Tag Archives: carpe diem

I’m Feeling Those Good Migrations

10 Jul

At approximately 9pm on Thursday, Ashley and I learned that we were trapped in Genova. Genova, the city of Colombus, of explorers, of port-induced wanderlust, became our captor just as quickly as it had been our vacation destination.

More specifically, we learned that all of Italy’s transportation workers had gone on strike. For a full 24 hours, from 9pm on Thursday to 9pm on Friday, not a single train ran through Genova Brignole station…including the train that we had planned on taking to Bologna, our next destination, where we had pre-booked and paid for a hotel for that night.

For a moment, we allowed ourselves to worry and to descend into a flurry of “this could never happen in the U.S.” thoughts. Then, we laughed, long and hard. Sure, a national train strike would be much more unlikely in America, but so would the three hours of lingering each morning over our caffe lattes, and the full day of hiking between mountains and sea that we had done the day before. Italy has its quirks (strikes, the lack of breakfast food beyond cornettos and coffee, the fact that each business closes whenever the owners deem it necessary without regard to its scheduled hours…), but it also has a magnificence of presence that I’ve never felt anywhere else.

That being said, we still had to deal with the strike. And we had to deal with it without Italian skills other than food words (knowing how to ask for extra extra EXTRA parmesan cheese doesn’t get you very far at the ticket counter) and without access to Internet, because we did not bring our computers along for the trip. So, we decided to take the first train to Bologna after the 9pm reopening of the station, and, after a brief layover and four hours of traveling, arrived at our hotel at 3am in the morning instead of noon the day before. In the meantime, we used our unanticipated (and, honestly, given the city, a bit unnecessary) time in Genova to do the things that most people don’t make enough time for on vacations: have a two-hour lunch (of PESTO), window shop, wander the streets, buy lingerie (I kid you not…we surprised even ourselves with that purchase, but we had been seeing stores everywhere for six weeks, and we decided that it was time to invest in a different type of Italian luxury), drink glasses of prosecco with aperitivi outside on sunny tables, purchase new books (we are both on our second one in a week; I have finished a total of 1135 pages since Sunday), and read for four hours with our empty glasses in front of us. It was a day of surprising vigor, and one that worked out in our favor, as I write this now in the morning from our hotel in Bologna.

I also write this in the middle of the trip that Ashley and I are on through the north of Italy. It is the first trip I have ever planned alone, and the first with such little contact and great independence. All we have are our backpacks for these ten days — that, and a determination that we will take these moments, paid for in part by money that we have been saving since we were ten and had our first change in a piggy bank, and out of them mold experiences that we can return to again and again for the rest of our lives. We have been grateful, adventurous, and scared. And we have been doing, every moment we have been doing: climbing the dome in Florence, renting bikes and cycling through tiny hill towns in Tuscany, hopping trains up the coast, wine and olive oil tasting in medieval fortresses, hiking between all five towns of Cinque Terre, deciphering statues in Genova, taking goofy pictures at every opportunity, feasting on local fish and wines or having our own quiet picnics of fruit and peanut butter, devouring recommended books each night before bed, swimming in desolate rocky coves along cliffsides, and, in just a few moments, exploring Bologna.

We still have this city and one more, Venice, before we return to Rome and then to the place and people that we miss dearly back in America, and I promise to write the entries that this trip (and the end of our Rome course) deserve when we get home. Until then, kisses from the road; go have some adventures of your own.

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Wine Tasting and The Art of Living

23 Jun

Step one: Pour the wine.

Step two: “Waft” the wine. Smell its “bouquet,” or the light odor that comes from moving it around.

Step three: Wiggle your glass. But don’t wiggle it wiggle it, wiggle it with some grace. Check the sides of the glass to see how many “legs” follow the bulk of the wine in its circular journey. These little lines dictate the alcohol content of the wine.

Step three: Sip. Hold the wine lightly in the front of your mouth and swish it around a bit. Kind of like gargling, but much more elegant, of course. Optional addition: make weird sounds that your mother would kill you for but that somehow become part of a sophisticated wine tasting.

