La mia Gioia in Italia (My Joy in Italy): PART 3

So. Day four in Italy, we vacated the AirBnb in the early morning and sojourned down to the Vatican on Sunday morning. Yes, I know what you’re thinking … WHY WOULD YOU DO THAT? ON A SUNDAY?? And I would normally say, YOU’RE RIGHT, I KNOW. But that was just the way the cookie crumbled this time round. And in hindsight, I can say, WELL SUCKS TO SUCK CUZ GUESS WHAT. WE SAW THE POPE.

Yes, my friends, we were in the midst of Vatican City’s mini-security check when we heard a familiar lilting voice over the sound system. I looked to Emily, then looked to Sarah, the three of us wide-eyed. Some Italians around us were like, “Il Papa!” then a woman yelled to the security guards, “Andiamo, andiamo! il Papa sta parlando!” (Let’s go, let’s go! The Pope is speaking!)

Finally, we made our way through and we saw his charming face on a huge TV screen they’d set up in the square and his tiny figure in the window. It was three weeks before Easter weekend, so he was delivering a blessing in that spirit … given my Italian-in-training and his mumbly speech, I could only piece together something about all of us having burdens, but we can surrender them to the Lord by loving and believing. What a guy. As I mentioned in Part 2, I was raised Catholic, so I have a lot to say about these kinds of things, but not about him. He is just what the Catholic Church needs to bring it first into the twentieth-century and then the twenty-first.

He delivered individual blessings to the many countries that were in attendance, each giving a hearty cheer, some complete with self-congratulatory flags that I personally found adorable. Then, he said his final farewells, gave his lovely wave and disappeared into the shadows of his room. How about them apples.

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Fleet of foot, given our unexpected celestial promotion, we ventured into St. Peter’s Basilica.

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Seeing the Pietà always reminds me how much I eventually want to be a mother. In case you haven’t figure out from my writings thus far, I’ve always had a sensitivity for mother-child relationships, given my relationship with my amazing mother and father. If I feel like I need to cry about something, but my mind won’t allow me to, I’ll crack the ice by watching Baby Mine from ‘Dumbo’ and the waterworks, without exception, will flow. There are times when I fret about how I will possibly be able to do for my child what my parents did for me: give the perfect balance of love and tough-love. Will I screw them up? Will they hate me even though I will love them beyond all measure?

And okay. I know you’re thinking … she’s looking at a statue of a mother with her dead child and that gives her the warm and fuzzies about maybe being a mother some day? Well. Yes. It’s the hopelessness in her eyes, the depth of sorrow and so, the depth of love in her expression. It’s profound. I would say I feel things deeply, yet—from what I see in the sculpture—I haven’t even scratched the surface of feeling what a mother feels for her child.

Now, as both a quasi-Catholic and theater person, symbolism is not lost on me. Therefore, as I walked away from the Pietà and felt an all too familiar ache in my abdomen, I literally stopped dead in my tracks, a blank expression on my face. Really?

Yes, despite my many attempts to anticipate and quell the pain, my body’s temper tantrum because nope, we are not, in fact, going to have a baby this month won out … even over the Pope’s blessing! (That’s some strength of will right there. Or the devil’s work … haven’t figured that symbolism out yet.) The rest of the day lost some focus; it went from 1080HD to 480, sometimes through spots spidering across my vision, sometimes through tears of pain. But, it was fun nonetheless.

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We tried to get into the Sistine Chapel and for the second time in my life, it was closed. We then found a rather expensive pizza place (do we detect a pattern here in Rome?), then, upon my request, we walked to the Fountain of the Four Rivers and observed it with gelato in our hands. LOOK: (è tiramisu e fragola … delizioso!!)

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From there, we headed straight to the airport. At the risk of beating a dead horse, but more for the sake of candor, the flight home was fresh hell. I suppose it’s an appropriately Italian tragic ending to a blissful trip. We were sat in the emergency exit row, to boot, which meant I didn’t have a window to distract my mind or to help with the nausea. At any rate, I survived without any unpleasantness for anyone else, but never was I so happy to curl up in a ball on my bed when I got home.

FINAL THOUGHTS ON ITALY: I miss it so very much. These people know how to live. They eat well, drink well, speak well, sing well. I so wish I had some Italian in me. I am also madly jealous of our good friend, Nick, who studied abroad in Rome this semester. Unfortunately, I got the timing wrong and we weren’t able to meet up with him (for which I thoroughly beat myself up), but from what he’s told me and the pictures he’s posted, it seems as heavenly as our short weekend stint was. Certainly, my Italian studies would have progressed considerably. (That being said, I do not BY ANY MEANS regret my decision to go to London.) Other than a possible career in opera, I don’t know what I could do so that I have an excuse to live in Italy some day … but whatever it is, I’ll find it and do it.

