Being alone

For most of my two-week trip during the holidays I was alone.

I have been fighting this inner battle. It happens because of comparisons I make in my mind. When I see other people together and see them laughing, smiling, etc I feel bad about myself because I think that they are having a better time than me. I assume that I would be happier if I had more people around me too.

I realized that I spend so much time thinking about how having something else would make me happier. Doing this hijacks the comfort and happiness that I am experiencing. On this trip I realized that I like being alone. A lot. Because I like being alone with my thoughts and just watching and thinking without having to do any sharing.

 

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Having faith that things will work out

I learned a lot of things on my 2 week vacation, but the most valuable things I learned were about myself.

For this trip, I had only booked a total of 7 nights: 4 nights in Ferrara and 3 nights in Venice. First I would go to visit my pen pal in Forlì and I counted on spending 3 nights with her.

However, things didn’t go out the way I planned. On the morning after the 2nd night she told me to leave. I think it might have been because she felt abandoned when I didn’t dance with her at the club the night before. I felt frustrated, small and vulnerable. I felt the most vulnerable I had during the whole time studying abroad. And it wasn’t because I was in a scary environment. On the contrary; it was 6am, the sun was beginning to warm up the sleepy little village, and I was comfortable enough with the city to know how to get around even without a map. I felt vulnerable because when she told me I had to leave I realized how much I had been counting on her to act in a certain way. I felt bad because she  made me see that I was not a good friend.

I thought about taking a train home for a few days and then going to Ferrara for that night that I had already booked. I ruled this out because I knew I was already so close to Ravenna and that it would take just as long if not longer to get to Florence. So I took a train to Ravenna as planned, but just a day earlier. A week ago I had made a request to sleep at a house of a person on couchsurfing. He had a lot of good reviews, but still I was skeptical about being at his house without having met him face-to-face. I didn’t want to reach out to him yet because I was a day earlier than planned. So I needed a place to sleep for at least one night.

I exited the train station in Ravenna and walked out to the sunny roundabout in front. I tried to figure out which bus I needed to take. I was looking at the city maps stuck on the backs of the bus shelters but they were really confusing. I was waiting for a bus (the wrong one) when a man approached me and suggested me a nice and cheap hotel not far from the train station. He seemed genuinely interested in helping me and so when he offered to drive me the short distance to the hotel I agreed. When it was time for me to get out of the car, he asked me if he could accompany me that afternoon. I told him I preferred to be alone but thank you for the help. I really was grateful. I liked the hotel, the rooms and the staff, a lot. The woman who ran the place was friendly and motherly and the cook and woman who cleaned were also friendly. I was so stressed out when I was in Forli about what I was going to do for the rest of the day because I didn’t have any set plans, but things ended up working out once I started moving forward.

In another two instances I found myself strategizing for ways to get food, which foods to eat, and where to go in order to find food. In both situations I felt anxiety and stressed out. And it got annoying. I wanted it to stop. So I resolved to sit it out, check out my surroundings, and use the time to experience and see new things. I resolved to just relax and see what happens. In Comacchio I was hungry and instead of going in search of food I set my mind on seeing the sights because I figured that I could eat later and wanted to see the city while it was still light outside. That is when I came upon crates of mandarins and tomatoes on the side of the street. A store had left them there because they had gone bad. But there were not bad enough not to eat just yet. I picked through them and put the good ones in my bag to eat later. The second similar situation was in Venice. On the day of the Epifania, I finished watching the competition of on the Gran Canale and I was hungry because I had not yet eaten. My mind started working itself up into a frenzy. I started strategizing of all my possibilities – one of those green Pistachio cookies at the bar, fruit at the market, a pizza… So many options. It was taking so much effort and I wasn’t able to enjoy what was going on around me! So I made myself relax. Told myself it was ok and that food would eventually come to me. I jumped off the weird box that I was sitting on along the side of the canal and started walking in the direction of the center. Not having walked more than a few meters, I came upon a table of hand outs of free hot wine, flat sweet crackly bread, and little candies. Probably some traditional foods of the Epifania. In this case, too, when I relaxed and trusted that things would work out, they really did.

