Saturday, September 22, 2007

Endless Italian Imagery

Pictures from my trip, a select few, finally uploaded.

Thursday, September 06, 2007

Roma Roma Roma

Day One. The day was fated to be a bad one. Within 30 minutes of waking up (the 15th time, since many of my 7 roommates left early) I discovered my key to be gone (one of those operations where the lights don't turn on unless there is a key in the slot) and no hot water came from the shower. Telling myself it was like a morning swim in a lake and that it would rouse me, I started my day with a shock. I had a meeting at the de Chirico foundation, the whole reason for my trip- I would later discover that although the house was right IN Piazza di Spagna (the center of the center of the world as de Chirico said himself) I was the sole visitor for the whole day. My personalized tour of the museum showed me the layout of the house that has been kept completely intact by Isabella de Chirico, the artist's wife. Giorgio's work covers the walls (his neometafisica done in his late career) and shows evidence of constant thought and evolution, varying in creative ways on an old theme. His characteristic metafisica showcased lifeless mannequins inhabiting somewhat haunted squares and impregnated moments in time. The later work imbues these mannequin figures with bodies part human, part wood and part marble. The statues take on new life, literally. De Chirico also created false copies of his metafisica work and predated it to that era. A painting done in the 70s depicting the castello of Ferrara is dated 1924- a strange way to relive past fame.

But I digress in a pre-thesis exposition; I had been hoping to visit the archives of the foundation. I was told upon arrival that I would need to send a fax to the president requesting permission. I am only in Rome for 4 days- Could I get into the archives by week's end? The tour guide gave me a characteristically Italian shrug and expressed his predicted regrets. Somewhat defeated (although not unexpectedly so), I wandered around before meeting my mom's friend Danda for lunch. She drove me far away from the tourist throngs into the residential area of Rome, high on a hill, to the club of foreign ministers- a type of getaway compound for those in diplomacy complete with red clay tennis courts, swimming pool and cafeteria. Basking in the sun we chatted of film and Americans and Italian bureaucracy. Learning my de Chirico foundation woes and chatting with my ever-persistent mother on the phone, Danda took out her phonebook and made a few calls. Within 30 minutes we had a possible in through a guy who works at the Museo d'Arte Moderna. I wandered the excellently organized Symbolist exhibit before being chased down by two memebers of the museum staff looking for il canadese. Mario, my museum man, ended up telling me the same story: blah blah blah fax blah blah blah president... Since a contact at the Canadian embassy had already helped me out I thought I was set. Later, my ever persistent mother, still persisting, called with an idea: why not get your advisor to send a fax from Harvard? As a knee jerk reaction in my diplomatic, independent, do-it-myself, almost complacent way, I declined (c'mon ideas from your mother can't be GOOD can they?). But 10 minutes later Danda called back and bolstered my mother's idea. If an Italian thought it was a good idea then it must very well be. And off I went to send an email thanking the way time works and the layout of the globe for creating a glorious time difference that would buy me more North American faxing hours.

Day Two. Things were sure to be better. Although 7am construction crashed into an already snoring-interrupted snooze, I woke up hopeful, ready for anything and ready for nothing (like a true Italian). I headed to the centro storico for a morning caffè (not before stopping at the Termini Sephora and spritzing myself with the latest Diesel fragrance [very nice FYI]); I sought my morning cappuccino at Sant'Eustacio already having tried Caffe Tazza d'Oro the day previous. Although deserted and slightly pricier, the two baristas served me a cup of frothy cappuccino that I am still savoring now (11:16am; by hand in a notebook) as I write this all down in Villa Borghese. Sweet but strong, full-bodied and intense. Whoa. Today will be a great day for sure. And just as I went to enter the metro, I got a call: Abbiamo ricevuto uno fax dello Fogga Arte Museoom... And like that I had an appointment by week's end to consult the de Chirico archives.

