Wednesday, November 30, 2011

International Music: Day 5

Today's song gets the nod solely because I attended the birthday party of a German friend last night  Imagine having the privilege of witnessing a group of drunk Germans singing and dancing to this, absolutely fantastic. Don't worry I'll go easy on everyone tomorrow after this one...

Deichkind (Germany) - Remmidemmi

Tuesday, November 29, 2011

International Music: Day 4

To the UK today for some English Music...

Metronomy (England) - She Wants

Monday, November 28, 2011

International Music: Day 3

It's already getting more difficult for me to choose what'll be up next, and it'll only get more difficult as I'm receiving a collection of German music today. We make our way to France for a little French House/Dance music so good luck...

Justice (France) - D.A.N.C.E

Sunday, November 27, 2011

International Music: Day 2

Today we travel back to the western hemisphere for a taste of Cuba. It's interesting that I encountered this song in Europe. Enjoy the beautiful rhythm of Havana....

Buena Vista Social Club (Cuba) - Chan Chan

Saturday, November 26, 2011

International Music: Day 1

For an undetermined period of time I'll be bringing my readers some international music that you may not be familiar with. Today is the only day that I'll post two. Video two may be inappropriate for some, but it was sent to me in honor of my upcoming trip to Spain. Be sure to play it at a high volume. Watch at your own risk and enjoy the next few days of new music...

Vanessa da Mata (Brasil) and Ben Harper (USA) - Boa Sorte

Sak Noel (Catalunya/Spain - Depending on your point of view) - Loca People (La Gente Esta Muy Loca)

Friday, November 25, 2011

Thanksgiving In Italy: Second Time Around

Black Friday sales were not in the cards for me the day after Thanksgiving. Instead, I rolled out of bed to an exam in monitoring and evaluation. Actually, I was a bit fortunate that I even had to wake up after returning home to a full house. As Thanksgiving approached, I debated my plans for weeks. Each effort of planning turned out to be useless because I woke up and set out for Siena on a whim. I figured the train ride would provide ample time for study but I hadn't prepared for the lack of sleep the night before my exam. I returned just before midnight to discover a party in my apartment lasting well into the morning. The end of the party wasn't the beginning of sleep due to the return of the drunks at approximately four in the morning. Somehow, I managed to not be all that annoyed under the circumstances, possibly due to the study preparations of the train. Having filled in the beginning and end of my day, I will work my way into the meaty middle.

The initial schedule of events included the traditional Thanksgiving turkey bit. A few possibilities presented themselves for setting up a real turkey dinner but it isn't an easy task in Italy, and especially difficult when your apartment doesn't have an oven. I attempted to work my way into the plans of some American girls seated next to me during my standard Tuesday Champions League session at a bar; the match was between Napoli and Manchester City for those interested. The situation was just a joke and I may have actually been included in the plans if not for the most unfriendly, yet somewhat stereotypical response of an American study abroad student. I let the girl nearest know that I was American too but I happened to be with a girl who wasn't. The response I received when facetiously informing her of my nationality was, "but she isn't," in the most uncongenial of tones. Last I checked Thanksgiving was supposed to bridge the ethnic gap but that could just be one interpretation of the holiday, somewhere down below its true modern meaning as a holiday of excess gorging. With the last ditch effort denied, I reasoned that I could take a trip to Lucca instead. In the end, I couldn't decide. I could only commit to purchasing a ticket to Florence Thanksgiving morning in order to give myself the freedom to decide upon transfer.

I eventually chose to make the trip to Siena but to Florence in time to reminisce on my first Thanksgiving in Italy, a trip that played an important role in bringing me back to Italy. Tradition sat on the sidelines for a year. Not only was turkey out of the picture but something inspired me to spare animals in general in light of the annual turkey massacre. This Thanksgiving was a vegetarian one in which I actually focused on giving, rather than receiving. Train rides provided the perfect outlet to reflect on the many things I am truly thankful for. Wandering foreign cities on my own helped bring some needed clarity to my life, as I often find traveling alone does. My Thanksgiving was a day of re-centering myself and studying for another exam which I surely aced.

