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Believe it or not, I am writing this post from good ole sunny San Francisco.

I’ve been home for exactly one week now, but I’m pretty sure this whole gap year thing has messed up my sense of time for good. (On the bright side, I do seem to actually possess an inkling of a sense of direction compared to when I last wandered through San Francisco – one point for Anya!) Everything seems pretty much the same, but all of Toby’s friends are older (and EVERY SINGLE ONE is now taller than me). I keep having this semi-terrible realization that Toby is growing up. I’ve officially become one of those people that cries at middle school concerts (reference Toby’s concert at Marin Country Day School last night…). Does this mean I’m beginning the transition to adulthood? Oy vey.

To avoid my impending adulthood, here are some pictures from my last few days of the trip.

by Mariam

Explorin’ the Boboli Gardens

Reminiscent of the Secret Garden?

More secrets

Boboli Gardens

Top of a tower — where Artemis’ family friend lives! Jaysus.

Imagine summer lunches here…


in Piazza della Signoria, one minute from my apartment


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tornando a casa?

Here I am listening to Simon and Garfunkel imagining a plane, the ground, and dollar bills. I don’t know how I feel. I miss my people, I miss my city.

I’ll have to report back to you when I get my emotions in line. For now I’ll let them bubble because this mix is just too potent to be contained. Vediamo.

Sorry my writing abilities are kind of lacking today – my mind is in about 132 places at once. I just tried to upload photos but the internet let me down, so I’ll have to do it later.

See you state-side! Weird…


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an homage

I don’t know why I write, or why I love to write. It’s just something I have to do. I trace this need, this desire, this unstoppable momentum forcing pen to paper or finger to keyboard back to my Grandpa Chickie, Ernest Callenbach. This is a poem he published in 1990. I share it with love, admiration, and utmost respect.

Global Thanks Giving

I give thanks to the tropical snake whose venom
provides pills for my civilized blood pressure,
and thanks to what’s left of his harboring rainforest.
Thanks to the Sri Lankan tea-gatherers
working in the merciless sun
to give me the cup
that lends courage for the morning.
Thanks to the banana trees of Costa Rica,
and to the Indonesian mahoganies
felled to veneer my bedroom dresser.
Thanks to the Canadian spruce cut down
and pulped for paper with which we might
enlighten each other.
Thanks to the cotton-growers of India
living on the verge of starvation,
who gave me my shirt, and to the women
in the Hong Kong sweatshop who sewed my pants.
Thanks to the nimble-fingered Chinese
Slowly going blind in their silent factories
Assembling my cool electronic toys.
And thanks to uncountable tiny beings
compressed by geological history
into oil under Nigeria or Venezuela,
whose fossil energy lets me cross
a whole town for an ice-cream cone.
Thanks also to the trillion microbes
who ferment my beer, recycle my wastes,
and finally will return my body
to the Great Round of Being.
Thanks above all to fellow humans
born in the wrong countries,
who suffer falling wages, malnutrition,
deaths of innumerable children,
destruction of their landscapes,
mutilation of their ancient cultures,
in order that our goods shall be cheap
and our corporations profitable.
We owe thanks giving, yes—
but dare we ask forgiveness?

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So, recently, I have been thinking a lot about America and home and where I belong and all those things. I decided to write one of those stream of consciousness, slightly schizophrenic poems. First I shall give credit where credit is due; these pieces planted little questioning voices in my head (the first seven are photos by William Eggleston, from his official website; the last two are stills from Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas, which I saw two days ago):

And now a brief pause. One breath. Okay. Here’s da poem (in photographic form because I couldn’t get the blogging hemisphere to do the right formatting):

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quasi la fine

I absolutely cannot believe that at this time in two weeks, I will be on a plane headed to New York. That just feels very, very weird.