Saturday, August 18, 2007

a silent wish spoken

The last time I was home I went to the inauguration of the Hope and Cope Center, a home designed by my father converted into a multi-purpose complex to help those with cancer lead full lives while dealing with their reality. At the end of the ceremony we were given a small triangular box. Within, there was a monarch butterfly, waiting to fly. A native american legend states that if you would like a wish to come true, all you have to do is whisper to a butterfly and let it fly. Since the winged messenger is silent, the secret can only be revealed to Him. Releasing the butterfly will allow the wish to rise to the heavens where it will be fulfilled.

It was such a special moment to open the little box and find a Monarch butterfly peacefully enclosed. Once opened, the red-and-orange beauties let their wings open and close, while listening to the wishes, before taking flight.

I was reminded of this moment this week; Monarch butterflies have been floating around Cambridge. I thought maybe my butterfly had returned to visit. Although I don't remember what I wished for, it felt as if the message had been delivered. These little harbingers of hope floating around, flapping their radiant wings in a silent and delicate language of flight and communication.

Tuesday, August 14, 2007

Where have you gone my reckless and irresponsible youth?

Did I forget to have it? Sometimes I feel like a 30-year-old waiting to happen. Others keep refraining how amazed they are that a 21-year-old is so self-reflective and so serious about schoolwork and life. I like to think that I am living a mindful and fulfilled life even at the age of 21. There is no reason that my life at this moment should be invalidated because I am just waiting to grow up. I am living.

That said, I maybe take things a little too seriously and should let loose more often. For sure. Taking more risks and having a little more fun couldn't hurt anyone as long as I am just mindful of it. The two can coexist for sure. By no means do I want to get drunk to the point where I don't remember anything; that has no appeal to me. But why not be the life of the party? While I am by no means a 9-to-5 drone, I could loosen up a little.

Now where did I put my dancing shoes?

Monday, August 13, 2007

elegy to a fallen season

Last week, while walking to work in my usual morning ritual, the air hung crisply, a chill running through it. Just as inexplicably as the summer's heat had set in, the forebear of autumn's sweater-necessary weather had invaded early August. With this sensation that a new season whispered its inevitable arrival, I have started thinking about endings.

Within a week and a half, Let's Go Italy, the book over which I have sacrificed my eyesight and into which I have poured a lot of memories and experience, will be finished and out of my hands until its November publication. Even though I have done the job before, this summer has been a new experience in teamwork, compromise, leadership, and balance. With a whole new team of editors and two researchers to take care of, I found myself readjusting to a job I thought I knew well; the pace of the job depends on those people working together and the success of adequate research on the careful attention shown for those on the road. It's amazing that Let's Go operates the way it does, with a near 100% turnover every year, however it continues to be a dynamic and exciting student-run organization and it continues to stick around. At the end of it all, I greet the looming final deadline with welcome arms, knowing that I've suffered at some points and thrived at others, clenching my teeth while staring at a computer screen and laughing at the anecdotes sent back from the road.

The hot summer months that took me away from dorm life and the frenetic Harvard pace brought me into a restful apartment space full of time for reflection. Seeing the evocative Edward Hopper show yesterday, its main themes resonated with me deeply. Solitary individuals dominate his urban canvases, whether they be alone or in company. Similarly, life in the 'real world' (away from the artificial bubble of college) can be exacting and isolating. Reaching out to close friends takes energy and time, making you vulnerable to others but, in so doing, open to a strong connection; in the end, your own strength of spirit carries you through. With the 'real world' looming less than a year away beyond graduation, plans for the future swirl along with ideal hopes. My friends remain dispersed a bit all over the place; being a quiet guy who loves sitting, absorbing conversations, and remaining slightly aloof, the friends I make tend to be a few special individuals—leaving me with strong friendships lived in a few unpredictable moments of connection and giving me a strength and independence of spirit. ... Hopper's poignant canvases, although somewhat heart-weighing in their anonymity and disconnect, for me reflected the emotional fabric of Internet-cellphone-21st century life.

