Thursday, November 27, 2008

Happy Thanksgiving

No Turkey for me; I'm off to Rome! I hope wonderful stories will ensue.

Sunday, November 23, 2008

Photo Essay

I finally uploaded from my camera today, and remembered that this was supposed to be a photo essay. I forgot after the first part, so you don't get to see photos of the final product, but Thanksgiving is coming soon and (if you are in America) you will get to see your own. I'm proud to say it looked (almost) the same.

Happy (Belated) Halloween!

Friday, November 21, 2008

Victorians, Post-modern architecture, Ikea, and Kung Fu. Not a bad night, if I do say so myself.

Tonight we went to a bar in Corso Sempione, near the park in Milan. The bar was an Indian bar, and it was beautiful, with elaborately carved wooden doors and golden pictures of elephants on the walls. We sat in a red, turquoise and blue tent to take our drinks. I wanted to order something off the “Indian Drinks” menu, but they had run out of the Indian liquor, so I ordered a Long Island Iced Tea instead. I am constantly ordering mixed drinks even though I know I don’t like them. I much prefer beer. Anyway, it wasn’t bad.

The night was that perfect temperature where it’s cold but not too cold. It felt like the wind was blowing warmer air into the night, but Federico tells me it’s going to snow. Tomorrow night we are going to the Chinese restaurant and wouldn’t it be perfect if it were snowing. I chatter along in Italian, pausing now and then to let Valentina help me with vocabulary. I know my grammar is awful, and I use that to my advantage in telling bizarre jokes. The jokes don’t have to be funny, but because I am clearly poking fun at my own ineptitude, everyone enjoys the comedic relief.

The area around Corso Sempione was built during the same time as the park and the aquarium, during that wonderful late-Victoria era that I love so much. The houses drip with an art nouveau sensibility—square and tall and with tall, narrow windows. The period has been associated with a stiff collar and stiff upper lip, but in the details of these houses we can see the truth of the aesthetic. The ornate window irons are not so formal and symmetrical as the Elizabethan, or even early Victorian, periods. Today we insist that ornamentation like this is formal, stodgy even, but there was a time when oriental rugs harkened to lush opium dens and hedonistic harems rather than our grandmother’s parlor. The patterns are inspired by leaves and vines, wrought into man-made materials, as if the wild lustfulness of nature could be captured in the windows and ushered into the house.

The Victorians planted aspens throughout their cities, planted rolling parks in the midst of their new industrial centers and populated them with quaking trees. Aspens may be planted in rows, but they nevertheless grow in a twisted dance. Their leaves may look like plate gold, but they twist and spin and show all their colors, colors which are reflected in the speckled smooth bark of their trunks.

Last weekend I went to Bologna and in the park were fantastic ferocious statues from the same period. There were two of lions and their prey. One showed the lion, his phallic tail stretching straight up behind him, snarling over the great body of a bull beneath him. The other showed a lion (phallic tail long-since broken away) battling a serpent with evil teeth over the victory of a massive mountain goat. Half the snake’s head had crumbled, but a full set of iron teeth remained. The other two statues were of busty mermaids in sensual, homoerotic (can we use that word for women?) poses, looking like stone representations straight from a Mucha painting. Their hair swirled around their nipples and the fullness of their flesh. Everything was pockmarked and vaguely green with a pervasive fungal life form.

In Parco Sempione is the Aquarium, built in 1906, with the hippo’s head spouting water into a tiled pool with poi fish and lily pads. The decorative tile around the perimeter of the building echoes the sensibility of the posh neighborhood it was built for.

I eat up the ornamentation, I who usually snub my nose at formal decoration. But the details here reveal whimsy. The artistry and revelry, which we now assume the Victorians brutally repressed, is revealed at every corner. Here, for example, is a fence in which every rung ends at a different height in a fantastical curlicue. Here is a white box of a mansion with a fantastic balcony busting with great drooping plants like it’s a portal to a tropical world. Even the lower level sports marvelous germanium plants—that red blossom that I once associated with domesticity, thanks mostly to New England watercolors, but now I see as a wild red-headed vixen in the midst of a grey city.

If I were in Grand Rapids, I would host a party. Art Nouveau Party, I would call it.

“Come celebrate those twenty years (give or take a decade on either end) from 1890-1910. Come dressed as your favorite buxom Greek goddess (if Mucha is your preference) or as your friendly Victorian couple on holiday (if Talouse Latrec is more your style). Come as Sarah Bernhardt or Alfred, Lord Tennyson. Come as a Baudelaire adventurer, eagerly conquering in the name of England, God, or Science. Come as a Bohemian, emerging from the darker alleyways of Paris or Prague. Come celebrate that, for the first time in human history, we have money to spend. Come pour green into your drink, whatever it may be, and pretend it’s absinthe. Come commune with those people who pretend to be sober at work and keep their private lives hidden behind tall, thin, iron-barred windows. Come and make merry, for tonight the show must go on.”

That’s what I would say.

We drove away from the neighborhood of dreams and on through the city. The last beautiful thing I saw out my window was the porticoed Italian mansion with Michelangelo’s great horse rearing on copper legs in front.