Viva l’Italia!

Joyfully,

Katie H.

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LA MIA GIOIA IN ITALIA (MY JOY IN ITALY): PART 2

Okay, y’all, I think my computer’s gonna give up in, like, a second. She’s gonna complain to the union about being overworked and just leave me to fend for myself, I know it. With the end of the semester comes all that work that didn’t seem important at the time, but secretly was and just forgot to tell you.

So. Sorry I’ve been away. I know you’re waiting with baited breath about what else happened in Italy.

Right. Second day. I think this might give you a feel for what I was experiencing for the entire trip … I was listening to Elīna Garanča’s album, Meditate, all through Italy. I kept hearing religious music in my head, so hooked myself up to that album. Particularly the song ‘Dievaines’ captured the immensity of emotion I was feeling … it seemed to cross continents. It’s big music. The story is about the deities that accept souls into their afterlife, but as you’ll hear from the music, it’s entirely joyful, if not exciting and thrilling. It captures that deep-reaching hook into joy or history or the earth or belief or spirituality, whatever you choose to call it, as I feel London has done for me, but Rome does in perhaps a more intense way. There’s a whisper of greater knowledge at its edges, as if the author or the characters know something most of us don’t … that it’ll be alright in the end.

Anyway. Maybe if you take a listen on Spotify, you’ll get a sense of what my trip sounded like. Could be fun!

We got pizza again because the breakfast at the AirBnb was laughable (stale Special K with no milk and the Italian equivalent of twinkies). Riding into Rome proper, we saw all the sites you’re supposed to see, my personal favorite being the Altar of the Fatherland, or Monumento Nazionale a Vittorio Emanuele II, the impossibly gigantic monument commemorating the unification of the Italian city states.

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I remember the first time I saw it on my last visit. I had the incredible visceral sensation of feeling minute. You look up at the breathtaking structure and it seems like you’re looking at an optical illusion … it doesn’t seem like it could possibly be that big. It looks like something from a movie. The architecture is a work of art, each aspect flowing with grace and strength into the next. Then you look at the striking black statue on a plinth in the middle of the design of a man (King Vittorio Emanuele) on a horse. You think, well that looks normal-sized, I suppose … until you discover that on the eve of the monument’s official opening, it housed a dinner for (I believe) 10 people in its belly. Sure. Why not.

We then went to the Pantheon, which I will always love to see.

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As we walk along the Tiber, we found this sweet graffiti. The handwriting is hard to decipher, but from what I can figure, it’s very sweet. “Many best wishes, Love! [Something good happened in that area, dunno what, but I’m sure we can all imagine 😉 ] … you know it! [Something like there will be no other for me]. And sorry and/if I love you, Darling.”

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Then we arrived back at the Piazza Trinità dei Monti and met up with a free walking tour Emily had found. Our tourguide was a smiley Italian young woman named Julia, with short hair and bronzed skin. Her English was really very good and the Italian shadow vowels on every word positively endearing. She took us a pretty exhaustive tour of all the big ticket sites, landing us at the Colosseum at sunset:

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Finally, we got dinner at a rather expensive place that we settled on due to hunger and hanger pains. Pricey, but good. I didn’t bother taking a picture of the food because I was a little mad that it cost so much … although I suppose that’s more reason to take a picture. To commemorate your mistake.

Anyway.

As long as you’re here, Day 3 in Italy: NAPLES

Truly, I think it would be best to simply leave you with the pictures. We did quite a bit of wandering, seeking out historical sites as best we could, but in actuality following wherever our now-seasoned travelers noses wanted to go. Here are the fruits of our labor:

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However, there is one experience I’d like to comment on. We stopped off at the Chiesa di Napoli. First I’ll tell you what physically happened. We had just gotten a LOT of food for barely any money and we were feeling great. We stepped into la chiesa and the early afternoon sun was positively cutting through a stained glass window behind the altar. Treading lightly, we reverently crept through the space for perhaps a minute and a half. Then, a pinched clerical man came out and asked us somewhat politely to leave as they were going to begin preparations for evening mass.

Here’s what happened in my mind: (if you want to reenact it for yourself, I was listening to ‘Silent Songs: Dusi Dusi’ on the album at this moment)

I saw this.

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And I suddenly missed church.

I was raised Catholic. At about 15, I started calling BS. At 16, I was completely out, mentally. It wasn’t until I was in college that I stopped going to church altogether. When I went back for Christmas and Easter, I would remember every hypocrisy of the church, yet remember how much I missed it.

