Sunday, December 27, 2009
Life abroad isn't perfect all of the time. But it's just life. And life happens no matter where you are. There are good days and there are bad days, regardless of surroundings. And whatever its transgressions, we could not help but fall in love with life in Italy.
There's this beautifully tragic quote by John Irving that says, "What is hardest to accept about the passage of time is that the people who once mattered the most to us are wrapped up in parentheses."
December. We danced through the streets, strung with lights, not daring to sleep the last days, just in case we miss anything. Left before the sun came up. You sang the beginning lines of "leaving on a jet plane" into my ear as we hugged goodbye, my cab waiting impatiently. And we all left. And in fits of sleep and tears and air turbulence we were back in our own respective time zones in the real world too soon.
We're finding out if the real and the fantastic can be harmonized. No parentheses needed just yet, Irving.
Monday, November 30, 2009
The prudes, fearing what would become Europe's freedom in intellectual and sexual expression, fled to America on a boat. Turns out New England is cold and difficult to farm. The Native Americans save their asses by showing them what they are doing wrong. A successful harvest is accomplished in 1621 and food is consumed by all. This act of kindness is later rewarded by the American government taking their land. Ignoring that, we decide to celebrate the Pilgrims not freezing and dying out by copious amounts of deliciousness each November.
The Classic Thanksgiving
The Norman Rockwell painting materializes as the turkey is carved at the head of the table while mashed potatoes, stuffing, and cranberry sauce are put into circulation. Pumpkin pie is, of course, requisite. Everyone of elementary school age and many past make headdresses or stiff black hats out of construction paper. Grace is a formality as most have cheated. Heads are bowed and everyone tries to pretend not to be already chewing. If it's been planned appropriately, there are leftovers for two to three weeks.
The International College Student's Thanksgiving
Around sixty kids pile into the art studios building in Central Florence. Each table is covered in fall leaves and liters of red wine. Loud music blasts on the speakers and everyone enters the glass doors with theme music, creating our own personal red carpet for the evening. In addition to the standard thanksgiving foods there are things like tacos and eggrolls. After dinner, we head up to the rooftops of Florence for a spectacular view of the Duomo. Sitting on the ledge, Chianti in hand, we delve into wine-induced existentialism, whether or not some of us have art history presentations at nine the next morning.
Wednesday, November 18, 2009
Today you opened my closet and I asked if you were looking for skeletons. You said yes, quite seriously, closing the doors. First the right. Then the left. I usually close the left first. You say you can tell I like abstract art by the way I arrange my hair brushes on the dresser. I tell you you're an impressionist, too easily charmed by lilacs' shadows. In perfect fashion, this is what I know: your worst habits, your most redeeming qualities, where your fear of commitment stems from, and how you like your eggs. Your worst habits have never mattered because your redeeming qualities matter more, and tomorrow the eggs will matter, and tomorrow we will have breakfast for dinner, cracking each satisfactorily on the edge of the counter. The yolks of yours will break, but so will mine, and they are to be scrambled anyway.
Chianti and take-out Chinese followed us onto the roof as we waited for the predicted streaks of light. I say I miss the part of life when everyone gave out valentines. I try to say how there are certain experiences that, once lived, can never be recreated, but solely reinvented. I say I've had wonderful reinventions of those valentines, but part of me will always miss the construction paper and chaos and the fairness that came from making sure everyone was loved. You tell me life isn't fair and love certainly isn't either. I tell you it's worse than you think, for life is random. It's quiet until you finally say that you miss the Tooth Fairy. She taught you it was okay to sell your body for money.
You ask what star gazing reminds me of. I surprise myself and actually tell you the story of how my friends and I had stood under a star carpet at midnight in the woods. We had each written on slips of paper the thing that troubled us the most at the time. Our biggest worry. Our biggest fear. In complete silence, we dropped the papers into a pre-dug hole, filling it completely with dirt. You ask me what I'm afraid of. I tell you spiders, june bugs, clowns, the feeling of being followed, the threat of liquids exploding every time I put them in a suitcase, being unhappy, being unsatisfied, potentially wrong choices, global warming in theory, ventriloquist dummies, computer viruses, jolly ranchers, and it being too late. Same question. You tell me you are afraid of being afraid to sin.
You say/ I say
[ there is one thing thing you need to know about me: I have no intention of telling the truth ]
Mutual agreement. We leave it at that.
Monday, November 9, 2009
History of Art class takes a weekend jaunt to Rome:
Old couch. Old drapes. Old wallpaper. New light. New folds. Newly forming dust. Daily challenge: find the relevant specific to one's own life.