This trip was different than others because I was traveling by myself for a long length of time and for a long distance. I was in total control of how I spent my time and the thoughts and feelings that were going through my body. There was no one to comfort or stress me out but me. It became very obvious to me how often I strategize of the future. How often I go through all of the possibilities I have in front of me. And how I think so much about trivial things that feed the ego, such as food and clothing. In my head I go through the different actions that might be available to me, the implications of these actions… Its only natural I would be stressed out! Eventually I tired of it. And what I did was I refocused on my surroundings. I noticed the beauty of my surroundings, the newness of the buildings, people, cold wind, sun, water… and I resolved to see more of the NOW. I focused on the tangible. And, I trusted that my basic needs like food would be met eventually. And I was. I was rewarded with food, a place to sleep, and good company.

Christian Art

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La Cattedrale di Comacchio
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La Basilica di San Lorenzo

I was recently asked what I thought about “Christian Art.”

Like all things, it was made to serve a purpose.

Traveling around Europe I have come across lots of churches and most of the time I will take a quick peek inside. Most often they are highly decorated. Extensive use of the colors red, white and gold, chandeliers, marbles, frescoes, statues, high ceilings, colored glass, intricate patterns. As a center for increasing one’s chances of a more spiritual life and a better afterlife, this place has put a lot of effort in making the most of its present, earthly resources.

Not all churches look like this. In Florence the Basilica of San Lorenzo was designed by Filippe Brunelleschi. An architect that designed base on the principle that form follows function, which makes him arguably the first modern architect. He also believed that proportionality was pleasing to the human eye and rationality as his guide. An eye for beauty and without the intention of making the church look awe inspiring for the sake of new followers.

I also believe that there is something pleasing about simplicity, rationality, and proportionality.

 

On asking questions… And what I learn from them

My interactions with people tend to involve me listening and asking questions. It helps me learn about them and about the way the world works. I find questions valuable for communication between people and for knowledge of oneself.

What I learned in my most recent travel is that all of my questions are futile, pointless, and a waste of time if I do not apply what I have learned. I will give two examples.

My pen pal Eleonora. She told me that she avoids dark streets and deserted areas because she is aiming to reduce the chance of her being raped. She gave me an example. She asked if I would walk out into the pasture on the other side of the train tracks. I said yes, because I can see that no one is there. And she told me she wouldn’t because she can see that no one is there. Therefore she can feel threatened/perceive danger in any place because her imagination is what is ruling her actions. This is a dangerous person to be around. Why? Because her actions are influenced not by what she perceives but by what she imagines. Since she is always reacting to what she imagines, it is hard to find a common ground with this person. She is so often acting on what she sees in her mind and not what is actually happening. She is clearly disillusioned. So when I left her in the club to dance in another room, she felt I had abandoned her in the face of danger since she perceived danger at the club and on the walk home to the station. So even though she told me that I could go ahead and meet her at the station, she would perceive danger and might resent me for having left her. And this is exactly what happened. I wanted her to act the way I do so I wanted her to be ok being left alone. But of course she wasn’t.

Another example: Filipe, a boy I met at the hostel in Verona. I agreed to explore the city with him and another boy from the hostel. The other boy was lamenting about a recent break up and so we were talking about love. Filipe mentioned that he did not believe in romantic love and sometimes he refused to answer my questions because they were “too intimate.”And the fact that he considers some questions too intimate to answer, some questions should not be asked, then he will keep some things from me. Another time, he picked a flower to give to me and then changed his mind and didn’t give it to me. He told me it was because he usually does not like giving flowers because when a flower is picked it kills it. After picking he realized that he had picked and therefore ending the existence of the most beautiful flower in order to give to me. Strange that he second-guessed his actions. Still, I liked the things he said soI invited him to Venice since he didn’t have plans after Verona. At one point he told me he did not want to come because Venice is a romantic city. But on the day I was supposed to leave he told me he would come with. I found out how to take the bus to the station and we left the hostel. Once we got into the station, he got close to me, looked me in my eyes, and told me that I would be going to Venice and he would be going to Milan. He opened up his jacket and took out a picture frame of a sailboat and handed it to me, telling me this was his Venice. I still am disappointed in how this turned out. But what I learned from this was that I was too trusting and not attentive enough. I learned that he does not believe in romantic love and that he was not completely honest with me because he wouldn’t answer all of my questions. So I should have been more on my toes. I was upset because I expected him to act a certain way instead of seeing him for what he really is.

