le belle cose non sono cose

I am approaching the one-month-left limit, and consequently have this sudden desire to be insanely productive with my remaining time. Thus, in my true neurotic way, I have re-adopted my compulsive list-making habits (did they ever really go away?). I’ve made a list (“Da List”, if you must know) of the things I want to do in the Florence area, and also a list of films I want to see. (Somehow this year has been partially dubbed a film appreciation year.) I am happy to report that I am actually accomplishing things on not one but BOTH of those lists. Huzzah!

First of all, I saw Pulp Fiction. Zed’s dead. One film down.

Second of all, today I took the train to Pisa, and saw the famous leaning tower we all hear so much about. It reminds me of some sort of Ripley’s Believe-it-or-Not fake structure. That being said it is, indeed, real. Sinking more and more each day, I imagine.

And tilt.

En route to the Torre

Ciao for now!

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live on the edge

When I woke up this morning, I could practically taste the yogurt on my grateful tongue. I smiled in anticipatory delight, proud to maintain my rate of yogurt consumption. (I was also happy because I am fully aware that the limited space in our fridge requires that I eat around one yogurt per day; it’s not my fault that the nearby grocery store had such a prolonged yogurt sale.) Much to my surprise, my roommate, Mariam, had other plans. For the first time in documented history, I did not have to physically shake her to get her out of bed. Rather, she rose from dreamland all by herself, and before we even turned the lights on, uttered a few simple words:

“Do you want to go out for breakfast?”

I pushed the comforter that somehow always ends up on my face, off my face.

“An American breakfast?” she continued.

I paused, thought tenderly to my beloved yogurt – strawberry, blueberry, coffee, coconut, the flavors are endless – and blinked in the darkness. I had my loyalty in my heart, yes, but I also had desire in my stomach.

“Yes,” I reply.

To make a short story even longer, we went to a nearby American restaurant we had heard about, endearingly named “House of Sizzle”. When you are hit with an overwhelming and inexplicable desire to ingest several thousand calories in the form of a stack of pancakes, you really have no choice. And sizzling it was. As a visual aid (this blog welcomes all styles of learning), feast your eyes on THIS:

Due to our increased intake of sugar, we felt strangely motivated to be active. Rather than relax into the post-meal slump, we made history once again: we exercised. We embraced this typically unfamiliar activity; it’s time we live on the edge. We strode across the river Arno, arms swinging back and forth with imaginary walking poles. We conquered the hill leading up to San Minniato, and rested only upon arriving at Piazzale Michelangelo. There, we enjoyed the uncanny musical mix of a street performer guitarist and a car blasting the infamous “Oi oi oi” club song. Never did I hear a more innovative mash-up.

(To maintain the integrity of this tale, I must admit that this picture is not actually from this afternoon; it is from yesterday evening. But it is indeed Piazzale Michelangelo, fear not.)

(Aforementioned caption also applies here.)

Even after all this, we were not done. Explorers to our very cores, we chose to tackle the unknown: a forest. After attempting to help a tourist who was allegedly “looking for The Monks”, we ascended yet another set of stairs. The sounds of Florence vanished and morphed like a well-edited Finalcut Pro transition into bird calls and twigs snapping.

And finally, after all this, we returned home. (And watched “Thank You For Smoking”.) Tomorrow I may be morally obliged to eat two yogurts to compensate for my change in routine, but as they Italians say, “vale la pena”. Buona notte.

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felice!

Ciaooooo!

Just a quick post before I go to sleep. The craziest thing about Florence is how picturesque it is. Ladies and gentlemen, it is time to face the music:

View from the San Minniato Church -- there's the whole city in the background!

Happy days -- warm weather makes us smile, what can I say.

Said church

Walking down from the church (hi, Ilana!)

