Sunday, April 26, 2009

Rome: The Eternal City or Damn that Shit is OLD

Roman Ruins + Baroque Architecture + Modern Technology = ROME

Last weekend, Lauren and I finally took our long-overdue weekend trip to Rome. I had considered skipping Rome earlier on in the semester to go to Palermo instead, but after a lot of people yelling at me for that choice (and the fact that tickets to Palermo got prohibitively expensive overnight), I finally decided that Rome was the better decision. After all, if you're going to a country, you really have to see its capitol, especially if it is as grand as Rome.

When we got to Rome on Friday, we went and checked into the hotel, which was perfectly adequate with really nice people at the front desk (we accidentally booked the wrong days, and they fixed it up for us with no problem). Since it was beautiful out, we decided to wander down to the old, ruin-y section of town. It turns out that since it was cultural week, all of the national sites were free. So we got into the Colloseum for free! And the Forum! Woo! (Except for the fact that in the long run we didn't save any money because we had to pay extra for Friday night in the hotel...ah well).

So, the Colosseum was definitely worth the trip. It was incredible. HUGE. And fun fact: the reason it's higher on one side than the other is because during the 1500s, a bunch of rich people pillaged the stones and took them to use on other building projects, namely St. Peter's basilica. Which totally. blows. my. mind. Like, it's as if someone decided to knock down the pyramids to build their house. Who does that?

Afterwards, we walked through the Forum. We hitched on to a free tour offered by this young Historical-Theology grad. Turns out he is from Louisiana, and is the only tour guide recommended by name by the New York Times. So, that was lucky. On nice days, he gives free tours to drum up attendance for his other tours, including one of the Vatican Museum and the Sistine Chapel, which we decided to go on.


The Vatican museum was also pretty incredible, and the tour was really interesting. But after walking clear across Rome to get to Vatican City, it was (unsurprisingly) pretty difficult to get into the different Greek Sculpture styles that influenced Michelangelo. But the tour was so interesting that I forced myself to pay attention anyway, and all for the better. I now can tell you exactly which frescos were inspired by Greek Classical style v. Greek Terrible um...go me! More useless knowledge to take up space in my head that could otherwise have been filled with something practical like, oh I don't know, how to balance a checkbook? The Sistine Chapel was pretty much everything it was cracked up to be. And when we went into St. Peter's, I honestly considered converting on the spot. The entire Statue of Liberty, laid on its side, could fit in St. Peter's! There are types of marble that are no longer find-able anywhere! There was a choir! Yes please.

We decided to take Sunday easy, considering that we basically walked the Boston Marathon the day before. We took the metro down to Trastavere and walked around looking at the real people (read: Not Tourists) in their sunday church clothes. We found an open pasticceria where I got my only real sfolliatella this semester (they make them filled with pastry cream up here...down south they're made correctly with ricotta and candied orange). It was heavenly. We then walked over to the ghetto to look at the small streets that sprung up when the Pope basically decreed that the Jews had to be put in pens. The synagogue was beautiful, but I wasn't feeling paying the entrance fee so we only saw the outside. After getting a fried artichoke, we decided that we should go back to the hotel or risk our legs falling off from exhaustion. So we went on the computer until it was time to go home.

All in all, quite a good weekend. Rome is one of my favorite places ever. In fact, I decided on my five favorite cities a few days ago. Here it is!
1) New York
Surprise! The reasons are kind of self-explanatory.
2) Paris
The only city that impressed me as much as New York. In fact, the only reason it isn't number one is because I was a) only there for three days and b) New York is my home.
3) London
Basically New York with (debatably) better accents.
4) Barcelona
The city with a better youth culture than any others I've been to. Yes, that was a terrible sentence.
5) Rome
The juxtaposition of the New, Old, Really Old, and REALLY REALLY DAMN OLD makes up for the things that suck about it, like terrible table service at restaurants and suicidal drivers.

Thursday, April 23, 2009

Alessandra, Un Po di Passione!