The chill in the air has called me out of quiet reflection and brought me back to my senses, out from rabidly reading Harry Potter to tackling the thesis reading I said I would do simultaneously with GRE studies over the summer. The courses of instruction for the final year were posted online and once again I find myself disappointed with classes I hoped to take that I've discovered won't be offered until the fall of 2008: a ritual I've gone through every semester. And with that return to ritual, return to school, summer's end means a new beginning (a lesson I often forget, too enraptured in the finality of finish).

But as ambiguous as everything else in life, the transition has no set point and, before I arrive in new beginning, move in and start taking notes, I will need to put finishing touches on a travel guide, pack up an apartment, head home to prepare for a new year, celebrate my sister's wedding and escape for a week of research to Italy.

Too often I forget what a beautiful, mindful, and inspired life I lead.

Saturday, August 11, 2007

the solitariness of being

Today, I went to see the mega-blowout artshow showing fifty works by Edward Hopper. The show was sold out for all the half-hour entrance timeslots for the entire day so it's a good thing that I got my ticket online. Beyond my expectations, the collection of works was an emotional experience.

Working at a time where all brands of realism were bubbling to the surface, Hopper set himself apart. While he shares the desire to portray reality with the artists of the Ashcan school, he throws away the low-class grit to display something else entirely.

Aside from his completely humanless scenes by the sea, Hopper's depiction of urban life reflects the very anonymity of modern life. Buildings dominate a scene with a lone undecipherable woman sitting on a window sill, perhaps thinking and reflecting. Standing in front of Hopper's scene of a cafe with all its inhabitants either with their backs turned to the viewer or with their faces hidden, you can't help but feel that isolation. In the city, life is framed by structures, it doesn't exist freely. In their quietness, Hopper's scenes weigh down the heart. We've all felt it: knowing that we are the only ones living our entire lives.

While most of his canvases only display a lone figure, a few depict a few people in the same scene. A caption described it perfectly: the solitariness of the individual even when in the company of others. The iconic Nighthawks and Office at Night show at least two people but break any connection that brings them together. Their relationships seem like they are on two levels, ambiguous, unspoken, unheard. One of the last canvases showed a couple at the beach both staring out into space, together but somehow both alone. It seemed that Hopper struggled to bring this idea to the surface of his canvases, expressing a jarring subject in a simple way. Leaving the exhibit, seeing the final image of an empty room filled with the light of the setting sun, you can't help but feel heavy-hearted. But that is the mark of great art, that which can communicate a universal idea and capture a moment in times without words, just brushstrokes.

Tuesday, August 07, 2007

A Yoga Life

Yesterday I had a bad day, the type of day that flips in your stomach and leaves your heart pounding, not fast, but hard and deliberately. It is one of the worst feelings in the world.

I woke up today wanting to cleanse my body of these negative emotions, so I went to yoga. I breathed deep and forcefully, it was not a peaceful routine. Regardless of the force with which I was breathing I was determined to pledge complete loyalty to the poses, having faith that my own strength would pull me through. "Just focus on breathing, inhaling and exhaling. That's all there is." With those words, I was brought up from a sea of negativity and gasped a breath of fresh air. I had realized that all there is to life is the inhale and the exhale, something so simple and so involuntary.

It was only when I kicked up into a handstand that I really let go of everything. So focused was I on my body and its smooth unfaltering line that I forgot about the energies coursing through my body.

I forgot about my own strength. I had reached a position in my emotional energies where I found myself leaning on other people, other people who weren't there. I felt alone and quite frustrated. I'd lost the self-reflexive beautiful spirit who is completely grounded, unfettered and strong. After class I spoke with my teacher, Amelia, a woman to whom I look up almost reverently. She is a beautiful spirit with crisp words that bring me back to self-awareness. "All you really need is a child's pose or a headstand, have that pressure on your head that brings you back." Too often we strangle our negative energies, fight them, try to suffocate them. And they only fight back. Leading a yoga life means embracing those energies in your body and never forgetting about your own strength. And often, all you need is a headstand.