But perhaps I wasn’t missing church itself … I was missing the familiarity of it. I was surrounded by people who had watched me grow from highchair to high school. Even if I didn’t know their names, there was an intimate bond (if not love) between us that comes with 52 hours a year for 17 years.

I was missing the innocence I had when I was at church. My mother would tote my sister and me along. The three of us would have had showers before leaving to wash off the labors of the day and my hair would be wet, but smelling nice. We’d sit in the smaller and more modern of the two churches in our parish at 5 PM on Saturday. As the mass approached its holiest moment, the afternoon sun would blaze in through the back windows, as if to bless the moment and the people. In the daze of boredom, I would snuggle my mother’s shoulder as we sat, her shirt smelling like soap and perfume–I would do this even mid-adolescence, not fearing judgment because that was precisely why were all convened … to refrain from judgment and to love one another. She’d put her hand on my knee. I’d study it. I remember, when I was much younger, running my fingertips across her raised, blue veins, poking and prodding and asking if that hurt. Smiling, she gently shook her head no and the more I thought about it, I secretly didn’t believe her because veins carry blood and if I pressed on them so they closed up, then they couldn’t carry blood like they’re supposed to, which would hurt your body and your body always lets you know when you’re doing something bad for it, so obviously it would be painful if I pressed on her vein. I obviously stopped doing that.

Junior year of high school, I was sitting there again in church with my mother (my sister now grown). It was an extraordinarily hot summer day outside and my entire body was doing that weird thing where it produces cold flashes for you. Wanting to say a silent hello to my mom during mass but not hang on her for both our sakes, I leaned the length of my arm against hers, both our hands on our knees. I stared. I had veins on my hands! When did they get there? Not as pronounced as hers, and slightly more greenish, but they were there! Hesitantly, I touched them. Sure enough. They didn’t hurt.

After church, we’d drive home in the sunset and listen to Garrison Keillor’s ‘A Prairie Home Companion’ on the radio. His voice delivering his touching stories. The wonderful folksy-country music (which, truthfully, in any other context I truly don’t enjoy). We’d get home, I’d catch up with my father about our days at the kitchen table, while mom would cook up some dinner, and we would turn the sound up on the radio for our favorite routines.

I miss that. I miss that terribly.

When I saw the beauty of la Chiesa di Napoli that reminded me of the beauty of my church at home, I ached for all those things that church meant to me. This, of course, happened within the span of a minute and a half before il buon signore kicked us out. There were many wonderful things about Napoli, but I’d say that was the biggest moment for me.

That’s all I’m able to write for now, but I’ll be in touch with Part 3 sooner than I was for Part 2, I promise. I’m officially done all my papers finally, so now I can devote all my time and energy to you lovely people. (You are out there, right?)

To be continued … 

Nostalgically,

Katie H.

La mia gioia in Italia (My Joy in Italy): Part 1

Se mai ho avuto la gioia, era in Italia.
If ever I had joy, it was in Italy. 

Se mai ho visto la luce, era in Italia.
If ever I saw light, it was in Italy.

Se mai ho mangiato bene, era in Italia.
If ever I ate well, it was in Italy.

Il mio cuore appartiene a Italia.
My heart belongs to Italy.

(Ho praticato il mio italiano.)
(I’ve been practicing my Italian.)

It’s going to sound SO sappy, especially on a screen, but our trip to Rome was a nonstop stream of religious experiences. But I think those passionate, sometimes gaudy, always vibrant Italians would be pleased that their city drove me to feel only the most highly saturated emotions.

I found just how boundless the upper limit of joy is … like a domed ceiling, with an oculus gateway to infinity.

So, I’ve been here before. Just after graduating high school, I participated in a program called AMA (American Music Abroad), where high schools from a certain region sent a handful of students to four European countries for three weeks to play and sing for the residents there. With a jazz band, concert band, orchestra, and chorus, we toured Switzerland, Germany, Austria and Italy over the course of three weeks. Our first stop was Rome. What I remember: the smell, the sun, roasting nuts of unknown identity, churches, gelato, and a gargantuan building of white marble with a black horse statue in front that I could not remember the name of.

I am happy to report that Rome smells exactly the same. It’s a veritable potpourri of smells. One smell is, of course, the European staple of cigarette smoke. Another is what I think must be the smell of terra cotta in the sun, a warm, earthy scent. Another is the smell of ocean water, just a hint of salt. Another is a kind of metallic smell which mystified me last time and of which I still don’t know the origin. Finally is the smell of food: bread, meat, and vegetables.

The sun is stronger here and I, having not been south of the Mason-Dixon line since Rome the last time, was drinking it up from the moment we landed. We exited the airport, delighted to find that we were in the middle of nowhere. We caught a bus to our hostel, which was a half hour bus ride outside of the city proper, in a lovely, very hilly neighborhood, where things were much cheaper than in the city. Checking in with our AirBnB host, we dropped our things and ventured out for a bite and an adventure.

