The Last Hurrah–Massachusetts, Manhattan, Milwaukee

Well, not my last hurrah, if I can help it. But the last for now.

Times Square

Times Square

Perhaps this was unwise, but I knew I would be pinching pennies toward the end of my time at home… so I planned ahead and bought these flights back in July to make sure I went on the trip.

Could I have used that money to think about putting in a deposit for an apartment in Seattle? Perhaps.

Would I have spent that money on something else between then and now? Most likely.

Besides, by ‘planning ahead’ I was able to get three one-way tickets for $400. I knew the flights would be the most expensive part of the trip, since I was staying with friends for two weeks, so I just tried to watch my costs for food and fun–and I was quite successful, I might add.

newsconsin7In Massachusetts my friend Randall lives just off Cape Cod in the small town of Wareham. His neighborhood was a couple blocks from a small rocky beach and backed up to a random forest, where pine trees grew thickly out of sandy hills. While Randall was at work I ran through the forest every morning and laid on the beach/waded in the water in the afternoons.

One evening we drove out to Plymouth, where Randall showed me around his childhood haunts as well as a few historical points of interest, old churches and courthouses, etc. There was the rock, of course, inscribed with ‘1620’ on the top. Mayflower II was docked nearby, a life-size replica of the original, although it was too late in the afternoon to go aboard.

newsconsin1We spent the weekend in the setting for books, the background for movies, the skyline burned in every mind: Manhattan. We splurged on a hotel just a few blocks away from Times Square, Pod 39. It had a on-the-move/thrifty-traveller/wired-millennial feel to it, somewhat like a hostel but still with private bedrooms and bathrooms. I loved it, and would definitely look into it again next time I’m in Manhattan.

Since we only had two days, we made the most of it, walking until we nearly had blisters on our feet each day, but seeing as much of the island as possible: the first day we headed south to climb the Empire State Building and take in the view of the city. I could see the Statue of Liberty from a distance, but tickets to go in sell out months in advance. Next time, Manhattan.

Ground Zero

Names engraved around fountains at Ground Zero

Further south was Ground Zero, a full hour-long walk from the ESB. The fountains in place of the foundations of the twin towers were beautifully designed, pulling the water away out of sight into the center of each memorial.

newsconsin5Sunday morning we strolled through Central Park. I was amazed at how deep into the park one must go in order to be free of the city sounds. It took even longer to be free of the crowds: the main roads going through the park were packed with runners and bicyclists, and some horse-drawn carriages. Nonetheless, I enjoyed exploring the smaller paths: I felt almost at home in the natural-growth landscapes. I was a little jealous of all the runners: next time I’ll stay long enough to go for a run.

The Metropolitan Museum of Art was extraordinary. I appreciated the local New York modern and historical art as well as the ancient collections. One room was dedicated to the rebuilding of an Egyptian temple that was taken piece by piece from the Aswan valley. When the Egyptian government built the Aswan dam, the US government donated money to the project, and as a token of thanks they allowed us to choose which of five temples we wanted to take, since all five would be under water once the dam was built.

newsconsin6We spent a lot of time in the rooms and rooms of paintings, and almost missed some classics: only as we were searching for the exit did we come upon Monet, Picasso, Manet, Cezanne, and Van Gogh.

Of course we didn’t make it to everything in the Met, and we never set foot in the Museum of Modern Art, but…next time.

I’ve just decided there’s always a next time. I’ll always see someone again, I’ll always go somewhere again, I’ll always travel again. Telling myself this keeps me on my toes, but also keeps me from bemoaning anything I might have missed the first time around. Although I never experience everything I would like to, I saw some things I didn’t expect, like a street dance performance or a Hispanic parade of all Latin American countries dancing and singing down 5th Avenue.newsconsin9

newsconsin10The second week of the trip was spent in Wisconsin, mostly in Oshkosh and Milwaukee. However I did have the chance to explore some of the other cities and towns, because for me, this was the ‘next time’: I spent a day in Green Bay, and an afternoon in Port Washington, Grafton and Cedarburg with Jacqui, a Concordia friend.

Anthony at his internship at the radio station

Anthony at his internship at the radio station

After I attended a wedding with my ongoing travel buddy Anthony, we stayed at the Tundra Lodge in Green Bay. He had scored a deal in both the stay and tickets to the indoor waterpark, of which we definitely took advantage! The lodge sported woodsy décor and flair, with animal heads staring down from every wall, and the structure reflected a classic log-home style.

