01
Sep

Living like Romans?

All the rush and hype of arriving in Rome has definitely settled down now that we’ve been here for three weeks. You’re preparing, packing, planning, chatting, and imagining, and then, all of sudden, you arrive. You step outside the airport doors and find yourself sitting next to taxi driver who can’t speak english and is taking you to your new home. And that’s it. From there life just becomes normal again. Well, a new normal, that is. I may come from an Italian American family, but as hard as this is for me to admit, everything in Rome was immediately very new to me (aside from traditional dishes). So, I may have a vowel at the end of my name, and I may be able to blend in if I’m not carrying my book bag and camera, but I definitely needed a crash course on how to “live like the Romans do.” And that’s exactly what all twenty-eight archies received in the first few weeks.

The whole class at  Piazzo del Popolo

The whole class at Piazza del Popolo

Living in an apartment. I live in an apartment with five other students, and we all feel pretty spoiled. Everything is great from the furniture to the air conditioning and the location in the historical center.  So far, we have struggled with Italian trash regulations, wacky washing machines, strange stoves, confused neighbors, and tiny, old fashioned elevators (we may have gotten stuck between floors one or two times).  All in all, our apartment feels like home and its great place to unwind at the end of the day.

A few of my roomies! (Cassidy, Pam, and Arnold)

A few of my roomies on our first day! (Cassidy, Pam, and Arnold)

Our living room-that couch is my favorite spot!

Our living room-that couch is my favorite spot!

Pesto gnocchi (we've been learning how to cook too)

Pesto with gnocchi (we’ve been learning how to cook too)

Gesu Church- right in front of our apartment

Gesu Church- we can this from our apartment

Italian lessons. A group of twelve students, including myself, will be taking Italian lessons for the whole semester; but for the first two weeks everyone participated in an intensive course. We learned everything from how to order in a restaurant, buy clothes, ask for directions, and most importantly, how to not act like obnoxious, touristy Americans.

My Italian section with our teacher Paolo

My Italian section with our teacher Paolo

Our first day trip! On the Saturday before classes started, our class went on a walking/bus tour of the city with our program director, Jeffrey Blanchard, and our studio director, Val Warke. It was great to walk through the sites with people who are familiar with the area and could tell us more about them then the common tourist brochure. It was a long, hot day, but definitely worth it

Strolling through the fields

Strolling through the fields

One of the churches we saw on the tour- Santa Maria in Aracoeli

One of the churches we saw on the tour- Santa Maria in Aracoeli

Our class picnic in Via Appia Antica

Our class picnic in Via Appia Antica

First week of classes. The first week of classes was exhausting. Since Fridays are reserved for field trips, our lectures meet once a week for four hours and studio meets twice a week for six. It takes a lot out of you to be in classes the entire day versus our Ithaca schedules, but our classroom is the city, so how can we complain? For instance, my first drawing class was spent sitting at the Termini (train station) and sketching for two hours followed by visiting the National Roman Museum, Palazzo Massimo alle Terme. It’s really an unbelievable experience to forgo your text books and to just look at your surroundings instead. In my first history class with Jan Gadeyne, I learned that the Rome that Americans know and love, the one with the Colosseum and the Pantheon, only makes up about ten percent of what Rome actually is. I haven’t even begun to discover that other ninety percent yet, so I know that along with my classmates, I will be surprised daily by my findings, and my classes will give me the tools to think critically about them.

The spiral staircase in Villa Medici- my first studio assignment was to visit this building and to analyze its contrsuction

The spiral staircase in Villa Medici- my first studio assignment was to visit this building and to analyze its contrsuction

History class with Jan. Here we are standing at the ruins of the Temple of Jupiter

History class with Jan. Here we are standing over the ruins of the Temple of Jupiter.

The studio's Palazzo!

The studio’s Palazzo!

Studio! Puts Milstein to shame...

The studio work area. Puts Milstein to shame…

Our first studio pin up with Val and Daniele

Our first studio pin-up with Val and Daniele

 

01
Sep

Scratching the Surface

When I first arrived in Rome, I expected to be immediately hit by a change in perspective. I expected to be hit by the culture, by the new urban landscapes, and by the sounds and sights of the city. I’ve only spent a few weeks here so far, but I am already realizing that the elegance and essence of Rome is not something that explodes suddenly when you first step into the city. It’s not something that hits you. Instead, it’s something rather comfortable & inviting, something that caresses you- something that slips effortlessly into your perspective.