I've been playing a piece called Baal Shem in lessons this semester. It's honestly not going as fast as I would like, partly because Simone and I spend half the lesson trying to figure out what the other is saying, and partly because it's actually really damn hard. But the other problem is one that reoccurs every year, with pretty much every teacher I've had. They try so, so hard to get me to be expressive, and I just can't do it.

Yesterday I was playing the end of the Nigun (Contrition, so you get the picture of what it sounds like) movement, and when I was done, Simone just looked at me and said, "Alessandra, un po di passione!" He asked me how old I was, and was like, you should have so many emotions! Sing! Play as if you are singing! Don't you have passions?

And I realized:

Maybe I don't.

Well, it's not that I don't have passions. But I'm not really a passionate person. I love people, and I love books, and I love music. But when it comes down to it, I have no idea how to channel that kind of feeling into my violin. Maybe it's because nothing passion-inducing has ever happened to me. I hate to think that the way I play is the way I will live the rest of my life, being technically proficient but completely soulless. I often think I'm playing with emotion, but no one else seems to agree. It's so frustrating, because I know it's the only thing holding me back from actually being good. I don't Joshua Bell good, but a good amateur violinist.

Ah well, maybe it's something that will come with age? With life experience (of which I admit I have very, very little)? Maybe this summer?

Because I've decided, in order to keep my sanity and to stop hurting the feelings of the people I love, I've decided to treat this summer as a Coming of Age summer, a la a Noah Baumbach movie. So, expect awkward hijinks and emotional growth! Maybe by the end of the summer I'll be able to write my own quirky memoirs, tinged with sadness, but at the end satisfying and heartwarmingly bittersweet.

And let me say something. I've apparently hurt a few people with things I've written, or not written on my blog. I've been treating it too much like a livejournal, spilling out what I'm really feeling without thinking about the fact that oh, hey, people are going to read it. So I've deleted any entries that are too mean spirited or self-indulgent, and I'm not going to write about the way I'm feeling again. That's best left inside my head, because it's usually written in the heat of the moment, and whatever I'm feeling passes fairly quickly, leaving very little of the original sentiments behind. And please, please, please, a lot of what I've written was intended to be sarcastic and funny. I don't really intend to develop a cocaine habit this summer, or begin cutting myself, or off myself in the beach booth or the park office. I don't really hate myself. Please never take me seriously.

And I actually am not as sad to come home as I might seem from everything I've written. I love my parents, and I love spending time with my mother. I'm looking forward to cooking and going to yoga with her, and going to the Rhinebeck craftfair, and working in the garden. I'm glad some of my friends will be home, because I miss them so, so much and they are the people that keep me sane. I know the people will be enough to keep me entertained this summer, and they are worth coming home for. So, home I go! I'm not going to be too sorry to leave Italy. It's beautiful, but a semester was just enough for me. I'm no ex-pat candidate (except maybe if I can learn French - I'll move to Paris in a heartbeat). I'm excited to speak to shopkeepers in english, to understand conversations going on around me, and to eat enough Vietnamese food and sushi to make me want to vomit. And get soft serve at Joe's with my friends, and have a picnic at the Vanderbilt mansion. I'm not far from the city, so I can go in and visit Maddy and Sonia and my friends here and maybe stay over sometimes (Jen has already told me I have full claim to her pull-out couch), and if people have time they can come visit me in Fishkill and we can, I don't know, frolic in a field or go to the mall or hang out in a parking lot or some shit. The summer is not going to be terrible.

Wednesday, April 22, 2009

A Belated Mommy Post

So this is rather belated, but what do I do when I'm not writing self-indulgent posts on this blog (which should be all gone, as I said, I'm turning over a new leaf!)? Why, go to Venice with my mother, of course!

