"Sitting here, choosing words, letter by letter, on the keyboard with the explicit intention of telling you about something I did or something I ate and making you as hungry or as miserable as I can – surely that's wrong." -Anthony Bourdain

Chicagoan Hasidic Spirit Guide

Mayer Hawthorne – I Wish it Would Rain

A few days ago I was walking around downtown Chicago in the late evening. The air was still humid from the preceding day. It rained periodically throughout, now, soaking the dark asphalt. The streets colorful from the reflecting array of flashing signs and stoplights making me glow a nice green yellow color as I strolled. The grates at my feet vented the subway beneath billowing clouds of thick steam every hundred feet or so on the sidewalk. Tomorrow is a workday, so I stroll alone, my friends were early to bed. I’m currently job hunting a, to my surprise, grueling and exhausting process that leaves me feeling defeated at the end of everyday.

I walked and walked exploring, taking in the people and the atmosphere of a potential new city to inhabit. The ‘after rain in the city’ smell was pungent, accompanied by the stale beer undertone released from a broken concealed forty in a soaked paper bag on the ground, what a drag for that bum. Pods of hybrid looking guys wearing polo shirts, Seven jeans, over-gelled hair, blinded from the world surrounding them by their fog of Armani Aqua Di Gio cologne, stomped by bro-ing it out hard, talking about the evenings viable female conquests while they hit and pat each other in homo erotic ways playing it off as manly affection. Couples walked briskly arm and arm whispering sweet nothings to each others ear, giggling as they made their early exit from the bar without any of their friends noticing. I think to myself, do these people work?

I diverge from the main road, bored of seeing the same kind of dupe that unfortunately often occupies this tract. I broke down a darker road. Through one of the steam flowing grates materializes a Hasidic Jew. He asks me for a few dollars because he is trying to get he, his wife, and seven children, Aaron, Daniel, Rachel, Esther, Jacob, Joshua, and Mara, – yes he did list them all – to Israel. I gave him the few singles I had in wallet and said “B’chatz L’cha” (which means good luck in Hebrew), and began to walk away. The man then runs around to my front and points at me and said in his best shtetl-ese, “You look troubled, everything ok my boy?” I wanted to answer him honestly, I’m in the process of getting over an overseas dalliance and currently job hunting, I was pretty down. I simply told him, “I’m currently looking for work and its tough.” (I felt bad saying that to a person who has become desperate enough to beg). He looked at me with the Jewish parental ‘I know you’re not telling me everything’ glare, like the one my mother gave me when I would stumble in the front door from a night out during high school. He then put his hand up in a stop position; he clears his throat of a mighty tickle and says (and I shit you not), “Receive with simplicity everything that happens to you.”

I began to have one of those moments in film when a main character’s inner voice works out a curveball conflict. In real time, these cognitive discussions always last a few minutes, but in the movies, no time passes. My mind is asking itself a million questions, where did this guy come from? Is he my spirit guide? I didn’t think my spirit guide would look like that; do I really look that depressed? After going through a few more questions, my internal one-way conversation is cut off by a mettlesome shaking of my head. I then asked him, “did you come up with that?” He responded, “no I read it in my studies this morning, its Rashi, smart guy, huh?” – Rashi was an old Rabbi who wrote one of the first interpretations of the Talmud, Jewish Law – Smiling and feeling enlivened, I told him that his quote was timely and exactly what I needed to hear. I gave him a larger bill from my wallet and said, “Todah Rabah,” (thank you in Hebrew). His goodbye was spot on, beautifully predictable. In a soft most typecast of Hasidic Jew voice he said, “Chin up, next year in Jerusalem.” He then turned around and disappeared into the twirling steam cloud from which he appeared.


Hobo Morning

John Lee Hooker – Blues Before Sunrise

John Lee Hooker – Hobo Blues

I awoke this morning with beams of light streaming through the few cracks in my plastic sliding shades. Two rays, perfectly warming, lighting my eyes, giving rise to an untimely wake. I pulled my blanket over my eyes, grunted, and tried to close the blinds in desperation to secure the artificial darkness in a dire attempt to fall back to sleep. The sound of roaring Tel Aviv buses barreling up and down King George Street careening back and forth below my apartment window kept me awake, withholding me from falling back to sleep. I teetered on the edge of soporific bliss, distressed by the cold air pouring from of my air conditioning unit, tense for the dreaded cold walk to the bathroom.  I mustered the bravery to emerge from my cozy cocoon, blindly got my things together, dithering with thought of the painful sunlight, the brightness on my black accustomed eyes. I threw my essentials in my backpack, quickly brushed my teeth and I headed out the door.

The morning was warm, a cool breeze rolled in from the Mediterranean, the light just right to keep the sunglasses off to enjoy the morning bright. Still early enough to enjoy the somewhat fresh air before commuters motor in dirtying the fresh slightly salty sea air. The sunlight evenly speckled across the uneven, dog dropping riddled pavement, glinting through the annoying trees planted in the middle of the sidewalk every thirty feet up and down King George Street. I saw my homeless friend; at least I call him a friend. Sitting on the bench outside my apartment wearing his tattered dark grey red striped sweat suit, his tan face and mighty round crazed yellow eyes poking out of his unkempt grey beard littered with little pieces of bread he had just devoured, yesterdays loaves from the bakery down the street. He was engaged, having fervent, fierce, fiery conversation with…his imaginary friend. He’s yelling, crazed hand gestures, spit flying, he suddenly pauses, to hear his fictitious friend’s opinion on the matter of discussion.  He looks into the eyes of a concocted illusion so deeply that it convinces even me that someone is there.

