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Archive for April, 2011

Ciao Italia…

I’m going to apologize in advance for the length of this post, but I just haven’t had the time I the past few days to say what’s really been on my mind.  In fact, I’ve been taking notes on my iPod regarding topics I would like to talk about!  As you can see, I’m getting more and more excited about these posts now that I actually have something remotely interesting to talk about.As a note, I’m typing this on the flight back home.  I know that one isn’t typically excited at the end of a vacation, but I’m always just done after a week.  I can’t wait to go home, see our dogs, see my bed, and smell the grassy-manure Vermont air….I just love it.  Technically, I’m supposed to go to school tomorrow morning…but I don’t know how that’ll work out.  But at this point, I don’t care because I’m almost home and it’s May soon!

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In Italy, it seems as if foreigners are paid a lot of attention to, both negatively and positively.  Our first night in Florence, we stepped into an non-Italian restaurant in order to take a break from the not-so-good (in my opinion….) Italian food.  The owners were elated to see people who spoke their language, and gave us preferential treatment…though they were a bit annoyed after a while from our questions about Florence.  Not too long after, a group of American girls (early 20s or late teens) walked in, sporting summer dresses and taking advantage of the drinking age in Italy.  The owners of the restaurant treated them quite well, smiling and optimizing their limited knowledge of English.  After the girls were settled, the owners convened along with some ethnic customers and began talking about the girls  in their own language & of the fact that they were from the “abominable” country of America.  Highly offended, we refused to return upon our good morals.

Here’s what we typically hear while walking on the streets of Italy: “Indian?  60% off!”  See, it makes us feel kind of special so we usually take them up on their offer just because we love to shop.  Twenty minutes later, we hear: “English?  60% off!”.  Hmmmph.  Some deal that is.  So, I guess that means that all foreigners get “60% off”…what’s the point of original price, then?  Maybe we ought to learn a bit about business from the Italians…

This is a perfect example of the Italians’ obsession with asking if we’re Indians.  Sometimes they ask in a light and cheery manner in which we respond yes, but sometimes it’s so scornful that we just ignore them.  Sometimes, saying we’re Americans makes things more costly for us or causes us to be bombarded with questions.  But either way, we’re on vacation so why does it matter?  The street vendor who illegally sells faux Louis Vuitton bags doesn’t need to know my ethnicity, thank you very much.

Meanwhile, English is like a sweet melody to my ears and Americans are like gods.  I used to consider Italian to be the most beautiful language, but it’s beautiful as a screaming baby now (which I’m very unfortunately listening to now…remind me why people bring babies on planes?).  I think if I learned it, I would disagree with myself.  But regardless, it’s so exciting to see someone from the US!

While I paid lots of attention to people, I didn’t forget about the city around me.  Florence is beautiful…much more beautiful than Rome (though my parents find it too crowded with tourists…which it is).  It’s quaint, but too hyped I suppose.  The small alley next to where our apartment was looks exactly like Diagon Alley, no joke.  Harry Potter could’ve easily been filmed there.

I should mention that though I find history fascinating, I don’t enjoy most museums.  Taking an audio tour of a museum is like taking a crash course in the entire history of the world….overwhelming.  Florence is known for two of its museums…Uffizi and Academia.  Academia’s infamous masterpiece is Michelangelo’s David.  Like I said, I don’t enjoy museums…but Academia was beyond words.  I never knew too much about David, but since arriving in Italy, I learned a little bit about the sculpture.  Michelangelo sculpted Davidout of a flawed slab of marble which renowned artists refused.  Standing at 17 feet tall (which absolutely shocked me), David depicts a 13 year old boy who defeated a giant named Goliath.  Another exhibit which I thoroughly enjoyed was the one about musical instruments.  The only disappointment was that the Stradivarius was absent for the day being.  Nevertheless, I loved reading about the connections of the instruments to the Medici family, and about thte world famous violin makers.  It was truly fascinating.Uffizi is composed of many artists’ works.  One of the most notable pieces is Michelangelo’s only canvas painting, which was a Biblical depiction.  Many of the other works are by notable artists such as Da Vinci or Boticelli.