I met a lot of people who were new to me in that they had ways of expressing themselves that are unfamiliar to me. My encounters with them reminded me that I must be attentive and see people for who they are and not who I would like them to be, and then treat them accordingly.

Being attentive is not enough; I must apply what I learn.

Dressing for Appearances

In Europe, and especially in Italy, people dress to impress. Cities in Italy are made to be walked. They are made for the pedestrian because they were built at a time when cars didn’t exist. Cities were built for the people in mind. When walking around Piazza della Signoria on a field trip, my Florentine Architecture teacher told us that Florence in particular has beautiful piazzas because Florence was where democracy was born. Piazzas are communal space where people gathered to share ideas with one another. This kind of feature in a city is crucial to a democracy, whether it be physical or virtual space people need to have space to build and listen to each others’ ideas. Because democracy is about rule by the people. Sharing ideas is a form of developing ideas which is crucial to an educated and critical thinking populous. Piazzas were respected by the Florentine rulers and for many years they did not attempt to infiltrate the piazza. The first time a ruler put his own mark in a public piazza was when Cosimo put a statue of himself riding a horse in the Piazza della Signoria. Until then, there had been no mark of royalty.

There are many artisan shops but also a lot of designer stores. People like to window shop and stop in front of store windows to marvel at the displays and the array of shoes.

So, cities in Italy, Florence included, are made for people to walk and gather and talk. So when people go out, they tend to put some effort and thought into their appearance. I have never seen so many stylish older women until walking around in Florence. Sometimes you will see them dressed in clothes that younger women wear – and they are rocking it! Common colors are black, grey, cream, and blue, with the right cut and some accessories.

There is a certain style that is popular in European culture, and so people who are exposed to different cultures stick out like a sore thumb. I see this with American boys and girls. Many times when I see a boy with sweatpants and a baggy shirt or a girl with a lot of makeup on and not so fashionable clothing, I can often times hear a word or two of American English coming out of their mouths when they speak. I told Aitana about this and she says she has experienced the same.

As for me, it is hard not to wish my appearance and wardrobe were different when I compare myself to people in the street. People-watching is still one of my favorite hobbies. I like to watch people interact, look at what they are wearing, and look at their dogs. I make the action of looking painful for me when I cease appreciating what I am seeing and start to want to look like another person.

Aitana and I connected over this. She says she feels insecure because she does not dress feminine like most girls do. Feminine meaning makeup, low-cut, tight-fitting clothes, and high heels.She sees a girl dressed cute and wants to dress like them because of the attention that they get. Sometimes she dresses feminine. When she dresses like that, she gets compliments from her mom, her boyfriend, and she gets attention from everyone. But she isnt comfortable. She feels her most comfortable in clothes that are comfortable, sporty, and preppy.

Although I do not wish to dress in a certain way in order to get attention, I think that both Aitana and I experience frustration and insecurity when we compare our physical appearance to that of others. I think we would be happier if we keep in mind that we each have chosen to adorn ourselves the way that we have based on principles that we hold. The reason why I do not wash my hair and bathe and shave on a regular basis is because I don’t feel the need to be squeaky clean and because I don’t like the feeling of being cold that I get right after I get out of the shower. The reason why I don’t wear new clothes is because I don’t feel good about spending a lot of money on clothes. I don’t feel good about it because I am using my parents’ money – money that I didn’t make – on clothes and so I try to be as thrifty as possible.

Italian culture is less interested in buying cheap and more interested in buying quality. In this I have failed. I still like to buy cheap clothing in price – used – but not lacking in quality.

Yet, I see the practicality in buying beautiful, well-made clothes that are versatile and timeless however the good thing about not spending a lot of money on clothes and wearing a lot of hand-me-downs is that when I travel, if I need to leave my bag somewhere because it is heavy I am not extremely paranoid about someone taking my bag. Because I am not emotionally tied to my clothes. There is only one item of clothing that I am fond of and that is my great grandmother’s sweater. The rest I could lose and I would not be too upset.