I walked across the street to catch the number twenty-five bus. The bus stop was full of Tel Avivi’s off to work; all look shlubby for work for what I’m used to back home. One man in a suit stands out, he gets looks not recognized for his distinguished style, but more of a, “why are you wearing that?” snarl, coming at him from all directions. The bus flies up, you can see all the rider’s bodies in the bus’ lean forward with the force of the abrupt stop. Being a passive overly polite American, I get pushed to the back of the line; other more assertive people shove to the door all around me like a vacuum. I flash my bus card, take my ticket, crumple it and put it in my pocket with the one from yesterday. I walked to the standing area; before I have a second to set my feet and get positioned in my balanced bus stance, the bus driver is off. Honking, weaving, cutting people off, throwing me around the buss like a giant ragdoll. I’m holding on for dear life, I smash into a woman behind me, she gives me an irked look that read, “Look at this amateur bus rider, how embarrassing.” The ride seemed l like it took forever, with every bump and turn my frustration grew. Battered and bruised the bus spits me out at the stop next to Rabin Square. I stumbled out, took a deep breath, checked for bruises, and stretched, trying to recover from my bitter bus beating.

I crossed the street, the cross walk was encroached on by opportunistic scooters, to the sunny side of the street to absorb the balmy heat from the still rising sun. As I walked, every few minutes an eager taxi driver honks at me to see if I need a ride, honk, step, step, honk, and for some reason each time I respond with a stare, teasing them, drawing in each to slow down only to have them peal out horn blazing with a heavy metal foot of frustration, the middle-eastern twang music disappearing down the road. I look across the street at Rabin Square. The shiny silver chairs are all inhabited by groups of crotchety old men discussing only god knows what all yelling at each other at the top of their lungs at the same time. They sit in the shade of the few trees, populating the shady shapes of elongated trees casted over the concrete square.

Ray Lamontagne – Jolene

As I continued down the street a man with an accordion was playing patriotic Israeli songs, his case open for kind donations to his alcohol dependence, as I passed by I could smell vodka seeping from his pores. I tried to not make eye contact with him; if you make eye contact you will surely be drawn in by the helpless look of pining and longing for the few useless agarot (Israeli equivalent to a Penny) jingling with your keys in your pocket. I couldn’t help myself I look. He asks me in Russian if he could use my cell phone, I don’t know how, but I understood, as if I suddenly spoke fluent Russian. I hand him my phone and he makes a short call. He takes the phone from me with a swift grab with his workman blackened hands, at that moment I thought he was going to take off with it, it would have been interesting to try and explain that to your Israeli phone rental company, I don’t think they have insurance for hobo stolen phones. Instead, to my surprise, he frantically tried dialing a number as tears welled up in his eyes. I told him to tell me the number and I would dial for him. Tears were running down his cheeks now as he listed the numbers. I pressed talk and handed him back the phone. He snatched it again. The person on the other line answered, a woman’s voice. Now tears flowed like glistering waterways from eye to chin. He spoke in Russian, a million miles a minute, to the woman on the other line. The call lasted five minutes or so, he was frantic, overjoyed, forlorn, pacing. After the short call he explains to me in Hebrew that he came here from Russia near Kiev and he called his wife who he hasn’t seen in years. He is trying to save money to go back to her and his children; he had a heavy, slow demeanor after speaking to his better half. He blesses me for helping him and reassumed his diffident despairing position on his cardboard box in the shade, head down hand out waiting for the next public-spirited passerby, now to tired and tenderized to continue playing the accordion. Feeling like a slightly smashing Samaritan, having helped a desperate man connect, I continued on to work with a smile, satisfied with my service. I walked up one more block to work, into the grey cracking Bauhaus style building, up the stale dark stairways to the office.

Warning: Never Go to Venice Alone

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Johnny Cash – Train of Love

Joni Mitchell & Johnny Cash – I Still Miss Someone

Billie Holiday – Solitude

When I got of the train in Florence from my trip to Rome I immediately went to the automated ticket kiosk to book a train to Venice for the second half of fall break. For some reason, I had no desire to go to Venice, but I knew that when I go home and tell people I didn’t make it there during my four month stint here in Italy I would never hear the end of it. After dragging my over packed backpack the few blocks to my apartment, there was a beautiful silence. I had the apartment to myself for the day. I did some laundry, repacked my bag, walked around naked and blasted Sam Cooke, and then I was off the next morning to Venice.

The night before I left, I booked a hostel online; I chose one conveniently near the train station for obvious reasons. When I reached Venice, I pulled out my notebook filled with my chicken scratch handwriting, in it directions to the hostel, my reservation number, all the information I needed. I searched around a little bit, for the little red door that was described online, found it, and apprehensively, slowly stuck my head in the creaking door not quite sure what to expect on the other side. I walked into this ratty, water damaged building. At the end of a long hall whose walls were painted bright orange and pink (making me feel I was inside of a pumpkin) I saw a small desk. A woman yells down in three different languages. I understood, “Do you have reservation?” I shouted back, “yes” my voice echoed down the hall as she ruffled behind her desk, into her computer and reservation book. The woman working the desk was from Russia, her second language Italian, and spoke to me in broken English. I couldn’t understand a single word she said. Wide eyed and amazed by the assortment of sounds coming from her bright red lips I just continued to nod, and handed her my credit card. I think I recall a click or two, coming out of her mouth. Amidst her babble she pulled out a map of Venice, all in Russian, circled where my apartment was then quickly scampered out the back red door to smoke her Marlboro Reds. Not wanting to even attempt to communicate with this woman again, I grabbed my bags, with a “what the hell just happened” expression, eye brows furrowed, jaw dropped, and head tilted to the side, and began to try and decode this Russian map. I paced around for two hours before I found my apartment. Up and down back and forth, the whole time I was on the wrong side of the Gran Canal. My steps were rapid, violent, long, thwarted, and hostile. My apartment was down a dark alley between two other streets, not labeled, obviously. And, or course, after all that, my room was on the top floor. I was so irritated I hurled my stuff on the bed. A thick cloud of dust puffs into the air making me cough. I open a window to air out the room, grabbed my sketchbook, and headed out to wander.