Step four: Attempt to say something intelligent. “Mmmmmm….” does not cut it. “Ah, this is a nice dry combination of flavors with – is that a hint of? – yes, an apple and pomegranate bouquet” does.

(Secret step five: Eat lots of cheese and prosciutto in between each bottle. If not, after your ninth tasting glass, you will be sloshed in front of your teachers, and you will have to sneak off into the kitchen to gulp down four glasses of water. On your way, your friends, all of whom are in similarly compromised situations, will wink at you and giggle amongst themselves because “we’re getting two credits for this.”*)

*For the record, the professors are the ones who tell us to finish each of our glasses. And who are we to argue and cause trouble? I have the utmost respect for my instructors in all situations and wouldn’t dare go against their wishes; clearly, they have our best academic interests in mind.

Christoph setting up for the tasting.

From the above preview, please deduce the following:

1. We are having our second of two wine tastings tonight, both as a full class, both conducted by a wonderful man who wrote a book (in Italian) on how to teach your children about wine.

2. I am an extremely inexperienced socialite. So inexperienced, in fact, that when Christoph (the wine author) started doing his swishy-sucking noises to decipher the flavors in his mouth, all I could think about was my brother when he was really young getting chastised for slurping milk at the breakfast table – the sssslurrrrpppp, sssssipppp were too reminiscent for me to handle.

3. I will use this experience for the rest of my life.

By #3, I don’t mean that I will be sniffing my beverages ’til the day I die (in fact, I really hope I don’t — that’s a surefire way to get myself tagged as “that weird nose-in-drink girl,” and I could do without that particular title). Instead, I’m talking about what’s at the heart of our wine tastings – the slowing down, the attention to sensory detail, the appreciation of artistry. I am so accustomed to eating without emotional attachment, to walking without attention to surroundings, that this wine tasting is a gigantic, and welcome, stop sign. And whether or not I am able to take it all seriously (and, to be frank, I just can’t; while I can tell you what I like or don’t like about a wine, I don’t think I will ever have the desire to dissect its makeup piece by piece or wax poetic about each gulp), I am able to appreciate the act of thinking while consuming, of conversing about the process of consumption.

Because, at a wine tasting, you pause constantly. You look at the label of what you are drinking. Not for prestige, but for knowledge. What region is it from? What does that mean? How is it classified? What do you think of this classification? Only then do you pour. Then, before even bringing it to your lips, you examine it with your other senses. What does it look like? What season does the smell remind you of? You are fully engaged with this one little glass in a way that few people engage with entire steak dinners. It is amazing the depth of observation that we are capable of when we focus only on the tiniest sip.

Our cooking classes have similar lessons. We spent a morning making tiramisu last week, and only two of us decided to go, so we had a lot of time to talk with our instructor as we worked through the recipe. “You just have to always taste it,” she kept telling us. “Taste and then adjust. Cooking is like being in a play — if you botch up a line here or there, you fill in with your own; as long as you deliver the right ending, the audience will clap.” It reminded me of learning how to make meatballs with Nana (hi, Nana!), when the sauce on the stove simmered for hours and hours but we, in passing, would always stop to lick the spoon and throw in a spice here or there. Were we too rushed to decipher each spoonful, the depth of the end product would suffer. In this way, to cook and to drink well requires an embracing of the ingredients and an embracing of the moment…a sense that this act of consumption is an individual one and worthy of its own itty-bitty mental pedestal.

This is the act of savoring — and this, to me, is the integral art of living.

"If you truly want to share Italy with your family," Pauline, one of our professors, told me last night from across the table after I told her about my blog, "Let me take a picture of you eating those strawberries. That's all they need to see to understand how much you are getting out of every moment here." And so she did. (And let me tell you...those were SOME strawberries)

An Honest Heart

24 May

Occasionally, amidst the million flutters of excitement about this trip and the hours of packing and the composition of effusive emails, I stop dead in my tracks and say, “Jess. What the heck do you think you’re doing, spending half of your summer abroad in Rome?!”