Upon my arrival in Siena, I commenced my own tradition of wandering without a map. Italian cities are quite simple to navigate once you become familiar with them. Traffic is very limited within the center of the city. The walls surrounding the city are still intact with the gate providing a glimpse into the time of Italian city-states. The city itself is one of the more beautiful ones that I've seen, and I definitely recommend it. Christmas lights were being hung through the narrow streets in preparation for the ever enchanting Christmas holiday in Italy.

I quickly found my way to the duomo and the Battistero di San Giovanni. The only thing that annoyed me about this trip was the commodification of religion to tourists. Three Euros allowed me to walk on the marble mosaic floors of the medieval duomo and over the she-wolf of Siena. My complaints in Italian to the woman manning the baptistery were met with stone-faced indifference. She was unmoved by the thought that paying for prayer was unjust so I only sneaked a peak inside the baptistery while pleading my case. Forgiveness may be the first thing I request at the next church I enter after being quite spiteful and refusing to pay, not donate, for everything from admission to the lighting of candles. I was able to relax somewhat afterwards in front of the Palazzo Pubblico in the Piazza del Campo. Mingling with store clerks was also a significant part of my day including learning the colloquial term for kitten, "micio." Socializing in Siena came to a stop but another stop at a grocery store to feed my chocolate chip cookie addiction caused me to miss my train back north to Florence by a minute. The chocolate happened to be well worth the time wasted though.

As I stated earlier, Florence made the cut for Thanksgiving because I had spent an eventful holiday in there three years before. The walk down memory lane took me to many of the familiar places from my first time including the hospital, which I had been because of the Turkey's revenge of 2008. Nearly two weeks of my life have been spent in this city but I managed to find a number of places that I hadn't ever remembered before while wandering semi-aimlessly. Occupy Firenze was in full swing as were the stereotypical obnoxious American study abroad girls. You may wonder why I point that out again and I will use my interaction to serve as the purpose. Two girls jogging down the street loudly yelling to each other passed by in search of the duomo. Having to direct two girls who had presumably lived in Florence for three months, due to the timing of the semester, to the main attraction of the city they lived in demonstrates the level to which they assimilate into the local culture. Obnoxiousness aside, Florence was a time of true reflection for me. One amazing trip three years ago brought me to where I am today, and this was an opportunity to recognize the path I had taken in life. Every site rehashed memories of a not so distant, but distant past. Time on my own in this city was the perfect way to end my Thanksgiving and exactly what I needed to find.

Sometimes being surrounded by family, friends and food prevents a real understanding of the fortunes we have in life. My journey alone provided a great deal of perspective as a result of the break from tradition. I hope that everyone else had a Thanksgiving as wonderful as mine. I am thankful for everything that I have been given in life, and I will never forget that. And remember, Life is beautiful. It will be as perfect as you make it.

Happy Thanksgiving Family, Friends, and All....

Monday, November 21, 2011

One Month Left: The End of a Beautiful Ride

As November 20th approached, I anxiously awaited the date in the back of my mind. That date marked the one month point from my departure out of Milan into JFK in New York. In the early months of my arrival, I anticipated the end date with excitement. A new life with a further degree and the possibility of a new job were the goal to attain. The reality is a more depressing one of fighting off the unfortunate future of leaving behind the life I had created here in Italy. My life over the last few months has been too good to be reality. Amazing friends and an exciting lifestyle may have spoiled me forever. These months have been filled with life changing moments and I couldn't help but relay my disappointment of its imminent end as I spoke with my mom yesterday over the phone.

There was a time when I prided myself on being an open person but this place has enlightened me to the fact that my previous belief wasn't entirely true. Nearly every culture is closed off in its own ways. The opportunity to live within another provides an outlet for criticism of your own, and the one you live in. For me, it created an outside prospective on both that flung open my doors to the world. I've experienced the simple and the ridiculous that have helped instill this change. While I was never a person to hate homosexuality, living with more than one man with at least a partial preference for men has been an interesting experience. I've been hit on more than once by another man, and even thanked a guy for telling me I was sexy but I've loved nearly everyone I've lived. My acceptance for happiness in whatever way it is created is what holds my doors open where they previously blew shut. The old me condemned the majority of public displays of affection. Now, I find myself laughing at the ridiculous and smiling at the inspiring, beautiful ones, both of which are famously prevalent in this country. Travel has brought me to places that many people will never have the opportunity to see, and engaged me in conversations that many will never have. This experience opened friendships throughout the world that I hope to make last a lifetime.