Monday, November 2, 2009
Wednesday, October 21, 2009
The world may be sectioned off into things that are within the boundaries of human control and the things that are definitively not. So much of the war between nature and humanity stems from the presence of desire – desire to control and desire to hide from the uncontrollable. Much of humanity’s daily interaction with the world deals with a certain passing ascertaining of authority, the small choices that constitute every step, who is encountered, what is ingested, what is said, and what is thought. Humanity has the ability to construct societies and skyscrapers, place laws and enforce regulations, build a grid of communication and an exchange of currency. It has learned to either use nature to its advantage or manipulate it, regulating that which grows from the ground and developing procedures to battle diseases. There is even an exertion of control in the definition for nature humanity provides, for if it cannot be directly controlled, a natural disaster, for instance, at least it can be studied and understood. There is seldom anything about nature that mankind has not found a way of dealing with, or at least responding to, resulting in an attitude that communicates the confidence that if the answer is not had now, it will be had eventually.
Death is an exception. It is an abstractness that may be delayed, but only up to a particular point. It may be questioned, but those who know the answer are no longer in a position to relay it. The causes may be explained away, but the ultimate effect remains opaquely mysterious. Because of its resolutely enigmatic quality, it is ultimately ignored, avoided, and even feared. Loss of control reveals a particular uncertainty within humanity, one that breaks down group delineations and becomes particular to the individual – how that individual perceives and prepares for the ultimate condition of death.
Monday, October 19, 2009
Sunday, October 18, 2009
It feels like fall, like it inevitably feels like fall every year. It feels like fall when jackets turn muted colors with the occasional pop of red. It feels like fall when the idea of holiday seems plausible. It feels like fall when I notice the shadows of leaves, oils staining the cement momentarily on the spots where they have fallen, like they are falling in love with the ground.
It feels like fall when I feel the way I feel every fall - when I fall into that equilibrium of everything speeding up and everything slowing down. It's a wonderful purgatory of being so excited for the moment but also knowing there are countless moments past the current. And all of a sudden you're Psyche and you're invincible, just at the start of the season. [Winged] Victory over the future.
I felt this way every fall as a kid, this feeling of possibility, and wondered when the fall would come where I would feel old enough to take advantage of this sense. I remember thinking at seven and eight and definitely nine that when I was ten I would feel so much older - ten was when my age would be two numbers, not just one. But then I was ten and I felt just the same. If anything, it was mundane, for almost everyone has a two digit age, and I knew even at the beginning of my two digit stage that not many people get to three. I decided when I was thirteen I would feel so much older. And then I thought it would happen when I was fifteen and then sixteen and soon I stopped thinking about it all together. And though I thought about it no more, I am sure any sense of the feeling eluded me at seventeen as well.
Suddenly, I was eighteen. I was eighteen with still an air of seventeen, and conscious of it. I think now I was unsure of what parts of myself I wanted to keep and what parts of myself I wanted to change, and I couldn't fully move up until I decided. Even more suddenly, I was nineteen. I was nineteen with still an air of....lifetimes past. By now I felt I could accurately describe and catalogue what were before abstract things like emotions and relationships. I had loved and pushed myself emotionally. I had my heart broken and had been pushed by others emotionally. In all senses. And I kept living. And then I was twenty. I am twenty and no longer have any idea what age I am. I am alone in Europe, trying vainly with countless others to live the life of an artist. Or, more simply, to live life organically. Living by feeling.
I am living finally by the feeling I feel every fall. I can't say this was the feeling I was chasing at seven and eight and definitely nine, but I feel that it's close. And I am Winged. And I am Flying.
Tuesday, October 13, 2009
Dramatically cropped bodies of photo and marble are currently the main attraction at the Galleria dell'Accademia. The hall that leads to the David is lined with Michelangelo's other works. It appears he reached a point where he became disinterested with (though certainly still satiated by) the final piece, caring more about the revelation of figure from stone. They are both feeling and form, culminating at the end of the hall with the David, moments before or moments after battle, depending who you ask. In the exhibit currently are a series of Mapplethorpe photographs, carefully paired with each of the marble figures. The contours, the movement, the feel of the muscle: the nude models mimic the marble. The series of the four Ajitto portraits are at the four points of the David's base. Their veins match. The scandal and the glorified, displayed together. But weren't they both so ordinary before? Before they were cast into the light?
And this one song has been playing here without end:
"I want to live like common people,
I want to do whatever common people do,
I want to sleep with common people,
I want to sleep with common people,
Well what else could I do -
I said "I'll see what I can do."
"You'll never live like common people,
you'll never do what common people do,
you'll never fail like common people,
you'll never watch your life slide out of view,
and dance and drink and screw,
because there's nothing else to do."
Monday, October 12, 2009
Tuesday, October 6, 2009
Inside Michelangelo's house we learn about two relief carvings done while he was still a teenager. They are very good. They are Michelangelo.
And we are....?
We sipped and discussed. We laughed and left to find the answer.
Word from a mouth I trust told me all about sibyls and prophets during yesterday's wine course.
(excluding obvious gender designations):
I rather be a sibyl.
He rather be a prophet.
But who's ever been accused of being a false sibyl?
