Monday, July 31, 2006

lovely lucca, sweaty sleeps

Today I decided not to go to Pisa because the museum is closed. Yes, I am an art history major. I also decided not to go because, while my little sojourn at the beach yesterday has given me the bronzed arms of an Italian, it has also blessed me with the burning shoulders of someone who didn't apply enough sunscreen often enough. But, not to worry, it will fade away in due time to a sexy tan. I am always incredibly happy after coming home from the beach, must be the purity of sun, wind and water, all great elements in my life.

Lucca is wonderfully charming. Somewhere between the walled city, the tower with trees growing on top of it, and the gorgeous mosaic on the facade of the church in piazza san frediano next to my hostel, I couldn't be happier with my selection of a homebase for 5 nights. The churches here are cavernous and beautiful, and I just feel really safe just wandering around. When I arrived I didn't pull out my map until I was standing in front of a bike rental shop thinking that my hostel should be located before my tired body. No sweat, well technically lots of sweat but you know, I found the hostel in a renovated fine arts school. My room, shared with 5 other guys, is a bit hot. I thought Milan had been a little sweaty, but here it's worst. But get this, I actually don't mind it. Sure my sheets may be a little damp come morning but I eventually fall asleep and just feel great energy in the heat. Call me crazy. The funny thing about the hostel is that in the last two nights there is perhaps one guy out of the 6 who has stayed both nights. Since Lucca is so small, I guess people just stay a day and run away. The best example of this was yesterday afternoon when two new spanish kids rushed in, avoided introductions, put on their shoes and explained they had rented bikes (I don't really understand, even now, what the rush was). They were like two mexican jumping beans. Spanish, rather.

For the first time in my 8-week adventure, I find myself travelling alone. I just realized that I have been surrounded by people always, whether it be Matilde's family or my own. It's lonely alone. There isn't anyone to express running commentary to, there isn't anyone to talk to either... you learn to talk to people you don't know, be friendlier. I don't mind it actually. Now that Carly has arrived to her beautiful apartment in Lucca for 2 weeks of language school, I have a friend around always. Aside from stepping of my island of solidity and independence, being on my own has made me care a bit less about what other people think and just be more unadulterated me. I like it. Time for a bit more independent strolls along the city walls, a bit of reading and a lazy afternoon visiting gardens and museums. Ah, the good life.

Friday, July 28, 2006

the hills are alive

Today I saw Tuscany. For real. The gently rolling hills, the contrasting green and gold, the countryside that leaves you dizzy and with a headache from vastness and amazingness (these are the side effects). Whoa, I really am dizzy right now, phew. Anyways we went to the hill town of Pienza with its beautiful Renaissance church and crazy perspective main square. We had tried to hit some hill towns yesterday but failed. We had gone to Monteriggioni on my suggestion because I thought the imposing walls from the exterior (which Dante had written about in Inferno) looked intriguing. As my father put it, the town was nothing more than a town surrounding a bunch of tourists. Boo. Pienza, on the other hand had a breathtaking vista of the Val D'Orcia with rolling hills, rounds of wheat, silvery olive trees, cypress trees, crete (crae teh- rough boulderous groundwork), and winding roads. It had it all. Forgive me, right now I am a bit dizzy, we took crazy windy dirt roads back to the Tenuta and I can't believe a week has elapsed already. Tomorrow leads to new adventures in Lucca and so I have to pack! Let's keep this short and sweet.

Thursday, July 27, 2006

how we grow old

Yesterday I was exhausted out of my mind when I wrote my post. After more physical labour and probably not enough sleep, I accompanied the parents after a short shower to the hill town of Siena. I had always heard good things about the town, really only that it was beautiful and great (but not as specifically as the serene beauty described to me of Como). So we arrived after I had napped in the car and we headed uphill on many escalators and wandered the city. We discovered gems of powerful frescoes in the Baptistry and the Palazzo Pubblico (avoiding the long line of the tower and heading to the museum instead). Although touristed, the city doesn't feel that way at all, you walk uphill, downhill while never getting lost in a throng of people and always being hugged by the high walls of the city. I left Siena feeling refreshed, having been nursed by the art and the fan shaped central piazza. I highly recommend it. I may make my way back here in the next year or so to spend more time, because I think I fell in love.

Wednesday night at Spannocchia is either a fancy dinner or a pizza night. Yesterday was a pizza night which means at least 10 types of pizzas made in a wood oven by the interns. It was a wonderful time, complete with Mary chasing after her fellow interns with her red painted lips, the hobbling Joe at the brick oven, and the glammed up Julia lamenting that she had eaten too much. I laughed quite a bit and drank perhaps a little too much. After dinner I made my way back to the room I have been sharing with my parents and finished off 'In Praise of Slow', an awesomely written book about the Slow movement pushing for a balance in daily life and the curing of time-sickness. Also highly recommended.

So I should go take a shower, I've aged quite a bit this morning due to the fact that I was milling, making food flour for the animals and grinding up corn, fava, wheat and barley. Both Evan and I were absolutely covered in white powder. I definitely have some in my pants or down my back. Although I cleaned myself off with the air hose in the garage, I'll definitely be making some dough in the shower in a few minutes. Another crazy experience.

Wednesday, July 26, 2006


Last night I went out with the parentals to San Galgano a beautiful ruined monastery just next to sunflower fields. We also saw some Lorenzetti frescoes that light up with the insertion of 20 centimes into a little hole-thing on the side. We visited the sights amidst thunder and then rain and went to dinner at a Slovak-Tuscan restaurant, perched on a hill. We were the only ones there and enjoyed a very savory meal. So many flavours to remember, expecially the garlicky bruschetta (yes, naila, brusketta).

I am too exhausted to write too much today but I will say I manned a ghetto wheelbarrow consisting of a wheel and welded metal and biked down the mountain (read, coasted pleasantly all the way down the mountain) to see the horses and erect a fence after helping Joe with his twisted ankle (tough kid, he'll be fine after following ICE). This guy has permanently sunburned cheeks and icy dark blue eyes. Having the name Joe stirs up memories from my past.

Crazy dream last night about revisiting the past, compelte with Gloria, a book full of wax we had written, my searching for my old lockerroom at LCC and a man holding flowers following me everywhere as I tried to retreat from Gloria even though we were sharing a cab. Simply wild, I was asking others to validate my past when really it is only me that can do such an act...

