Due anni fa…

doors

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.

panoramic

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.

duomo

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.

arnoriver

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.

joshuatreepub

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.

mercadocentrale

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.

santamarianovella

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.

lizzieinfirenze

arrivederci…

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.

Advertisements

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.

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 😮

~

~

~

~

~

This building is incredible…

~

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

~

St. Cajetan’s Church

St. Cajetan’s Church

~

~

~

~

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.