Our first stop was the first religious experience. (There will be a lot of these.)

A little pizza shop caught our eye. I ordered a margarita pizza in Italian, pleased with my first Italian interaction in a long time; my pride was short-lived, however. I was blind-sided when an employee hurled an Italian word at me, quickly and sharply. I stuttered, blinked a lot, looked to Emily, the Spanish speaker, to see if she recognized it, she didn’t, I uttered, ‘uh’ quite dumbly, and finally she said it again, pointing to a box, then outside. A wave of embarrassment passed over me as I realized it was the Italian word for ‘takeaway’, which I had never learned from a textbook. I mumbled, ‘si, prego’, took my pizza, paid, and shuffled out the door. Almost a job well done.

But the pizza. Oh, the pizza. Fresh, crispy dough with olive oil drizzled on top. You could see the light flakes of sea salt on the olive oil. Then, fresh, diced tomatoes, ruby red and oozing with juice. White, glistening mozzarella, the imperfectly ripped texture hinting at its authenticity. And finally, emerald green basil, not a hint of brown, lush, and deliciously pungent, with cracked pepper on top.

We ate it on the way into Rome on the bus. We were standing amongst maybe thirty Italians and passing Italian signs, most of which I could understand. I was standing, but I was floating. As long as I’ve been studying Italian by myself, I’ve had a shadowy thought in the back of my mind reminding me that this doesn’t do any good unless I practice with someone. If I don’t speak it aloud and hear it aloud in conversation, all of it could be for naught.

That bus ride dispelled that pesky little thought and I was buzzing like neon.

We got off at a random bus stop on Monte Esquilino (Esquiline Hill, one of the seven hills) and followed the street signs to the landmarks we wanted to see. Our informal walking tour took us to the gorgeous Fontana di Trevi, la Scalinata di Trinità dei Monti (the Spanish Steps), la Piazza del Popolo, e la Terrazzo del Pincio (Pincio Promenade). (Be advised … there are 30-some pictures in this slideshow. All of which are my favorites. Thanks.)

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The sun, smiling, began to set on Rome.

All through the day, I’d had Rossini’s La Cenerentola (starring my birthday buddy, Cecilia Bartoli) in my earbuds and his writing couldn’t have better embodied my joy. The rhythm bounced like an excited heartbeat, the singer’s voices flitted up and down the scale, the words had such vivacity, hope, humor. Cenerentola’s Rondò finale, Nacqui all’affanno, began as Rome turned golden:

“I was born breathless and crying, suffering silently at the core; but by a sweet charm, in the flower of my youth, like a lightning flash, my luck has turned … no more sorrow by the fire, to be singing alone, no! Ah, it was a lightning flash, a dream, a game, my long life of suffering.”

Out of nowhere, even though I’ve listened to this song dozens of times before, my chest expanded, my breath caught, and my eyes welled. I felt every elation, despair, rage, and shock from the past four years wallop me at once. Like looking back at an old diary or the wall-mounted ruler my parents used to chart my height, I suddenly became aware of the maturation I’d undergone since coming to college. The feeling was so immense, I could barely wrap my heart around it.

I didn’t know I was living in high school. I remember the moment in eighth grade when I developed my sharp disdain for the busywork of school and the antics of my classmates; it was the moment I calloused my hands, tucked my chin, and got through my life until I could sing, play an instrument, be with friends, write–do anything but be told what to do. Of course, I had beautiful friends that have stuck with me through it all, amazing teachers that gave me the skills and nourishment I needed, and my family was how I even survived. But I don’t think I was happy. I was happy enough, which sometimes didn’t suffice. Anything remotely negative would send me dipping below the surface. Tunnel vision will do that to a person.

Of course, not all are so lucky to escape. There were three suicides at my high school in the four years I was there. I would be lying to say I didn’t skirt around the edges of those kinds of thoughts in my darkest hours. I spent afternoons in a bathroom stall, breathless and crying. A bad grade on a test that would surely ruin my grade for the semester or forgetting an assignment because I had so many extracurricular activities (none of which I could drop because I needed them for college applications) would make me wonder if it was even worth it. But after a night’s rest or after a talk with my mom and dad, I would snap out of it. Some don’t.

So, what must change? And who’s to blame?