My foul mood was impeding my aspirations of exploration. I walked around huffing and puffing, growing frustrated by the slow moving crowds shuffling down the narrow walkways. Every few steps I took someone stopped in front of me to look in a shop window all selling the same touristy merchandise, read a menu, or check their map. I was about to freak out. Right as I was hitting my breaking point I came across Piazza San Marco, the space opened up, I took a deep breathe of the slightly salty Venetian air and calmed down. It was now late afternoon, I didn’t have much time before it got dark, and I was exhausted. I snapped a few pictures around San Marco, grabbed some food at a stand selling paninis, and did some drawing. My discontent subsided.

I wandered around munching on another sandwich, sipping my Fanta, as the sunset. I began to have more and more company on my soothing seafront stroll. Couples surfaced from their hotel rooms and their aperativos. Seated on every single bench in Venice (and I’m not exaggerating) was a couple making out and whispering sweet nothings in each other’s ear. My loneliness increased ten fold, the more face sucking I saw the more alone I felt. As I walked and walked, my sense of gloom became a hump on my back that grew heavier and heavier. The evening was cool, dark, romantic, and then bam! As if someone was purposely prodding me with a pointy pole of un-popularity, there was an enormous billboard covering the side of a building, lit up with spot lights from every direction, the only thing illuminated for blocks, it was a picture of a gorgeous couple passionately kissing. I stood there staring at it for a second in disbelief of this cliché moment; one that I only thought happened in films, then turned back to my musty hotel.

Paul Simon – One Man’s Ceiling is Another Man’s Floor

When I reached my hotel I took a shower, turned on Italian MTV and watched poorly directed music videos of songs I couldn’t understand. As I lay in bed, I repeatedly fell into blank stares while watching, my mind continued to relive my depressing day. I sighed heavily. Then, I felt and heard banging against my flimsy headboard. Bang Bang Bang Bang! The couple in the next room was having loud sex. With every bang my chest sank deeper and deeper. Bang Bang Bang Bang! Accompanied an occasional lustful yelp. Thankfully, for the sake of my self-esteem, they didn’t last long. I put my head under my pillow and passed out. It was finally the end of one of the most depressing days of my life.

Billie Holiday – Good Morning Heartache

I woke up early the next morning with the goal of visiting the Jewish quarter of Venice and to do some more meandering around the picturesque canals. I went to a café, had my espresso and pastry, and then I began to wander. Still feeling a little sorry for myself, my eyes helplessly fixated on couples and families as I people watched, I missed home, I missed touch, I missed contact. Unfortunately at that moment, the day became a countdown until I was to take a train back to Florence; I really wanted to get out of there. My steps were heavy, my breaths evolved into long dramatic self-loathing sighs and I had little appetite.

I called home, for a little love and suggestions on what to do in Venice. My dad told me I needed to take a boat ride. I asked a boat taxi how much it would cost for just a ride around the city, he said fifty Euros, and I said no way. So with that, I bought a waterbus pass for the day. I waited for the waterbus on a steel dock that swayed and banged with the waves from passing boats. The sounds of people talking in all languages echoed through the tiny tinny structure, my butt cold on the metal bench as I rubbed my boots on the smooth floor. The boat pulled up. It was a long short boat so it could fit under the low bridges over the canals. The boat banged up against the metal making a terrible sound. I rushed on so assure a seat in the front so I could fulfill my tourist duty and record my ride. It was a sweet ride, prime people watching. I took in the grainy, saltwater air, and sat back and relaxed by the heavy slow rocking of the small tanker. The low toned vibrations of the giant motor at the back of the boat slowly lulled me to sleep. I rode around the city until I found the stop nearest the Jewish Quarter, the next destination on my list.

Paul Simon – Something So Right

I followed signs in Hebrew that read “Beit Knesset” (synogogue in Hebrew), they made me feel at home and excited to see imagery and an ambiance I’m familiar with. As I ducked into a short tunnel that lead into the old Jewish quarter, a greyhound came gliding up to me. A beautiful brindle with a fancy red collar pranced smoothly around me. I turned and followed her with my eyes as she circled, I looked around for her owner, and I saw no one chasing after her, no one yelling a dog-like name. At the moment I felt as if she was sent solely to cheer me up. I walked up to her slowly holding my hand out towards her nose so she could check me out. Her cold wet nose touched my fingertips, her warm steamy breath filled my hand.  Her tail nervously retreated between her back legs. She jumped up in the air, ran in an agile small circle, and sat down like a sphinx. I knelt down and pet her, until her owner came around the corner. An older woman with a dark bronze fake tan, large and fresh from the salon, her blonde hair created a halo around her head. She was wearing black with gold trimmings, jewelry, and held a big, bright red bag hanging from the bend of her elbow. I told her that I have a greyhound at home, and recently lost one to cancer that looked remarkably like hers, like a twin. I told her how happy seeing her dog made me, but she couldn’t understand a word I said, but I didn’t care. I was unable to be there when my family had to put my dog down. This interaction seemed like he was trying to connect with me. Feeling uplifted, I saw groups of men wearing tallit and kippot walking around in long lines, taking up the whole width of the street and speaking in Hebrew. Signs for kosher grocery stores, bakeries, restaurants were in view. Children were playing on the large, capped well that I played on with my sister when we came here as a family almost ten years ago. It was Shabbat, the quarter was quiet except for flocks of youngsters playing and shepherded by gossiping pods of Jewish women in the Piazza. Obviously these were the kids who couldn’t sit still or stay quiet during services, and I know that feeling. I sat in the sun and drew for a while. I spent the day there, sitting, drawing, and taking pictures, surrounding myself with something familiar.

