Amsterdam Redux

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Going through my harddrive and found hundreds of photographs I had not previously thought worthy of keeping.

Taking thousands of photographs a year means that I get a free ride down skewed memory lane, and yesterday morning I got one- the sunshine, smells, and crowded streets of Amsterdam. Emily’s face when I insisted on photographing her again and again. The bright coats and hairstyles, sturdy boots and terrifyingly fast bicyclists.

I would write more but I’ve got so much work on my plate it seems foolish to continue reminiscing- for now.

 

Palermo, mi manchi.

6223903220_f496024fd0_b6223898176_ec30d30067_bI’ve been reading the Inspector Montalbano series by Andrea Camilleri. These books take place in Sicily, in Catania, outside Palermo, where the clever, savvy, well-fed Police Inspector navigates working in southern Italy. The descriptions of the food he eats alone makes reading the books worthwhile, and they’ve taken me down memory lane quite a bit recently.

There’s one passage where he takes his lover to the Vucciria market (she’s from Genoa, up North) while they stay in Palermo and it brought me right back to walking through and smelling all the fresh fish, sea water, blood and flesh of newly slaughtered animali, fruits and vegetables, all mingling together, while hearing shouts of prices in Sicilian and people arguing, with slick, wet stone streets full of people not paying attention meandering, looking for ingredients or a meal. A marvelous assault on the senses.

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I remember when Exa and I bought some enormous fragole and blood-red ciliegi, or strawberries and cherries, in the Vucciria, from a man who teased us for our passable Italian and gave us DVD’s of him singing songs- I still have the DVD somewhere tucked away. We ate our delicious meal on the balcony of our hostel, fat and happy.

Palermo itself an assault on the senses, visual included. It’s a mishmash of every architectural style all together- one moment you’re in a Baroque church, and the next a Fascist, morbid looking building is around the corner, while down the next block a Greek-style building proudly stands as the neighbor to a Norman-influenced structure. Sicilian itself is a gorgeously harsh dialect (or language- we could discuss this point all day), with Greek and Arabic roots woven in, and if your Italian is not very good, Sicilian will take you for a ride. (We rode the struggle bus the whole time).

The thing I do remember most were the epic meals Exa and I consumed. They will never be forgotten. We ate arancini, which are delicious rice balls full of meat and vegetables about the size of a fist. We had slightly bitter hot chocolate in tiny cafes, and ate at the same trattoria three nights in a row, splitting un mezzo litro di vino rosso every evening (Palermo at night for the two of us was a bit daunting and the trattoria was close by).

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We stayed at a brightly lit, nicely located hostel run by a fiercely caring woman whose name I sadly don’t recall, in a room that was sparse with high ceilings. Outside our window was a courtyard with beautiful orange trees and lines full of laundry. The first night, Exa and I were very, very lost deep in Palermo when we arrived to the city with our packs on our backs, and we got phone calls from this wonderful woman on my cheap phone, frantic and telling us that we were quite stupid, to get to her soon, to be safe, because surely we would end up in a no good situation being silly American girls, who likely have no common sense. (We eventually got a map from a hotel lobby and found our way there without incident).

When we went to a museo, everybody assumed we were from Alemania- Germany- and that was why our Italian was so funny. We said, yes, siamo tedeschi, and quietly made up fake German-ish names to go by, even if it was just for a few hours. We saw gorgeous paintings, milled about in the midst of a group of schoolchildren while their teacher told them about the art. I lost a part of my heart to the most gorgeous fresco, Trionfo della Morte (Triumph of Death), which was the most fantastical example of Italian Gothic art I’d ever seen- it took up a whole wall, and the museum was very caring in placing it so that you could climb a set of stairs and look at it from a second story as well as from the floor. It was in poor shape, but the skeleton horse and it’s rattled-bones rider will never leave my mind.

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For me, Palermo was very intimidating. Mind you, this is from a girl who lived in clean, orderly Ticino, Switzerland and grew up in quiet, rural Montana. Palermo was loud, it felt disorganized, and it felt like it had a film of age, but it was also utterly entrancing. Having been a major stop and trading outpost, it’s hosted the British, the Greeks, the Arabs, the Normans, and has been a beautiful mosaic of cultures and influences. Because Italy didn’t become a unified nation until the Risorgimento in the mid-19th century many parts of Italy feel like puzzle pieces in that they are all very different. Milan and Palermo, Rome and Florence, Genoa and Calabria, every city and region has its own wonderful histories. For somebody not used to so many energies, Palermo was an adventure in the best sense. (We also did happen to see a Communist rally that a man in a Superman suit marched into outside a mall. Ah, what oddness.)