Although I spent a lot of time seeing friends on this trip, I had some enjoyable alone-time. I found the Sand Pond behind Randall’s house in Wareham during one of my morning runs. I got lost in the Downtown Bookstore in Milwaukee and walked out with four “unnecessary”/but-clearly-necessary purchases. I found Riverside Park about three miles north of the Milwaukee city center, and I explored the paths by the water.newsconsin13

newsconsin12Near the park was the Urban Ecology Center. I originally walked in because I wanted to climb their tower to see the Milwaukee skyline. I figured it was a government building of some type. What I found, however, was a community center focused on educating the public on ecological awareness: they hold classes in some of their rooms, they have free coffee and wifi for anyone who wants to just sit and enjoy the atmosphere (as I did), and they have information posted all over the building about how their toilets flush solely on rainwater and the furniture is all made from local wood. They also host a plethora of activities that encourage people to spend more time out-of-doors. The volunteers working that day were overly kind and gracious, and gave me a short history lesson on how and why the center began. It was one of those moments that renewed my hope in humanity.

Kevin and I had lunch one afternoon in Milwaukee at Uncanny Soup. Russian borscht soup was their special of the day–fantastic! It brought back memories of my Italian host dad Rosario spending all afternoon making it for us in Florence. I think Rosario did it better, but Uncanny Soup was a close runner-up!

newsconsin14On the final day of the trip I returned to Milwaukee’s now-somewhat-familiar Third Ward to kill a few hours before my flights, and I spent some time in the Public Market, which reminded me of Florence’s Mercato Centrale in shape and atmosphere (although the Italian one is far larger). I was not expecting Milwaukee to provide so many nostalgic Florentine experiences!

After New York I have only 10 states left of 50. And now I have been to Boston in the fall (for those of you who know the song..?).

Now, off to Seattle.

A City–Eternal?

‘I have breathed the air of a thousand Romans.’ -Unknown

rome5

I spent last weekend in Rome for my birthday, and I realized a few things:

1. I did well in choosing Florence over Rome for my study abroad location. Rome is a bit too big for me, especially if I want to get to know the area well. Everything was bigger in Rome: not only the sheer size of the buildings, statues, churches, and piazzas, but even the very bricks from which they were made.

Mass in St. Peter’s on Sunday morning was mostly spent gaping at the ceilings so far above, and gazing at the biggest bronze statue in the world behind me, and smiling at the Koine Greek words around the top of the nave. The pipe organ played, and the monks chanted in Latin, and we worshipped God together in many tongues.rome1

Rome even astonishes in numbers: there are over 600 churches in the city, and over 2000 fountains. 1400 of the latter were present in the ancient days, and most are still in working condition. I love walking up to the stone faces on the side of buildings and taking a deep drink of the cool water, still brought in by ancient aqueducts.

2. I can officially travel on my own–a real confidence builder. I was wandering through this foreign city alone when I thought to myself, No one knows where I am. I had no roommate, no host mom making supper for me, I didn’t have to text anyone about my whereabouts. It was the most alone I have ever been, and not only did I survive–I thrived.rome2

Sunday afternoon was the height of my ‘lonely’ travels: I asked the hotel manager where the closest beach was, stole a towel from the room, and headed out to Ostia, an hour south of Rome proper. I took two different metro lines and a half-hour train ride with a bunch of wild, screaming Italian children who were going to the amusement park there, then paid a fortune for a an hour’s use of a lounge chair.

rome6

I didn’t realize you had to pay to go to the beach in Europe. The Montanan in me thought, Isn’t nature supposed to be free? But I saw enough old men in speedos to last me a lifetime, so I guess I’m picky about freedom…because that shouldn’t be allowed.

Anyway, the beach was a nice change. I realized I hadn’t seen the ocean (except from an aircraft) since I went to the beaches of Normandy in northern France in 2011. I’ve always considered myself a mountain girl, but there is something fascinating about endless water.

3. No earthly thing is eternal. The ruins, especially in places such as the Area Sacra, sang softly of sadness: still and lifeless, they tell a story–a story of death. The Colosseum was still an impressive structure, but it, too, will pass.

rome4

The forum has always been one of my favorite places in Rome. Unlike many of the other ancient structures, the forum is a picture of everyday life in ancient times. Small signs point out ‘the house of Caesar Augustus’ and other similar locations. There were gardens, still tended, and small fountains in courtyards.