Revived by the Jews of Venice, I hopped another ride on the waterbus then slowly strolled back to the station to catch a train back to Florence. I finished my break feeling accomplished, I did everything on my own, I took care of myself, and did what I wanted, when I wanted, and how I wanted. I gained a new and different feeling of confidence even though the ten-day school vacation was a lonely one, to say the least.

When in Rome Alone – Day 3

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Dave Brubeck Quartet – Three to Get Ready

Duke Ellington – Take the ‘A’ Train

I set my alarm for 7:00AM again. I needed to check the last thing off my Rome bucket list, go see the Vatican Museum and the inside of the Basilica. My legs were still sore from my ventures of the day before so I decided to employ my tenderness by challenging myself to figure out the Metro. After a few hesitant tiptoes on the cold tile floor, I hopped into a cool shower to wake myself up. I was out the door around 8:00AM with the recurring goal of beating the crowds.

Rafael Mendez – Flight of the Bumble Bee & Mexican Hat Dance

As I walked underground to the Metro I was forced to pick up my usual gentle pace. I felt the rush of the hurried strides of locals trying to catch the next Metro before it pulled away; some running, not concerned about crashing into anyone, others walking briskly with arms flailing at their sides. I got a few dirty looks because I was disrupting the rapid’s flow. Too afraid to talk to a person at the ticket counter, I used the automated ticket machine to purchase my day pass, to my displeasure each kiosk was accompanied by a beggar. They were willing to help you if you gave them some change, of course. I was pissed, I’m a sucker for a sad face, and I truly did need help figuring that machine out. I tried to not make eye contact so I wouldn’t have to give the smelly, ratty man anything, but he was actually very helpful in getting me the right kind of ticket. He eagerly pushed a few buttons for me, he would slap my hand away as I would begin to pick the wrong option for tickets. When my ticket spit out of the machine he turned his panhandling face on. Oh he was good. He put his hands together, and praying to me as if I was god, moved his mouth into downcast position, and widened his puppy dogged, bloodshot eyes. I gave him some loose change from my pocket, I didn’t count it, hopefully it wasn’t much, then walked away shaking my head, partially feeling bad for the man, and upset that I fell for that once again. They must know I’m an easy target.

Bach – Organ Trio Sonata III

I rejoined the river of Romans to reach the correct platform. Hesitantly waiting at the water’s edge for the precise time to jump back in with the fish. Being mostly carried by the current, I was spit out onto my platform, then shuffled my way into the subway car. I love the Metro; it’s people watching heaven. People of all different classes, backgrounds, races, religions, all squished together forced to interact in this graffiti covered sardine can. We were all being tossed about by the shady looking amateur brakeman who was sitting, chain-smoking in the cockpit of the train going through his motions. In monotone Italian, his voice echoed through the tin telling people to step away from the doors. Not being used to the Metro and the centrivical forces that come with it, as the second the car pulled away I lost my balance. Thankfully the density of the crowd kept me on my feet or I surely would have plummeted to the already-been-chewed gum ridden metal floor. I readjusted my hands on the sticky metal bar above my head; spread my legs for a greater center of balance. Now I looked like a hardened veteran metro rider. I stood there fixated, watching the connected cars snake around the wide turns in the subway. I got off at the Vatican City stop, only six stops away, I rushed out with everyone else, again being pushed and carried along more than walking. I followed the signs that read “Uscita” (exit in Italian). After three escalator rides and some stairs I finally crawled out from the sunless and stuffy subway.

I figured that most of the people on the train were going to Vatican City. I picked the touristiest looking group and shadowed them until I got there. As I walked against the Vatican’s huge outside wall, I hit a long row of columns, I tried to pass through, but there were men dressed in silly red, yellow, and blue outfits making all of us innocent tourists go through a metal detector and open our bags. I later learned those silly men are the Swiss Vatican Guards, a tradition that goes back centuries.

The Piazza was huge. Circling around me were evenly spaced columns with marble saints. The sun was shining perfectly on the basilica illuminating it as if the heavens had opened. I looked around; there were thousands of people here. I expected that, the Vatican is Catholicism’s Mecca, but I saw row upon row of chairs set up and guards everywhere. I asked one of the goofy Swiss guys where the line was to go into the basilica, he answered, “no Basilica today, Pope here to speak.” I wasn’t sure how to react. I was upset by the fact that I wouldn’t be able to see inside one of the “must see” sites in Italy, but to see the Pope should be an interesting experience. So with that, he directed me to a seat and plopped me down. I sat there confused as to what was going on, constantly looking around at the amassing amount of people behind me in the monstrous piazza.

