Monday, August 19, 2013

The Most Epic Summer, Pt. IV

now i can feel again

The Most Dramatic Ending to the Summer

It's cold and rainy here in Athens, but I actually really love days like this because the grey canvas is open and ready to soak up the color of daydreams, and on this particular day I am remembering and Romanticizing Venice.

Disclaimer: Venice, in reality is greatly a tourist trap, but if you can avoid/ignore the packs of tour groups with their annoying little flags and umbrellas and gaudy clothes, (I actually passed a family all wearing matching camouflage safari hats. I didn't know those even existed...) it is as I describe:

Put on some OneRepublic ("Counting Stars" is great mood music) and imagine that you are creeping along the most convoluted, twisting, winding alleyways. Vines pour off of archways and flower boxes burst with color. The pavement is a mixture of various uneven cobblestones. At odd turns you come across more and more canals filled with blue-green lagoon water over which sprawl bridges of every design imaginable. The city is creepy. You wonder where all the locals are, and you know they are there. Venice is an extremely expensive place to live, but you still see signs of local life: laundry waving in the wind, kitschy little shop owners. Many famous (or rather, infamous) people come from Venice including Marco Polo and Casanova. I saw the name "Casanova" everywhere and out of curiosity did a little research (if reading his Wikipedia page counts...) What I discovered is that Casanova's name is now synonymous with "womanizer" (see Carrie Underwood's "Cowboy Casanova") and that he once escaped from the prisons attached to the Doge's Palace (the same prisons which we visited...). He has a kind of strange presence in Venice, which adds to the creepiness. Venice is also famous for Carnival, or rather, the Venetian alternative to Mardi Gras. Because of the enormity of this holiday, masks are everywhere. Everything from tacky made-in-China faces to elaborate, jewel encrusted masks are everywhere in the city. I imagine Carnival is a bit like a city-wide masquerade ball, which again, creates another layer of eeriness to the city's mysterious presence.

While in Venice, we hit up the major sites in Saint Mark's Square. I attended mass at St. Mark's Basilica which was incredible. The church, much like Venice itself, is unique. It is covered in bright gold mosaics of saints and the Trinity, giving the appearance of a heavenly space. Mass was beautiful; we happened to catch a sung mass, so the choir sounded like angels singing. We also went to the Doge's Palace and walked around the giant rooms and the dungeons and the armory. The Bridge of Sighs was very dramatic. Also at the Doge's Palace was an exhibit on the Impressionist painter, Manet, who apparently spent a lot of time in Venice and was inspired by the city. The exhibit was monumental because it placed Titian's Venus of Urbino and Manet's Olympia next to each other in a dramatic juxtaposition. If you are in Italy in the near future, the exhibit is a must see. It was my favorite exhibit in all of Italy that I saw. We finally ended the day with a gondola ride as the sun went down and a delicious final dinner in Italy complete with vino bianco and bruschetta.

The next day started with 'the most dramatic end to the summer.' A few of my friends on the same flight as me ordered a water taxi to take us to the airport, and that was INCREDIBLE. I had a little white shirt over a tank top and I took it off and tied it around my neck so it could flap in the wind behind me like a scarf. The boat sped along the Grand Canal as we waved farewell to the most epic summer ever.

Sunday, August 4, 2013

Venice is for Lovers

Venice is romantic and Romantic. And I love it. It's unlike any other place in the world. This was one of my favorite bridges near the Academia because it had locks on locks with lovers' names symbolizing infinite love.

Alrighty, because I have to catch a water taxi to the Venetian airport in t-minus two hours (and it's 1:30 AM here) I'm gonna leave you hanging and write about Venice on the flip side. See you in 'Merica, my home sweet home. PEACE.

Saturday, August 3, 2013


On our last day in Cortona I checked off the last thing on my bucket list: frolic in a sunflower field. It was magical and oh so very Tuscan.

Friday, August 2, 2013

A Day In the Life: Cortona, Italy

fog over the valley - saw this walking to Photog one morning ;)

Today is our last day here in Cortona but I don't think I've really let that sink in yet. I'm really excited to get back home and see my family and eat Mexican food and move back to Athens, but I know I'll be sad readjusting back to life in America. It really has been a magical summer.

So rather than accept the fact that this week is over, I'm going to relive a typical day in the life here as a student, as an honorary Italian, as a member of the Cortona community.

Everyday starts at 8am. It's early, but I actually like my schedule this way because I can get up and go to class and then I still have the entire day ahead of me. I drift down to Severini school and say hello to the magnificent view. Photography class is at 8, and I LOVE it. I've learned so much about composition and how important lighting is. Not to mention I got to work in a darkroom all summer, something I never thought I'd be able to do. My favorite type of photography we learned was portrait. I think maybe when I'm older and have children and living in the suburbs I might start a portrait business. I would love that.