I took off my shoes and allowed the dust to cover my feet and ankles. I thought of the days when Romans must have passed through these houses, kicking up the same dust.post 3.7

I wondered if they ever thought that their lives, then so well fortified by power and made secure by the sheer size of Rome, would someday become a city-wide museum. Did they consider their legacy?

What will I leave behind?

Dust?

I Failed Italy?

“Travelling opens the mind.” -Blue Is the Warmest Color

 5.7

I was on the public bus one morning while going to school and a woman yelled, ‘Mamma Mia!’ when the bus stopped suddenly and another woman fell on top of her. I smiled. I didn’t know Italians actually said that.

Itali5.1ans really do talk with their hands, too. We even learned important hand gestures in class one day. Thanks to this helpful and informative picture my friend Maddy sent me, I learned how to communicate clearly. I laughed out loud whenever my host mom Cristina made this same face and gesture.

And Italians really eat pasta with every meal, but here they do it ‘backwards’: pasta is the appetizer, and the salad is the main course.

Also the mafia still actively exists.

That was news to me.

5.5

My host mom, Cristina, and I sat down for a talk before I left Italy.

‘I guess I failed at this semester,’ I said. ‘I’m not Italian.’

When I first arrived in Florence and began to observe the lives around me, I said to myself: ‘If, by the time I leave in December, I don’t nap in a park on warm afternoons, I don’t eat tomatoes with every meal, and walking face-first into someone still makes me cringe, then I will have failed Everyday Life in Tuscany 101.’

There were two ways to mix with the Florentine crowd: act like a local or act like a tourist. Either way you blend in with half of the population. I did both, depending on my mood, but trying to be local as often as possible. I had Italians ask me for directions on a few occasions, so that counted toward big bonus points I think. The tourist population died down by the end of October, then picked up again in early December as Christmas season began to roll around and the blissfully magical Christmas markets rolled out in Piazza Santa Croce.

5.2I waited until that break in tourism to climb the duomo and the bell tower. I stood for a long time at the top, memorizing my beloved and now-familiar city as much as possible. I was able to pick out many of the places I had frequented and explored.

I also saw the city stretching away to the northwest, beyond the Santa Maria Novella train station and the canal that runs from Piazza Liberta to Cascine Park, the area I had sadly left unexplored. I saw thousands of buildings, and treetops scattered here and there like weeds poking up between towers of windows and arches, showing where the numerous city parks were located.

5.8With only two days left in the semester, I finally ventured in that direction. I sat in a park just beyond the extent of my previous wanderings. I looked back towards the city center, the Oltrarno, Gavinana, Bagno a Ripoli, Fiesole, and all of the city which lay between these areas.

‘I need to come back,’ I said to myself. ‘I haven’t seen it all yet.’

Not being able to do everything I wanted to was perhaps the most difficult realization I had to deal with before leaving Italy.

And yet, exploring never ceases. If I’ve been in Florence four months and haven’t ‘seen it all,’ what of the tens of thousands of other cities in the world?

5.6

So. The semester is over. Did I fail?

Well, I’m not Italian, and I never will be. If that was my goal, then yes, I flunked study abroad.

But I did nap in a park, and I eat tomatoes all the time now. Slathered in pure olive oil when possible.

Some Americans complain about our country and wish we were more like someone else’s country. I found just as many Italians who wished their country was different as well. And I have found Americans who aren’t fans of Italy and vice versa.

5.3The truth is, whether or not I would like to be Italian, or whether or not I tried to be Italian, I am American. I was born on American soil. I was raised with a certain perspective, with certain freedoms and rights, and with a certain political system. Had I been born somewhere else, I only hope I would still have the opportunity to explore other parts of the earth as I am now.

For the moment, I’m glad to be back on American soil. Today I walked around barefoot all day, I heard a sermon in English, I opened the curtains in my bedroom and the living room, I drove my truck. It’s not better, it’s just what I’m used to. This is America to me. This is where my roots find suitable soil.

That certainly doesn’t mean my travelling days are over. In fact, I have had multiple opportunities open up for the next seven months, so I have decided to keep this blog open in case anyone is curious what the Jarvite Gypsy is going to be up to, Lord willing.

Travelling is broadening perspective, learning empathy and grasping the humanity of mortal life.

Perhaps I didn’t fail too hard.