After sitting for about thirty minutes, a few people sat around me. I asked them, “When is the Pope scheduled to be here?” They replied, “around 10:30 (AM).” It was only 9:00AM. I sat there twiddling my thumbs, trying to sketch, and people watch, but time was passing awkwardly slow. I decided to talk to my neighbors; I asked them where they were from. The woman to my left was German. She was a porky looking woman; her hair was short, poorly dyed red, and spiky. She was wearing a puffy, shiny purple jacket that only accentuated her plumpness. She said this was her second time coming to hear the Pope speak. She came down here just for the day to hear him then she was going back to Germany. She went on to tell me about how she found God. She visited a healing church in Bosnia. She’s been back there two hundred times since. She couldn’t hear out of her left ear until the power of God cleared her head, and all of a sudden, she could hear everything. After her personal story, she told me of another woman she was with who had a hump on her back which caused her left arm to be five inches shorter than her right. With one divine, curative smack on the back from the priest, she was miraculously all evened out. Then the women next to her, who had been playing with her wooden prayer beads in anticipation for the Pope’s arrival, jumped in and said she had been there too. Her exact words were, “Nobody can find the perfect words to describe how free your heart feels when you first set foot in there.” They both made me promise that I would go there someday. The woman who interjected was from South Carolina, her southern accent and charm made me feel warm and at home, she called me honey and handsome whenever she began a new statement directed towards me. We talked about our love for big SUVs and southern cooking, the German woman shared her love of Mercedes, the South Carolinian, her Chevy Tahoe. We spoke for a little bit, killing the time until the man of the hour arrived. As we were talking, two Catholic priests all the way from India sat to my right, and next to them another priest from Portugal with a small group of women accompanying him. In front of me was a family from Alaska. Being the only one who looked somewhat normal to them, they asked me where I was from, I told them Minnesota, they all in unison responded with a long, “Oh, OK”, and that was the end of that interaction. At 10:40 Pope Benedict rode in on bullet proof perch waving to everyone with what seemed to be a forced smile, making him look more constipated than happy. People were clapping modestly, yelling, “Papa, Papa!” holding their hands up towards him as if warming them by an elevated fire. I turned to the German woman next to me and said; “You’d think a religious man like this would at least be on time, right?” Hoping for a laugh, she looked at me and gave me a slightly dirty look and continued on with her shouting and clapping.

The Pope, in his divine, militarized golf cart, rode around the crowd a few times so all could catch a glimpse. He was dropped off at the podium then sat down in his throne. He said a short prayer that I can’t remember specifically, I was too busy watching the people around me, and then a representative speaking, German, English, Spanish, and French came up and translated. The reverent rabble was dead silent as the Pope lined up a small pile of printer paper. A man in a black robe rushed up to his seat and handed him his godly glasses, then he began to speak. His tone was very monotone, fluxuating very little. He read in Italian for about twenty minutes. I couldn’t understand a word he said, but I could pick out the word “chiesa”, which is church in Italian, only because it was the word that was used most frequently. Towards the end of his speech I got up and left. I began to feel bad. I had a pretty good seat to see a man speak that I have no connection to. People were fighting to get closer, on tippy toes to hold a view, cupping their ears to clearly hear the static voice through the massive spiritual speakers. It was an unbelievable cultural experience. I have never, and probably never will, experience something like that again. The people were beaming, lighthearted, euphoric, and enlivened by being there. People traveled from all over the world for only a few short hours to be in the presence of the man that they consider the one closest to God, to achieve and experience the utmost connection with something so momentous and significant in their religion. I can’t share their passion and excitement, but I can appreciate it, I compare it to when I prayed at the Wailing Wall in Jerusalem, Israel. It was truly amazing to see and witness.

After I left, I hurried over to the Vatican museum doors, hoping that due to the Pope’s presence, the line would be short. The less devout crowd filled the line that amounted to a three-hour wait. I walked up to the front to scope it out and get a feel for the pace – not even a slow crawl. My train back to Florence was leaving in two hours and I had a lot of ground to cover and things to pack up back at the hotel before I left. A little upset because I wasn’t able to see the museum and inside of the Basilica, I popped my headphones on and headed back down to the dungeon-like, under-lit and stale metro directing me back to Florence.

When in Rome Alone – Day 2

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Stan Getz & Astrud Gilberto – Corcovado

Charlie Byrd – Wave

Thelonious Monk – Mood Indigo

I started my day around 7:00AM, much to early for the Italian population. Their day doesn’t truly started until around 10:00AM, in any other case that would be more than fine with me, but I was on a mission. I woke up in a determined yet relaxed mood, knowing I had the ability to go at my own naturally slow pace, but had a lot to do and see driving me to hasten my impelled steps. I walked and walked without a map, I used the brown signs erected to direct me, and my fellow tourists, around on a predetermined promenade.

My first stop on my list was the Parthenon. I wanted to get there before the flashing crowd so I could really connect with the massive inconceivable structure. On my way I stopped at the Trevi Fountain. I just recently watched the film La Dolce Vita directed by Frederico Fellini, the most famous scene in the movie was filmed here, “Marcello, come here, hurry up”,  and it’s a popular spot to throw a coin backwards over your shoulder and make a wish, a nice aesthetic and tradition for visitors. I was only there for a little bit, I did the tourist routine, make the wish, and took some pictures then down to the Parthenon. When I stepped into the Piazza that houses the Parthenon, it was ideally dead; I was one of three people there. I walked hesitantly through the massive doors, my eyes fixated up at the substantial pristine dome from thousands of years ago. I felt like I was in an holy venerable space ship that could detach from Earth any second, so I stepped lightly, not only in fear of disturbing some ethereal alien force, but to not make a sound in one of echoiest buildings I’ve ever set foot in. I poked around, reading descriptions of the tomb lined walls, took a little longer stop in front of Raphael’s sepulcher. I was more taken by the vast structure itself, how heavy it felt from the outside and in, and underlying anxiety of what would happen if its age overcame the foundation and fell in. I sat in there for two hours trying to find a way to draw, but whatever I sketched couldn’t do it justice, it only made me further realize the Parthenon’s sheer mammoth and solid qualities. After walking back outside and around the building I went on to my next destination.