When I got to college, I was finally able to breathe. My luck had changed. It took some time to open and truly let people in after all the time spent closed off, but once I did, it was bliss. Although I’m further away from my parents, I feel them with me in every step I take or word I say. I made friends that complete me. If I attained any success, my teachers, whether they believe me or not, are to thank; they loved and supported me into the truest form of myself. The way of living I discovered in college is one of gratitude: finally being able to step outside of my problems and realize how much I owe to the people in my life and (it sounds gross and cheesy) how lucky I am. It’s so much easier to live. It was a lightning flash, a dream, a game, my long life of suffering.

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Questa vita è più bella e prezioso di ogni altra cosa.
This life is more beautiful and precious than anything else.

I gazed at the roman sunset, belly full with good food, flanked on either side by my best friend and a very close friend, skin warm, eyes and ears full of beauty, and thankfully I had sunglasses on as a few happy tears escaped from my eyes–not sure how I would have articulated my reason for them.

Pulling myself together, we sought out dinner and, man, did we get it. La Proscuitteria in a secretive alley just off Piazza di Trevi gave us an enormous board of antipasto-style meats, cheeses, bread, vegetables, olives, etc. all for ten euro (just about ten dollars) per person. Observe and be jealous:

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After, we wandered a bit more, then thoroughly exhausted and having been up for about twenty-two hours, we went back to our AirBnb. Of course, we found gelato first. Tiramisu. Always. And conked out.

To be continued …

Feeling spiritual and emotionally overwhelmed,

Katie H.

Part 1: Budapest Makes Me Hungary

Buda+Pest

I’m a bit late on this, but better late than never. Right? Right.

Two weekends ago, Sarah, Emily, and I sallied off to Hungary for two days and then stopped by Germany for two days. Needless to say, it was a whirlwind and made four days feel like a month.

Budapest was interesting when we first arrived. It was overcast and the wintry landscape was hardly welcoming. We took a conveniently situated bus into the city center where our AirBnB was located and as we drove through the scenery, it looked very similar to the states. Similar trees, similar dilapidated structures surrounded by barbed wire (as if anyone would want to break in to a barely-standing building anyway), and the only color provided by flashy advertisements.

We took the tube and were alarmed to see a subway car that had been taken right out of 60’s documentary about Queens.

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As we got into the city, the three of us went silent. It looked like North Philadelphia. Sheer, imposing facades of buildings, wide, unkempt streets with cars that had seen a great deal of life, and uninviting storefronts. We got off the bus and began walking in the direction Google Maps bade us and stayed close together.

We finally arrived at our AirBnB, giving a meek hello to the cheery owner. He was the brightest thing we’d seen all day. He let us into the apartment and we heaved a sigh of relief. It was delightful. He called it his ‘purple property’-presumably because he had a rainbow of properties elsewhere. It was decorated with soft purple decor, complete with fake lavender and a tall, airy ceiling. To our immense surprise, in a corner of the room was a mini-landing at the top of a scary-looking set of stairs with a mattress pallet … it was like a treehouse!

Our view looked out the opposite way we had come and we saw a lovely little park, buzzing with children on scooters and couples walking. We looked at each other and smiled, heartened.

So, we ventured out to see what Budapest was all about. We took an enchanting walk along the Danube and were left breathless by Budapest in the golden hour. Take a look:

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A few terrible, but obligatory jokes about being hung(a)ry later, we got dinner at a night market spot: a lovely meal of chicken paprikash that practically fell off the bone and the single most bizarre thing I’ve eaten on this trip yet (which isn’t saying much), spaetzle. Now maybe you’ve heard of this before … I have not and expected pasta or maybe potato. I got neither. I got an egg noodle. The consistency weirded me and my two companions out. But, overall, it was an enjoyable meal.

Next up, we explored our classical sides by going to the Hungarian State Opera to see Andrea Chénier, a rare, but compelling story about the French Revolution. So, I have never heard what I’d call a professional, mature, classical tenor in person … Wow. Wow, wow. Now I get why they’re paid the big bucks. There are very few things more exciting to hear. Here are the pictures from the evening:

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The next day, I woke up and had quite the start to my day.

Remember those scary steps I mentioned? Yes, well, I’m not a terribly clumsy person, which means I don’t fall. I trip, stumble, look generally awkward, but I rarely end up on my ass.

I was no match for these stairs.

No sooner had I woken up and rubbed the sleep from my eyes, I found myself ba-bumping down the steep wooden stairs in my socks, grappling onto the railing with my left arm for what seemed like dear life. I sat, stunned, at the base of the stairs. Emily and Sarah stared at me, frozen, with their hands over their mouths. I wish I could say we laughed, but the sickening sound of my ankles and butt hitting each wooden step echoed in our minds.

I was really fine. The most grievous injury was a wicked brush burn to the tender flesh of my forearm. I still have a nasty-looking scab (two weeks later) … you should see the other guy.