Anyway, after photography I come back to the breakfast room and usually eat breakfast and socialize with all the bleary-eyed artists on their ways to their various studio classes. Tuesday and Thursday I only have Photography so I usually go into town to explore or linger or do a little grocery shopping. Lunch is either homemade pasta or a sandwich from Molesini's with Lucy on the steps of town hall. Monday, Wednesday, and Friday however, I have to rush back for Italian class with Sara at one. Italian is certainly a challenge, but being in Italy makes it so much easier. I can pick up lines of speech and little snippets here and there. And I think once I get back to the US it's going to take a while to break the habit of saying and ciao and grazie all the time.

After Italian I have another break that I usually spend doing homework or reading or blogging or napping. Then Wednesday and Friday comes Art History at 5 pm. Art History always consists of new stories and little known facts and analysis of paintings and artists. If I ever get a PhD I think I'll write my dissertation on Leonardo Da Vinci. He is fascinating.

Finally, after classes are over, us students trudge down the hill to Piazza Garibaldi and make our way to the dungeon basement of Ristorante Tonino's for a three course dinner. If it's fruit night, dinner is followed by a trip to Gelateria Snoopy and if it's dessert night, dinner is usually still followed by a trip to Gelateria Snoopy for some Cookies gelato. Nomz on nomz. Then some nights we sit at Lion's Well and watch the world go by and have life talks and other nights we trudge back up the hill and collapse in bed and start it all over again.

Life here moves at a different pace. People walk dreamily through the Piazzas, Siesta from 1pm-4pm makes the atmosphere even more relaxing. Shops close, and people are encouraged to rest. There is no rush. The only time I got super stressed was during finals, and that was just because of my art history exam. I'm always completely relaxed.

It's been a magical summer in the most magical place. I don't want to leave.

Wednesday, July 31, 2013

My Favorite Places in Cortona

For coffee: Cafe Tuscher on Via Nazionale. One day I spent 4 hours there studying for art history and downing cappuccinos. Technically you aren't supposed to order a cappuccino after lunch because the milk is too heavy on your stomach and it will give away that you are American. (Because otherwise it's virtually impossible to tell. No really.)

For lunch: Bar 500 on Via Nazionale. NOM. For 7 euro you can get a panini (turkey+tomato+brie on zucchini foccacia bread is my personal have), a salad (fresh lettuce+corn+black olives+tomatoes), and chips. The servers are really friendly also and they speak good English.

For local wine: Ristaurante Nassun Torre off of Piazza Signorelli. I had the best red and white wine from Cortona there. It actually made my mouth water. I also had this really great apple-walnut-pecorino risotto that was todiefor.

For gelato: Snoopy's Gelateria in Piazza Signorelli. Do not get me started on gelato. And how much money I've probably spent at 'Snoops. And how much weight I've gained as a result. BUT SO WORTH IT. Italians eat gelato every single day. I want to know their secret. Anyway, the flavor of the trip is Cookies (kind of similar to Milk & Cookies at Ben & Jerry's BUT SO MUCH BETTER), and I love Nutella, Tiramisu, Fragola (strawberry), Limone (lemon), and Extra-Dark Chocolate. Get the 2 euro get 3 scoops. ;)

For pizza: Caffe Degli Artisti on Via Nazionale. Pecorino+walnuts+honey pizza. I dream about this pizza sometimes.

For panini: Molesini's in Piazza della Republica. This local grocery store makes cold sandwiches fresh to order with fresh, fresh, fresh ingredients. That's the greatest thing about food in Italy: everything tastes fresh off the vine, and it makes a huge difference in the quality of food you consume. My favorite sandwich (I ordered it everyday for lunch last week) is numero cinque (#5) with pesto, tomatoes, prosciutto, and mozzarella. They have a number of good sandwiches ranging in price and ingredients but most are under 4 euros.

For perfume: Profumeria on Via Nazionale. They carry all the classics, but also have some pretty little bottled scents that smell like clean clothes and lavender and gardenia.

For postcards: The Tabbacchi on Via Nazionale. They carry pretty watercolor prints of Cortona and surrounding towns in Tuscany, relatively inexpensive handmade stationary, and greeting cards and postcards of Cortona and Toscana. You can also buy local and international stamps. (The slot for the post office is across the street from the pizza-by-the-slice stand off of Piazza della Republica.

For people watching: The steps of Town Hall in Piazza della Republica. Cortona has a surprising number of tourists who are fun to watch (I love living here and not being a tourist :) as are the elderly men who discuss Lord-knows-what very seriously on the benches outside of Molesini's and the fabulously dressed women of the town. With the backdrop of the square, locals and tourists alike create a sort of theater. Sitting on those steps you feel like you're watching a play.

For caffé corretto: Lion's Well Pub in Piazza Signorelli. A favorite haunt of the UGA students, Lion's Well spills out into a Piazza that lights up with people at night. My favorite drink is a caffé corretto, which is an espresso with a shot of Bailey's in it. With a little bit of sugar, it is delicious, although you might have a hard time falling asleep if you take one too late... For some reason coffee based drinks have been really popular on this trip; a White Russian with a shot of espresso is the drink to order at Lion's Well among the students on our program, but I prefer the warm caffé corretto.

For vegetables: Frutta e Verdura on the corner of Piazza della Republica and Via Guelfa. Fruit and veggies straight from the vine/tree/bush. Freshest food I've ever eaten.

