Frankfurter. Francoforte. Frankfurt.

In Frankfurt I stayed with three really good-hearted, hardworking souls.

They are currently sharing a spacious two bedroom apartment 20 minutes north of the city center by U-bahn. They made me feel very welcome.I was so grateful for the little things that they shared with me, material things and also their thoughts and understandings. They shared with me their fruit, bread, juice, coffee, and shower. They gave me recommendations on where to go in the city, where to shop, and suggested I go to the gym with nice features close-by.

Thanks to them, I learned less about German culture and more about Moroccan culture during my stay in Frankfurt and relied less on my German and English skills and more on my Italian and Spanish. I’m not at all complaining; on the contrary, I think it was a special experience!

From what it seemed, it looked like fun moving to a new country, working, and being immersed in a new culture. They all had such a positive and optimistic feelings that it was hard to believe that they were some of the few who had moved to Germany to find work and had stuck it out longer than a month or two… 

It hasn’t been until after I moved back to the USA and watched a comedy called “Off Course” that I understood the reality of the situation my friends are in. The movie is about two Spanish recent graduates who move to Berlin to find work. Even with their university degrees they are unable to find jobs that utilize their skills. They need to have mastered a certain level of German before they can be immersed in the workforce. So, they end up working as waiters at a small mom-and-pop restaurant where other Spaniards are working, too. A theme in this movie is that immigration has been around for generations and that the immigration that is happening today is no different. The movie left me with a great admiration of the courage of my Frankfurt friends.

Fit/One VS Tropos

One of the best experiences I had on my trip was absolutely free of charge, on the outskirts of the city. Not a tourist destination by all means.

One evening in Frankfurt I spent time in a gym. Its called Fit/One. I went to check it out after being recommended by one of the guys I was staying with. He advised that I try everything ( <Prova tutto, va bene?> ). I didn’t try the solarium – when I initially checked it out it was occupied and then I forgot to go back – but I did work out on the stair and elliptical machines, drink pineapple and lemon infused waters from the drink station, try out the vibrating platform machine, walked around, saw where the group lessons are held, and got a towel to borrow. It is a beautiful gym. Lots of space and lots of different toys. Very clean and modern with black floors and walls and lime green accents. Then I hit the shower.

I would have liked to have taken pictures because I was immediately hit by the contrast. But I didn’t because I didn’t want to risk making the other women feel uncomfortable or get in trouble.

The changing room is two big rooms with lockers lining the walls. When you open the door from the gym, on the side of the wall to your immediate right is a bar table complete with hair dryers and mirrors. If you walk along this side you end up at the adjacent corner of the room where there is an opening. This is the entrance to the showers. The showers are another big room with shower heads lining the walls. Let me remind you that everything in these rooms is black. The floors, the walls, and the ceilings.

 

 

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Reflections from La Tutela Tricolare: I Custodi dell’Identità Culturale

Italy has two police corps: the polizia and the carabinieri. The polizia are the state police while the carabinieri is part of the army. They get their name from the traditional carabina rifle that they used to carry and have been a longer lifespan than Italy itself. Most of the carabinieri come from Southern Italy, specifically the regions of Campania, Sicily, Calabria, Puglia. These regions are the same ones that the four major mafia organizations call home. So the people who come from these regions obviously have an interest in this kind of work. According to an interview of a carabinieri made my BBC, the sense of justice and rivalsa (payback or retaliation) is what motivates people to join.

Within the carabinieri, a special section called the Tricolor Safeguard was established in 1969with the purpose of tackling illegal exports of cultural assets. It is a team made up of art historians, scientists, and archaeologists. In 1990s it expanded. Due to their high reputation, today the Tricolor Safeguard is hired out by foreign powers for international cases.

La Tutela Tricolare: I Custodi dell’Identità Culturale is an exhibit that informs about the Tricolor Safeguard and showcases artworks from individual cases. The exhibit is currently at the Uffizi Gallery’s new exhibition room.Our teacher gave us a little introduction to the exhibit before going inside.

I was uninterested and a little upset. I thought the idea of the exhibit was not very deep and just so typical of Italian art museums. I thought that the reason for this exhibit was just to make an excuse for bringing out old works from storage that hadn’t seen daylight in a few decades.

But my whole mood changed when I read this final sentence under the heading “Reason for this Exhibit”:

“Protecting our artistic assets and our environment stimulates tourism in the loftiest sense of the term, fostering cultural exchange and the spread of ideas among the people of the world.”