And finally, guess what?! Remember that play I was talking about just a few months ago, that was being performed at Marin Country Day School? Well, I am incredibly happy to report that The Secret of Asteraceae is going to be performed by the Young Conservatory at the American Conservatory Theater in August 2012! Yes, indeed, the very play I wrote is actually BEING PERFORMED AGAIN! I’m basically melting into an amorphous pile of joy, but I will attempt to hold my sinewy self together for a few more months, so that I can at least make it to opening night. (Lets hope for the best.) Anyway, to all the 11 – 14-year-olds out there, look at this LINK!*

* = Yes, those of you not in the 11 – 14 age range are also highly encouraged to click the link. Go for it!

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gravity

“STOP KONY 2012” rhetoric seeps through my newsfeed and into my brain, gnawing obnoxiously at that little voice asking, “What? What is everyone talking about?” It’s like I left the party for a few minutes, only to return and find that everyone is just raving about this kool-laid I could’ve sworn wasn’t even there three seconds ago.

Once the KONY 2012 ball starts rolling, it seems to just pick up speed and plow on undeterred. And it sure is tempting to hop on that sphere of increasing swiftness and agility, flirt with gravity until something awesome happens.

But I challenge you to wait. Resist the lure of the masses, the brilliant shine of the special effects, the promise that a solution is accessible and easy. Stop switching tabs between shoe-shopping, meme-hunting and that petition you were just about to sign.

Instead, take the same amount of time you took to watch the KONY 2012 video to read about what’s really happening with the Lord’s Resistance Army and countries in central Africa.

  • Obama Takes on the LRA: This article explains the US involvement in the crisis, and discusses Kony’s role in the overall problems. While Kony plays an undeniably massive role in the conflict, it is very unlikely that his death alone will achieve peace in central Africa. The author states that “until the underlying problem — the region’s poor governance — is adequately dealt with, there will be no sustainable peace.”
  • The Lord’s Resistance Army: End Game?: Despite the impressive mental capacity of a toddler, there are not simply “good guys” and “star wars guys” involved in the ongoing political/military/religious/social conflict in central African states. Indeed, the issue is far more complex, spanning decades (if not centuries, considering the long-term effects of such historical trends as European imperialism). This report from the International Crisis Group provides a brief overview of the LRA’s activity in central Africa. The report also outlines a feasible strategy for how to achieve peace in Uganda and nearby nations. Read this to learn about the context in which Kony has come to power, and the context necessary to bring him down. (For a more thorough explanation of the crisis, see this document.)

Granted, I did feel significantly calmer and less angry after doing my own chunk of research on the LRA and current discord in central Africa. But the effects of the KONY 2012 movie were impressively lasting; I still felt bitter and sick about the manner in which KONY 2012 treats the issue at hand. There was something about the tone of the movie that simply did not resonate with me. If you too felt like you had just been forced to suck on a cotton swab or expired cough drop after watching the KONY 2012 video, I encourage you to read the following criticisms:

  • Visible Children: At one point while watching KONY 2012, I began to question what the film was about: the power of the internet, the protagonist’s altruism, or his son’s adorably huge eyes. Or, of course, Kony. Chris Blattman (who coincidentally is an assistant professor at Yale) also seems to have felt somewhat unnerved by the underlying attitude of the filmmakers.
  • Taking “Kony 2012” Down a Notch: This article is “not intended to take aim at Invisible Children as an organization but rather to debunk some of the myths its ‘Kony 2012′ campaign is propagating”. Author Mark Kersten successfully examines the key points of the KONY 2012 movie and presents his criticisms in an organized, digestible manner.
  • Lets Talk About Kony: Do you wonder why the KONY 2012 video was able to catch on so fast? Daniel Solomon, the author of this blog, does a thorough (and somewhat entertaining) job of dissecting the mass appeal of the KONY 2012 video. He effectively combines his critiques of the film with further details on the conflict.
  • Kony 2012: Causing More Harm Than Good: Does anyone else find the organization name “Invisible Children” unsettling? I know I come from liberal San Francisco, where being super PC is perhaps the sole unifying factor amongst an otherwise diverse population, but I find that word choice questionable. As Amber Ha, the author of this blog, points out, “Whether you see them or not, they were always there. Your having seen the kids does not validate their existence in any shape or form or bring it any more significance.” Though perhaps a little too emotional/personal at times, this letter to the filmmaker is worth reading.
  • Kony 2012: Why I’m Opposed to the Campaign: Author Gary Oyston sheds some less-than-positive light on the actual organization in question, Invisible Children. Namely, Oyston discusses Invisible Children’s dubious allotment of financial resources, as well as the details surrounding their plan for military intervention.