Then we passed the stadium, which looks like a monument to communist-era architecture. An unwitting monument, the type that thinks it protests cement soviet blocs by using cement to make turrets instead. Great round, striped turrets that were either parking garages or nothing at all except a pitiful post-modern attempt at design.

“When was this built?” I asked.

“The early nineties, I think.”

Of course. I had guessed a few years earlier, before the fall of the wall, but the early nineties were the same. The cement of cities was upheld as gritty reality. That proletariat, industrial glorification is so communist in origin, yet there we were as “free western countries” promoting the exact same aesthetic. It makes me shudder as much as the green-tinted glass, brick and exposed metal beam omnipresent CAD-program aesthetic of today. In 2002, my high school was featured in an architectural magazine for it’s cutting-edge design. The library which faces the entrance drive is reminiscent of a lantern shape, green oxidized exposed metal making up the bone structure for the large glass windows and ligaments of brick. By the time I left college in 2008, every new bank, hospital and office park in Grand Rapids utilized the exact same idea. Puke.

Since arriving in Italy I have visited my first Ikea. This experience would be almost exactly the same anywhere in the world, but I had to come to Italy to finally discover the joy of mass-produced homeware fashion. At least here is something we can’t blame on the Americans. The Swedes are to blame, although we can always point to Ford or McDonalds as the originators of the cookie cutter model that has been applied so ubiquitously. Many thoughts (probably not original ones) ran through my head as I followed the school of shoppers through the store’s current. Is Ikea bad? Is it wrong to have our aesthetic handed to us on a plate? I found myself attracted to many things in that store. Was I attracted because Ikea has hit on the common current aesthetic and now offers it to us at affordable prices? Or has Ikea in fact /created/ this aesthetic, which has pilfered into my brain because it’s on tv and in my friends’ houses? If Ikea didn’t create it, then some other designer did. Is there a problem with that? Is a designer for Ikea no less an artist? Must everyone create their own living aesthetic instead of picking and choosing from those offered commercially? Is it even possible to live outside of a commercial identity?

As I said, these aren’t original questions, but there they were in my head. I have an itch when it comes to aesthetic tyranny. We can’t escape it. What the stores tell us to like, we like. At least those chains like Ikea, Pottery Barn or Anthropologie (oooh, I love their aesthetic) have an intentional aesthetic. At least there is recognition of the artistry of life. What’s worse is the tyranny of aesthetic that we experience every day without even being aware: the color and font choices in advertisements, for example, affect how we think and view the world. Advertisements, at their core, are intended to manipulate. Thus, for the last 100 years (since the period I have already exalted), our social aesthetic has been moved forward primarily by manipulation, sometimes really shitty manipulation at that.

I suppose that for this reason, someone has argued that the impressionists were truly the only artists unaffected by manipulation. Prior to that, it was religious purposes. Afterwards, it was the bas-cultural trends. I’m sure I don’t agree with this at all, but whatever. It’s something to think about.

After the bar in Milan we drove to Andrea’s house and watched Kung Fu Panda. I think there must have been a drug in my Long Island Iced Tea, because I felt sloshy-headed yet somehow hyper-attuned to everything. The daoist philosophy shining in the movie was reassuring, even if it was a cartoon.

As I’m applying for internships and jobs back in the States, I find a lot of solace in stoicism. By non-resistance, my path will take its natural course. By trusting in God, I know that He will bring me to the right place. By working hard to follow every opportunity that seems good, not getting too attached to any particular one, and leaving decision-making until the time when decisions must be made, I can balance fierce excitement about my potential futures with calm reassurance that what will be will be.

And all these thoughts thanks to an Iced Tea. I wonder what the Indian liquor would have done?

Some Top Choice Awards

My current favorite breakfast: Gorgonzola dolce and honey on toast and a double espresso.

My current favorite appetizer: Artichoke tapenade and Monte Veronese cheese on bread accompanied by Green olives (hold the pimento) and Italian red wine.

My current favorite fruit: Artisan pear served with a butter syrup.

My current favorite city in Italy: Florence. Not very original, I know, but I simply had so much fun there. And it was beautiful. And I felt such a strong artistic spirit there, something that is just… missing… in Milan. Turin is in second place, by the way. The Slow Food movement has captured my attention – especially when enjoyed in the city that founded Martini, solid chocolate, the chocolate-hazelnut combo, and (drum roll please) TicTacs.

My current favorite pastime: trying to make other people jealous, apparently. My cousin called me out on this – but then consented me bragging rights since I am, afterall, living in Italy. I mean, why am I here if not to earn bragging rights, vero? Ok, so this would all be worth it even if Facebook and blogs didn’t exist, even if I could tell nobody about my experiences, ever; but spreading the joy of my current experience sure helps. ^_^

I think I want to go to a disco on Friday. I was going to go to Rome this weekend, but Valy and I rearranged my schedule so that I can go to the English Dinner on Saturday and Rome some other weekend. That’s the last major city to check off my list. There are still a lot of places I would like to see and explore, of course, but I simply /have/ to see Rome.