William Eggleston

I miss my bike, weird funky gear-shifting sounds and all. That being said, riding a mountain bike through Chianti, the wine-producing area of Tuscany, was indeed quite fun. I don’t really think I have to say much – bicycle, wine, ridiculous view, pesto pasta lunch. Use your imagination(s) and go from there. Needless to say, I loved it. My favorite part was when we got to the only real hill of the ride, which our Scottish bike guide referred to as a monster. Only three people attempted to conquer this beast. While I was unable to ride my bike up the whole monster, I am fairly sure I sweated out all the pasta I had just consumed. When I couldn’t ride, I walked. Even though the other bike guide kept offering to take us up in the van. The words of my childhood mantra echo on: “No such thing as ‘I can’t.’” (Thanks, Mom and Dad.)

Normal way to start off a bike ride, right?

Halfway through The Monster.

I went to a Passover seder at the main temple (orthodox) here in Florence on Saturday night. I kept thinking about the incredible/hilarious/thought-provoking coincidence that I spent last weekend surrounded by Christians, and this weekend surrounded by Jews. I think my poor little brain/soul is feeling a little overwhelmed by so much commitment to religion. I am utterly inundated with different perspectives. Sometimes it feels like I have a few too many ideas swirling around in my head. Maybe this is part of growing up, this desire to know with conviction what I think. I suppose I’ll get there one day. I’ll let you know.

For some reason I’m really struggling to write this post. Maybe it’s because I feel distracted. I suppose that now that I am so close to going home, my mind is inevitably racing towards the future. Suffice it to say that the seder was unlike any seder I’ve ever been to; it was this sort of crazy competition between the two tables, based on which table could read the most from the hagaddah. Whoever started singing first got to continue reading. When two people started singing at the same time, both would just sing even louder, in an attempt to drown out the other person (makes sense, right?). For me, seders usually have this gift of seeming to last for hundreds of hours. During this seder, I was startled so often by an energetic clap or an impromptu cheer that it passed incredibly quickly. Needless to say, four cups of wine later, the claps and cheers were even more enthusiastic, though admittedly less coordinated.

That’s all for now!

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a quick czech-in

I took my time leaving the airport. I exchanged my euros for Czech crowns, and looked around rather half-heartedly for bus #119. Eternally sleep-deprived, consequently nonchalant, and anticipating a long bus ride, I obediently followed the exit sign. And then, out of the corner of my eye, something strange occurred.


Suddenly everything started happening in slow motion, and before I knew it I could hear the Beach Boys harmonizing to “G-d Only Knows” like in Love, Actually. I don’t want to get too emotional here (hello, public internet world!), but let it be known that what followed was just one great hug. I don’t think we even really knew what to say – I mean, what can you say to one of your best, best friends that you’re seeing for the first time in seven months, in PRAGUE of all places?! I cried (thank you, Mom’s genes…) which was mildly hilarious because Te then revealed how before meeting up with me, she was thinking to herself, “So… what should I do when Anya starts crying…?” That’s what friends are for, folks, that’s what friends are for.

I’m getting distracted because I really want to allow the weighted bricks I call my eyelids to make the walls of Jericho and FALL. Anyway, the weekend was just divine. The first order of business was to find a café and attempt to somehow “catch up”, as the kids say.

Like everyone told me, Prague was beautiful, and certainly felt quite different than the cities in Western Europe I’ve seen (Prague is the most eastern in Europe that I’ve gone). For some reason, what stood out to me first were the colors of the houses: lots of pastels. Periwinkle blue, cream cheese, peach.

The second thing I noticed was probably the multitude of babushkas. Name a person/type of person/country, and there’s a babushka for it. Rabbis, chefs, Marilyn Monroe, Obama – they’ve got it all.

We walked across the Charles Bridge, to the Prague castle and (really cool) church near it.

On the Charles Bridge

I found the architecture of the church somewhat intimidating, for some reason, so I decided to try on a hat and be equally intimidating.

We also made a stop at the John Lennon wall, where all the colors made me vaguely dizzy and also quite happy. My favorite picture is probably our awkward hand-holding, heart-straddling shot. All you need is love.