We took a day trip to Siena the day after our arrival in Florence.  Siena is beautiful, but not as beautiful as the Tuscan vineyards surrounding it.  We took a private tour of these vineyards, stopping by at a local one for a wine tasting session.  (I had my first sip of wine….yuck).  Our driver was whining the whole time about the “idiots” on the road, as Italian drivers are very…rambunctious.  It feels like we’re in a police chase or something everytime, but it’s just how they drive.
Venice was my favorite (a place where there is no driving!).  Both the flowing canals and the typical Italian buildings contribute to this unique city.  We’ve heard less than favorable things about Venice–how it’s hot, smelly, dirty–but the Venice we saw was the exact opposite.  It was probably because we went prior to summer, and prior to the tourist season (though one can’t tell).  Though Venice was 2 and a half hours from Florence by train, it was relaxing–the boat ride, the delicious food (after a while…), the gleaming sunlight.  It felt open and free and endless.
Each of these Italian cities are like different worlds.  It’s almost unbelievable to think that they’re of the same country.  Rome is ancient (“eternal city”), Florence is Renaissance-like, Siena is quaint, and Venice is just…a dream.  None of them are alike–in terms of people, food, history, etc.
Here are a few last thoughts of Italy:
  • I’m a bit disappointed because I found out that Michael Buble was in Venice the same day as us.
  • Wherever I see prices, my mind automatically converts them to dollars.
  • I brought clothes for 80 degrees…it was 60 almost everyday.
  • I managed to follow the time of the East Coast almost the entire trip…which explains the fatigue, sleeping in, crankiness…etc.
  • The tourists in Italy are so diverse.  Sometimes, while sitting on the train or at a cafe, I would wonder about their stories…or make stories for them.  It was kind of fun seeing so many different people….really makes you think.
  • I cannot WAIT to eat non-Italian food.
For the last time…
Ciao!  
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Here are a few tips about Rome…

  1. Carry slinging bags: Although we haven’t experienced it yet (knock on wood), Rome is notorious for pick-pockets and con artists.  So don’t be reckless…but don’t be too afraid, either!
  2. Study the history beforehand: Even if you learn a little bit prior to your trip (such as who Nero was), it will benefit you SO MUCH…I can’t emphasize that enough.
  3. Rent an apartment:  This stands for all of Europe.  Europe isn’t America, in both good and bad aspects.  By renting an apartment, you’re guaranteed of luxury and comfort.
  4. Try to learn the language:  Let’s face it, people in Europe are infamous with their hostility against foreigners.  However, if you try to make an effort in speaking their language, it’ll make everything so much easier.
  5. Bring a guide book: By doing this, you can learn the taboos of the place, while being cautious and aware of your surroundings.  We’ve been using Rick Steve’s books, and his words are honest & humorous.  Plus, you can learn a lot about the history just from there.
  6. Don’t necessary go to all the touristy restaurants: Sometimes the shabbiest local areas are the best, but be careful at the same time.  Guide books are handy in this case.  If there are a lot of locals around there, it’s probably a good place.  The best food we’ve eaten so far have been at local restaurants with almost zero tourists.
So far, my favorite place has been the Vatican City…specifically the St. Peter’s Basilica.  But it wasn’t the history of St. Peter or the bedroom of the Pope (which you can see from the main square) that intrigued me…it was the choir.  In one of the most exquisite places in the world, the only thing I could notice was…the choir.  Oh goodness.  They were so beautiful and awe-inspiring.  Actually, I also enjoyed watching the guards, who sported costumes designed by Michelangelo and apathetic expressions.  We were sure to get lots of pictures!  But of course, our cameras (both of them) happened to die right in the square of the Vatican.  So, that was just lovely.
I also enjoyed the street performers, especially the violinist–who caught me in a trance with a beautiful rendition of “My Heart Will Go On.”  Even gelato couldn’t pull me away.  I could stand for hours and listen to beautiful music.
We just arrived into Florence an hour or so ago.  This is quintessential Italy & I absolutely love it.  The first view out side of the train station is what the world is all about–McDonald’s.  But it sort of adds a feeling of home (is that pathetic?) so I’m okay with it.  I’m going to post some pictures of our view, and I promise that you’ll be completely awestruck by them.  There’s a bridge in front of our apartment, but on it, there are houses lined across.  So it looks like a line of houses floating on the river.  Just by something as simple as that, I’m amazed–by the whole city…I’m amazed.  To think that Lisa Gherardini (the famous Lisa of the Mona Lisa–or at least rumored to be) walked along these streets…or even that Da Vinci mustered his inspiration here.
This is a little embarrassing, but I actually feel like I’m in Twilight or something–in the scene with the Volturi (I’m not afraid to admit that I like Twilight).  It’s red and crowded, but there’s no sun or sparkling vampires.  I’ll try to keep an eye out for them.
I have so many pictures to share…but I’ll probably do so when I get home.  One of our camera lenses can zoom in so far, that I feel like a bit of a voyeur.  It’s honestly a little creepy, though, but I love zooming into the motorcycles or street crowds.
We’re headed to Academia soon, a minute away, where Michelangelo’s David rests, and then to Uffizi.  Tomorrow we’re considering Venice (Venezia) with its infamous canals.  I’m rather curious to see how that works.  Tuesday’s plan is Siena (with the vineyards) en route to Pisa (Galileo tested his theory about velocity on the Leaning Tower of Pisa).
Five fashion fads I’ve discovered:
  • SLR Cameras: Everyone has one slung around their necks…Nikon and Canon specifically.
  • Trench Coats: They are NOT creepy, contrary to popular belief.
  • Straight hair: I don’t know what it is, but everyone seems to sport straight hair now.  The flat-iron business must be thriving.
  • High-Waisted Belts: They ARE fashionable, we all know that.
  • Slinging bags: Even men wear them, though most of the time being bag-hangers for their significant others.
Ciao for now!  (Hey, I’m doing well with these posts!)
P.S...Video blog is sort of a no-go.  I’m too…shy.  I’ve taken a lot of videos though, so I’m thinking of putting together a complete video.  We’ll see how that goes!!