Mom came to visit about two weeks ago, and it was lovely. She arrived on Saturday night, and stayed until the following Sunday, Easter. During the week, we wandered around Firenze, eating gelato and seeing all the sights that she remembered from the last time she was here. I really had a great time. It was wonderful to have someone to eat lunch with after class, and to wander around with having an excuse to do touristy things like go see the David again, with someone who could actually explain Renaissance Art. We went to Fiesole and Bologna, and climbed up to see the view, wandered around the Oltarno, and ate really good food. It was the kind of week I love when I'm at home. And it was great just to have here there, even when we were just hanging out in the apartment being tortured by allergens.

Then on Thursday, we went off to Venice. I honestly didn't expect to like Venice very much. It must be so overhyped, I thought. Everyone goes to Venice! Tourists everywhere! Ugh! But when I got there, I realized that well, sometimes things really are all they are cracked up to be.

This really is what it looked like. The light is different in Venice. It's golden, fresh, and smells like the sea without any air pollution due to car exhaust (except when you're standing near the vaporetti).

I loved the basilica. Byzantine Architecture is my favorite ever, and the basilica was straight out of my mosaic-and-icon filled dreams. The Byzantine Architecture was pretty much the only reason I had wanted to go to Palermo so badly (other than the fact that it's probably the closest I could get to the Middle East any time soon).

Gondolas exist. Well, only for tourists. But they were still beautiful, and watching them float down the canals was like stepping back in time.

Other than wandering around, we went to the Peggy Guggenheim collection, and I got my bi-monthly modern art fix. The museum had some really really great Miro paintings and Pollocks, and a few of my favorite Klees. It was really great, and small, which is just the way art museums should be. We went to Santa Maria della Salute, which I loved. We also went to Murano, and looked at the glass. Mom bought a beautiful necklace.

So, that was the week. I miss my mom a lot now. But tomorrow I'm off to Roma with Lauren! We have a hotel, our train tickets, and sandwiches. Now if only the weekend wouldn't be rainy....

Tuesday, April 21, 2009

Aren't they Polite?

Someone did this on the wall to the botanical garden sometime over the past few days. Let me translate: "Pacifism? No thank you. Revolt!" i just love it. In the US, if you ever see political graffiti, it's shit like "Fuck Bush!" Leave it to the Italians to class up political vandalism.

In other news, last night when I was trying to get into the ridiculously high closet that Ikea so kindly provided for me (I have to stand on my tiptoes while standing on my chair to hang things up), the entire hanging pole thing fell down, taking all of my clothes with it. Now it's impossible to put it back up, because oh hey, I can't reach, and no one in my apartment is above 5'3".

Monday, April 20, 2009

Yesterday, I watched the Youtube clip of Susan Boyle on Britain's Got Talent or whatever that show is called, and proceeded to cry hysterically for about 20 minutes. Why am I such an emotional nutcase?

Wednesday, April 1, 2009

A Glorious, Exhausting, and Ultimately Sickness-Producing Weekend in Paris

Let me preface this entry by saying that, no matter how cliche it may sound, Paris is truly everything that it is cracked up to be. Even in the cold and the rain, even when you only have two days to (unsuccessfully) try to do and see everything, even when once again everyone you are traveling with runs out of credit on their phones and subsequently gets cranky and hard to get along with, even then Paris works its magic. It truly is one of the most beautiful, romantic, and enchanting places that I have ever been.

Day One
We managed to get the plane out of Pisa on Thursday despite Ryanair being the ridiculous excuse for an airline that it is and charging us all 25 euro (!!!) for not checking in online (despite the fact that when we bought tickets the website clearly said that only EU citizens could do so, then changed the rules a week before we left to include non-EU citizens and didn't deign to let anyone know). Our flight was pretty uneventful, and we landed in Paris-Beauvois only to realize that we had to take a shuttle bus to Paris proper because Beauvois is oh, 90 miles or so outside of Paris. So moral of this story is, next time use a real airline. Ryanair really isn't a deal when you factor in surprise fees/shuttle buses/years taken off your life because of stress.