I had always assumed that there was a sort of nationalistic pride behind the desire to protect and preserve Italian art. But there’s a whole other reason… It’s not about protecting, restoring, and investing in the safekeeping of artwork from Italy for the sake of preserving a heritage to be proud of. Preserving and maintaining something to be known for and recognized for. Rather it is about preserving it for the sake of everyone’s educational experience. For the benefit of future generations.

 

Sources:
http://www.bbc.com/news/magazine-28254297 

Ai Weiwei @ Palazzo Strozzi

My dear Italian professor arranged a guided tour for our classes on January 18th. After the visit, I wrote him an email of my thoughts on the exhibit. I also addressed a comment that he made expressing that Weiwei’s art is “too conceptual.” This is the email and my translation is mixed in.

Caro professore,

Sono uscita da lezione prima per fare uno scambio linguaggio. è andato bene. Grazie.
I left class early to do a language exchange. It went well. Thank you.
Secondo me, abbiamo sbagliato per non dirti nulla della mostra al Palazzo Strozzi perché ci hai dato una buona esperienza. (E grazie anche della lista; mi ha aiutato capire di più quello che Mariana ci ha detto.)
In my opinion, we messed up by not telling you anything about the exhibit at Palazzo Strozzi because you gave us a great experience. (And also thank you for the list; it helped me better understand what Mariana told us.)
(He gave us a list of vocabulary that had to do with each artwork so that we could learn the words before going. Mariana was our guide).
La mostra mi ha fatto pensare molto. Frequento il museo e la galleria d’arte e mi piace pensare criticamente della cosa scelto per presentare e come si presenta. Ho molte cosa da dire perché mi piace molto l’arte contemporanea e politica, conosco bene Ai Weiwei, e penso spesso della utilità dell’arte.
The exhibit made me think a lot. I often go to museums and art galleries and I like to think critically about what is presented and the way it is presented. I have many things to say because I very much like contemporary and political art, I am familiar with Ai Weiwei, and I think often about the purpose of art.
Io amo amo amo l’arte concettuale. è semplice. Arriva al punto. Mi fa entusiasta una bella idea ben eseguita. Ricordo che mi hai detto che avevi pensato che l’arte di Weiwei è ‘troppo concettuale.’S ento spesso questa critica dell’arte concettuale. Ma che significa?
I love love love conceptual art. It is simple. It gets to the point. I get excited about a well-executed idea. I remember you told me you thought Ai Weiwei’s art is “too conceptual.”I often hear this critique of conceptual art. But what does it mean?
Forse, a loro non piace perché di solito l’arte concettuale non è dolce per gli occhi e credono che l’arte debba essere bella e fatto con talento. Comunque anche con l’arte dell’arte classica, non si può apprezzare una opera in totale senza la conoscenza, la comprensione. Senza se aveva saputo com’è fatto, chi era l’artista, ed i temi che sono rappresentati. Un bambino non può apprezzare un Caravaggio perché non sa. Non sa delle tecniche artiste né l’ambiente in cui è stato fatto. Questi punti sono importanti in modo da apprezzare.
Perhaps they don’t like it because conceptual art is usually not easy on the eyes and they think that art should be beautiful and made with skill. However, even with classical art you cannot appreciate the artwork without knowledge and understanding. Without having known how it was made, who the artist was, and the themes that are represented. A baby cannot appreciate a Caravaggio because it doesn’t know anything. It doesn’t know about the artistic techniques nor the environment in which it was made.  These points are important in order to appreciate.
C’è un simbiosi fra l’opera e la sua storia. Ogni opera ha la sua propria utilità per la quale la diamo valore. il ragione per le sue arte e per fare un discorso degli eventi dell’ingiustizia, come la libertà di parola in Cina, se non inspirano azione. Quindi, per esempio, se le sue arte non ci riescono a creare pensamenti della libertà di parola, non sono buone. Se, invece, i partecipanti partono dalla mostra senza aver capito, senza aver sentito, non sono buone.
There is a symbiotic relationship between a work of art and its story. Each opera has its own use from which its value comes from. The reason for his (Weiwei’s) art is to create a discussion about the events of injustice, like the lack of freedom of speech in China,
So, for example, if his art doesn’t succeed in creating thoughts about freedom of speech, it is not good. If instead the visitors leave from the exhibit without having understood, without having felt, then the art is not good.