Tuesday, July 25, 2006

the birds and the bees

Yesterday concluded with work out in the fields with the pigs. The weather was foreboding and we drove up towards the pigs as the thunder and lightening hit. Unphased, Davide led us to put up a fence around the pigs, steadily working across the perimeter of their pen. Every now and then a lightning bolt would light up the sky as if the main player on the stage, otherwise just an expanse of field. At one point, Davide started walking away and told me Lascia la rete, lascia la rete (let go of the fence) because Russell, the patriarch and only uncastrated male was coming our way, lumbering in our direction. We waited in the car as Davide poked at Russell from the other side of the fence and herded him away. Russell has been known to bite people, as he did with Davide a few months back. After feeding the pigs (really rotund creatures) to a chorus of wailing/burping/grunting/squealing, we headed back for the conclusion of day number one.

This morning, I woke up a bit sore but went, on automatic, to take a shower (I had taken two the previous day I felt so dirty). Before I turned on the water however I heard a beautifully happy bird song. I went to the window to see two swallows fly away. If birds could giggle flirtatiously, they would sound like these swallows did. In our courtyard, in front of the 'Fattoria' building there are a whole bunch of swallows that just swoop around and fly all day long. Entrancing to watch, beautiful to hear.

This morning I worked with bees. I got the whole suit and everything. Even the square screened hat. It was a bit terrifying. We went around to the back of the apiary area to transport some old bee boxes full of panels of wax back to the main building. This involved walking through the forest and dislodging about 30 wooden boxes apart from each other while being surrounded by bees. You learn to suck it up and just move, smack the boxes apart and transport them, after all you are pretty protected. I learned to just deal with it, take the box, move it. Yea there might be about 20 bees in it that you might disturb but going with their movement somehow coaxes them off. Lindsey and I had been asked if we liked bees this morning, followed by inquiries about allergies. I said okay sure and told Riccio and Carrie about being stung by a bumblebee no problem 2 weeks ago, while Lindsey said she only had a mild reaction to a sting (which means half her forearm swelled up... mild). But we survived, faced the fear and moved those boxes. Full body suits in Tuscany, hot, real real hot.

Life on this farm has a rhythm, you feel useful, you feel purposeful. Tasks require time: mending a fence, moving wood, bailing hay, unloading, driving. A tractor only goes so fast. Moving a pile of wood from one place to another can't be done by machine, it takes time. Most of the tasks I've had to do so far have involved loading, transporting, unloading. Somehow the day trickles away and lunchtime rolls around. All those fears about bees or getting lost on the property on a bicycle or being hungry just evaporate, I am here to work, sweat, be in the land. Bugs are far down on the list of priorities. Rather, it's much more exhilirating to be awake at 6.30am or to come back from a day of work covered in hay, dirt and woodchips to a hot shower and a soft cushiony bed.

Monday, July 24, 2006


I write from a foreign computer, an awkward screen, but the words are still mine. There will be no photos. I am here at the Tenuta da Spannocchia, out in the middle of the province of Siena in Tuscany. A morning of 6.30am wakeup, hay and wood and I have taken a break for lunch and siesta.

We left Milan far far behind and arrived, after about 5 minutes of driving up a windy dirt road, at the Tenuta da Spannocchia, an old castle on a hill surrounded by silvery olive trees, fields of wheat, bright yellow expanses of sunflowers, and snorting pigs, clucking hens and baaing sheep all in the distance. Truly isolated. Within half an hour, my mother and I were already plotting our escape to the seaside. This place couldn't contrast more with Milan in terms of pace, sunlight and natural splendour. A nice respite to work hard and relax.

Our first day here was spent in Florence, trying to transition into country life more effectively by feeding our need for the city. Luckily having reserved the Accademia and the Uffizi ahead of time, we minimized our wait for anything and maximized the art and culture. The Accademia, while crowded, has art that leaves you enthralled. The masterpiece of the museum is Michelangelo's David, and although I had written about it last year, I was not prepared for the monumentality, the light streaming in and gleaming on the white marble. The slaves that led up to the renowned Florentine sculpture showed more of Michelangelo's working method, freeing the figures from the stone. And then the David. Quite a man. Tall, confident, displaying strength of spirit and hiding the lance and stone behind his back. Quite beautiful.

Contrasting to the later madhouse and hellhole (if only in temperature) of the Uffizi, we headed to the closeby Museo San Marco to see a plethora of works by Fra Angelico... such delicate devotional pieces. That man had talent. I can see why he spent his days painting instead of praying... his work holds such delicacy and reverence. Power. The best part of the museum was wandering through the second floor complex of monks chambers, each of which had a little painting on the wall... and some had paintings hidden in the floor (discovered when doing restoration) which were quite beautiful to glance at peering at mirrors implanted below the floor to reflect the hidden treasures.

After a long hot day, we returned to our farm in the hills, past the sunflower fields for a nice dinner outside and chitchat with the interns who have been slaving away in the tuscan sun (sorry, i needed to slip that in somewhere).

Which brings me to this morning, up at 6.30 to the birds singing, chirping, squaking outside the window and a cool breeze, and out at 7.00 to cool even cold air and a rising sun. I was headed out to the wheat fields with Joe and Nick to load hay onto a truck. I worked with pitchfork and some sort of claw device to drag bails of hay. Now I know how cows feel, sweating, covered in hay, swarming with flies. As Carly would say: Bella. It truly was nice, sweating into my eyes, working hard, loading hay, unloading hay. Throw away the desk chair and computer, for this week at least, I would be in these fields doing whatever. I may not be the strongest person in the world, but this type of work for some reason makes me happy. There is a comradery amongst the interns, grogging about early mornings, hot sun, cheering for lunchtime and water, making fun of the Italian way of doing things illogically and slowly. Fast forward two and a half hours and I was in the woods throwing logs into a truck with Nick, who by this point had lost his shirt (not really, he took it off loading hay). Hot stuff, this work. Picture me watching a tractor go down the road to the field where I am standing, guy on top of a pile of hay with a strawhat on. Priceless. I'm covered in scratches, my skin is a bit tingly, but I am smiling. I still have three hours of work to go today and 4 more days of early mornings, but hell, it's beautiful out here. I'll write when I can.