We found our hotel, which actually wasn't a letdown. It was clean, and in a really charming residential neighborhood somewhere near the Champs-Elysees. The next morning we woke up at 7:00, determined to milk every second of our two days in Paris. After getting pastries fresh out of the oven from a pastry shop (the pain au chocolate burned my mouth!) we set of for Musee l'Orangerie, home of Monet's waterlillies. I know it sounds trite, but that was the one thing I wanted to see above all else in Paris. I honestly couldn't stop smiling, and I definitely started crying more than once. The rest of the museum was lovely, but nothing compares to seeing the waterlillies in real life.

After we finished at l'Orangerie, we headed over to Ile de la Cite to go to Sainte Chapelle. It ended up being closed, so we got lunch instead. Then, since we had some more time before Sainte Chapelle opened up again after lunch, I convinced everyone to take a detour with me to Pierre Herme and Laudree, beginning my Great Macaron Hunt. Anyone who knows me can vouch that macarons are some of my favorite foods on the planet, and I'd been reading about Laudree and Pierre Herme macarons for ages. We got to Laudree first, and I bought one chocolate macaron and one salted caramel macaron. The salted caramel macaron was ridiculously good, but the chocolate one was a little dry. But the shop itself was so lovely, so pastel and filled with beautiful pastries that it made me feel like I was living in Sophia Coppola's Marie Antoinette. But onward! To Pierre Herme, where the macarons were smaller which totally justified me buying six and spending 10 euro. But heavens to Betsy, they were SO GOOD. And I made friends with the guy behind the counter after he teased me about my god-awful French accent. But I actually got pictures of the macarons! And I can tell you what they are! Even though I know no one will get nearly as excited about this as I am!

So from the upper left going clockwise, they were: Arabesque (Apricot and pistachio), Olive Oil (didn't like that one too much. It basically tasted like sweet, coagulated olive oil. I gave it to Jen, who liked it way more than I did), Chocolate Passionfruit (my favorite), Delicieux (wasabi and grapefruit), Coffee, and Americano Pamplemousse (Grapefruit and Campari). MMMMM.

After basically inducing diabetic shock, we wandered back up towards Ile de la Cite to go to Notre Dame. Notre Dame was big, and crowded, and people were wandering around despite the fact that there was a service going on, which confused me a little. They definitely close down the Duomo when services are going on. But anyways, it was very impressive, and just affirmed what I already knew: I much prefer medieval art and architecture to Renaissance. Sucks that I'm in Florence, I guess.

Soooooo after we finished wandering around Notre Dame we went on to the Louvre, which has free entrance for people under 26 on Friday nights. Now, let me clarify, in case you didn't know: The Louvre is Big. Massive even. Think Met Massive. Then think filled to capacity with adolescents. Running. And taking pictures of themselves holding their respective countries' flags in front of the Mona Lisa. Yeah. It was slightly overwhelming. But anyway, Jen and I went in knowing that we wanted to see the Mona Lisa, Winged Victory, and Vermeer's The Lacepicker. We also knew that the one thing we didn't want to see was Renaissance Art. So naturally, we got lost on the way to the Mona Lisa and ended up wandering around the Grand Neverending Hall of Everything Renaissance for a good 45 minutes. It was a Special Kind of Hell. And then we got to where the Vermeer was supposed to be and found that it wasn't there. Discouraged and feeling like our brains might explode from culture overload, we retreated to the lobby to chose a restaurant for dinner.

Luckily, Nicole showed up and invited us to get dinner with her and her friend who was studying at the American University in Paris. We went to this amazing bistro, and after dinner went up to Au Lapin Agile, a cabaret that had been around since the 1920s, where Edith Piaf used to perform and intellectuals used to hang out. It was really fun, but I was so tired that I had to leave earlier than everybody else for fear of falling asleep in my cognac. I took the metro home and didn't freak out or get lost or anything, and I felt so proud of being a Big Girl. I then passed out.

So, if you have gotten all the way through this entry, props to you. I'd go into to the next day's adventures, but I have an Italian quiz tomorrow that I have yet to study for. So! I will continue tomorrow.