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.

Festina Lente

“Revival” — A video of the memories

The gigabytes of video footage and photos from my adventures in Europe have been sitting on my external hard drive for almost a year now. It’s dreamy to look back on the memories, which play out like a surreal movie in my mind. But I’ll never forget the journey, or the lessons of life, love, happiness and exploration that I learned. This video is my expression of this dolce vita…

Make sure to watch it in HD! (After clicking the play button, click the gears icon in the bottom right-hand corner of the viewer, and choose 720p).

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.

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.

Notte Bianca: When the city pulls an allnighter

In conjunction with Labor Day today in Italy, last night was the annual “Notte Bianca” (“White Night”)–a night in which the city of Florence doesn’t sleep. Businesses are invited to stay open all night, every piazza is full of stage set-ups, musicians, DJs, drinking tents, and all kinds of fun stuff, and the streets are absolutely flooded with people. EVERYONE is outside living it up–drinking, dancing, eating, walking, going wild…all the way until 6am.

I can only imagine being a tourist and not knowing about this night, seeing Florence this routy at night, and thinking that this is how it always is. Crazy fun night!