In short, if anybody wants to take a trip to Sicily, please let me know. I’ll brush up on my Italian and we can eat to our hearts delight.

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Scrambling onward

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Another blessedly cloudy day.
I spent some of it quite nervous. I meandered down a steep staircase to the beach and saw somebody dart along the rocks with ease. I hadn’t ever really walked on the rocks that border the strait before, and decided to give it a go. How hard can it be?

Turns out, in some places it was quite steep, slick, and nerve-wracking. It didn’t help I was toting around my camera and heavy bag with lenses in it. Several times I thought I should turn back but the man I’d seen hadn’t turned around, so why should I? (Because you have terrible, injury-riddled ankles. Because you have no sense of balance. Because you are accident prone.)

Eventually I decided to just sit on some of the jutting rocks and watch the strait. Sea ducks dove and paddled in front of me, and massive tankers quietly made their way in the distance. A good beginning to a Saturday.

 

 

Naturalia Tuesdays

I woke up after finally having what I would consider a good night of sleep. I have been tossing and turning for several days, experiencing odd, stressful dreams and awful fits of just lying on my back, seeing the lights of cars come in through the blinds.

This morning I walked a familiar path that follows the Strait and looks over it to Port Angeles. This morning I was able to see not only America but the magnificent Olympic mountain range, pink in the morning and jutting up so far away. The fact that I can look at my home country and yet feel so distant is darkly hilarious.

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There were quite a few crows out this morning. It was cloudy and dark, feeling much earlier than it actually was. I kept my headphones out this morning- there were too many songbirds hidden in the bushes that kept making beautiful sounds.

The seabirds here are amazing. I only have a prime lens on me at all times, but I think it’s time to hoist the behemoth, awesome zoom lens that Helen, a family friend who lives in the Netherlands, generously gifted me. The birds here on the Strait are too colorful and interesting to be ignored, but they are skittish and stay far from shore. If I get enough work done today I might go out tomorrow morning and make pictures of their oceanic cavorting.

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This morning geology and garbage alike caught my eye. I mostly walk on muddy or asphalt covered paths but this morning I found myself collecting garbage that had welled into some of the holes in the multi-colored, exquisite rocks along the shore. My cynicism towards humanity swells into a massive crescendo in my head when I see Pepsi cans and cigarette butts and pieces of Styrofoam (which doesn’t decay in landfills for over 1,000 years, curse it’s artificial structure) littering gorgeous granite and sharing space with seaweed and lichen. We are, frankly, vile creatures. We may bemoan pigeons and seagulls as “rats with wings” yet we, really, are just rats with opposable thumbs and large brains. The fact that we find other animals disgusting is ironic.

Regardless, I had a great time. When it’s cloudy, which is most of the time here, my eyes can appreciate color better, and the muted greens, purples, reds, and lovely black and browns all bounced out today, lush and inviting. I even admired the fearsome, dense thorn bushes that crowd on the cliffs above the sea. I finished my walk by hopping on a bus to campus to begin attacking the never ending readings that underline most days, feeling ready for any and all dense prose, for I had been invigorated by all the quiet flora and fauna around me.

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Oh to be back.

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I don’t have many words to say about these photographs. They’re personal momentos to good days. Maybe I’ll write more some other time and reflect on what they mean but all that they mean, to me, right now, are spaces I shared with people I care deeply about. Sitting here in my apartment alone with a glass of wine making dinner, I would give so much to be making this meal with them.

 

On feeling like I shouldn’t be here.

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It’s the beginning of my second semester in grad school and I sit here in the library on my 3rd hour of perusing documents to analyze for an assignment, having yet to find one that fits the rubric. I’m frustrated and feeling foolish.

I feel so inadequate here. I feel like it was a fluke that I was accepted into this MA program. I feel like I just don’t “get it” whatever the hell “it” is. I’m surrounded by bright, rapt, razor sharp people who seem to have it together, and even if it’s just an illusion they put on I can’t seem to find my way to put on such a face. Hand me a mask, will you?

I know I am smart. I am hyper-capable and creative and full of energy. This is not to tear apart the awesomeness that I possess already. I am just so, so tired of feeling like I do not belong at all in this program. It’s exhausting feeling like an idiot when everything I’ve ever done in life has told me that I’m not an idiot, whatever mistakes I’ve made I can learn from, that I am resilient.

This will pass. It will get better. I am staying on top of my readings and assignments, and trying to think in new and critical ways. Sometimes, though, apparently all you can do is sob quietly in a cubicle on the 3rd floor of the library. Sorry to all who heard me.