Friday, October 2, 2009
Oktoberfest in 10 steps
Step 1: ensure you have a place to pass out
Our hostel was just outside of cosmopolitan Munich, overlooking trees and churches and cottage-front constructions. It gave off the feeling of a place you could only find by accident: very city-that-appears-once-every-hundred-years legend. It was an odd arrangement, situated at the top of a hill and built with many hallways, unlit and giving way to the adventurous feeling of perhaps bumping into someone in the night. There were great fields for Frisbee and a spacious tiled room where they served breakfast, including the granola based cereal with dark chocolate shavings that now holds a dear place in my heart. At the festival we saw the alternative to hostel living: passing out on grass carpets. I’ll stick to my bunk bed and my cereal and the things that go bump in the night.
Step 3: be properly attired, whatever the occasion calls for
Sure, seas of checkered shirts and lederhosen are pretty standard – but how well can you rock it? Inspirations for fashion this weekend were only the fiercest: those who could kick it with Hello Kitty and still look cool:
The girls and I tried on a few outfits ourselves….but in the end we shunned the traditional, buying instead suspenders and hats with feathers.
Step 4: brave Hofbräuhaus
Famous in Munich. We had sausages and sauerkraut and mugs of froth as big as our faces. They only let people in a bit at a time and everyone would storm the entrances in surges. The HB logo reminded me of a comment I made this summer while strolling the pier in Huntington Beach, wondering who had designed their own HB brand. The two are identical and I am now less impressed with Huntington Beach, believing them beer-loving thieves.
The arena within the Hofbräuhaus walls is unparalleled. People yell conversations, climb through the large sliding windows, and then yell louder to hear themselves over the yellers first mentioned. It is catered-to chaos, as waiters miraculously remember where everyone is in a sea of people while dodging flying clothes and glass. Catered-to chaos, all in perfect cheerfulness.
Tent 1: Our first experience with the tents. I expected them to host wild debauchery. I expected them to serve unpronounceable beers. I did not expect them to be so…beautiful. Each tent takes on a large personality, choosing bold stripes of colors as badges of honor. And those loyal to particular beer houses will dress themselves in those colors. It’s entirely overwhelming and wonderful. I liked this tent – so much of it was clear and opened to the sky.
Tent 2: The Christmas tent. I had a sudden craving for snow and hot chocolate. But then the pretzel woman went by and I remembered where I was. The more aggressively drunk Germans were in this tent – we were grabbed off the aisles by groups insisting we cheers with them.
Tent 3: We decided to get a late lunch here and try what was reported to be one of the best things in Germany – the potato soup and the roasted chicken. The reports were not wrong and we had beer mixed with lemonade. This was also the tent where our group accidentally (?) bought beer for underage German girls.
Tent 4: Where the party is. We know it upon entering – this – this tent right here – is the tent of our dreams. The vibe is right, the people look friendly, and the music is good. The thing is, no matter what tent you are in, it is impossible to get a steady spot at a table without reservations. This leads us to Step 6.
Step 6: find proper prost mates
This is done by wandering the aisles and making friends. These friends will then invite you to
climb over benches. Once situated on the benches, you will learn each other’s life stories, and conversations will be dominated by exclamations of PROST – the cheering chant of choice at Oktoberfest. I find it an excellent system. We became soul mates for the day and it felt strangely invigorating
to skip all the hesitance and nervousness of encountering a new person and advancing to the better stage of knowing them for hundreds of lives or more. Call it utopian. Right below are the founding members: normal citizen, normal citizen, normal citizen, German Dolce&Gabbana model
Step 7: dance on tables
Lesson learned: this is a justifiable act for everyone. I think I have the igniting scenario summarized: tents and emotions and limits are at their capacities, you’re with your best friends in the whole world (at Oktoberfest, these are whichever people are nearest), and the band begins to play your favorite. song. EVER. That’s it – up on the table! The difference is there are hundreds and hundreds of people thinking the exact same thing – because everyone knows the words and everyone knows the
choreography. And everyone loses themselves for droplets at a time staring in their own music videos. It’s lip-synching to scenery during a road trip or screaming lyrics in the shower with a shampoo-bottle-microphone perfected.
Step 8: recognize the love story
Like all good things, Oktoberfest started with a love story. And they don’t let you forget it – heart shaped everything as well as love’s constant profession. Well, I’m a romantic. So I’m all for the endorsements. Peace. Love. Oktoberfest.
Step 9: lose the ground, just get high
No, really. Let go, in all the best connotations Or, if it’s your desire, all the worst connotations as well. And, sometimes, even in the physical. Example:
Get a ticket, Going Up, FLY (55 meters up, to be exact), Dare to Look Down, Live to Tell the Tale
Step 10: have meaningful encounters with strangers
Song of the trip:
"If I find him, if I just follow, would he hold me and never let me go? Would he let me borrow his wool, winter coat? I don't know."
"If I see her, standing there alone, at the train station three stops from her home... I have half a mind to say what I'm thinking anyway, but I don't know..."
Don't say hello with a quick goodbye.