Friday, July 21, 2006

ciao milano

After my horrendous attempt to reflect on Milan and my time spent here, life fed me its own retrospective. After wishing Carly adieu until a possible Tuscan rendezvous and realizing that she was indeed on her way to the next phase of this trip, I headed home to yoga myself and get ready to head out for a dinner of my two families, my real one and my Italian one.

...a woman in her apartment raised her shutters to walk outside and drape her Italian flag over her balcony to let it drape in the wind...

We picked up my parents and thus started the excited chatter of getting to know you and urban navigation (where are we? where are we?) to Il Doge di Amalfi, a nice restaurant in the tradition of Salerno. It was at this point that I started having pretty bad abdominal cramps and general malaise, so I tuned out for a bit but thanks to the bathroom, bread, lemon tea and plain penne pasta, I came back to find the families chattering away, enjoying each other's company. It made me very happy. When people you value very much get along, it's really nice, feeling as if there is some sort of connection in the people you value.
Our waiter was a bit insane, a man from Amalfi who joked around with us and made my father enthusiastically order una tete della monaca (a nun's breast), which is a dessert and not some sort of lewd joke. I had the most satsifyingly sweet lemon sorbet that was liquidy and wonderful. We had a nice time, laughed, reminisced, chatted.

Along the drive home I saw sights that tied together my evenings here in Milan:

... the 'swingersbar' where I went with Matilde and Davide for the first of many late night excursions...

... the bavarian restaurant where I had the heartiest and hottest meal of my Italian life and witnessed the Italian phenonmenon of bavarian beer love...

... the late night monuments flashbulb memories of my late night ride with Matilde and Davide...

... a last glimpse of Tijuana, our local watering hole and hangout with Mati, Marina and Carly...

After one last ride around the block in the airconditioned car we walked back to 14 viale bacchiglione for some sweet calm sleep.
My time in Milan quickly comes to a close and I couldn't be happier with the time I've had here: the adversity of work turned pleasure and learning experience, the warmth, laughs, shopping, cooking, and tanning with the family, the art and aesthetics of the people and the friends and little experiences along the way. On to new adventures...

Thursday, July 20, 2006


My parents arrived yesterday and one of the first sentences from my mother was: Milan, what an ugly city. Granted by the end of the day she had reconsidered her judgment, I started reflecting on this city. At lunch with Grazia and the other student interns we had discussed whether Milan was a nice city. And it is. It's no Rome with fountains and history seeping out from the mortar between the stones, it's more of a big city, it has a different soundtrack than the peaceful Tuscan town, it has a rich aesthetic.

At first I was turned off by Milan, slightly industrial, slightly cold. That Italian warmth of spirit seemed absent from this urban landscape. But, after a time, I discovered that once you meet a Milanese and break that cold IknowwhereIamgoing exterior, you find a really warm and kind person. You just have to dig.

Somehow Milan is aesthetics central, people dress just right, simply but put together. And thus it wows. People dress with confidence, having the attitude to match the outfit. Cosmopolitan style. Everyone dresses pretty nicely, so everyone is on the same level, no one sticks out. Unless of course they are all legs or super built or something of the like. A man wearing pearls for instance.

I've felt very much at home in Milan, falling right into routine the Monday after the Sunday I arrived and being welcomed warmly by the family I have been staying with. It's hard to believe that within 2 days, I will be driving in a car with the parentals down to Tuscany.

I'll miss the family very much, we had fun, laughs, expriences together. Everything from cooking paella, to laughing at my desire to iron, to strategizing how low I could go with my SPF. Many evening were spent chitchatting with Dorota, with her claiming that I am the only one who will listen.

Geez, I can't even write this, I don't know what to say. I give up. To sum up, I've had a nice time, I will miss the family, Milan is hella aesthetic. That is all.

Wednesday, July 19, 2006

fire in the kitchen

No, not literally. So a few days ago, in the heat and exasperation of making yet another dinner in the hot kitchen, I suggested to Dorota that we make gazpacho. In response to the suggestion of gazpacho, Dorota said we should make paella then to make a whole dinner. And thus began our online search for a recipe for each spanish dish. We made a list of ingredients to buy and said we would make it Tuesday night, technically the last night before my parents arrived in town (eee! as Jeremy would have said last summer in glee).

Yesterday afternoon I received a text message from Carly and Dorota saying that I needed to get home as soon as possible to get chopping, we had a dinner to make! I could just imagine those two women at home laughing about chopping as I worked. I gladly left work at 4pm (I don't think anyone really cares), swung by the pharmacy to get some meds before heading home for the cookfest.

I arrived home to find my home vacant of my assistant chef, or rather the captain of the kitchen, Dorota, who was out shopping for ingredients. Within 20 minutes she was home and we consulted on our recipes, got chopping and blending. We expelled Carly from the kitchen when we got to the bell pepper (she's allergic) and created our gazpacho, blending and adding another tomato, another cucumber, more vinegar and salt and pepper to taste. For some reason we thought our recipe wouldn't create four servings... In the fridge to chill and out to the supermarket, we didn't have paprika for the paella.

Carly and I trekked (walked rather, there aren't any uphills or anything) to our beloved GS for the jar of paprika. It was pretty funny in the checkout line. We couldnt go to the trolleyless line because it was too long with people with overflowing baskets, thus we waited in a line with trolleys (carriages, no shopping carts thats the word). Two people. One bottle of paprika. €1.30. Sounds like a movie. It was a hilarious transaction, I almost dashed away without taking the receipt. Carly keeps telling me that it's some sort of law in Italy that one cannot be within 50 metres of a place of purchase without a receipt. Ridiculous.

So we returned home to make paella. Dorota and I compared our two paella recipes, mixed and matched. No, we would not turn on the oven. Yes, tomatoes go in a paella. They are in there you just can't see them. What do we cook first? What else do we cook? When? I was confused but, Dorota took charge and delegated the chopping tasks to me (and I accepted quite gladly, chopping an onion without crying among other things). We made our paella, improvising along the way, fearing for the overflowing of the pan (to which I kept telling Dorota that it would be fine), stirring when the recipe said we shouldn't and, by the glorious end, when I had gone to another room to check the internet quickly, Dorota walked in and said it was fabulous. Truly the best paella. I took a picture (I'll post it soon). We had our dinner, accompanied by Spanish music. Paella being Niki's favourite dish and Niki being in Greece and having gloated about his night spent with a bonfire on the beach, Dorota sent a message proclaiming the authenticity of our meal. With a glass of sangria made by the Matilde (aw geez this La Matilde business is rubbing off into my English, oi), that later turned into an alcoholic macedonia, we toasted a great meal. Success. Dorota told Carly 'you don't know what you are missing' with regards to the gazpacho, chunky light and delicious. Carly responded: 'yea, death.' and we had a good laugh. Watch out for allergies, they are no laughing matter, unless of course the allergee (completely invented that word) makes the joke :P Dorota will hold onto the recipes though we didn't really follow either one very closely, to recreate our night of food made with love, laughs and cooperation. Buon appetito!

