"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


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Sufjan Stevens – Ring Them Bells

Ron Sexsmith – These Days

Ron Sexsmith – Tell Me Again

A few weeks ago I went out with some friends who attend another school here In Florence. I met up with my friends then we went off to their girlfriend’s apartment to have a few drinks before we went out. I was drawn to a girl who reminded me of the girls I was close with at Indiana University this past year. One can make the obvious assumptions college girls were like at IU. We chatted away, both of us being more uninhibited people, instantly began to poke at each other about things like where we grew up, our accents, and schools we attended. After a few more drinks and more conversation, the group said it was time to go out. We all rallied up, the heard of tipsy American students made their way leisurely and loudly to a bar across town. The bar we went to was awful, not my kind of place, loud banging techno music, drunk American students passed out in the benches around the bar, and people dancing on tables, I’m over that scene. I didn’t last long there and neither did my new friend.

As we were walking back we passed the Duomo. That morning I joined a renaissance art history class, we met at the duomo and our teacher/guide taught us all about the building and its history. I decided to flex my inner art historian and tell her all about the building. The year the front façade was done, what the reliefs stood for on Giotto’s Tower, I was on a roll. She was impressed; until I told her I learned it in class that morning. As I walked her home, she said she needed to give me a tour, show me something new, something I haven’t seen yet in Florence. I said you’re on. I’m always down for an adventure.

About two weeks later, after lots of texts and calls talking up her keeping her end of the bargain she had a plan. She wanted to show me a view Florence from a small quiet town right outside the city called Bellosguardo. We met up the following afternoon and walked across town, through a more residential calm section up a hill to a small ledge where we could see a beautiful view of the whole city of Florence. We sat there on a ledge looking out and pointing at various landmarks that were popping out from the government sanctioned terracotta rooftop sea. After sitting there for a while we decided to go explore the small towns near where we were. She told me that many famous writers and philosophers would come to the villa behind us, rent a room and work. This excited me, it was cool to sit in the same spot and see the same view when Galileo was doing his research. Unfortunately the villa is not a museum, but a hotel. Its private garden blocked off with barbed wire, threatening signs, and a metal gate with a long key code. It was weirdly quiet. Every few minutes a small car would honk to alert other drivers on the other side of the many blind turns that they were coming and were not going to slow down, and tear down the road. The streets were walled; on the ledge of the walls were shards of glass to keep birds from perching and making a poopie mess. Every few hundred feet there would be a gate, obstructing beautiful estates owned by evidently very wealthy people. We peeped in through the cracks and looked over the walls on our tippy toes and tried to imagine what their lives were like and what they did for a living. In contrast to the rich country homes, there were numerous abandoned buildings in each town, alas all securely blocking our sense of curiosity and exploration.

We wandered around a little more then headed back down into Florence. It was a fun little adventure, now it’s my turn to think up our next feat in our duel of Firenzian tours.


A Brush With Death

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Johann Sebastian Bach – Come Sweet Death

A few days ago I was out drawing for my midterm assignments. I decided to go to the Pitti Palace, home to the Boboli Gardens, to tackle some watercolors sketches of their beautifully manicured grounds. As I was walking up to the ticket counter I saw a pigeon lying on the ground motionless, probably dead. I walked up to it to take a closer look. As I got closer the bird convulsed around violently on the ground scaring me, I jumped back. The bird’s death throes were fierce, and emotional for me. With each throe the bird would breathe deeper and deeper, faster and faster, his chest rose and lowered viciously, emitting a feeling of panic and terror as he began to comprehend his fate. The characteristically dumb, empty stare of pigeons was now full of fear, agony, and suffering. Its red and yellow eye glared at me the whole time, a look of exposure and powerlessness. I couldn’t help but watch. I justified my staring by telling myself that I wouldn’t want to die alone, I tried to empathize and kept it company. People passed by as if nothing was happening, chatting away, laughing, waiting in line for the museum; no reaction to the last few moments of this helpless creature’s life. I kneeled down a few feet away giving it some space, staring with sad eyes, my heart heavy, pounding accompanied by a burning sensation in my chest. I began to look around to see if there was something someone could do or to see if anybody else was watching, but there was nothing, nobody. I stayed with the bird until it stopped moving and breathing. It was one of the most painful things I’ve witnessed. The bird was in my mind for the next few days, and comes back to me when I see other pigeons. My drawings for the rest of the day were tense, stiff, and lifeless, I couldn’t concentrate. My hand wouldn’t flow over the paper with the ease I’m used to. My mind was elsewhere and distracted. When I told others what I witnessed, I got a few laughs at how fazed I was by the death of such an unlikeable, insignificant animal. I was upset by some of the insensitivity, but most people sympathized and understood. I took pictures not only to remember the experience, but also to draw the bird. I can’t tell if I felt bad having taken photos when the bird was so vulnerable and in such a tender state, but I felt an overwhelming need to document this event, to experience and see death as something everyone experiences once in their life.