My life will change drastically in one months time. Culture and culinary delights will be among the bits and pieces of a life I will miss. The convenience of finding everything in one place and easily will return. Stopping for groceries multiple times a week at specialty stores of meats, cheeses, wines or produce will be in the past. The shoemakers on the corner will be replaced by foot lockers and department stores. The social culture of Italy will be replaced with something much less personal. Streets that are full and lively even in the winter will be replaced with a colder reality of people on the move. A life consisting of driving from work, gym, home, or even spending evenings at a bar for happy hour scares me. Any thought of spending time on the couch watching TV alone, or with roommates, instills in me a fear of life lost and wasted. My world has opened up too much for the norm. I can picture myself just as easily roaming through South America as living in New York. There is too much left out there for me to experience, and I can't let this realization fall by the wayside in a life stuck in the mud.

For the first time in my life, I truly feel it home. I understand the contradiction in that to the previous desire to see the world but life is never simple. Embracing uncertainty is one of the greatest characteristics one can develop in life. There are no best laid plans, and you can never truly know what you want. As for me, this year has opened my eyes to unpredictability. I don't foresee myself ever knowing what I truly want, but I don't need to. If you know exactly what you want in life, you haven't lived enough. If there is a term that confines you to any box whether by fashion culture or any other means, then life is too simple and boring. In one year, I've grown from having answers to a philosophy of uncertainty in which chaos reigns among the unexplainable.

Sunday, November 20, 2011

CioccoShow Bologna: Three Times

Wednesday last week was the beginning of one of the greatest weeks that exists. Cioccoshow 2011 commenced in Piazza Maggiore. A three to five minute walk from my apartment to the chocolate center of the world is pure heaven for this choco-addict. I've been anxiously awaiting the chocolate diet fad as the next big health kick to jump on board.  I could eat it all day. I could eat it every day. I could survive on a diet of solely chocolate. I have already actively participated in this festival of chocolate three times, and with today being the final day, I will surely make it four. Today I will tell you about my three experiences of Cioccoshow while inciting violent jealousy with pictures of delectable goodies.

Chocolate show experience number one was on day one, of course. You didn't think I'd miss the grand opening did you? My male roommates and I eagerly awaited this moment of ecstasy because everybody knows "it's ciocco time," right Nico? I gladly accepted a few free samples to complement my cup of strawberries drowned in hot chocolate. Every single stand was approached at least twice. It's nearly impossible to make a decision to purchase in such a competitive environment. The prices aren't the lowest but the quality is the highest. In the end, I even previewed the salame al cioccolato which was more delicious than it sounds.

Chocolate show experience number two was a walk through chocolate heaven with three French friends. First point to make is that French is not similar to Italian if you can't understand the accent. Despite the occasional encouragement from my one friend to attempt some French, it is a bit intimidating to imitate. I commend her efforts anyway but I settled for quietly absorbing the French being spoken. Second point to make is that I had the will power to abstain from purchasing anything this time out. I admired the chocolate french fries, chocolate pizza and chocolate pasta that requires cooking. A brief moment of displeasure even came over me after a coffee flavored chocolate sample made its way into my mouth. Sincere attempts have been made to acquire the taste for coffee but they continue to be as unsuccessful in Italy as they were back home. Even chocolate can't overcome my disdain for the disgusting drink but the rest of the night filled with food, wine and chocolate was perfect.

There's pasta, then there's pasta...

We come to serenade you dear Chocolate
Outing number three came in a group of very friendly and extremely lovely German girls. Germans always impress me because every one seems to speak perfect or nearly perfect English. It seems as if every German I've met so far speaks between three to five languages fluently making me quite jealous. There's also a physical difference because out of 10-15 girls, there may have been just one shorter than me. Personal entertainment always comes with being in this group because the girls get a great deal of attention. Italian men love blondes, sometimes excessively, so I laugh as stares are directed in their direction constantly. German was probably a bit easier for me to pick up on some compared to the French, and I spent my evening listening attentively in an attempt to acquire some familiarity with yet another language. Live music played in the piazza beside are group on this evening as we warmed out hands with cups of delicious hot chocolate. Another tour resulted in the collection of more free samples in the alluring atmosphere of the foggy night of music and chocolate in Piazza Maggiore.