Tuesday, July 18, 2006

modern visual culture

As I wind down my last week here at the photo agency in Milan, I thought I might as well do a retrospective. I feel so affected with my title and first sentence, sorry, I am going to be a bit academic. Deal. Yesterday, the woman after which the photo agency is named came in and asked me if I now understood how a photoagency worked. I responded yes and we went about our business. But the question got me thinking.

Before I arrived, I only imagined that the manipulation and trafficking of images (sounds like drugs no? sorry.) was fast and copious thanks to the digital age. Concepts like digital archiving and the trajectory of image from receival (is that even a word? no, reception. ha, receival, that doesn't even exist, thank you academic brain) to printing were both undefined, abstract. Arriving and being stuck on the forefront of the digitization process was, in theory, exciting. I was part of the digital age, ushering the agency into the 21st century for quick easy access to images, goodbye analog. Well, the process proved interminably (where are these words coming from?) boring, scanning images from movies starting with B from Borstal Boy to Bloodsport. I kept telling myself that this is an exciting process as I waited ten minutes to scan and identify 5 slides. The afternoons were spent sorting through the analog archive, one slide sheet at a time, looking for slides from certain companies we no longer represented. Though music alleviated the drudgery a little, the going was still slow. On the verge of insanity, and rethinking life, I finally changed jobs, not wanting to wait another week before switching up the all-day archive routine.

Upstairs in the sunlight, I worked with current photo projects coming in that needed preparation to be sold in Italia (wow that was instinctive writing, I was thinking Italy). Contact sheets, summaries in Italian, dog-earing magazines with marketable materials, burning CDs of images, in sum editorial research. My Italian improved with more conversation and my understanding of the flow of images from the picture desk to sales and into the archive now all made sense. Images move quickly here with reportages coming in, the world changing, movies coming out, people doing interesting things every day.

The amount of photos that come in here is astounding. Yesterday, for instance, I processed two scientific servizi (services, which is basically a dossier), two movies to be released and a reportage on children in Bangladesh rummaging through trash to find metal to sell in order to eat. Photographers have the power, by making connections in their community or when they travel, to uncover human interest stories and little known phenomenons. Then, they can capture that world and broadcast it to the world. Whether it be the gold-searching ninjas of Mongolia, the women of the PKK, or CĂ©zanne's Provence, there is an even more immediate power of communication between photographer and audience. There is so much that happens in this world; while images don't really do anything to help, spreading the message to the world raises awareness and social consciousness. One would hope others live differently with that awareness of others. Photos become a marketable message, while also, on the other hand, serving simply as a means of visual draw to promote and illustrate a movie or a scientific breakthrough.

Nowadays, many more people can just snap a picture. It isn't that simple. There is a visual language, a way of capturing life, light, in order to transmit and provoke emotion, communicate message, or simply create a visually interesting picture. Or, perhaps, just take an image that illustrates an article. Just like words illustrate our way of seeing and feeling through text, photography transmits point of view in a more raw manner. Photos concretize the photographer's journey, what catches his eye, how she sees light. Each project that goes beyond the banal, communicates an individual view silently. Witnessing that clear enunciation pushes you back in reaction if only mentally but instinctually, realizing that the photo you are seeing goes beyond image on paper to art.

Monday, July 17, 2006

weekend of sweat

Friday night began my crash into some sort of muscular pain and general achiness that would prevent me from adventuring to Como on Saturday. After heading downtown to do some field research into my personal style with Marina (in case you all haven't noticed, she's awesome) and finding some cool quality finds at Zara and an entire mess of what I cannot pull off at Guess and seeing Ben Harper chilling in Piazza Duomo, I headed home slightly achy to a home of people who all didn't want to do the requisite shopping for the vening's supper. So we headed for Bavarian food. Right. It was the heartiest meal I've had for my entire trip, meat and potatoes. Argh, yes, delightful. Besides the oggling of the waiter from all parties being served by this man named Jacopo, the atmosphere at Kapuziner was skewed Bavaria with strong beer and waiters who look like they've all walked out of a Ricola commercial. And the Italians just love it.

Saturday I woke up sweating like mad (think pools) and with aches all over my body and a general feeling of unwell, but still I managed an adventure to the Esselunga (a cheaper and much more friendly version of GS) with Dorota and Matilde. I don't know what it is with me and supermarkets. Centers of wonder and meeting... food, it brings people together, it sustains life, how much more important can you get? The rest of my day was spent with 'In Praise of Slow', my sweat, and painkillers. I slept plenty, took a bath, listened to crazy Italian music and proceeded to go to sleep at 10.30pm.

Which brings us, most gladly, to Sunday at 7 am when I woke feeling energized and ready to start my trip to Como. I had originally planned for Saturday but due to health reasons and 'weather forecasts' (which said rain although the entire weekend was blue-sky sunny) decided to postpone/cancel the trip. But I was happy to wake up in good energy on Sunday. Before I knew it, I was fed, showered and dressed and on a train to Como and arrived by 10.05am. Arriving in the mountain and lake dominated lake country with coloured stucco houses perched on the mountainside (in sum, picturesque), I toured around a bit to visit the Duomo, the lake side and some sidestreets before heading uphill for a hike.
I wanted to go to the lighthouse dedicated to Alessandro Volta, the inventor of the battery and a native of Como. Although Let's Go has pointed me in the direction of great deals and beautiful monuments, they unfortunately failed this time only giving me the oh-so-specific directions of 'turn left at the pink church' in order to find my hiking trail. Instead, I decided that perhaps the lighthouse would be on the way to Brunate, the only advertised hiking route around. Stubborn stupid Stefan, in your manliness, you should just suck it up and ask for directions. I thought I knew where I was going. After 10 minutes I met a French 19 year old guy who seemed to be the only other person attempting the vertical climb. We chatted along the way, going ever higher and getting to no real destination without signage anywhere. I thought I would be done within a half hour.