Jimi Hendrix – Star Spangled Banner

While tooling around I passed the capital building, not wanting to miss at least seeing everything, I walked up the stairs lined with Roman statues to check out the inner Piazza. On my way up there, trying to look up at the capital building, but whenever I raised my head my face would get  smacked with rain. An elderly American couple was standing at the top of the stairs, right in the middle, looking around aimlessly. Others with heads down under umbrellas unable to see them, climbed the slippery marble steps up blindly, only until the last second the couples’ feet came into view at the edge of the vinyl umbrella. They quickly redirected themselves, some slipping on the wet stiars trying to dodge the couple. The man tell about my height (6’3″) and filled out, his wife, was short with dyed blonde hair at shoulder length wearing heavy red lipstick and blue eye shadow. The man was a veteran, he had slit eyes, very white hair, and of course, was chewing a toothpick to death. Capping his silver hair was a hat that said “World War II Veteran” covered in pins from front to back (that could not have been comfortable on his head). He turned to his wife and said in his thick Texan accent, “thank god we did bomb this place, its beautiful”, I snickered under my umbrella and looked out to see the view caused him to say such an American comment. It was a nice view I had to admit, thank god we didn’t bomb this place.

Next on my list were Piazza Navona and Campo Di Fiori, two places not far from where I was. Mapless, these places were hard to track down, ancient cities like Rome and even Florence aren’t structured on the grid style plan like Minneapolis and even New York and Chicago. It took me a little wandering to come across Piazza Navona. When I got there, the Piazza was moderately filled, tolerable. There was a klezmer-esque jazz band playing, promoting their recently recorded CD.  Along the building facades, over priced cafés and sandwich shops filled the stalls, lined and packed with myself, and fellow tourists. Now being a seasoned café customer here in Italy, I forced my way up through the fishing hat, sunglass wearing, camera necked, tourists with my arm up, tenderly yelling, “un café per favore”, and smiled at the pretty barista. My warm aggressiveness got her acknowledgement and in a split second I had my dainty little cup of espresso. I brought it outside and sat at a cold cast-iron table, wishing this was an extra large Latte from Caribou Coffee so I would have an excuse to sit here and nurse a never ending sixteen ounce fanciful coffee drink, but instead I had one ounce of coffee rubbing alcohol, made solely to do its job, energize, not for pleasure. I drank my espresso as slowly as I could, but only five minutes had elapsed. Re-vitalized from my delicate but harsh boost, I took some pictures of my surroundings, stood and listened to the free music a little, and then I was off to Campo Di Fiori.

Charles Mingus – Flowers For a Lady

Campo Di Fiori was just around the bend. This place had some character, which was a nice contrast from the leather ridden, grey sweater littered markets of Florence. Beautiful fresh flowers and produce were the main attractions here, but in the center was a few men in their late twenties or early thirties selling pasta. These men were a riot, definitely having a blast between themselves, which was fun to watch. Tense and jumpy tourists, not willing to speak Italian because of fear of embarrassment were drawn to the fresh pasta, the fare of Italy. The men behind the goods would yell very loudly, “Bonjourno, como estai?” scaring the high-strung skittish tourists who were too scared to speak. Older couples jumped at the obnoxious greeting, young people looked at them as if they were crazy, but they were just having fun seeing people’s reactions. Before a new group or couple would approach the stand, the men would huddle up, argue over who was going to get these people, and plan out what they were going to say (which ended up being the same thing every time). Surprisingly it didn’t scare people away, it made me feel somewhat comfortable because of the fact that they were having a gas at the expense of tourist’s nerves putting on somewhat of a show. Someone has to push people’s envelopes right? Why can’t it be the pasta makers. I bought some toffee covered almonds and sat down at the foot of the statue at the center of the square and snacked, people watched and continued to observe the pasta stand’s show. I wandered around the market for a little longer snapping pictures and buying snacks. After I headed back to the hotel to relax for a little, get off my feet, and freshen up.

Chet Baker & Paul Desmond – Autumn Leaves

Nat King Cole – Autumn Leaves

Edith Piaf – Autumn Leaves

After my short rest I headed across to the other side of town to Villa Borghese and its surrounding gardens. This stop was highly recommended by my grandmother who said that this place really stuck with her when she visited Rome and I can truly see why. I entered the area near the Villa de Medici, the paths were lined with busts of men important to Italian history, Da Vinci, Dante, some silly looking generals with dippy over manicured facial hair, and others whose names I couldn’t recognize, but none the less impactful. The gardens were huge, they seemed never ending, no wonder there was a bike rental kiosk where I entered. I walked around for hours, beautiful aged trees all colors of fall were everywhere towering over me, the slight breeze made their branches fluidly rustle and swish in the wind, sounding as if I had a relaxing nature sound recording playing in my headphones. It was picturesque to the fullest extent. I finally came across the Villa Borghese, a clean cream colored building beautifully contrasting its lush well-retained emerald surroundings. Its gardens were colorful, visually pleasing, lemon trees, and fig bushes were potted all over, I wanted to pick some, but felt bad, it was to perfect. I took a few deep breathes from the garden’s clean air and took a seat on a bench. I should never have sat down. My legs began to register how sore and exhausted they truly were. It was now close to 7:00PM, I had been out walking since 7:00AM. When I got up, I felt crippled, sore, and tender. My ounce purposeful stride was reduced to a steady hunched stroll as I slowly marched back to my hotel where I, once again, passed out from extreme fatigue ending another long full day in Rome.