Silence Within the Walls

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Vladimir Horowitz – The Last Romantic – Mozart: Sonata in C

Krystian Zimerman – Mozart Piano Sonata in C Major

It was only a twenty-minute train ride from Pisa to Lucca. When we got off the train, the station bustling and busy. The town was just as loud as Florence, until we hit the city walls. Of the ten thousand people that live in Lucca only one thousand of them live inside the ancient city walls that have protected the city of Lucca from invaders for centuries. Lucca was the only independent city in Tuscany that was never touched by the dominating Medici family from Florence.

When we walked through the small town up the stairs through the walls, a silence fell over the town. Nobody spoke above a whisper. The laughing of our group seemed to echo throughout, it seemed to be quite a stir among the peaceful hushed natives out for an afternoon stroll. The town was charming and picturesque, with French undertones. Once dominated by Napoleon and his army, a rich French family ruled over Lucca, missing home they lined the streets with sycamore trees, I found them beautiful so I wasn’t complaining. As we walked quietly, our speech never reached higher than I slight murmur we toured the Duomo of Lucca, my favorite church in Italy so far. The imagery and story choices diverged from the popular selections of the time only supporting the Luccan independence. In the marble floor the story of King Solomon deciding to cut a baby in half to resolve a tiff between two mothers who claimed it was there’s, the true mother said it wasn’t hers for the sake of the baby’s life, being the wise King Solomon he gave her the baby because only a true mother would rather see her baby live under any circumstances then see it die, was roped off. I was intrigued and surprised by the choice, not quite sure why it was chosen for the center of the church baffled me, our guide didn’t know either, maybe they just liked it. Also within the church there was a cross with an unusual depiction of Jesus. It was said to be the first piece made representing Jesus after his crucifixion. What amazed me about the wooden carving was that Jesus wasn’t shown looking like a white European man like in all the work all over the world, but a middle-eastern man with darker skin. This alluded to the fact that European artists chose to paint and depict Jesus as one of them, instead of his true self. So many questions and ideas ran through my head. I wasn’t able to take any pictures because the church was overseen by a man the tour guides called Cerberus, the name of the three headed dog that guards the gates of hell, guess he’s not a very warm character.

We softly tip-toed around with our tour guide finishing the tour of Lucca, after that church the stories and history began to resemble the histories of towns and cities we had recently ventured to, throwing it all in with the rest, unfortunately. The town was perfect, not far from bigger towns when one desires the big city feel and amenities, an exclusive feel from the fact that only so many people could live within the walls of the old city, and a quiet relaxed area where everyone knows each other.

What are They Doing?

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Quincy Jones – Soul Bossa Nova

About a week ago now, my school took us on a day trip to Pisa and Lucca. We again started early in the morning and hopped on an hour-long train ride to Pisa. Pisa was a dirty scummy city, the people weren’t very nice either, as if they had all woken up on the wrong side of the bed and didn’t brush their hair or showered to at least make up for their bad mood. The city felt as if there was a layer of scum on every surface, on top of that it was mostly a grey day, which wasn’t very helpful. We walked to the back of the city where the only thing worth seeing in Pisa was, the leaning tower of Pisa, the Duomo, and its baptistery.

When we walked in the piazza of these three monuments the sun began to shine, illuminating the green field of grass and milky white of the marble stone that made up these must see structures. We had about thirty minutes of free time before our tours of the baptistery and the Duomo began. Unfortunately there wasn’t enough time for me to go off and see the Jewish cemetery suggested by my mother (I’ll go back don’t worry Mammy). Instead I just sat down and people watched.

The people were hilarious. Everybody was a tourist. It felt as if there wasn’t a native of Pisa for miles, people of all colors and races were here to see this one Italian edifice and then quickly move on. Even the man who owned the pizzeria where I ate lunch was English. The people watching was prime and goofy. Everybody was posing to take the typical tourist picture holding up or pushing over the leaning tower of Pisa (I took one too, shh). When one just enters the piazza and sees masses of people doing this I though that the world was going crazy. People were in the wacky positions, all trying to out do each other with new creative way to hold up the tower, the hand, foot, pinky, butt, you name it was done. As I walked around the only conversation I could decipher in the sea of languages was, the person holding the camera directing the other where to stand so they are inline for the shot with the tower. Couples were yelling at each other in English, Indian, Italian, French, German, Dutch, Spanish, Japanese, Chinese, and Vietnamese. I was dying of laughter. I began to take pictures of them; they looked so ridiculous and so determined to get the perfect shot. I would aim my camera to look as if I was taking a picture of the landscape instead of them, as to not look like too much of a creeper. It was probably the most fun I have had since I’ve been here. Watching people make fools of themselves with such tenacity and moxie intentness, it was beautiful. Afterwards a few of my friends felt the need to do the same so I took a few photos with them. Our photos were legitimatized by the fact that everybody else was doing it and we were roaring with laughter. After much observation of fellow funny tourists, I had seen it all; I decided to hold up the leaning tower of Pisa with, (drum roll please) my tongue! I have the strongest tongue in the world. As I posed, my embarrassment over my position grew exponentially with every passing second, people watching me were laughing.