Ti ho detto che sono andata all’isola Alcatraz per vedere la sua mostra ‘In Libertà’ (‘@Large’) e che mi è piaciuta. è stata fatto dai volontari perché due anni fa lui era in prigione cinese. C’erano solo 5 o 6 opere in totale e ogni opera ha avuto il proprio spazio. La mostra sia stato più potente perché sia più grande, rappresentano le persone del passato e del presente dappertutto il mondo, c’era tanti tipi di mezzi (scultura, musica, installazione, tecnica mista), ed era interattiva. Molto pianificazione c’è voluto. Lui ha scelto ogni spazio in particolare e così le opere sono collegati alla storia del prigione Alcatraz, con lui, e, naturalmente, con il tema di ‘libertà.’ Attacco delle mie foto, alcuni loro dal sito web (http://www.for-site.org/project/ai-weiwei-alcatraz/), e uno video mio.
I told you that I went to the island of Alcatraz to see his exhibit “@Large” and that I liked it. It was made by volunteers because two years ago he was in prison in China. There were only 5 or 6 works in total and each work had its own space. The exhibit was more powerful because it was bigger, represented people from the past and the present throughout the world, and there were many different mediums (sculpture, music, installation, mixed medium), and it was interactive. A lot of organizing was needed. He chose each particular space so that each opera related to the story of the prison of Alcatraz, to him, and, of course, to the theme of “freedom.”I am attaching some of my photos, some from the website, and a video of mine.
Mi è piaciuto come una delle sue opere ha inspirato azione: c’era una stanza dove si può scrivere una cartolina a un prigioniero politico. E secondo me, questo è il suo obiettivo. La mostra ‘Libero’, secondo me, non era tanto quanto buona perché non allinea con o esegue i suoi proprio principi.
I liked how one of his works inspired action: there was a room where you could write to a political prisoner on a postcard. In my opinion, this is his goal. The exhibit “Libero,” in my opinion, was not as good because it does not align with or follow his own principles.
Immagino che sia stato difficile per Weiwei collegarsi con Italia e Firenze. Al palazzo strozzi lui ha presentato le opere dei mattoni Lego di Dante, Strozzi…ed invece ad Alcatraz erano dei prigionieri politici e c’erano tanti. Un’artista molto politico come lui non abbia bisogno di rendere omaggio ai famosi fiorentini del passato. E perché hanno deciso di mostrare un collezione del lavoro della sua vita a Palazzo Strozzi? Forse ci sia bisogna di dimostrare che lui ha importanza. Sia bisogno di mostrare la sua lunga storia di arte e attivismo.
I imagine that it may have been difficult for Weiwei to connect himself with Italy and with Florence. At Palazzo Strozzi he presented Lego brick artworks of Dante, Strozzi… and instead on Alcatraz they were of political prisoners and there were many. A very political artist such as himself would not need to pay homage to the famous people of Florence’s past. And why did they choose to show a collection of his life’s work at Palazzo Strozzi? Perhaps there was a need to show that he is important. There may have been a need to show his long history of art and activism.
Sopratutto, penso che era scelto perché gli amministri musei fiorentini vogliano attrarre i giovani. Lui sia un buon esempio dell’artista di oggi. Lui è molto popolare su social media. Ha detto cose con cui molti giovani sono d’accordo. Fa buon usa del suo smartphone per fare le foto e condividere i suoi pensamenti. Anche ha una storia interessante e ben documentata. è stata un investimento scafato perché lui è proprio un artista redditizia. Le mie foto della roba (cancelli, magneti) sono di Alcatraz però niente ha cambiato; le cose simili sono venduto al negozio di articoli da regalo al Palazzo Strozzi.

Above all, I think that he had been chosen because the administrators of the Florentine museums wanted to attract the youth.

He may be a good example of the artist of today. He is very popular on social media. He has said things that many of the youth agree with. He makes good use of his smartphone to take pictures and share his thoughts. He also has an interesting and well-documented story. It was a smart investment because he is a sell-able artist. My photos of the things (erasers, magnets) are from Alcatraz but nothing has changed; similar things were sold in the gift shop at Palazzo Strozzi.

Sìì sono finita!
Yay I finished!
Grazie di nuovo,
Thanks again,
Xiomara

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.

 

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.