When in Rome Alone – Day 1

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Simon & Garfunkel – The Boxer

Gilbert O’Sullivan – Alone Again

I just finished my midterm assignments for my art classes. After midterms we have a ten-day break, I was excited to not have three hour drawing and painting classes, draw things I wanted to draw, and go see places around Italy. I just finished my essay formatted art history exam my hand ached from writing quickly and heavily as I tried to get all the facts and thoughts out on the paper before they slipped my head. As I walked home rubbing my aching right palm with a sense of relief accompanied by a sigh, I stopped by the train station and booked a ticket to Rome for the first few days of my break, three days two nights. I went home and over packed like I usually do.

My train left at 6:30AM. When I booked my ticket my sense of adventure and productivity were high, but when I woke up at 5:00AM to make sure I would make my train I was regretting those short lived motivational feelings. I slept walked to the train station around 6:00AM and let the mechanized natural soothing rocking of the train put me to sleep on my four hour ride to Rome.

As the train pulled into Rome Termini, the second the recorded voice on our train welcomed us to Rome, thanking us politely for using TrenItalia, everybody reached into their purses, bags, man purses, and pockets for a cigarette. They clenched the unlit cigarette between their moistened lips anxiously twiddling their thumbs to light it up the second they got off the train. I was slow to get off because I had to corral my oversized and over packed bag I brought with me. When I stepped off the train a gust of smoke hit me right in the face, I began to cough ferociously, welcome to Rome.

The Rolling Stones – Beast of Burden

I lugged my burdensome bag six blocks from the train station to the hotel, dropped my stuff off, put my running shoes on and I was off. I didn’t want to waste a second in Rome. There was so much to see and I was only there for a limited amount of time. I had a list of things I wanted to see, a list from my parents, my uncle Scott, and my grandmothers. I walked from my hotel down to the Colosseum and Roman Forum. As I walked I was looking at the native people of Rome. They looked a little more calloused, with a bigger chip on their shoulder than the Italians of Florence, but that can be expected from the people of any big city. The streets were wider, buildings were taller, but still the sidewalks were narrow forcing me to pass slow moving tour groups using the edge of the street and get out of the way for determined seasoned Roman pedestrians. As I walked down Via Cavour, I saw the Colosseum and Forum slowly poke up on the horizon, the massive ancient building looking more and more real, gaining more and more texture the closer I got. No longer the glossy version I’ve grown accustomed to on post cards, history books, and computer screens. I walked right up to it and touched it. Dominating my mind was the thought of who else has touched that same spot and what it was in past, I tried to visualize, but flashes from tourist cameras (including mine) made it hard to imagine and visualize, it was until I saw men dressed up in Roman soldier outfits ready to take pictures with you for a Euro or two. I walked around surveying the area, getting a feel for a where I was and where things were situated. I examined the lines to go inside the Colosseum and Forum, I don’t know why I was surprised, but, the lines were endless snaking around the block to go in the Forum and a mob of people were crowding the entrance of the Colosseum for the next opening. I walked around, called my mom to check in telling her I made it safely and advice for a plan of attack on these must see prehistoric monuments. We talked for a few short minutes, I told her about the train ride, what the hotel was like, and where I was, mid sentence I saw the Colosseum doors open, eager tourists and I rushed in like lightening, forcing the automatic fence open from its first crack. Being in opportunistic tourist mode, I said, “Got to go mom, the doors just opened, love you bye”, and ran in to get in line to buy a ticket.

Sex Pistols – Anarchy in the UK (English teenage girl)

Sam Cooke – Cupid (Woman at the ticket counter)