It’s not the craziest question. In order to pull this trip off, even with the help of a very, very generous ISA award from Yale, I am emptying bank accounts that I have been filling since the age of ten (yes, Grandma, that’s where the birthday card money ended up – thank you!). I’m leaving my family behind for a month and a half when I haven’t gotten to spend more than three weeks at a time with them for two years. And, as a scholar and citizen, I’m leaving the city and town that I have spent the past few years learning about and trying to participate in for a city where I will be just a few steps above an enlightened tourist.

And it’s not to volunteer, or to work, or to intern, or even to take a required class. No, I’m going to Rome to take a class called “The City of Rome” for credits that I may not need, with a syllabus that includes both Dante and wine tasting. It is an enormous privilege that I even have this choice, and I still feel an occasional pang when I explain my summer to an acquaintance. “Actually, I’ll be in…Rome this summer. Yeah. I really still can’t believe it myself.” There is something that sounds so dangerously frivolous about this path – some hint of jet-setting entitlement.

For me, of course, that feels far from the truth. Aside from Canada (which doesn’t feel like too much of a trek from up here in New Hampshire), I have been to three countries over the course of my life. France and England on a whirlwind family vacation when I was ten (ten whole years ago, wow), and India for two weeks this past March break with a Reach Out trip from Yale where we did some volunteering in Delhi for a week and then spent a week visiting a few other areas of the country. I still consider myself a travel rookie – the one who, much to the amusement of everyone else, spent every flight to and from India with my nose plastered against the window, whispering to the mountaintops through the clouds.

This is me caught staring outside of our bus windows in India. I wasn't kidding about this constant sensation of hyper-alertness and incessant wonder.

I wasn't kidding about whispering through clouds, either. And taking pictures of them. I really couldn't bear to miss a single moment.

And Italy – well, Italy is somewhere I have been praying to travel to since I can remember thinking about traveling at all. I don’t know why it has always been Italy. Maybe it’s the food, or the language, or too much Mario Brothers. But every time my family mentioned taking a trip, I would bring it up again. Every single time. It’s like this inexplicable platial mystique from deep inside of me. And so this is, really, the fulfillment of a dream.

But it’s also this enormous thing, to travel to Europe to spend part of a summer. A thing that has connotations and expectations and very crisp evocations. And though it seems normal for many Yalies (and even many Andover kids, and more and more friends from home), it still sometimes feels weird to me. But there comes a point when I have to just stand up and say it, and that point is now.

Yes, I am lucky. I am so, so, so, so, so so so so so SO very lucky to be able to do this. No, it is not something that is directly applicable to my professional life, though as a concentrator in Urban Studies with an interest in international urban development, it does happen to be a really perfect place to get to know. Yes, I feel like this is a once in a lifetime opportunity, to be able to go live and breathe and LEARN a place every single day. For those of you who may not know the details, this class has me reading about a thousand pages a week with seminars that take place on site all around the city. One day we walk the entirety of the ancient walls, another we are assigned to visit ten separate churches. Throughout the whole course, we will each be researching our own independent project, meeting with experts and preparing a giant paper and report for our final presentation. It is the ultimate Humanities experience, one in which millennia of learning and beauty will be tied into our present day personal experience. It is how I wish I could introduce myself to every new city – by walking straight up to its gates and saying, “I have read your ghosts and studied your victories; I have been tested on your path and want to walk through your present. Teach me more.” So the real answer to the “Why the heck are you doing this?” question has something to do with responding to a yearning and something to do with a sense that if I don’t do this now, I’ll never have the chance again. A few nights ago a group of friends and I sat talking about all of those crazy things that seem to be on our life lists for some reason or other, and we already felt as though we were running low on time and serendipity. So if not now, when? And if not now, a better question to be asking myself is, “Why the heck not?”

“Carpe diem,” the saying goes. And here I go seizing it.

Who knows what life will look like tomorrow?