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Carpe Diem…

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Meanwhile, Rome has proven to be an interesting place with an interesting history.  When we landed on Wednesday, I honestly didn’t appreciate the area at first…especially the local area we’re staying in.  When we reached the Colosseum, I was blown away by the cobblestone streets and diverse crowds.  But now, I’ve sort of learned to appreciate the local areas.  By far, they have had the beat & cheapest food, with the most friendliest people.  We are getting some stares though, but it’s just an American accent/apparel/attitude type of thing.

Based on my experience in Paris (2009) and my experience here, knowing the history and culture makes everything SO MUCH better.  If I hadn’t known anything about the Colosseum, I probably wouldn’t have cared at all.  So thank you to my history teacher!  The Colosseum is described as “glorifying human death” by using it as entertainment.  But wait for this, it definitely isn’t the most gruesome attraction.  Today, we visited a crypt in which the bones of 400 bodies were very artistically arranged.  I don’t have much to say to that, except that it was kind of…cool?  (if I may be so bold)

I think the only place that has really…hit me…was the Colosseum.  Everything was so real & genuine, and it wasn’t just a marble statue depicting some sort of history (even if Michelangelo sculpted it).  If you haven’t learned about the Colosseum yet, you should.  I’ll spare you the details, but here’s the basic facts–the Colosseum was an amphitheater in which people and animals would fight to their death as entertainment.  The audience would consist of everyone, arranged by social hierarchy.  Today, you can see the actual ramps that the people and animals walked up before their fate was decided, as well as the compartments they were “stored” in.  It’s sad, it’s bloody, and it’s Rome.  Romans are and were known as some of the crudest people.  But learning about this history first handedly gives you an insight on how gruesome the Romans were.  It’s just sad.

One of the things about Roman history was that life was easily wasted.  People were killed for entertaiment, necessity, convenience, etc.  It’s ironic today, because one of the most infamous Latin phrases is Carpe Diem, meaning “Seize the Day”.

Okay enough of this sadness & solemnity.  Five thoughts:

  • Is it bad that with five days to go, I’m already thinking of when we’ll land in BTV so I chaplain when to go to school the next day?
  • The best food I’ve eaten so far is lasagna at a tiny cafe near the Vatican.
  • I’m trying not to adjust to this time so that when I get home, I won’t be jet-lagged.
  • Everything in Rome is basically in ruins.  In order to visit the city, one must have a vivid imagination.
  • I’m already thinking ahead to my trip to France next year.  SO, so exciting…
  • Sixth spontaneous thought–European fashion is hard to surpass…no matter how hard I try.

Arrivederci!