I was lucky enough to meet four incredibly kind people this weekend, two of whom were our very hospitable and friendly hosts. The other two were a friend of Te’s and a friend of that friend, so the whole Prague weekend felt kind of like a convention of travelers (especially since the people we were staying with were also travelers of a kind – not originally from Prague). It’s nice when you can go to a whole new place and feel quite comfortable, mostly as a result of the people you happen to meet. It makes the world feel safe and good. Of course, I know I am swimming in my own naivety and relentless optimism right now, but so be it. The city-scape of Prague closes my post. Farewell until next time!

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turista o viaggiatore?

I write this from the edge of the Arno River. I walked over here with the intention of trekking up to Piazzale Michelangelo (one of my favorite places in this city), resting, eating my biscotti-nutella home-made sandwiches, and taking in the view as the sun set. However, along the way here, I ran into Jannis, the family friend Massimo introduced me to back in November-ish when we visited Firenze for a weekend. Of course I stopped and talked – mostly about music and the tedium of education, casual – in Italian. Sadly the sun set during that very conversation. I continued on my way anywho, and figured I may as well go somewhere else since the sun was nearly asleep.

View of the Ponte Vecchio. I stopped on my way to Piazzale Michelangelo to take these.

When I walked through the arch that marks the old city limits, I turned right instead of continuing straight to Piazzale Michelangelo. My feet fell into acute angles almost immediately; the steep inclination begged to be noticed. I continued up the hill, following the edge of some unknown, medieval-looking fortress. Once again the sounds of Florence faded into oblivion. But unlike on the walk to Piazzale Michelangelo, I felt a little bit scared. The sun had set, I was alone, and I was walking up an unforgivably steep hill to who knows where. But I figured it was still kind of light out, and my instincts upon which I rely so heavily told me everything was okay. So I continued onward, comforted by the occasional passing of a car or motorcycle. After a while, I heard footsteps in my distant past, and glanced back to see two college-aged kids also tackling the hill. So I really was okay. I paused to take a picture, looking backward, and noticed that I had surely discovered an unconventional method of cardiovascular work-out: slight fear + new place + hill à heart pumping, breath flying. I inhaled, remembered my impending reward (the nutella sandwiches, duh) and trudged on.

I saw the apex in the distance. When I reached the top of this newfound hill, hot pink light – reminiscent of 70’s silk bell-bottoms or scenery in Priscilla, Queen of the Desert – spilled out over the aged fortress. I attempted to capture the fleeting magenta overflow, but even 8-mega pixels could not contain such brightness.

Of course this doesn't do it justice, but you begin to get the idea...

Of course I couldn’t stop then. I followed the light, the angles of my heels becoming less and less acute with each stop. Before I knew it, those very heels were restored to their natural 90 degree figures. I had reached the top, and consequently, the edge of the fortress. I tentatively edged forward. Out of the corner of my eye, I spotted a sign: “Centro Historico di Firenze”.

Yes, I thought I had been living in the historic center of Florence, but apparently the real historic center lay within the walls of this “fortress”. I turned right past the sign, walking between walls as old (or older?) than the cobblestones of the Ponte Vecchio. I may have thought that the sounds out Florence had faded away before, but now, like a well-behaved camper, they left absolutely no trace. The streets were narrower, the light more subdued, and the atmosphere more subtle, mysterious and perhaps vaguely foreboding. I continued down the thread of a street, still unsure of where exactly I was going (notice a theme here?). My heels fell just as quickly into obtuse angles, gripping the stone terrain and persistently resisting gravity. I walked slowly, half my attention focused on the nutella sandwich that had magically traveled from my bag to my hand to my mouth and the other half focused on the sign next to me about Galileo’s astronomical observations.

I trudged all the way through the centro historico, and by some lovely twist of fate, ended up next to the Arno, smack dab between the Ponte Vecchio and where I began my exploration. Remember, small adventures are just as good as big ones.

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