An hour and a half of climbing and drenchfully sweating (I should have taken off my shirt to tan instead of the triangle that I achieved from my V-neck shirt), we finally arrived a Brunate for a panorama of Como. Nothing breathtaking or thrilling, but it was the journey that mattered not the destination (oh life lessons abound in this crazy trip, eh?).
I tried to speak French with Jerome when we met but it kept coming out as Italian (with mais coming out as ma among other things) so we just ended up, strangely enough, speaking to each other in Italian. He is in Italy completing a month of work in some sort of engineering company before heading back home to Normandy. Anyways, at the top we decided the funicular would be a better mode of trasnport down to food and wandering about Como. (TIP: take the funicular to Brunate if you really want to go, unless you want to hike forever aimlessly)

Once again, my boat plans in foreign places were thwarted. Unlike the strike that happened in Venice, this time there was an F1 International Championship of Powerboat racing in the basin of Como (picture rocketships on water racing around like F1 cars). Goodbye Bellagio and Villa Carlotta! The closest boat stop, to which Jerome and I walked in the afternoon, was about an hour away walking, leaving no time to return for my train home.
Anyhoo, the afternoon we just wandered about, passing villas by the sea (more upscale land version of Venice), bridges, boats, and people watching the race (along with one enraged bicyclist complaining of the traffic). I snapped plenty of pictures and headed home on the hottest train I have ever been on. Como was pretty and awesomely located, but I wasn't tremendously impressed. Perhaps I should postpone my judgement of the lake country until I see Bellagio and the like.

I returned home to upload my photos and fell in love (more to come tomorrow). I don't usually rave about my photos, but wow, there were really too many to love. I had taken 100 photos that day and a good 30 were really nice. Good light, good mood I guess. It concluded a wonderful day: early morning of good feelings, a crazy hike, a new friend, leisurely strolling, more suntanning, beautiful photos. Oh yea and a crazy amount of sweat, both from Saturday's strangeness, Sunday's hike and trainride home and the evening's night of crazy dancing with Matilde, Davide and Emmanuelle at a truly fun and wild outdoor club close to where I have been living. We had a great time admiring the people, taking in the club, and dancing to hiphop, saccharine pop (and some cartoon music) and house. Oh the hotness, it just makes you sweat a little more.

Friday, July 14, 2006

...I could eat a horse. I did!

No wait, I'm stupid, I didn't.

[DISCLAIMER: Although I thought I ate horse yesterday, I, in fact, didn't. For all your reference, thanks to my anonymous italian poster, bresaola is beef. boo, I've been deceived.]

Yesterday I ate horse. Bresaola, kind of like prosciutto (which is ham like, but so much leaner and more exotic), but, well, horse. I came home not to the daily question from an exhausted Dorota: What are we having for dinner? (because today I went to a war photo exhibit at the PAC, thoughtprovoking and well appropriate with the outbreak of war in Lebanon), but instead I came home to pasta bolognese (or what we call at home pasta with meat sauce) with prosciutto, bresaola and melone. In Italy there is only one type of melon really, cantaloupe, but they call it melon.

Anyways, Italy has been a culinary adventure and there are moments that I savour and remember: the brioche in Celle Ligure, hot from the oven, sweet and soft like a cloud, the risotto at Trattoria alla Madonna in Venezia, the capuccino, rich with foam at Caffe Florian also in Venezia, the pasta with rich tomato sauce I had when meeting an architect friend of my father's, the golden kiwis that came in promotion with prosciutto from GS, and the powerful mojito (yea, i know not italian, but its imbedded in my memory) I had at tijuana one of the many night I've been there.

There have been staples to my diet here in Italy. First and foremost is pasta, it's easy, it's healthy, you can change the sauces, you can change the type. Perfetto. Then there is the mighty and ubiquitous tomato, also coming in many varieties and morphing its cut or cooked form from salad to pasta to bruschetta to caprese. Beautiful cheese comes next with the mighty parmeggiano, unlike any I have ever tasted (you can bet I am declaring this at customs). Olive oil is the staple for cooking. Dorota has a bottle of the quality liquid in the kitchen, this one not for cooking but for more appropriate moments. Rucola (called Rocket in North America) can be bought in bags like lettuce at my beloved GS and packs a punch whether it be in a salad or with carpaccio. Which brings me to meat... they sell it all: horse (of which I saw a horrendously large tongue at the supermarket), rabbit, chicken, pig... all parts, all cuts.

Sometimes at home, we get sick of pasta, tomatoes, balsamic vinegar, carpaccio, melon and just opt for stir fry or order out chinese. Regardless it truly is wonderful to see fine quality food around, in the supermarket, on your plate. Knowing that the carpaccio I am eating is paper thin with spicy cheese and meat makes my stomach happy. I've noticed that I also feel healthier and more in shape thanks to the change in diet. I have no idea how I will ever go back...

Sorry for the crazy post, but I am being moved around the office today without much time to really sit and compose and reflect. So deal with it folks.

Thursday, July 13, 2006

personal style

I put on my jeans this morning, and then, took them off. The heat of Milan and the idea of being miserable in heavy pants have both prevented me from wearing my canvas mates. Taking out my jeans this morning, still freshly pressed from Montreal, I cannot even begin to tell you the longing I felt to wear them. People here do where jeans, somehow, but I think I would die if I tried to pull of the same. I had such a sense of longing for my jeans, a prolonged desire to wear them, pants that were such a staple in my daily fashion in North America.

It's hot here, 35°C. Jeans just don't seem like viable two-legged solutions to fashion dilemmas. In this type of weather, it is really nice to feel like you are wearing nothing. If you sweat then, like I do at night (which I love, cradled by warmth into sleep, a small breeze is always welcome. Something about heat feels great, it might be that I get sick so often in winter or air conditioning... not a nice feeling. but i digress...), then [yea, go look back to the beginning of the sentence to continue the train of thought] it is not any fault of yours or your clothing. It is just the heat of the night. To make a long story short, I haven't worn jeans since I have arrived.

Funny side note, as I was writing this I was given a photo project profiling the Martelli group, an Italian company that makes stonewashed jeans for Diesel, Replay, Gucci and Armani. The universe works in mysterious ways...