A last update…here are a few words I have learned:

Nostre-our
Prego-thank you
Leggiero-light
Vita-life

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I haven’t been able to conjure the right words to summarize the past few days.  Incredible, awe-inspiring–only a few that I can think of.  But it doesn’t end there.  Right now, I am on the nine and a half hour flight to Rome with approximately three hours left to go.  It still hasn’t really sunk in, but I’m going toItaly…now…on a plane…and will be in Rome in three hours.  Can you believe it?  I can’t.

Everywhere I look around me, I see inspiration–clouds, people, my music, the sun, etc.  Yet, I need the right words to be able to describe them the way I see them.  It’s just impossible.

The clouds are beautiful.  I woke up to defined shapes and the tiniest bit of yellow and orange radiating throughout.  Kodak moment.  One of my inspirations, as well.  I just wrote a poem about it–yes, I just wrote a poem about clouds, but what can I say…I was inspired.

I just spent the weekend in DC for the RWDC National Competition.  It was beyond words.  Let’s just say that I haven’t appreciated RWDC as much as I should have.  But seeing these teams come together and be able to share their hard work–it’s mind-blowing.  My team came in 4th nationally (top 3 are only recognized) and we won a merit award, so it was incredible–I am so extremely proud of my team (I know that they are most likely reading this right now).

It was my first time in DC, and I never realized how beautiful the city would be.  It’s a bit like Boston, but bigger, better & that says a lot because I am absolutely in love with Boston.  We didn’t do a lot…FBI Building, American History, Natural History…but I kind of liked just walking around.  I was really hoping to visit the Holocaust Museum, but maybe another time.  On Friday, just after we arrived at the youth conference center, we left for a night tour of the monuments.  After I finally got on the right bus (after missing the one with my team) and fixed my new broken bag, I thoroughly enjoyed it.  In fact, I enjoyed seeing the other teams the most, not to mention spending time with mine.  Everyone we met were also incredibly friendly, so it was just a good weekend altogether.

I watched a movie after a long time the other day–the movie Adam.  Although I don’t usually enjoy such movies, I really liked this one.  I don’t know what it was about the acting or the story, but it was rather inspirational.  You know how sometimes, movies seem so emotional through their previews, but really aren’t when you watch them?  Adam was the opposite.  I don’t know if I would watch it again, but I would recommend it.  It’s about a relationship between a man with Asperger’s syndrome and his neighbor.  The end is surprising & unexpected, which makes it even more effective.

Something quick to mention: I was just accepted into a French exchange program at my school!  That means that for two weeks, a French student will come and stay with us & next February, I will go and stay with them.

Here are five thoughts:

  • iPads are rather easy to type on…sometimes AutoCheck butchers some words but it’s all good.
  • Classical music is my de-stresser these days, as well as tennis and the usual cup of tea.
  • Romeo & Juliet is disappointing, but irresistable.  I haven’t given up on Shakespeare quite yet.
  • I read a book after a long, long time on the plane a few hours ago (yes the entire book).  It was Amy Chua’s autobiography–and interesting choice..thought-provoking, but definitely a good read. I am simultanously reading Julia Child’s autobiography.  It’s funny because I have never read an autobiography before, and now that it’s my first time…I’m reading two.
  • I tried to keep a video blog, but it hasn’t been too effective.  Maybe Italy can be a fresh start?
  • I just found out that we’re landing in an hour…not three.  This is too exciting!

Ciao!

Update: I’m passing through the Alps right now and it is the most riveting view ever.  Since I’m a geography nerd, I’m frustrated that I can’t figure out what river is below and what country we are passing through.  I assume that the country is Switzerland…river: I don’t know.  It’s okay because it’s beautiful.  It’s funny that I’m so awestruck by the simplest things.