Less related, but still interesting:

And if you really want to be thorough:

  • Social Torture: The Case of Northern Uganda, 1986 – 2006 (Human Rights in Context) : I haven’t read this book, but it kept popping up in links in articles about Kony, Uganda and the LRA. Here’s the description from Amazon: “As Director of the Refugee Law Project at the University of Makerere, Kampala, Uganda, Dolan offers a behind-the-scenes, cross-disciplinary study of one of Africa’s longest running and most intractable conflicts. This book shows how, alongside the activities of the Lord’s Resistance Army, government decisions and actions on the ground, consolidated by humanitarian interventions and silences, played a central role in creating a massive yet little recognized humanitarian crisis. Not only individuals, but society as a whole, came to exhibit symptoms typical of torture, and the perpetrator-victim dichotomy became blurred. It is such phenomena, and the complex of social, political, economic and cultural dynamics which underpin them, which the author describes as social torture. Building on political economy, social anthropology, discourse analysis, international relations and psychoanalytic approaches to violence, this book offers an important analytical instrument for all those seeking entry points through which to address entrenched conflicts.”

If you made it all the way to the end of this post, bravo. Thank you for taking the time to become just a little more aware of the world we live in. The KONY 2012 ball is still accelerating down the hill of viral inevitability – but now you can choose for yourself whether or not you want to hop on.

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finalmente!

At long last, here I am. Oh life, always being so tricky and getting quite, quite ahead of me.

I can’t believe I’m actually going home soon. I mean, I still have almost two months left, but considering how much I would love to do in that time (return to Rome for a weekend, go to Siena, see Massimo and Cinzia again, etc. forever), it feels like hardly any time at all. Recently a friend from back home wrote to me with questions about taking a gap year, because she’s writing an article for our high school newspaper. One of her questions – probably the most difficult one – asked what I’ve learned about myself on thi year off. Of course, I had no idea where to start. I’m not sure if I’ve leanred things about myself, or actually just morphed and grown into this fuller version of myself. Whatever it is, I certainly feel different than when I began this trip six (can you believe that?!) months ago. It’s hard to articulate, but I just feel a lot older. I think I trace this feeling back to the month and a half I spent traveling solo around Europe, more than anything. Don’t get me wrong, it was hard not going home. But at the same time, that feeling of independence, slight discomfort, freedom and control all mixed together left me feeling more empowered than I would’ve deemed possible. I have always enjoyed time by myself, but  now I have this strange internal sense of self that I just never knew I had. This all sounds a bit sappy and emotional in writing, but the crazy thing is that it feels quite true.

Anyway, now that I’ve settled into my most recent home – Firenze! – I suppose I should do a little recap. After the program in Rome ended, three of my American friends and I went to Lisbon, Portugal for a week. It was just divine, and pretty much exactly what I needed (you know, because it’s just soooo difficult living in Italy). On our very first day, we went to the park near our hostel and just laid down, sun hitting our warmth-deprived faces like a sheet. I closed my eyes and just drifted, listening to the pitter-patter of children’s feet, the whirring of bicycle spokes nearby, and the distant clap of water against the shore. I immediately felt comfortable in Lisbon, probably because it felt so strangely similar to home. It even looked like San Francisco: a red bridge (sound familiar?), cable cars, relaxed/vaguely-hippyish fashion.