Yesterday I went downtown after work to shop around, see what is still on sale, what might be good purchases. I fell in love with a very strong green at United Colours of Benetton that unfortunately didn't fit and looking at the shape, cut and fit of the light pants I was wearing, was catapulted into thinking what is my personal style? what would be suitable to me? what should i own, what are essentials, what can't I pull off?

Being in Milan, more than any other city I have spent an extended period of time in, develops my eye for clothes, fashion combinations and overall looks. I've zeroed in on interesting details: lace-up sandals, string of pearls as a bracelet, hair mullets that actually look good, colours that stand out (yellows, greens...). What I like in other people doesn't necessarily work on me, as Carly nicely pointed out when I tried out a pair of jeans a few weeks ago that were Italian in its many details: 'The jeans are so Italian, but it just isn't you'. I admire many people here for being well groomed and put together, for wearing clothes that fit and that show off their good traits and tastes.

So I took up the issue with Marina last night who had gone shopping with Carly that morning in an attempt to find her some hot items for fall. In the end, Marina came out with 3-4 items and Carly with nothing. See, Marina has honed her skills, born and raised in Milan, since she goes shopping once or twice a week. What you will see depends on the mood you are in, what you think you need. Here windows change at least once a week, at most every two weeks depending on the season as Luisa Cervesi let me know about her shop (really cool recycled materials used for bags... check em out: Matching colours, types of clothes, after a bit of time, becomes second nature. Carly had been surprised at Marina's matching a blue collared shirt with a green jacket so quickly and instinctually.

As I left Benetton, mind buzzing to define my own style, I passed by a store called David Mayer ( which I think was true to what I like: simple, well-made, sophisticated. Loud t-shirts, prominent brandnames, millions of pockets and complicated details... all things I can't pull off. Give me solid colours, simple uniform details, a good pattern, subtle tailoring. Marina would later suggest that the 'look' (I don't want to sound like some sort of fashion-obsessed shopaholic, just an aesthetically conscious individual) I had going was a play on intellectual: collared shirts, nice shoes... inspired, smart, above the riff-raff.

The shopping I had done before Milan has either been in stints (Thanksgiving sale escapade with Susie) or with my mother (we have a good time and pretty good luck)... and actually sometimes clothes just arrive in the mail that my mother thinks would go well. I have never taken what I wear so seriously that I am always looking, always browsing like La Marina. To be always conscious of what you own, spotting items that go well with others while browsing, thinking of the bare essentials that you always need. Usually I shop for one item (remember the linen pants mission of july 1? or the outfit hunting post baggage loss?), but I think there has come a time where I need to be more aware of all of what I own, what works for me, what doesn't and own whatever I wear, whether it be lazily casual or dapper and fancy. And thus the fashion hunting continues...

Wednesday, July 12, 2006

life lessons

After a nice peaceful and pensive evening out with La Carly, La Mati, and La 'Rina, I thought I would do some reflecting of my own in the form of a blog post. Today marks my 31st day, the fifth week, that I have been here in Milan and I have learned so much about Italy, myself, and life. I think I've expounded enough on the Italian people so I'll jump into life reflection. Fasten your safety belts, I don't really know where I am going with this, but hell, that's life.

Venice started this whole mess, with its winding canals and unpredictable, unfamiliar streets. Making navigable grids in a city, creating familiarity, creating predictable routine, it's all boring and untrue to the nature of life. Stability, constancy, all nice but all untrustworthy. The fabric of everyday living is constant change, the weather fluctuates, your mood changes, you may not have hot water for a shower, you never know who you will bump into, the tasks at work keep changing as the world turns. I've realized that I have to become comfortable with the concept of constant change as the only stable element of life. And that's hard. Somehow, Venice taps into that ephemeral quality: slowly sinking, subject to the tides, floating fragily on the surface, winding, loss-inducing.

Last night for instance, the gang planned to meet at 10.45 which morphed into 11.10 and finally consummated at 11.30. We hadn't wanted to go back to Tijuana, our local watering hole it seems, but we ended up there anyways because it was close and good. In Italy, you're always late, it's the norm. But how late will you be? How long will you wait? Schedules may be nice, but rigid time tables are for losers. Sure you should seek to accomplish things and meet people, but structured minutes don't help anyone and relying on such an abstract concept of time serves no purpose. You're relying on something you lose all the time, that you can't hold, that you will never truly know save for the rising and setting of the sun.

About a year ago, when I was learning Italian, I struggled because I wanted to form sentences before I spoke. Thus, the going was slow, gramatically fastidious, a mouthful and a brainful. You can't predict conversation, can't understand ABSOLUTELY everything. As the pace quickened in the classroom, I learned to deal. Coming to Italy, I was immediately bombarded by language, conversation, accents and all things never taught in the classroom. I was learning at every moment of the day, hearing new conversations, attempting to express myself. You simply have to give up trying to translate your thoughts into Italian, things don't translate. As I discussed with Marina, things like 'dai!' for come on (literally give!) doesn't make sense in English and 'prego' used for letting someone pass, you're welcome and please just exists as is. Later when I nice breeze picked up, Carly proclaimed 'che brezza' to which Mati and'Rina started laughing because the word was awfully literary and was not the equivalent to breeze but to a powerful emotion that takes over your sentiments and being.

It has been a wild journey so far (che brezza, indeed), I've been bombarded with a tough job situation at first, constant linguistic obstacles, and lives continuing without me a home. To me, it's important to maintain ties to my family and friends, but what I have come to realize is that the abstract ties remain intact but the family and friends are everchanging. It is only in the abstract fabric of life that you can trust: your emotions, your sense of self, your independence, your ties. Just coming to that realization, I am so grateful for this trip. No souvenirs or clothing will solidify the experience for the rest of my life. Only my photos might inspire memories to float to the surface. In the end, I am the photoalbum of my journey of the last 4 weeks and the last 20 years... an evolving project, always in the works.