For lingering: Pasticceria Banchelli on Via Nazionale is my favorite place to sit and study, to journal, and to write/blog. I like sitting either by the tables by the doors that open out onto the street or outside. They have excellent caffé americano and cappuccino. And their fresh pastries (paste in Italian) are delicious.

For socializing: Piazza Signorelli. Named after the famous Renaissance painter Luca Signorelli from Cortona, this Piazza is always hopping from about 9pm well into the night. Several nights they've had live music and between Snoopy's, Bar la Posta, and Lion's Well Pub, there are always a plethora of people hanging out enjoying the community.

For leather: Maledetti Toscani on Via Nazionale and in Piazza Republica. I bought my leather sandals there and they have been excellent. They molded to my feet within a day and have held up considerably through frequent wear. They also have a great selection of ballets, boots, pumps, leather sneakers, bags, wallets, and leather jackets. The great thing about this store is that their products are locally designed and locally made. Softest leather I've ever felt by far.

For clothes: Via Nazionale. There are several clothing shops there. Look out for nice linen pants, tunics, and scarves. There are two shops selling nice linen clothes, two selling great cashmere, and one that carries Twin-Set clothes and shoes! The quality is excellent, but the prices are steep.

For a great view: The sight of the Toga Party can be found from a little path just before you get to the Fortress. Basically keep climbing until you can't climb anymore. You get a great view of Santa Margherita and the valley. Another panoramic spot is the old lookout at the Fortress. One of the most stunning views of the valley and the lake.

For art: I love the Diocesan Museum. It has a great collection of Luca Signorelli paintings (one of which I wrote a paper on for my art history class - The Allegory of the Immaculate Conception), cool artifacts from the mass (chalices, embroidered priests' robes), and the highlight: Fra Angelico's Annunciation.

For Mass: If you are Catholic (or if you aren't, Mass is a great way to experience Italian culture and history!) Santa Margherita, or the cathedral, is INCREDIBLE. Saint Margherita's body is preserved and on display behind the alter, there are beautiful frescoes and paintings, and if you're lucky you'll catch Franciscan friars chanting prayers. Also one time there was a nun playing guitar and singing the hymns. It was great. Of course, the Mass is all in Italian, but there are usually little fliers on each pew where you can follow along.

{currently listening to}

La Mostra

Besides the sailboat watercolor selected to be on display in the 4th grade, this was my first real art show. Wowie.

I've talked a little bit about how interesting it is observing artists, and the culmination of all these little trails of thought picked up over the summer all came together at our final art show and thank you to the city of Cortona: La Mostra (literally, 'The Exhibition' in Italian). Each student and faculty member was allowed one piece in the show and then each professor had two teacher's choice awards to gave out. I only took one studio class, so I had the difficult task of choosing one photograph for the show.

In Photo One, we learned an introduction to both digital and film photography. I LOVED working in the darkroom and preferred film overall to digital, but ironically at the last minute I decided to submit a digital picture. For my first digital assignment I turned in several self portraits, and I gravitated towards photos I had taken of myself in mirrors and shop windows and of my shadow. My attraction, I think, to self portrait is both the influence of my blog and my relatively inverted, retrospective personality. I like being in my pictures, though not necessarily the subject of them. So long story short, I selected one of my self portraits, and called it Self Portrait. Another reason to choose digital over film was the fact that I could make my print significantly larger than I could in the darkroom. In black and white I was limited to an 8x10 inch print, but with digital I blew it up to about 18x24 inches. I was really, really proud of my picture in the end. Oh, and funny story: there is a car in my picture and at the opening of the show I met the lady who owns the car. She is German but has lived in Cortona for five years. Small world, right?

Besides my humble little self portrait, the other students' works were mind blowing. I had merely observed them all working at a distance in their various studio classes, so to see two months of work hanging on a wall in an exhibit was like the red velvet curtain being thrown open on opening night of a brand new Broadway show. The paintings were stunning, the prints fascinating, the jewelry desirable, the book arts' watermarks intriguing. Interior and Landscape design had their projects represented, which was really cool to see up close. Their plans and creativity in design are a kind of art all to themselves.

My favorite aspect of the show as a whole were the memories that each piece evoked. Wandering around the exhibit, I recognized places and faces and events. Many of the paintings and photographs were of places we had either visited (Tivoli, Vico Equense, Orvieto) or of Cortona herself (laundry lines at the Kehoe center, the architecture here, the gorgeous view out our windows). Drawings and other paintings captured familiar faces of students and staff as models. And I think one of my personal favorite pieces was a painting by one of the graphic design students that had a marble block carved with Etruscan writing, a long forgotten beer bottle and solo cup sitting atop it with the beautiful view of Tuscany extending in the background. The title was Toga Party and it has absolutely no meaning to anyone except those of us on this trip, who all dressed up as Romans in our bedsheets and had a toga party beneath the stars next to a fortress atop the highest peak in Cortona a few weeks ago. (we'll just leave the Toga Party story at that. Use your imagination.)

image: from