Giardino Bardini

I accidentally stumbled upon the Bardini Gardens when exploring Oltra Arno (the other side of the Arno River). A wrong turn down quaint residential streets turned into a tranquil, beautiful stroll through these lesser-known but still magnificent gardens and villa with exceptional views of Florence.

The overcast day turned sunny by time I went through the gardens and back,  so my camera caught naturally varied views that really change the feel! Simply looking through these photos brings back the peaceful, restoring feeling this place brought upon me 🙂

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Italy: A Love Story.

Once upon a time I fell  in love with a city. A classic textbook case of the Italy Grand Tour capturing hearts and minds of youth across the world.

Glamorous Illusionsx-largeSeriously. I’ve been fixated on the idea of my four months in Florence since the week I had to leave…which was over two years ago. I was obsessed, and I absolutely had to go back.

A few years ago I took this college course The Psychology of Romantic Relationships, and I remember studying the neuroscience behind falling in love — and being stuck in it. And my obsession with Florence has matched the cognitive patterns of out-of-your-mind-crazy love…except I fell in love with a country!

“There’s all kinds of reasons that you fall in love: Timing is important. Proximity is important. Mystery is important. You fall in love with somebody who’s somewhat mysterious, in part because mystery elevates dopamine in the brain, probably pushes you over that threshold to fall in love.” — Helen Fisher, biological anthropologist

So, still stuck in my Firenze frenzy, I went back to Italy this May. Back to Florence, where I’d never felt so alive. I walked by our old apartment the first day I arrived — luggage still in hand. I took all the best walks, I sat in all my favorite spots, I ate all the great food (ALL the food!), I said hello to old friends, I befriended new faces, and I explored even more places. Just me, my memories, and the juxtaposition of a life that is and that was.

Someone I met on this trip woke me from this Italy Grand Tour spell with one simple word: fantasy. For over two years, I’ve had one foot stuck behind in a fantasy life that isn’t mine, and the other plunging forward into the only thing real yet everything unknown.

I needed clarity; I needed closure. And I didn’t know that’s why I needed to go back until I was really there.

Don’t get me wrong — I loved my visit to Florence. This very special city will always be in my heart. But my relationship to this city now feels like all the Renaissance buildings it holds — a beautiful place to see, but one which cannot truly be revitalized back to its glory era of existence. And that’s because it no longer has the people, the situation, the timing….that’s all history. A beautiful history to learn from and to cherish.

My life can now pick up the fragments of a dreamworld and use them to reshape what’s real. I need to grow the person I am in reality into the person I want to be in my fantasy. Going back has finally shattered this illusion that the best version of myself can only thrive in my fantasy.

I will be back to Italy. Probably many times. I will continue embracing its language, its country, its culture. I will continue loving Italy. But I will no longer feel like my heart’s been left behind while my body mindlessly drifts through a life where something’s missing. With closure from the past, I can finally feel excited for the future again. (And hey, there’s a whole world out there!)

Sorry it took two years to realize this. Helen Fisher could probably tell you about some crazy cognitive rationale that makes it totally understandable. But for now, here are some pictures from my lovely trip. I’ll share more in the coming weeks…and with much more fun and much less emo posts 🙂

Florence, I’m coming back!

Yep, it’s official. Today I booked a trip back to la città che riempie il mio cuore. Florence, I’m coming back to you!

I’ve been yearning to return for almost two years now, since departing from my four-month stay. It was hard to accept my time there as a past chapter in my life — a past chapter which cannot continue and cannot be relived. But it’s a chapter worth rereading.

There’s something very human about the need to revisit past experiences which bring us immense joy. Taking your kids to Disneyworld, seeing an old friend, eating your mom’s signature dish, taking a stroll through your childhood park… We are all driven to do these kinds of things. And we never expect them to be exactly the same or mean exactly the same thing as they once did: we accept them as past chapters, but we feel rekindled by rereading them. Or maybe we just feel clarity.

Something has been calling me to go say hello to Florence again. Yes, I acknowledge that the circumstances won’t be the same, and that maybe the Florence I remember might not be the same either. (Although, I’d be shocked if the BC-dated buildings finally gave in). But what I do know for sure is that pages will be much easier to flip forward once this chapter is reread.

“Follow your bliss.”

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More posts about plans & such to come…

Due anni fa…

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Due anni fa, non ho potuto dire questa frase.

Two years ago, I stepped through the most intimidating doors I’d ever faced. They were the doors to the place that was supposed to be my home for the next four months, in the acclaimed city of Florence, Italy. I knew this place was famous, and that it had to be as grand glorious — exalted — as it’s so widely-recognized to be. But what I could not expect was just how influential this city would be…at least for me.

Two years ago, I left my country for the first time, walked through these doors, cried non-stop for a solid day, and almost booked an immediate flight back home. I could not speak Italian, I could not stop crying, and I could not imagine how I’d possibly adjust.

But then I walked out the door.

I plunged into an undiscovered world, and with my eyes, mind and heart wide open, I unlocked its magnificence.

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I can still feel the excitement surrounding the Duomo — the center always bustling with children chasing pigeons, tour groups scurrying through the crowd, artists selling their works, students rushing to class, bikers whizzing by…

Yet a spell of tranquility would silence the energy with every frozen body staring up in awe.

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I can still smell the fresh water of the Arno River — its calming body channeling the vivacity of the entire city and returning it through each renewing breeze.

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I can still hear Paolo singing With or Without You from behind the bar — his voice percolating through the soundtrack of my friends and me zealously attempting to exchange Italienglish with the locals, who helped us develop both a new language and new friendships.

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I can still taste the unbelievably fresh tomatoes and divine olive oil I’d buy from the market, where I’d spend time after an early class meandering through rustic aisles and exploring every little nook.

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I can still envision the Santa Maria Novella — its historic facade shepherding the piazza, where hundreds of smiling faces shaped stories of their own each day.

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I can still see myself — not quite the person I am now, and definitely not the person I was exactly two years ago from this day — but certainly the best version of myself there has ever been…the most happy, the most spirited, the most alive.

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When I look through photos of my time in Italy, my heart actually bends — like the way it feels to look at a photo of a loved one who is no longer with you. A journey that started in tears ended in tears as well — at both points yearning to go back home, but neither referring to the same home.

Italy somehow made me a more complete person. Do not ever let “I can not” stop you from stepping through the door. You just might discover a better version of yourself and a better view of the world once you reach the other side.

My first anniversary of returning to the USA

Today marks the one year anniversary of returning back to the United States after the most amazing four months of my life. The video project in my last post expresses some of my feelings, but I also wrote a blog post reflecting on this past year — the ways I both have stayed attached and have become detached from my time in Italy — in my primary blog, which you can read here.

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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.