Tuesday, July 11, 2006

le foto veneziane

So I wasn't thrilled with the photos that I posted earlier today and decided to put a whole lot more online to give a more emotive and effective visual description of my experience. I may write about Venice again tomorrow depending on my mood...

la serenissima

Last Friday, I fled the office, fled the city and caught a train to Venice. Everyone I spoke to raved about the city: my mother always returned to Montreal with elegant photos, Angela spoke highly of her time in Venezia, Carly has been back numerous times and Matilde repeated the fact that the Italian city is quite unlike anything else. Here I was on the train to this magical city, expectations whirling in my head, wondering how could it be. I had written about Venice in the Let's Go guide of Western Europe last summer, rewriting the introduction to a city I had never visited, saying it was best to get lost in the city of Venice (La Serenissima, the peaceful one) a town of winding canals, curving streets, and deteriorating stucco palazzi. Getting into the train station I was confused, I had water on one side and cars on a highway on the other. The weather had been overcast and rainy, the air thick with grey and dampness. I walked out onto the platform, not thinking this could be it. I met Carly and we walked out of the train station. It was then that I understood. Before me was a canal lined with rose coloured glass lampposts, a bridge to my left and a domed church right in front of me. My first moments in the city, or my entire first day rather, I couldn't really grasp the concept of this city. I didn't know where I was going, my map was useless, city of bridges, canals and buildings rising out of the water. As I sat in my room the first night, the melody of an accordion teased into earshot and as I looked out my window a gondola passed by and a woman snapped a picture of me looking (perhaps longingly) out my window at the passing boat, a new kind of passing vehicle, waterway traffic. That night we visited the tourist-packed Rialto bridge and went to dinner at Carly's Venetian mainstay La Trattoria alla Madonna where she witnessed the secret to creamy risotto (perhaps the best I have ever tasted) which is not cream but pan-flipping. We proceeded to get lost on the way home, following signs, discovering sidestreets, meeting stray dogs, and finally arriving home to our cave-like hostel. After a licorice-tasting absinth, we went to sleep giggly and happy.

Waking early, we headed out for the Saturday morning markets in Campo S. Margherita and at the Rialto. The streets were empty and the light shone warmly on the buildings as if in greeting. After a cappuccino, we stepped into the campo to see men setting up their fish stands complete with black eel, scampi, octopus and the like.

People warned me that Venice smells bad in summer, gladly, I think we were early enough in the summer to avoid nocive and ubiquitous stench but I could understand that most of Venice smells a little fishy... it is after all a port town on the water. Go figure. We walked around near the Rialto, before any of the shops on the bridge were open and before hoards of tourists flooded the area. The markets for me were magical, buzzing with life and locals.

Arriving in Piazza San Marco, already invaded by tourists, after a winding path from the Rialto, Carly and I headed to the top of the campanile (bell tower) to breathtaking views of the islands of Venice and the packed rooftops unimaginable from the tall and narrow streets below. So much of this city gives you a new view of life as it really should be: the streets you travel aren't straightforward or retraceable (or when they are retraced, they are completely unfamiliar), canals don't make sense, the spaces are varied, from wide open campos to narrow tall alleyways with low arched entrances. I took Venice as an allegory for everyday life, winding, unpredictable, rife with loss, and at times surreal. From the campanile with its wonderful breeze, I saw the Guidecca, a region suggested to me to visit by Daria at the office and the Chiesa S. Giorgio on its own island, that also seemed a point of interest. Wanting to take the vaporetto around town that day and buy a 24hr ticket, we arrived at the vaporetto stop only to discover that there was a vaporetto strike. Quintessential Italian experience number 5, great. Unphased we decided to go on foot, we would see as much as Venice as possible, without swimming.

We headed back to the Rialto to do a bit of present shopping, spending most of our time with Giorgio and Wanda Scarpa at their shop Rivoaltus. Wanda slaves away as Giorgio tends the one-room shop. It was so nice to be warmly greeted and welcomed. The books that are sold in the shop are gorgeous, made from leather and Amalfi paper... entrancing designs. Good purchases. After a lunch stop on the go, we headed for a museum afternoon complete with the non wow-worthy Accademia (although they did take me for an EU student) and the wonderfully peaceful and stimulating Peggy Guggenheim collection. I loved the Peggy Guggenheim Collection, if not for the Angel of the City with the removable erection but for the peaceful and inspired atmosphere that reigns in the museum. You walk into another world, of thought-provoking art, a type of art that you can't understand completely but makes your mind bubble, chatter. Venice is thus a perfect setting for the collection. Beside the cool stone trelis-covered table in the courtyard, I loved the photos of Peggy in her house (because that's what it was) because it gives a personal touch to the spaces, a history. Too bad I checked my bag and camera and couldn't take any pictures... I shall return, one of my favorite museums in a whimsical city. After wandering around with screaming feet to a church and a gelateria (to have a gianduiotto da passaggio, which I would NOT recommend although chocolate hazelnut icecream in dense whipping cream sounded amazing), we headed home on a free vaporetto and collapsed.

Within half an hour I received a phonecall from my dear friend Ayten, she had arrived in Venice and we discovered, excitedly chattering, that we were indeed close to each other and would meet each other within an hour. I had never seen Ayten outside of Cambridge, MA so I was excited to see her and see how Italy was treating her so far. Waiting for her on the street next to our neighbours, the Ristorante ae Cravate (with ties hanging from the ceiling), we were given plastic bowls filled with eye-rolling-with-pleasure scented mussels for free, because the owner of the restaurant had lost a bet that Italy would not make it to the finals and had to hand out free mussels to passers-by. Delicious and hilarious. I spotted Ayten looking around and wandering down the street, I yelled out and ran over to hug her as best as I could with a bowl of mussels in my hand. We wandered the streets of Venice, quiet and tourist-less, stopping to vist her apartment before wandering to finally find a restaurant on a canal in the jewish part of town (complete with chanting hasidim as we walked passed the kosher restaurant Gam Gam on our way to the now functional vaporetto). It was so nice to catchup with Ayten, we get along so well, dream of my future visit to Turkey, talk about our lives at Harvard, wrestle with life problems. We said goodbye as I embarked on the right vaporetto down the Grand Canal to San Marco.

Venice at night is completely unreal with palazzi that look like they are either rising up from or sinking into the water. Magical, ephemeral, peaceful. The boat rocks as I snap pictures in the darkness and catch glimpses of chandeliers, paintings or rich red walls through open windows to lit rooms. I walked off the vaporetto feeling like I had lived a dream, walking towards the music of San Marco, street lamps lighting up the night, silver tipped gondolas bobbing in the water, resting from a day of peaceful gliding. I met up with Carly, ran into some other Harvard folks and headed home on the vaporetto (after getting lost and not wanting to be stuck in the dark, the silence, with no real trusty map and nothing but lapping water). I drifted to sleep after checking out the scene in the student-busy Campo S. Margherita near our hostel and witnessing some more Italian beauties, bronzed, stylish (greek style lace up sandals, aka hotness), and smiling. A nice square to hang out in.
I had wonderfully peaceful dreams that night of rising from the water to witness a panorama of still coloured-stucco palazzi and woke up with the sun. This place really is quite peaceful and so much you have to experience for yourself: the touch of stucco, the narrow tall streets, the gentle incline of the bridges, the visibility of time's passing.