Having started the day right, we stopped by this ADORABLE and very AFFORDABLE cafe we’d passed the night before for some sustenance to get us up the mini-mountain we had planned to scale. At the top was a beautiful monument devoted to Budapest’s history, which I’ll explain in a bit. We got a beautiful panorama of the city (both Buda and Pest) and the River Danube. Next, we visited the baths, a collection of natural springs. Emily and I bathed, lounged, and practiced our sloth skills and Sarah splurged on a massage. Finally, we ended our Budapest experience by going to a Hungarian restaurant, Drum Cafe, and tried chicken goulash. I will give you my verdict: yes.

Our last few hours in Budapest were in the wee hours of the next morning when we had to wake up for an impossibly early flight. We walked about the city at close to 5 AM and encountered people who were still roaming from the festivities of the night before. Blessed with the luck of passing an open bakery, we exhausted the remainder of our Hungarian Forints on pastries, and if that isn’t the theme of the whole weekend, I don’t know what is.

We boarded the plane to Berlin inspired, relaxed, and a bit heavier for carbs.

Conclusions: Unfortunately, Hungary’s economy is fairly weak and as we traversed the city, we discovered the truth of its previous ‘second-world’ classification. We saw quite plainly a nation just getting its bearings after finally freeing itself from the colonization of other countries. First, it had been under the thumb of Nazi Germany; then directly after liberating itself from the Nazis, Hungary found itself being incorporated into the Soviet Union bloc. After many failed attempts at ousting the Russians, they finally were completely free of foreign influence in 1991.

You can see that in the streets. It’s a subdued nation, but not in the way the English are subdued … it seems to have an undercurrent of stoicism, mistrust, and cynicism. But, I was a guest for a very short time, so it’s entirely possible I’ve simply projected my own interpretation onto it.

Another observation (one that I’m fairly certain I haven’t projected anywhere) is regarding gender relations. Quite a few men in Budapest were intimidating. One of the first things I noticed upon coming to London was that if men did look me up and down, they were discreet about it, and if I caught them, they’d look right away. Not so in Budapest. I would find them eyeing me or my friends with a kind of predatory interest and if we made eye-contact, he would meet my eyes evenly, daring me to action. Of course, he would always win.

These two observations of Hungary, although extremely cursory, placed it in the lower percentile of my favorite cities. However, I certainly didn’t regret the trip and, in fact, loved the company.

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To be continued …

Feeling a bit Hungary,

Katie H.

(Sorry not sorry.)

Them VS U.S.

Am I being selfish if I talk about how selfish I am?

We went to the Houses of Parliament today. Looking up at Big Ben from directly below, I felt a twinge of anger at the deception … he was not very big at all. Although, it’s totally a teachable moment: if someone has to assure you of its size, it will not live up to expectations. Just saying.

The Studiers Abroad were thoroughly wanded for metal and any other suspicious materials and then ushered into a great room, with bleached stones, high hammer-beam ceiling with gorgeous, deep British oak, and delicate stained glass windows. From there, we met Doris, our delightfully bookish docent with one of many quirks being to jab her glasses back up her nose periodically.

She took us through the many elaborate and ornately decorated rooms, most of which served absolutely no purpose at all other than for the Queen to walk through, and none of which we were able to photograph. We came to the House of Lords and examined its functions, then moved to the House of Commons; she quite masterfully compared and contrasted the British system of government to the American, noting when we borrowed British ideas and when we chucked them into Boston harbor.

All throughout this hour and a half, I could only think of how the American government works (or … doesn’t) as compared to the British. I acknowledged that it was rather selfish of me to think only of how my situation compares to the new one I’m observing, rather than first learning about another before comparing. I noticed it was quite an intense, knee-jerk reaction to need to draw a conclusion about where I stand in the world as soon as possible. This need might make sense … if I didn’t constantly find my situation to be lacking. In every respect, I preferred the British way of government.

The monarchy is extremely functional as a figurehead to set an example for the public, as a brand that exponentially earns money  for its constituency, and as a Head of State, to deal with the pageantry of international relations, rather than forcing the Head of Government to do so.

The House of Commons is, from what I can see, a functional group of elected officials who make laws on behalf of their electorates. The officials in this house have a rule that if electors arrive in the lobby of the House of Commons, they can talk with a clerk there and submit their names to speak with their respective official. If the official is in the building, he or she must go down to speak with them about whatever political matter the elector wishes to discuss; if they are not in the building, he or she must contact them as soon as possible and establish a time or way they can meet. How cool is that. This lobby of the House of Commons, where all electors have a public and face-to-face relationship with their officials, is where we get the term ‘lobbying’.