Chocolate that way!!!

Who needs Louis Vuitton - have some Cocoa Chanel
As I write this now, I am contemplating tomorrow's journey to the Cioccoshow. One last day of awesomeness is needed to sustain my chocolate dream as long as possible.

Friday, November 4, 2011

Life As A Vagabond

A few nights ago, as a lie awake in "my bed" located in the living room of a seven person apartment, the last year of my life rolled on in my mind as if it were a film reel. Prior to departing for Bologna, a comment was made to me about my my future. This person felt that later on in life, I would be among the few "cool" and interesting parents. Complimentary words such as these often do no harm in stroking one's ego, but in reality, I never could have imagined how much I would live in so little time. Within the past year I have surely slept in somewhere around fifteen to twenty different "beds," beds being a term I use very loosely in this case. Since college graduation three years ago, I don't think I have been settled in one single location for more than three months. Events that could be described as tragic or unfortunate threw my life into some form of chaos and spurned a rapid form of emotional maturity at the age of twelve. Amidst that chaos, I have somehow always managed to maintain a level of calm that plays a role in hiding the experiences of my past. The reality that is my world has always been one of constant change since age twelve, and this is something I only realize now as the pace of change continues to quicken. I have had friends inquire into the way that I manage to adapt and adjust, and the truth is just that I have always had to, and maybe that will never change.

Between ages two and three I traumatized my mother with antics such as prescribing my own cough medicine following the dosage I knew to be accurate, and by making microwave popcorn unsupervised. Asking for help has never been a characteristic of my personality. It is almost fitting that I've spent four out of the last seven months of my life without a place to call home. My living arrangements have been up in the air the entire time with my mom often waiting days to get in touch with me as I seek new accommodations. Plans factor into my life in a very minor role because I often don't have that luxury of stability that allows for long-term planning. Regardless of the situation, asking for help never seems to factor into my short-term plans and I can only be thankful for how fortunate I have been in meeting amazing friends. I have been cared for by kind-hearted people from multiple countries as I stow away what little belongings I have to my name. With this experience approaching it's end, I can only hope to become a world class story teller to share my lessons with future generations as the "cool" parent that I have been touted to become.

Clownin' on down the way to AC with Ned
In recent months, I've been adopted into homes by people from every corner of the world. Hosts and roommates have come from California, New York, Connecticut, Italy, France, Kosovo, Germany and Brazil. I am currently being treated like a "principessa" by my seven roommates as they hope to convince me to stay with them forever. The feeling of being so valued in adding something positive to the lives of those around you is one that is very difficult to top. I try to bring home the occasional meal and clean my way into their hearts despite being reprimanded for both because I am the "ospite." Regardless, housework and cooking will never nearly repay my gratitude for the friendship and help these wonderful people have provided me over the last few months.

I recognize that constant uncertainty can be perceived as a difficult situation. However, there is something exceedingly rewarding in navigating a complex maze rather strolling along a straightforward path. My best friends have become closer than ever, and new friends have instantly established themselves as best friends. My summer in the US was spent as a welcome couch guest with an exceptionally generous friend. At no point did I feel unwelcome despite his single room becoming a double. I was adopted by his friends, and have become like family to his family. Despite what would appear to be stressful circumstances, amazing people turned my summer into one of my best and most fun summers to date.
Ale and Giovanna

Now back in Italy, my current living arrangement consists of an apartment with four Italian guys, two French girls and one Italian girl. Alessandro, my friend I wrote about in a previous post from Padova, insisted on having me come stay with him during my most recent apartment search. I can have no complaints with my living room sleeping location when I wake up to warm milk and a pastry for breakfast in bed.
Halloween in Italy with Nicolò...

At this point, it is almost difficult to remember all of the different places I've inhabited in this foreign land. I have great hope that I can continue to build on this experience with more world travels. I hope that I can amass even more wild stories of living a life full of excitement, adventure and passion. I am grateful that my parents, grandparents, and friends have done all of the things that they have to make this possible. One of the most important lessons I have learned from my time here is that life is about making and taking unique opportunities to grow and learn.