We only spent a few hours in Pisa, if you’re there longer our guide said, “you get depressed because there’s nothing much to do and the tourists get annoying.” We headed back across town to the train station to catch a train further down the line to finish out the second half our day in Lucca.

Latest Sketchbook Fun

Anonymous Glee Club

Sublime – Rivers of Babylon

Last night when I was heading back from doing some sketches at Piazza Signoria, I came across a little gem. A group of teens, looking like a local glee club, were singing at the foot of the Duomo steps. I couldn’t make out what language they were singing in, it wasn’t Italian, its sounded a little Russian, maybe even a little African, but I still had no idea. They sang one song in English that I know because it was covered by one of my favorite bands called Sublime. To confuse me even more a young man jumped in front of the chorus and did some dancing that resembled a rhythmic Flamenco, that looked similar to clips my mother has shown me in the past. He stomped on the ground vigorously with the beat, spun his upper body around followed his lower half, jumping and spinning in the air, with his arms raised. A woman jumped in front the crowd to join the young man who wasn’t quite sure how to react, but she danced well in a similar style. Once my mom sees these clips I’m sure I’ll know much more, I’ll update this then.

Buns of Steel

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Play this song to get a feel for the bus ride –> If you watch toward the end of the 10 minute video, you see a shot of a bus driving quickly through mountains, so fast that half the bus ends up hanging over the side of the cliff, weirdly perfect for how I felt on the bus ride to Cortona.

Quincy Jones – Italian Job Car Chase 1969

We took a short bus ride from Arezzo to Cortona after a huge breakfast sponsored by our hotel. It was a coach bus with the cheap scratchy blue, yellow, and red, fabric lining the seats that were predictably placed too close together. My knees dug into the kidneys of the person sitting in front of me, sorry my bad. The ride took us through countryside, farms of unrecognizable crops, and small towns with only one stoplight. Our bus driver downplayed our sweet and quaint surroundings. Wearing his reflective aviator sunglasses, his tuft of blonde chest hair popping out of his shirt that was open by one too many buttons, and of course a blonde perm, he drove the giant shuttle like a sports car. He took sharp turns propelling me into the glass window, sped through tight spaces that I would take caution through with a small SUV, and honked when the little Italian cars got in his way then speedily passing them on the wrong side of the road. Cortona is a mountain town, the bus had to drive back and forth scaling the mountain to reach the town’s entrance. Back and forth, back and forth we went. I looked out the window and saw a steep drop where we were sure going to crash to a blazing death if he kept driving this way. When I got off the bus I was happy to be touching the ground.

Cortona was a frustrating city for me. To live there would be exhausting. There is only one street in the whole town that is flat (which is why it’s the busiest), otherwise you would walk up or down hill to get anywhere in the town. Old women were carrying their groceries up steep hills taking numerous breaks, I was sweating through my shirt, and my butt was sore (buns of steal here we come). Despite my aching buns we walked around the whole town anyways. The views were beautiful. Every way you turned there was another breathtaking view of the Tuscan landscape. After taking a few pictures from the square where the bus dropped off, we met up with a tour guide. The tour guide was goofy, he said everything was very “famoos”(famoos = famous in an Italian accent), not old, not new, not pretty, not simple, or any other adjective, but everything in Cortona was “famoos.” Famoos this, famoos that. This wall is very famoos this church is very famoos. I had a hard time listening to the stories and history he shared with us because I spent the whole time holding back my laughter. Toward the end of the tour he used the word famoos unerringly for the first time, he told us that Cortona was where the movie Under the Tuscan Sun was filmed, and every year there is a little festival here themed around the movie. In my head I congratulated him for properly using his favorite word and let out a little “oh wow”, finally explaining the numerous posters from the movie in the doorways of every store in town.

We were on our own to get back to Florence. We had to take a bus from Cortona down the mountain to another town called Camucia where the train station was. It was around 2:30 in the afternoon and the local schools just got out. Unfortunate looking pre-teens filled the square waiting for the bus to take them home. It made me remember when I was going through puberty and the endless amount of adjectives that describe that awkward time in my life. I watched kids getting bullied, other wearing all black smoking cigarettes to the point of inhaling the melting filter, jocks with their soccer cleats tied together thrown over a shoulder with a soccer ball under their arm, the group of couples taking kissing pictures to post of Facebook and MySpace when they make the relationship Facebook official, the nerdy underdeveloped group playing hand held video games, every clique was there. It was fun to watch. We rode the bus with all of them, a pimply couple was making out to my left, and a group of girls were giggling uncontrollably, while another crazy bus driver took us back down the mountain to the train station to get back to Florence.