds an awful lot like the US situation.
  3. What “mafia?” Especially in Southern Italy, you will find a complete denial that the mafia exists. It exists. That is all.
  4. American health care doesn’t just upset Americans. From the locals I’ve spoken about politics with, Italians seem to despise American health care. Their proposed solutions, to me, sound so socialized that it’s scary. The difference in philosophies doesn’t surprise me, but what did surprise me is how passionately angry they feel about the issue–even though it’s not even the health care system of their own country. So, be careful when talking about this issue with Italians!
  5. Youth in revolt. Every day I pass posters or street art with political messages–particularly anti-fascist messages. Sometimes, I even see protests of young Italians revolting against these issues. My generation here seems to want a more democratic government, and I’m not sure what they’re going to do about changing it.