We also accidentally discovered an apparently very typical Portuguese treat: this little custard pastry called “pastel de Belem”. We coincidentally lived next to the most famous bakery for these pastries – good for our ever-expanding palates, less good for our ever-diminishing wallets. One time, when I was looking for a bathroom in this bakery, I noticed that it went on forever. White tiles with intricate Dutch-esque blue designs covered wall after wall, expanding the space into a sort of moderately sized food court. I looked at the Portuguese people sitting in the never-ending bakery, expecting to realize that this bakery actually sold a variety of food, perhaps including artsy sandwiches or kebabs. But no, everyone in this universe of a bakery was merely eating a pastel de Belem, occasionally accompanied by a coffee. One huge food court of little custard pastries. Welcome to Lisbon.

The park I mentioned above. Approximately ten minutes after unloading everything at the hostel.

Look at all that sunlight

A street performer in the park near our hostel. She never spoke. When she heard the sound of a coin dropping into her jar, she moved slowly and mechanically to hand whoever dropped the coin a fortune card.

Couple shot #473 of me and Mariam on the coast! So much love in dis club.

We happened to be in Lisbon during Carnival. It's a little hard to see in this photo, but basically everywhere we went people were dressed in costumes. This family was casually biking along the coast in full Carnival regalia.

I just really enjoyed these silhouettes. Any thoughts as to why that white building is shaped like that?

Another time in that sunny park. I think we might have gone there everyday, almost. (And also, introducing the new hurr. Happy birthday, Anya!)

Lisbon in the early evening

One day we chose to go bike riding along the coast. Mariam was originally using that "bike" before she realized she was moving at a glacial speed.

There's me and the bridge!

More about life here in Firenze soon! Ciao ciao

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aspetta…

This year's "plum blossom photo". From the Ponte Garibaldi, over the River Tevere (Tiber).

This is another one of those “promise” photos where I ensure you eager readers that a blog post is COMIN’ SOON! Here are some sneak peek six-word catch phrases to entice you:

  • Three American girls seek shabbat dinner.
  • “NEVICA!” stranger shouts from unseen window.
  • “Temple?” “No, it’s a parking lot.”
  • Plan B: One-euro sunflower ride.
  • Lesson: “Casa di Riposo” = Senior Center.
  • Hours later, cioccolato caldo: delicious, smooth.

If that didn’t make you curious, I don’t know what will.

A dopo!

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orvieto

So, I am actually busy here. It’s nice to have school again (just when you thought I couldn’t get any dorkier), and it’s certainly a change from when I felt like I had endless free time. I still feel like I have a lot of free time, but because things take longer in new places, there’s always a lot to get done. Namely, I feel like I spend the majority of my time grocery shopping. (Woohoo for looking out for my own health!) I’ve been eating a lot of salads, always good.

Anyway, I went to the quaint little town of Orvieto last weekend, enjoyed walking through the sun (while simultaneously freezing – what a concept), feeling the cold of the cobblestone through my wool socks, eating a four-course meal with black truffles that reminded me of Massimo and Cinzia, and meeting the charismatic, no-English-speaking owner of “Il Mago di Oz”. I love getting outside of the city – the vibe is so different from the hustle and bustle (read: incredibly loud and perhaps obnoxious cars/motorcycles that use honking for communicating like some people use shoes for walking) of the eternal city. Here are some highlights of Orvieto:

This feels like "real Italy" to me. Whatever that means. Who knows. Maybe I just need sleep.

Fashionable old ladies never cease to impress me

What a street

Mariam and Ilana (and doors)

Cats hanging out near the caves

There is a whole series of caves under the ground of Orvieto. This particular room was for pidgeon offspring. I don't know exactly what the pidgeons were needed for (message carrying? eating? who knows)

There I am with the owner of "Il Mago di Oz", a store with all these very strange personalized old-fashioned toys/magazines/lamps/small things

So nice.

And now I had better get back to writing about Article 231 of the War-Guilt clause! History class, here I come.

Finally finally, check the itinerary section of the blog, sil vous plait (helloooo internationality). I have my spring break plans figured out!

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