Tuesday, July 24, 2007

Artistic Adventures

Moments in New York and Jacksonville, details of moments that caught my eye...

Saturday, July 21, 2007

3... 2... 1... happy new book!

Last night was a wonderful night for literacy. Hardcore Harry Potter enthusiasts of all ages donned their Hogwarts uniforms or pledged allegiance to the forces of evil to toast the release of the final tome of JK Rowling's fantastical saga. They came in capes, in scarved, in thick oval framed glasses, they wore makeup, they dyed their hair, they gave themselves Harry's lightning bolt scar. Harvard Square and Coolidge Corner were both carpeted with die-hard readers who all pre-ordered the 739-page mammoth that would end the battle between good and evil.

It's been 12 years since the release of the first book and I can't for the life of me remember why reading a single series excited so much popularity. Perhaps it was the accessibility of the novel's fantastical world and the simplicity with which a wizard's world revealed its inner workings to children and adults. The books started off rather skimpy and only grew in size and complexity, but the fact that some books stretched beyond 800 pages never hindered those little readers who have perhaps only been able to string together words for a few short years. I watched the line as they roared at midnight; tiny toothless tots excitedly clutched the hands of their parents while teenagers and much older enthusiasts cheered from various disguises holding onto their magic wands.

The phenomenon will continue with 3 more movies still to embody the last 3 works by Rowling. I have yet to read the 6th book (even though I already know its tragic finish) before I round out my own experience with Potter in his final moments released to the public last night. A classic story of the struggle between good and evil in a whimsical world has brought overwhelming richer-than-the-queen success to an author who struggled as a welfare mom before the Potter project; JK Rowling has cast a spell on readers around the world by capturing their imagination and enlivening their eyes to devour words and their fingers to fervidly flip pages.

Sunday, July 15, 2007

Thirty-one and a half hours, there and back again

You turn on the faucet and the sea pours out, salty. I awoke Saturday morning not in Boston but in Jacksonville, Florida. I took a trip down here to see a painting by Giorgio de Chirico which I have deemed worthy of consideration for my thesis. I couldn't believe I was in Florida, looking out at palm trees and lush greenery from the breakfast table. The novelty of air travel will never wear off (probably even less so now that security measures make each trip a new adventure).

Florida, a land where you wander from weighty humid air to chillingly cold A/C. A peninsula where it will be perfectly beautiful in the morning and then, by 1pm, when you are sitting down to lunch, wet from your car-restaurant 10 second run, it seems like night. And of course by 6pm you'll be able to go to the beach. Not getting anywhere without a car, you are seat-belted to the palm tree-lined highway in search of your next adventure.

Wednesday, June 06, 2007

career quest

It's pretty clear that I am at that point where both the end and the beginning are in sight. It's Junior Summer. I remember thinking that Junior Summer would be that point when I try that job that would lead to my future career. Now that I am here, I know that was a bit of a lofty goal. With Senior year starting in a few short months, I can already see the projects that will keep me busy both then and now...

A senior thesis is in the works, nothing but a bubbling idea at the moment involving de Chirico and his metaphysical paintings in Ferrara during WWI.

A one-year Masters in Arts in Education at the Ed school marinates in my mind as a possibility

And there is the possibilty of taking time off, dreaming a little more

All the while, I keep thinking: where am I headed? This summer I am doing yet another stint at the very fun and always challenging Let's Go, continuning the Italica fascination with a guide to the Mediterranean boot. It's a 9 to 5 thing and I am realizing just how much time that is. You better love what you do if you are going to spend most of your waking life there. Although initially I was challenged by balancing the job with school and another job, I just started some serious editing and I remember the thrill of trying to communicate to a public. I enjoy building that bridge of communication.