The House of Lords is also a functional idea. These are people who have either inherited a place in the House or are experts in their field who have been appointed. This House is not democratically appointed; however, their only function is to tweak and revise bills that come from the House of Commons. The House of Commons sends the Lords a bill, the Lords either review it and send it on to the Queen to sign (which she will never refuse to do), or they will send it back with edits. If the bill bounces from house to house for over twelve months, the bill is automatically put into effect, regardless of the House of Lord’s approval.

I have a very limited knowledge of how the entire British government works, but from what I saw and heard today, it seems quite successful. Of course it should be … with thousands of years of history to iron out the kinks.

But it only seemed a mirror to me. It showed me my own government and, frankly, its failings. I suppose its a young person’s point-of-view to see the flaws in the ‘institution’, but it’s the need and knowledge to make it better that makes an adult.

Don’t know if I’m there yet.

Anyway, if being abroad has taught me anything about my own nation thus far, it’s the intensely prescient veracity of Hannah Arendt’s quote about the Nazis:

“Terror can rule absolutely only over men who are isolated against each other… Therefore, one of the primary concerns of all tyrannical government is to bring this isolation about.” –Hannah Arendt, The Origins of Totalitarianism

(Read more here: https://www.brainpickings.org/2016/12/20/hannah-arendt-origins-of-totalitarianism-loneliness-isolation/)

Reflectively,

Katie H.

Here Comes the Sun

Hey. Sorry for the radio silence.

Note to self: fall in love with cloudy London first-then find your self, your home, and your heart with sunny London.

Quick recap of the past few days:

Tuesday: classes, I made rigatoni with red sauce and sausage for Colin and Sal, they loved it, it was great

Wednesday: LONG day of classes, finally found a space where we can practice for our voice lessons and play piano (yay), went to the local pub (Flynn’s) with a bunch of friends

Thursday: field trip to the British Library and found that we couldn’t see much without a pass, but did see original manuscripts from Jane Austen and the Beatles, then went to an organized night of trivia, which didn’t live up to expectations

Friday: had a few workshops about maximizing our weekend travels to other countries, then had high tea at the British Museum! That was truly a blast. The tea and small cakes and sandwiches were absolutely delicious and delightful to discover. Afterwards, Sal and I wandered round scoping out the British Museum … we happened across the Rosetta Stone, casually.

Today: Emily and I woke up very late for the first time in a long time, which felt spectacular. We then took a sojourn to Portobello market and man, oh man, was that a good decision. First of all, today was the first day of near constant sun in a long time and I felt myself open and relax like some kind of two-legged flower. Strolling along Portobello street, we heard, smelled, and saw enough to satiate the week’s hunger for sun and spiritual nutrition. I stopped and purchased a lovely leather cuff bracelet (which I’ve been seeking for quite a long time) from a vendor with an humble manner and sweet smile; it must have been just a scrap from his larger, much more delicate and impressive leather works, because it was only a pound and of very good quality!

Emily couldn’t resist the tantalizing smells of massive vats of chicken and seafood paella cooking in a stall, so she bought an order of chicken. I stood by, starting staring contests with the roasting prawns.

I saw a passing lady with a glistening, oversized sausage sandwich and vowed to have one of my very own. We saw a cast iron vat of roasting sausages and potatoes, and immediately got in the queue. The lady who was serving was working quickly, with perhaps six words of English in her back pocket, so didn’t understand when I asked for no cheese in an effort to save a pound. She delicately placed two sticks of fried cheese on top of the heaping and steaming mound of golden onions, herbed potatoes, and sizzling, deep red chorizo sausage like it was Jenga. I swallowed my dismay and forked over my coin.

That was the right thing to do.

Biting into the fried cheese, I went weak in the knees. That foodgasm was only complimented by the one given me by the delectably greasy and spicy chorizo sausage. Quite content and practically doing a happy food dance down the street, Emily and I stepped back into the sun from the shelter of the tent.

We examined stalls of crafted silver, antiques, scarves and other alpaca products, jewelry, car and soldier figurines, produce, baked goods, flowers, all the things you’d expect of a market. We listened to countless languages wafting through the sunny, fragrant air. People considered us and we considered them.

A giggling girl, speaking an Asian language, eyed my sausage, just as I eyed her sandwich, then looked at me, just as I looked at her. We both smiled, a little embarrassed. We moved on, for all I know, never to speak again.

A man speaking Spanish to his family shoulder-checked Emily accidentally and they both wheeled to face one another. In a hiccup of a heartbeat, he gazed at her, considered, then finally blurted, “Excuse me.” She said in tandem, in his language, “Excusa me.” They smiled, enjoying the confusion, and parted.

We stayed for the length of the afternoon, then took the tube home. Walking along the city streets in the sun that just nearly held the warmth of spring, I felt a near-illegal kind of euphoria.