Carly and I arrived at Caffé Florian before they opened on Sunday morning and took in the cool wind breezing through piazza San Marco, the world's largest sitting room. Sipping cappuccino (the trip's best) and a Bellini we bid adieu to Venezia in style along with dipping our hands into the water to feel the soft seaweed growing on the cold marble steps into the water. On the train (although we hadn't validated our tickets, we didn't get fined as I thought we would. unforseen travel expenses: 100 euro I thought as Carly uttered 'For everything else there's Mastercard'), I tried to come to terms with the trip, its unreal quality (throughout the weekend I kept telling myself I was in Venice and afterwards I told myself that I had just been in Venice), like a dream and truly, unlike anything I have ever experienced, feeling much more in touch with life thanks to the city's unrestrained quality, floating delicately on the surface.

Monday, July 10, 2006


We won. Gli azzuri sono campioni del mondo. Del MONDO. Forza Italia (the official name of the Italian team) took the World Cup last night 6-4 when the game was forced to penalty shots, the ultimate final preuve to decide the winner in a tied situation after 30 minutes of overtime. Honestly, I am exhausted this morning having spent a weekend in Venice (which has to be put on hold because of more immediate news), having gone to sleep at 3am last night (well, this morning), getting up to a stubborn hot water heater, and arriving at work to be kicked off my adopted home computer. But all that is besides the point.

We congregated at Marina's house in her spacious living room with an international crowd (two dutch men, an american girl, a canadian, and four italians). A real world cup gathering. Although we missed Shakira's performance, we were, well no, I was glued to the TV for the rest of the match. The others (except for Davide's brother and I) grew bored after the first hour of the game. It all started with a visible will on both the Italian and French side to win. Players were being more aggressive and both throwing themselves into the game to win and at other players to avoid scoring goals enemy goals. That last tactic started badly for the Italians giving the French a penalty kick by the super star Zidane that bounced off the top of the goal into the net. 1-0. For France. Shit. At first France seemed the more skilled team, passing the ball to each other accurately and quickly and in formation. I wasn't optimistic. Not until a corner kick 12 minutes later that ended in a beautiful head shot by Materazzi. 1-1. Good. Dai dai dai Italia. Forza ragazzi.

The game continued with close calls (a goal by Italy that was barely, just barely, offside), tense moments, plenty of aggression, and a couple of yellow cards. As there wasn't much action, the rest of those gathered went to chat on the balcony but I stayed, with only Davide's brother and my tall Heineken can as company. Yelling at the TV, I wondered why people weren't more excited to watch every second of the game. Why was I? Soccer is terribly exciting, I've decided: agile, skilled, emotional. Full of swearing and instinct, soccer appeals to a raw-er side of me than my other favorite tennis. Soccer is also wonderful to watch. But I digress.

The game was forced to overtime where tensions mounted again. This match was French soccer star Zidane's last and he sure went out with a bang. After some sort of scuffle with Materazzi, he proceeded to headbutt the Italian player in the chest, an action that was followed by a red card expulsion from the game. Way to end your career, Zidane. It seemed like Italy could really step it up now, but France continued to maintain the pressure even with one less player (their star player at that). The second overtime period ended and it was all left up to the outcome of the penalty kicks. Italy started and scored and so did France. France missed their second shot, with the ball bouncing off the top of the goalpost, bouncing down but just outside the zone where it would be considered a goal. The rest of the players continued to get their shots in the net. The final Italian player, Grosso, had to score a goal to win the game since France had missed one and couldn't beat 5 successful penalty kicks. And, as you all know, he scored.

The neighbourhood erupted in cars honking, dogs barking and people yelling in a refrain from the semi-final win. Tonight however, it would continue for a long time. We at Marina's apartment hugged and jumped up and down and yelled for ourselves all while watching the Italian ragazzi on TV go ballistic, don their flags, cut Camoranesi's luckly locks of hair and realize that they had indeed done it, won the World Cup.

What do you do when Italy wins the world cup besides the requisite yelling and cheering? There were a couple of options: head to the city center and celebrate (bringing horns, flags, pots, beer, anything), drive around in your car honking and waving the flag out the window for a couple of hours, or just be happy and try to sleep. We opted for choice number one and headed to the center of town, snapping photos along the way (I got back at 3am people, don't be angry that there isn't anything visual up today), cheering with everyone on the metro (repeating either ITALIA clap clap clap , Francia Francia vaffanculo, po po po po po po po [you had to be there to understand the rhythm of that one...actually, its from the white stripes song] and something else that I can't really remember).

I have never seen so many flags of any country so densely packed in one place. It was a literal sea of flags and people. Such happiness. Hugging, couples kissing, people running around in tri-colour underwear, and vigorous flag-waving. If I were Italian I probably would have been crying with joy, waving my flag because it was the most intense sign of my patriotism and the only way I could really celebrate besides yelling at the top of my lungs. The metros were free, people let off fireworks (some quite loudly exploding in garbage cans), piazza duomo was densely covered in beer bottles and beer cans. A whole bunch of people were also standing on the base of some monument in the piazza with a victorious horse-riding captain on top. Of course we went on top to start cheers and look across the sea of people and flags, packed densely with cheers, towards the duomo. Intense. I could cheer at cars or people in their apartments and they would break into a smile and yell back, intense community.

Soccer brings this country together, which I think is the case for a lot of Europe. In Italy, gli azzurri are national heros and soccer a national sport that kids play in piazzas and learn about in their baby carriages. With the recent scandal of match-fixing penalizing illustrious teams such as Juventus and Lazio to lesser leagues, lesser prestige and lesser funding. This victory affirms (backed by player Gattuso) that although this scandal and trial may still be going on, soccer still drives the Italian people and the integrity of the game itself continues.

After a toast of champagne, I was ready to wish honking Milan goodnight after quite an experience. Auguri Italia! I crashed at 3am (only to have to get up 4.5 hours later) content for my new home country, its patriotic people, and its azzurri, champions of the world.