5.9

Scuola – LdM ‘the Magnificent’

Lorenzo de’ Medici Institute was named for Lorenzo the Magnificent, a ruler of Florence from the famous Medici family during the Renaissance era; also one of my historical heroes. Besides being a wise and cunning ruler, Lorenzo was also a great patron of the arts, and belonged to a group of people referred to as ‘humanists’: those leaders of the time who supported the ‘rebirth’ and flowering of art, literature, philosophy, religion, science, etc. after the Dark Ages.

And, like most of my heroes, Lorenzo was a skilled with horses and a brave in war.

Marry me, please.

photo

I am moving into my second week of school, and as of my first glance, my classes are proving to be no less ‘Magnificent’ than their namesake.

History this semester is, not surprisingly, ‘The Rise and Fall of the Medici,’ following the family from the 15th to the 17th century. I’m stoked, to say the least. My professor, Romana Priessler, is tall and beautiful with a face of a carved marble Roman statue brought to life. She makes no expression while she speaks ever so slowly, except the faintest hint of a smile when she says:

‘My English is not so great, and you may correct me if you like. But I will correct you on Medici.’

(Italians draw out the first syllable: ‘MAY-de-chi.’)

My history class goes hand-in-hand with my art class, “The Built Environment of Florence.”

(Concordia said I need an art class to graduate anyway, so why not take it in Florence?)

Florence above

This class, taught by Elisabetta Morici, will mostly cover architecture during the Renaissance period, although our first introductory class was mostly a lecture about the beginnings of the city. It was founded by the Romans and was called ‘Florentia,’ and was built in the valley near the Arno River, where it is today. The native and peace-loving Etruscans were forced up into the hills and settled there.

Florentia can still be seen today: our professor pulled up a map of modern Florence, showed us which roads were Roman, and pointed out where the forum and the amphitheater once stood. The roads still exist, cutting right angles through a city mostly comprised of curving, winding, narrow, crazy-Italian-driver-infested streets. The forum is now the Piazza dell’ Repubblica; I pass near it on my way to school each day. And the remains of the amphitheater can be seen in the steeply slanted road I hike up to get to class; my feet are passing over hundreds of seats now covered by paved roads.

With a half hour left of class, Professor Morici was teaching about the Byzantine walls and towers (over the years, Florence had seven different layers of protective walls built; these were the second set, built just after the fall of the Roman Empire).

In one fluid motion she shut down the computer and grabbed her small leather bag.

‘Let’s go look at them,’ she said.

With wide eyes, all 25 students stood and followed her silently as she led us outside, around the San Lorenzo church, through the Piazza dell’ Repubblica, and down a narrow alleyway.

This is why I am studying abroad, I thought. I peeked at the syllabus: almost every class period in this course will include some type of walking tour or museum/church visit.

hotel-brunelleschi

Suddenly the street opened up to a small square where several couples were sitting down to lunch, and behind them stood the Torre della Pagliazza, now the Hotel Brunelleschi (rooms start at 950 euro per night–I checked).

There is a small museum in the basement of the original foundations of the tower, too small to take a class of 25. So I returned yesterday and went by myself.

Francecso Petrini is a character. (I’m giving their names mostly for my own benefit, I think–I love the way Italian names roll off my tongue…) Unlike Professor Priessler, Petrini moves his entire face, no, his entire body, when he lectures in class. His accent is quite thick, but it makes me pay attention. Between wild hand motions and the use of the chalkboard, I can usually figure out what he’s talking about.

He teaches my ‘Age of Heroes’ literature class, in which we will be studying Homer’s Iliad and Odyssey, and a little of Virgil’s Aeneid. I’ve read the lattermost in its entirety, and loved it, though I am ashamed as a history major to say I have never completely read the other two. But I will soon!

All of my professors, but Professor Petrini in particular, stress that they are not Catholic. For so many years, my education has been specifically Christian, and I have caught myself on more than one occasion assuming that is true for all education.  I find it interesting that the professors still adhere to the religious principles of Catholicism, and Petrini even took a large chunk of our class period to make it clear he believed Jesus, whether God or not, was undoubtedly a historical figure. I suppose it is natural for the mind to seek some type of moral compass.

Ornella Pettini teaches my Italian Language class. After one week I can ask someone, ‘How do you say —– in Italian?’ And I can say ‘To be or not to be,’ mostly as a practice for Italian verbs. I don’t think Italians actually walk around saying that .

But I was proud of myself the other day when a random Alessandro sat down next to me outside the Tribunale while I was studying, and I was able to make minimal conversation  with him about the weather and the day of the week.

I can also say ‘vino.’ That’s important.