guardare nel futuro e sorridere

Italia [look to the future and smile]

tre (Italia, Spagna, Francia)

Barcelona opened my world and my heart.

They speak Catalán, a regional language that’s a mixture of French and Spanish influences. It’s a truly bilingual city, with Spanish the secondary language. Proud may be a way to describe Barcelona. I can’t help but admire how actively the city defends its identity, while still embracing the world and its possibilities.

Gaudí astonished me. We entered the cathedral of Sagrada Familia, and came upon the forest. From then on Barcelona ceased to be a city and emerged into a fantastic world…one where trees reach to God, where the rock rises out of its slumber, and somehow it’s possible to know what the tiniest cell might feel like. He’s one of my favorites…an architect of dreams and myth.

Barcelona made me consider living in Europe for the first time…but what would it be like to live here? I have no qualms about learning Spanish, about becoming a part of the city…but all this splendor, who paid for it? All this beauty exists so far, and yet so close to the struggles of Mexico. Spain and Mexico…Mexico and Spain…it’s s strange to come to a colonizing nation to realize that the places you visited a world away echo with the visions of history, of Catholic conquistadors.

I am not a historian…and so we left Gaudi’s forest, the beach, the metropolitan city, with heavy hearts. We traveled on to the true Atlantis, Venice.

Is this really the very same Italy we’ve come to know?

We traded trains and subway cars for boats. Everyone walks or bikes or takes the vaporetto (or water taxi). Tourists teem around St. Mark’s. City leaders meet to carve out the city’s future, in response to whispers about Atlantis sinking.

We got lost in Venice…several times…through wind and rain.

We traveled to the island of Murano, desolate and cold, to mine for some beautiful glass to take home to our families. And throughout our stay, nations of the world vied for our attention with politically charged artistic displays.

With wave motion still lingering in our bodies, we took flight to Paris. A new country, new language, and new faces of old friends.

An extra large brunch Sunday morning was the best welcome we could have had.

Croque monseuir, riz au lait, salade, croissant, caffe americain….like good italians we learn all the food words first!

Au revoir, bonsoir, si vous plait, frommage…

Thankfully our journeys through the city extend farther than my French. We heard the bells ring in Notre Dame.

Inside I imagined I walked into Victor Hugo’s world. I didn’t spot Quasimodo. But I am thankful for the beauty of cathedrals unlike any we had seen in Italy.

We visited the the Louvre, paid our respects to Mona.

We saw art that’s a little more controversial…

And took a day trip to Versailles and the largest gardens in the world.

King Louis has a great place, a truly beautiful one, designed to display the glory and wealth of France. It’s a practice in vast and precise beauty though each groomed hedge and arranged color, statue and watered avenue. Its an almost terrifying wealth that built this place.

By seeing Versailles I have a renewed appreciation for fresh air and space, for fall colors and natural beauty. But Versailles…is maintained.   Isn’t it strange that something harnessed by people, with an agenda behind it, can make you desire something completely different?

I don’t really know what I’m getting at…maybe some sort of ethics of beauty, or just the scattered thoughts of a woman lost in so many sights, sounds, and complexity…

One of my favorite parts of Paris was walking through the streets and buying my daily baguette. Even still, the pace of the city and our travels make me so thankful to be back in Tuscany, the land of pasta and slow meals, afternoon walks and greeting someone with “Ciao”. After two and a half months of being a stranger in strange lands, I am so happy to have this small sense of home in Italia, just from leaving and coming back again.

sud in pezzi

A long overdue post for a long week and a half of travel, travel recovery, getting sick and getting well. We spent three days in Rome, then took a train south to the Amalfi coast. Everything is still a blur, the beauty, the size, the AGE, the colors, the feel of the wind from the sea, and at least I can remember the waters of Capri…midnight blue even in the daytime. I want time to slow down so that I could possibly remember every smell and every taste, including eating gnocci by the seaside. Gnocchi is a type of potato dumpling usually served with pesto sauce. Have you ever tried potato that tastes like air?


St Peter’s Cathedral

St Peter’s Square

Spaghetti alla carbonara, in Roma
The flutes of the Pantheon, built by ancient Romans
As good as ancient Roman architecture, a frozen coffee with whipped cream from Tazza d’Oro
Baroque goodness

The Coliseum!
Where gladiators fought

The beach

The island of Capri
Amici (friends) ready for some sun
Amanda through a beer bottle
Saying hi to Dad in the Naples train station :)
More to come soon…

guerrieri dell’uva

Once upon a time, a group of steadfast warriors set out on a fearless mission to conquer the whole of Tuscany. They began with the town of sky-scraping citadels–A medieval city known as San Gimignano.

They climbed to the highest room in the tallest tower, where they found the bells of friars long since entombed in dust.

From their new vantage point they saw the remains of towers standing since medieval times. They targeted each, preparing their mode of attack.

Armed with brushes and pencils, the warriors set to work capturing the town and its complex structure–all brown bricks and masonry, all the blocky heights and thickset windows, all the prestige and defensive planning.

And…on their lunch break they ate the best gelato in Italy so far.

No, seriously, I probably seem to say this about every corner of every town, but this place won an international gelato competition. The best gelato…in the world! http://www.gelateriadipiazza.com/

San Gimignano so far has been my favorite city. Perhaps its the earth tones, or the clustered buildings, or passing under the walled gate and immediately feeling transported to the Middle Ages. Though only 13 of the towers in San Gimignano survive from the over 80 original ones, the town has a potent sense of history. It’s the feeling that resembles what I felt seeing the Duomo, except this time I could actually walk around within it, soak it it, climb among it, and get lost between stony walls as thick as my body.