The city’s charm under overcast skies is one thing. The whites and greys of its architecture are made hypnotically flat by the dispersed light, and the forest green foliage and glossy wrought-iron of gates, poles, and windows are deepened in contrast. The melancholy, subdued tones of greenery, blue water, and grey skies encompass what one thinks of the British Isles. The presently naked trees are stark and while bare of life, seem to hum with a secret of spring.

But under the golden afternoon sun … colors you never knew were there come out from the woodwork, like paint bleeding from a linen canvas. Fittingly, people emerge from their houses like sleepy hibernators and take to parks, buses, avenues, their faces as bright as the day. Sunny London belongs to the tottering children, murmuring couples, and scampering dogs. Flowers burst open, the steadfast optimists among us. Birds swoop down from their elevated branches, to inspect the warmed soil. Clouds seem kinder.

And here, I’ve pictures to prove it.

Thanks for listening to my ramblings. Wish you were here.

Contentedly,

Katie H.

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In Transit

There are times when I think of 24 hours as a much too generous gift.

Today was not one of those days.

I suppose I never realized how fortunate I am to have lived in such relatively close proximity to all the places in my life, and how precious little of my time, until now, has been spent in transit. My next move will be to time how long it takes us to get to classes, but in the mean time, you’ll have to take my word for it … it’s a very long haul.

Luckily, we only take one tube, but we walk all over creation in the meantime. Particularly the walk to our voice teacher’s flat is a haul. A lovely walk, but a haul.

Once there, however, I think I have a lot to learn and gain from our teacher. She has a wealth of experience in the business, quite an impressive Rolodex of contacts and friends, and a knowledge of the European way of art and theater. Already, she’s given me some grand ideas about what an artist’s life could look like this side of the pond, none of which had occurred to me before, but all of which sound absolutely thrilling and fulfilling. She’s helped me make sense of where I fall in the venn diagrams of overlapping fields, in that I sit somewhere in between the circles of musical theater, classical theater, and opera; utilizing that image, she helped me realize those areas are, in fact, very easy to combine, particularly here in Europe where they value the latter two perhaps a bit more than America does. Having never truly considered being An American in London (or any other major European city), the thought gave me some tingles.

As helpful as she was, she was also long-winded. I ended up leaving her flat about 20 minutes after the hour, having no access to a clock, so had to use my long legs for something good and beat feet back to the RADA (yes, RADA!!) studio that we’re using for our acting class. What would normally be a fifteen to twenty minute walk had to be a ten minute one.

Challenge accepted.

Almost. I walked to the wrong facilities, problem #1. Had to go around two blocks to get to the right one. Problem #2 … okay, Londoners. Here’s the deal. In the US, we drive on the right, walk on the right, ride escalators on the right, etc. You can’t seem to make up your mind! You drive on the left, but go up escalators on the right, and walk dead center of the sidewalks. I have do-si-doed with far too many of you in just four days. It’s been fun, but I did almost shoulder-check a lot of people, which I don’t think would have gone over very well.

Finally, I got to my class with a professor who has worked with the RSC (what.), the Globe (what.), and countless other professional theaters in London (what.). Quite a bit happened during that class, but to sum it up, I am really excited.

After that, the majority of us headed back on the tube.

A larger thought of today that I’d like to work through with you all, if that’s alright … I’ve been thinking recently about how much of a gift it is to live in a constant state of ‘okay’. I can count on just two hands the number of people in my life that exist in a constant state of ‘okay’. They’re okay with the people around them, their life, where they’re going, and most of all with themselves. When an inconvenience comes along, when something doesn’t live up to their expectations, when someone disappoints or angers them, they greet it all with, ‘It’ll be okay and so will I’.

Of course, they have their moments of anger, sadness, grief, terror, etc., but they will eventually come back to ‘okay’.

It’s just a simple philosophy, but one that I personally find infectious. Now that I’ve experienced people that I admire with that outlook, I more easily notice others that have the opposite. I don’t mean to belittle, but they must lead such angst-ridden lives when everything is a problem or a reason to complain.

I just wonder where those ‘okay’ people learned it from. Did they get it from their parents or teachers? Did they imitate someone else, like I am trying to do? What’s the best way to pass it on? Does it come with age, and I just have to wait?

Anyway, folks, that’s all I got for today. Me and Em made a trip to a fish market down the avenue and I treated myself to my first London meat pie of steak and onions … heaven. Emily got a GINORMOUS cone of chips, which I’m sure she’ll show you. Content and perhaps a few grams of saturated fats heavier, I thank you for listening to my ramblings.

Have a good evening, everyone!

Thoughtfully,

Katie H.