Last summer and fall I fell into and in love with photography. A different sort of communication, without words. Working for a photo agency last summer in Italy and then just sinking into the Italian landscape and observing everything around me. I had so much time to sit back and reflect, I truly appreciated the slowness of life and the simple beautiful things that Italy has to offer.

And here I am after a very busy and hectic Junior Spring, where I often felt stressed and frantic. Bam, and it's summer. I have these goals of working 9-5, studying for the GRE, reading for my thesis, doing yoga 3 times a week and leading, um, a life. And up until today, although relaxed, I was feeling as if I'd taken on a bit too much for the summer. Who am I trying to be? What am I trying to prove? I went to see Career Services last semester to map out what I want in a career, which values are dear to me, what my ideal lifestyle would be. I even bought a copy of What Color is Your Parachute.

Today I heard Bill Clinton and 4 Harvard Seniors talk at Class Day. I heard inspirational funny and articulate speeches expounding on the characteristics of leadership and the universality of our common humanity. Sitting there and being wrapped in other peoples' words brought me back to myself. I am a competent and confident human being. I don't have anything to prove to other people, not in terms of on-the-surface expectations. I don't really need to colour in my parachute's hue or follow the refrains and orders from the masses. I can be myself and trust myself.

I know what I appreciate in life: fine wine, cooking for/with friends, making a connection, laughing, being free of anxiety and expectations, feeling good about my strength, my body, my look, my personality, having an eye for aesthetics, and creating a bridge of communication. I've got a creative soul, a powerful drive but also a gentle thoughtful consientious touch. I like researching and being very knowledgeable about what it is that I do. I hate BS, from other and especially from myself. Listening is a very key part of who I am and what I do. Although I like a bit of routine, new adventures are always welcome and I'm not a fan when things get dull. That said, I am by no means fickle, I stick by my family and friends, I learn from my mistakes and I am a constructive hard-worker. I like to think logically and practically.

I needed to do some self reflection and I now feel more confident in myself. As for the colour of my parachute and my life path, I still don't quite know. I am open to ideas and everything I see lately, I take as another brick to slick with mortar and put into the wall, building some new conception of a direction leading out beyond the year that awaits me.

Wednesday, April 11, 2007

Without Words Without Translation ... a photo exhibit by Stefan Zebrowski-Rubin...

"The traveler who has gone to Italy to study the tactile values of Giotto, or the corruption of the papacy, may return remembering nothing but the blue sky and the men and women who live under it" - E.M. Forster

My semester spent abroad in Italy served as a sort of visual awakening. Everywhere I went I was seduced by what I saw and pushed by my curiosity to observe, learn and remember. Moments of awe compelled me to pick up my camera: the excited ascent into La Scala for an opera, peering through windows from the vaporetto on the Grand Canal at night, the emptiness of a rainy day at the beach in Monterosso, Cinque Terre. This is a collection of those moments, those inspiring still instances that pressed me to capture and click, my Italian moments. I present a photo exhibit of 24 images that represent a loose narrative of my journey, in its meditative and curious capturing of a new world. I come back remembering the seemingly always-blue skies, the colorful fabrics, the bronzed skins, the delicate aromas of coffee, and the art everywhere I looked.

From September 2006 through January 2007, I studied at the UniversitĂ  degli studi di Ferrara with Middlebury College, having spent the summer working at a photo agency in Milan and volunteering on a farm in Tuscany. In the fall, I lived with two Italians and an American in an apartment, cooked for myself, spoke nothing but Italian, struggled with and triumphed over cross-cultural challenges. Travel was made easy by my optimum location in Ferrara, a quick train ride to Florence, Venice, Padua, and Bologna among others; I made weekend trips whenever I could, always carrying my Casio Digital Camera QV-351, snapping whatever caught my eye. At the end of the day, living new adventures all the time, I sent home snapshots and stories, wanting to reach out and share this period of discovery. In total, I took 2,400 photos; these are the 24 I have chosen to share with you.