Tuesday, November 18, 2008

How to make Pumpkin Pie from Scatch. In Italy.

1. Brag to all your friends about how yummy pumpkin pie is. Get roped into making some for the Halloween party.
2. Explain to everyone three times that pumpkin pie is indeed a sweet and cannot be served as a main course.
3. Buy zucca from the store. “Zucca” is the translation of “pumpkin,” so even though it’s a different shape (and green on the outside), assume it will come out just fine. Don’t expect to find it in a can.
4. Removed the seeds from the quartered zucca. Try not to fling them all over your apartment in the process.
5. Boil or bake the zucca until the flesh comes off the skin easily. Remove the skin when cool enough to handle.
6. Puree the cooked zucca with a fork until it is a uniform, smooth consistency. Set aside.
7. They don’t sell pie crust in Italy, so you must make it from flour and margarine. Find a recipe online and follow it as best as you can. It’s surprisingly easy, and fun to get your hands into.
8. Put the finished dough into the fridge. Spend an hour picking pie dough bits off the rug. Next time don’t let it be quite so much fun.
9. The next day, you are ready to make the pie. You will need: zucca puree, pie dough, pie pan, sugar, egg, evaporated milk, cinnamon, ginger, nutmeg, and allspice.
10. Set the oven to 400 degrees F. This is probably 215 degrees Celsius.
11. Roll out the pie dough. If you don’t have a rolling pin, a wine bottle (preferably empty) works fine. Use plenty of flour to keep it from sticking. Sneak tastes of the dough.
12. There are no pie pans in Italy with angled sides. A torte or cake pan with 90 degree sides will suffice. Carefully transfer the crust to the pan and flatten it down. Using your thumb, flute the edges attractively.
13. Mix the filling.
14. There’s no evaporated milk in Italy. You can make it by preparing powdered milk using fresh milk instead of water. If you don’t know this, thicken some cream with flour and let it simmer a while until it gets to roughly the right consistency. Do this ahead of time so it is cool when you are ready to make the pie.
15. There’s no allspice or powdered ginger either. Substitute cloves. Don’t worry if you have to grind the cloves yourself; just pick out the largest pieces and use the finer ones in your mix.
16. Relish the chance to grate fresh nutmeg instead of using stale powder from a shaker.
17. Stir everything into the zucca and then pour it into the crust.
18. Bake 15 minutes, then reduce temperature to 350 degrees F (175C?) for another 45-60 minutes.
19. Serve chilled. Don’t worry if the crust flops; that’s because there wasn’t an angled pie pan. Don’t worry if it comes out a rather nuclear greenish-orangeish-yellowish color; it will still taste delicious.
20. Explain to everyone three times that no, this is not pumpkin cake. Because it has a crust, we call it pie.
21. Note that it does not pair well with Tiramisu.
22. Enjoy! Happy Halloween!


I love outdoor markets. They are so normal here. Nothing special. One on every corner. Love it!

Friday, November 14, 2008

Recently I have been up to everything.

A brief overview:

Last weekend I went to Florence. It was a fantastic trip: excellent to get out of the rain into some sunshine, met some fun people, saw some of the most beautiful (and famous) art on earth. Did some sketching and thinking and overall it was very refreshing. Envigorating, even.

(Recently I’ve had several conversations about the merits of creating new words or spellings to better suit the meaning. Can you find the “error” in the last paragraph?)

Getting to and from Florence was a bit of an adventure, but that story will have to wait for another day.

The next day my sister arrived from London to visit me. Hooray! Of course, on that day there was a TRANSPORTATION STRIKE (sciopero) all over Italy. Karen arrived at the Central Train Station at 11, and I finally arrived three hours later (after walking, biking, bussing, and hitchhiking to get there!) at two, even though I left my house at 9:30. Then we had to walk halfway across the city to get to a working Metro station to take us home. So our first day was cut a little short.

Nevertheless! The next day the transportation was back on line, and we were off to Torino for a day of Food Tourism (thanks Mom and Dad!).

A Slow Food feast, a day of sightseeing, and an authentic apperativo later, we were back on the train to Rho.

The next day we saw Milan. I was excited about getting up to the top of Il Duomo, where we went together as girls, but it was raining too hard to make the 10 Euro investment worth it. Bummer. Instead we wandered past La Scala opera house and to Castello Sforzesco. A Florentine man gave us his museum tickets, so we checked out the gallery of antique instruments. And also we went to the Aquarium.

I assume there are pictures, but all on Karen’s camera, because the batteries I bought at the euro store (yes, just like a dollar store) didn’t work even for one minute.

Today I am off to Modena and then on to Bologna for some more food tourism.

Thursday, November 13, 2008

Mushroom of the Finally Updated

i don't think i've posted this one before.....

Wednesday, November 12, 2008

things have been flying by

thus the lack of posting lately.
my sister is visiting me; after she leaves i will be catching back up with my life.
allora, va bene.

Tuesday, November 4, 2008

It's Raining

Or rather, still raining.
Going on week number two....