Our next quest presented itself a few days later. On our day off, a group of us volunteered to help with the wine harvest. A van picked us up at 730 in the morning and drove us to the vineyard.

“We’re picking merlot today” Michele said, handing us pruning shears and blue exam gloves.

 

 

Welcome to Tuscany!

Isaura from A&M

My partner Isaura and I began weaving through the rows, snipping off bunches of small grapes bulging from the bottom of the vine. We filled 6 red bins full of grapes before lunch, and then we exhaustedly and gratefully gobbled down the spaghetti and beer that was our partial payment for our labor.

We worked for three more hours after lunch, and then we received the last of our payment–plates filled with bruschetta and bread soaked in wine and sugar. We witnessed the process of turning the grapes into the juice that will eventually transform into wine fresh from Italia. They gave us a bottle of wine each, which I’m bringing home to you, dear family and friends :)

grape stems

Cheers!

My “Italian” famiglia :)

Wish us well, we’re off to Rome in the morning! Then on Friday, we venture to Pompeii, the Amalfi Coast, and Kapri :)

 

Buona Esperienza


San Miniato

Is this real life? Is that really the Duomo? Is Michelangelo Buonarotti’s cadaver really behind that marble slab?

Firenze (or Florence) produced my first larger-than-life experience. Pictures  “say a thousand words”, but there’s no comparison to walking alongside the history embodied in these green-marbled walls encrusted with gold stars and white spiral columns. Perhaps to give you a scale to measure by, imagine all the pages in the world that may in some way reference Florence and Bruneschelli’s egg-shaped dome. Imagine those pages stacked on top of each other, all of the textbooks, all  the 200 year old books and all the new ones, all the film manuscripts that call for a sweeping panoramic shot of the city’s red-tiled roof-scape. All of that writing, all of that retelling, came from being HERE, where I am, where I was at that moment in time that now echoes in my memory—more things that make me appreciate how incalculable creativity is.

The Duomo

I catch myself wanting to soak everything in, but it’s damn near impossible. At least, we capture the smallest mote of these places through photos…through our blogs…our watercolors and our stories where we continue the threads of inspiration ever so slowly forward. I can’t help but want everyone I know to come here and get what this place can give them.

Firenze watercolor

Over the weekend friends and I took off to Cinqueterre to grab the last bits of summer. Cinqueterre translates roughly to “five lands”, representing five towns perched on Italy’s rocky northwestern coast. With nothing but a loose plan we arrived in Monterosso to pizza and cold beer and blue, blue water. The rocks you see here resemble the sand, a grayish color complemented by the bright yellows, reds, and teals of the villas.

On the hike

We took a two-hour hike to Vernazza, the next town over. Sheer rock stretched up on our left, and the curve of the sea stretched out to our right. There were few railings. That didn’t stop a seventy year old lady and some Germans and their dogs from conquering the trail.

Vernazza

I feel the need to update my situation: we’re actually NOT washing our clothes by hand. We found a self-service station that’s a ten minute walk down the hill. My clothes smell so fresh.

Fun fact: The Etruscans were the ancient inhabitants of Italy and had a significant influence on Roman and Greek culture. Tuscany, the region I’m staying in now, is named after them. It’s worth noting that in Etruscan culture, the woman was esteemed as much as the man. Husbands and wives were buried together and their likenesses carved on the top of their sarcophagi. Etruscans rock!

San Miniato
Hey Dad :)

Bienvenuti a Italia!

One thing I could say for our first few days here: Italia is old country. The convent we are staying in dates back to the 1500s. There’s no AC, so we get to experience all of the breezes and the usefulness of sweating. We will be handwashing our clothes and the wifi is scarce. Everyone drives a Fiat, little Italian cars that are mini hatchbacks…no one has spotted an SUV yet!

After a two-hour bus ride in a dusty charter, we arrived to Castiglion Fiorentino tired but pressing each other to stay awake 7 hours ahead of our normal bedtime. Here we met the city for the first time.

Moving through the city along the latitudes, we use the same streets that the cars do. When a car approaches from behind we press to the walls to let it pass. On the longitudes though, we “repent”. The pedestrian streets make for a steep climb up the hill of the town. We complain on occasion but…the view is worth it, and we’ve adopted the café at the top of the hill as our favorite. We get our cappuchine and vine and pasta (pastries) from up there, looking across a small plaza and the hills of Tuscany.

Every window has a flowerbox.

The first few days of being in this lovely city truly played out like a dream. That feeling lingers…the feeling that I’ll be going home just around the corner. Visiting the community pool, where they played Lady Gaga in the background while we sipped Coronas by the pool, didn’t help. American culture is present here…and it’s a little strange, almost uncomfortable in a way. What does a foreigner do when confronted with her own exports? It was only by chance that I may have listened to Pavarotti…

Even still, around every corner we are greeted with, “Ciao” and encounter something precious. Turn out a window in this town, the wind greets you, as does the fog on a hilly horizon dotted with rows upon rows of olive trees.

In Arezzo, a town about 20 minutes away, we found an antique fair and antique tradition. The townspeople wore banners to show their loyalty to their very own jousting team.

 

This is just one reflection of the regional pride each of the towns here have. Smilja, our instructor, reminded us that Italy as a country…well, it’s also very young, formed from the union of many city states. Would you say you’re a Texan before an American? I used to, and as I venture outward I find that identity beginning to transform.

Buglers played "Ode to Joy" in the piazza

I don’t think we could have asked for a better place to stay.

It is small, safe, and beautiful. We can travel within the country and without. We have home base equipped with three-course home-cooked meals (including pasta cooked fresh every day, in every way possible, with and without pesto, tomato, spices…).

Am I really going to be here for three months?

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