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Prisoner

Home is a shade of green, layered with white, drizzled with blue drip-drip-drip, and sprinkled with tear-shaped brown.
There is a man walking between green and blue, in blankets of white—white, full of emotions, though a pain on this particular day. The man slaps his hands together, ringlets of his mittens deteriorating in the presence of white. His eyes are unknown, unseen, unforgiving to white (he despises white). The white shields the man from the world, mostly to his dismay. No one will see him, no one will hear him—he’s imprisoned between green and blue.
The ridges of the man’s boots print onto the white, yet they are erased within moments. His trench coat lags behind him, defying-gravity as the white swims up his back and seeps through to his frigid skin. It’s like searing needles, yet he’s numb and he can barely feel it. The man pats around his pocket and ultimately whips out a lighter, managing to heat his sea-blue lips before the white erases the flame.
The man is reminded of 1998, when the white became translucent and he was pelted with bruises and bruises. Yet, he finds today and 1998 fairly similar, nothing except for translucence to distinguish the difference. Today, the white is like dancing feathers transmuting into needles of pain and agony.
There is a light in the distance, for what seems like miles from the man. Yet there is something about the light that reaches him, something about it that fights through blinding whiteness, and the man is sent a pang of hope.
There is a woman, about half a mile away, waving mitten-covered hands to the sky. The man does not know if it’s him she’s calling, but his strides became wider, his pressure on the white covered ground becomes greater, and when he is close enough, he can hear her sweet musical words dancing through the sky. The woman is running towards a dilapidated barn, glancing back to connect her eyes with the man’s. The barn is increasing beneath his eyes and before his memory can catch up, he is in the warm darkness, breathing in scents of hay and manure.
“Come in,” the woman says, pulling his hand undoubtedly towards the connecting house-door. Inside, he can smell burning wood, a scent of nostalgia. It’s silent in the house, except for the crescendo of the whistling tea kettle, the ember in the fire, and his chattering teeth. The light on the barn was what he had seen before.
“You okay there?” The woman asks, handing him a cup that burns his hand. He nods, words escaping him. “Here, sit here.” She pulls up a cushion to the foot of the fire and helps him to it.
“I saw you at the end of the street, which is why I turned my lights on. It’s getting real bad out there.” She makes her way to the blinds, peering outside while shaking her head. The man nods again. The woman purses her lips and stares into her un-aged hands. She gives up hope of getting the man to speak, but she can see in his eyes the reflection of the fire and the blue fading from his lips.
“I suppose it’ll tone down soon…” Her voice is fading in the man’s ears. “Probably not,” she finishes, in a whispering sigh.
The man can only hear the crackling of the fire as it drowns her melodic voice. When he closes his eyes, nostalgia pours through the air and the man feels as if he’s back in 1998, in his own home, with his own wife. He can’t bear the scent of the fire any more than he can bear tearing up in the woman’s presence. Yet, tears begin to trickle like raindrops and the man is lost in emotions and memories of his wife. The woman has no words as the man silently pours out his emotions. Unknowingly, he mutters “Jane, Jane, Jane” between his sobs, and the woman understands. Their silence is the only communication and it’s enough to console the man. When he finally looks into the woman’s eyes, he sees the reflection of his wife in her eyes.

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I’m 15…and I don’t feel any different.  In fact, if anything, I feel like I’m 16.  Is that good?

But anyways, my birthday was on Saturday & yes, I am a birthday queen, if that’s what they call it.  I love birthdays—not only mine, but everyone’s.  I woke up at 7 on Saturday (funny, I don’t even wake up that early on weekdays) & stepped into the foyer to see a keyboard (piano) and a Flip camera.  Major surprise?…I think so.  So at the sound of my footsteps, my parents began to scream & yell because apparently they wanted to wake me up by playing “Happy Birthday” on the piano.  At their request, I went back to my room & pretended to sleep, while they very (un)predictably played “Happy Birthday.”  Plus (although I don’t follow it), India won the Cricket World Cup, so there was much gusto in the afternoon (all recorded on the Flip).  It was a good day.

Since my double-vacation starts in approximately 10 days, I have decided to create a video blog in both D.C. and Italy (mostly the latter).  [We’ll see if I can keep that up]  If I can try to get at least two recordings of something really cool/awesome/fantastic, then I’ll be satisfied.  But nevertheless, vacation is in TEN DAYS!  Too much excitement!!

For now (while enduring these long, gloomy, grey days), I’ve taken onto learning the piano.  I’ve become rather musical lately.  Here are the pieces that I can play so far: Prelude to Cello Suite No. 1 (I love, love, love this piece), The Entertainer, Fur Elise, and Jamaica Farewell.

So…I haven’t watched a movie in a long time, which really says a lot about how busy I’ve been.  Any suggestions?  I haven’t really read a book either (unless our dear Romeo & Juliet counts…).  Any suggestions for books?  This year has felt so long & tedious, and I never say that about my years.  Maybe it’s just the transition into high school, or maybe it’s the weather.  [Probably the latter]

I’m praying/begging/urging for wonderful weather during D.C. and Italy.  Please, please, please come true!

 

A few things to say before I end the post:

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