Standing in line was a hoot; some interesting characters surrounded me. A mother and son behind me. The mother was tall, pale; she resembled Cruella de Vil with bleach blonde hair, she chain-smoked Virginia Slim cigarettes the whole time, in succession, I think she had seven. Her son looked nothing like her, probably the more like the father. He was short, and chubby, his dark brown hair was buzzed like mine. They don’t sound like a site someone hasn’t seen before, but what put me off about them was that they were kissing each other, a lot. Usually catching sweet moments like these make me smile, seeing others happy, loving each other, especially kids, always gets me, but these two were making me and all the others around us uncomfortable. I wasn’t the only one giving them a weird looks in reaction to the plethora of mother son public displays of affection. The two men in front of me made me laugh. One was tall, Asian, handsome; the other was very over weight and sweaty, the sweat on the back of his neck wetted his thin hair giving me visibility through to his dry flaky scalp. He constantly bumped into me, leaving a salty wet streak of his sweat on my coat, I was too grossed out to wipe it off. The short fat man, clearly making up for his physical shortcomings, was commenting on everything around him, acting like a know-it-all reciting the important dates of the building with a snobby face nose in the air, correcting false facts he overheard around him, what other tourists were wearing, the list was endless, he felt the need to comment on everything. His partner in travel had enough, he discretely told him to shut up with a serious whisper as to not call attention to the altercation, and they were quiet for the remaining time in line. In front of them an English teenage girl traveling with her parents was deeply frustrated. She had dark black hair, with pink highlights, and chewed her gum with her mouth open, her lip flexed in disgust, smacking her lips. Her parents couldn’t make decisions, and we all know how teenagers are, I was this way too sometimes, when they are out with the family all they think about is how badly they don’t want to be there and what their friends are doing that very moment. She had a mean face on, her colored jet black pink streaked hair was dramatically covering her left eye giving her a cross between punk and teeny bopper look. She couldn’t stand still, tapping her right foot in a fierce rhythm to the punk music ponding in her headphones, tapping her pointer finger on her elbow while she had her arms crossed. As her annoyance increased her taps grew faster and more vigorous. She would shimmy out her Blackberry from her skin tight frayed black skinny jeans every few minutes, play a level or two of Brick Breaker, press the end button a million times, and then shove her phone away. With every passing second her patience decreased and her ADD increased. She finally had enough, she told her parents she would be up front sitting and waiting for them. I could see her from a distance, she walked viciously, stomp stomp stomp, to a rock and threw herself down in a huff, gave off a sigh of relief, free from the indeterminate bickering of her loving irritating parents for a few blissful minutes until they reached the front of the line tickets in hand. Watching all the people around me made the thirty-minute wait go by very quickly and contentedly. When I reached the ticket counter, the microphone imbedded glass was lined with multi-lingual, dark haired, Italian beauties. Seeing these gorgeous women selling tickets drew me to get over my non-aggressive attitude toward life, pulling me to the front of the psyched mob with doting ease. I got to the ticket counter, fumbled my words, I don’t think I actually formulated a full sentence while attempting to speak to her. Remarkably by my spacious yearning look into her big brown eyes, she knew exactly where I was from, what language from her repertoire to speak, and what I wanted. At that moment, in my mind, I said, “screw the Colosseum, I’m staying right here”, but eager tourists with furrowed brows nudged me aside, breaking my fond filled stare. As I walked through the crowd I looked back at her, tripping over people’s feet, bumping into beer bellies, and snagging on bags until she was out of site.

Bill Withers – Ain’t No Sunshine (Leaving the woman at the ticket counter)

Thankfully through my love at first site stare, and my dumb grunts the woman gave me a ticket to the Colosseum and the Roman Forum, she must be used to that it, she could have sold me anything and I would have been happy, I don’t even remember how much the tickets cost. I rejoined the herd and walked up the stairs to walk through the Collosseum. Atop the stairs and through a packed passageway, I saw an opening into the Colosseum, and I slowly progressed forward with my eyes up. I was amazed and fixated at the old structure and architecture. Since being in Italy, I’ve grown accustomed to the design and architecture of Florence and Tuscany, but this was from a whole different style and time. I walked around aimlessly people watching and taking pictures. Little kids, too young to appreciate their surroundings, were running round between the ancient columns chasing each other and playing hide and go seek, covering their mouths trying to hold in their laughter so as to not be found, when one was found little shrieks and screams filled the building causing initial alarm to adults nearby, by the worrisome faces swiftly smoothed over by a sweet smile. Others, jaw dropped, sitting at the edge of the fencing, wide eyed at the newly dubbed wonder of the world. Asian tourists were taking pictures of themselves jumping and smiling and making peace signs, Indian families took pictures without smiling, Americans loudly bombarded security guards and other tourists to take pictures of them without saying please or thank you. I walked around the structure about five times, seeing new things on each round about, picturing the happenings of this monument when it was thriving, the gladiator fights, the blood, the cheering, the merciful, thumbs up, or the bloodthirsty thumbs down. I then wondered to myself what it would be like to have this place all to myself, to explore alone uninhibited, I wonder what I would find, what I could sketch. After spending a few hours in the building, my neck began to ache from looking up, and the amassing tourists made it hard to see and appreciate where I was, after one more lap and a few more pictures I made my way over to the Roman Forum to see the ruins and gardens.

The Forum was a relief for my neck, ruins are all on the ground, obviously because they have collapsed over time. While in the Forum, areas that interested me the most were the piles of old stones and remaining foundations of of old buildings. The shape of the decayed foundations and the pieces of the outside helped give me a sliver of aid as I tried to imagine the area re-assembled. The aesthetics and details of this dilapidation were much different, much older than that of Florence, making these even older ruins seem fresh to my renaissance familiar Florentine eyes. The gardens didn’t do much to me, after having been and spent many hours in the Boboli Gardens multiple times, made these seem overgrown, unkempt, and disheveled, but still appreciated none the less. I sat down on a bench in the Forum to try and draw some of the people and my primordial surroundings, but the second I sat down I became exhausted. I did a few messy sketches with my lazy heavy hand then decided to head back to the hotel before it started to rain. When I made it back, I stripped took a fast steaming hot shower, and went right to bed around 9:30PM. I don’t know when the last time I went to bed that early, but it felt incredible. I was cocooned up in my scratchy sketchy hotel sheets, the wonder of what happened in these sheets the night before left my mind because of my exhaustion. With the sounds of the rain accompanied by the voices of an elderly German couple entering my room, the sound of their voices echoed, stuck trying to escape in the alley behind the hotel. I set my alarm for 7:00AM so I could get an early start to make the most of the rest of my stay in Rome.


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Kermit the Frog – It’s Not that Easy Being Green

I few days ago I rented an intense digital camera from my school. I went to Parco Delle Cascine to go mess around with it, so green.