Despite how old this city is, there is a freshness and newness in Rome. Every block is lined with buildings centuries old, and every street contains such deep, rich histories. The desire to explore the nooks and crannies of the city is ubiquitous, yet there is a subtle familiarity to the environment here.

My apartment is in Trastevere- a rione located just south of the Tiber river. The word itself comes from the Latin word “trans Tiberim” meaning “beyond the Tiber”.  Unlike most of the other Cornell apartments which are located in more touristy areas, Trastevere has a more local atmosphere with smaller shops and it is currently a lot less crowded than the inner city. The people in this area are very friendly, and a nearby outdoor morning market makes purchasing fresh produce very convenient.

Every morning, my friends & I cross a bridge over the Tiber River to get to studio. The full walk takes twenty minutes, but the weather is always sunny and the scenery of Rome & the river is always worth it. In a way, my morning walks to class are similar to those at Cornell- even in Ithaca, I would cross the Thurston Bridge each morning to get to Milstein Hall when I lived on North Campus. Perhaps this parallelism is something that contributes the sense of ‘subtle familiarity’ that I feel when in the city. Edbert Cheng further explored this parallelism of Ithaca and Rome in his post last semester.

The bridge over the Tiber River that we cross every day.

Photograph by Erin Soygenis.

The bridge over the Tiber River that we cross every day.

Photograph by Erin Soygenis.

The Tiber River also provides the rather comforting ability to always find my way home- it is a guide and a landmark. No matter where I am in the city, I can just follow the river back to Trastevere.

Now that classes are just beginning to start, I am starting to develop routines and understandings to further familiarize myself with Rome’s composition. I would like to be able to confidently navigate the city, but right now I still enjoy getting lost and observing the beauty and colors in every area. I have discovered that the real fun here is getting distracted by the art and history in every street corner: walking on the dark gray cobblestone and through the brown brick alleyways, enjoying how the tall buildings frame the sunny skies in the morning, and letting yourself melt into the nights lit by the warm yellow street lights. Rome has a real elegance that I am so grateful to be able to experience in such depth during these next few months. I look forward to making even more discoveries, because I know I have only scratched the surface of this exuberant and intriguing city.

Photograph by Andres Romero Pompa taken near the Piazza del Campidoglio.

Photograph by Andres Romero Pompa taken near the Piazza del Campidoglio.

Photograph taken near the Piazza del Campidoglio

Photograph by Andres Romero Pompa taken near the Piazza del Campidoglio.

 

29
Aug

Getting Lost

When I first got to Rome on August 8th, I made the plan to create a two-week itinerary that would cover all the major sites… but that quickly fell through. I decided to not have a plan and to take Rome day by day instead. As a result, I found myself getting lost. A lot. And the thing about getting lost in Rome is that you always discover something great when you do. Whether it’s a famous building you’ve seen in a textbook, a delicious pizza shop tucked in a corner, or a bustling public event, you’re bound to surprise yourself by what is at the tips of your fingers. So instead of giving you my day-to-day itinerary from my first two weeks in the city, I invite you to get lost with me and discover some of my favorite, unexpected happenings so far.

The Pantheon. Who knew that venturing merely a couple blocks from my apartment would lead me to this iconic site. I couldn’t believe my eyes when it suddenly emerged from around the corner. Stepping inside, away from of the chaos of the square, I felt like the great dome swallowed me whole. Was it the shock of being in Rome for the first day, the magnificence of the structure, or both? Regardless, I was completely swept away by its sudden appearance. Since then, I pass the Pantheon on many of my routes to and from home. Not bad for a neighbor, huh?

The Pantheon

swallowed by the dome

 Lungotevere Trastevere. This festival or “temporary village” as my Italian teacher liked to call it, is a stretch of shops, bars, restaurants, dancing, and games for the summer season and is located directly on the banks of the Tiber River (a few blocks south of my apartment).  It’s a great place to grab dinner, enjoy some local culture, and just go for a walk.  Nothing beats eating fresh fish while sitting along the river with music and the bustle of the crowd in the background.

Lungotevere Trastevere

Lungotevere Trastevere

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Lungotevere Trastevere

Lungotevere Trastevere

 Sperlonga. As I mentioned in my bio, I am a huge fan of swimming. So naturally I sought out the beach within my first week in the city. Just a 60 minute train ride away, the beach is a great escape from Rome’s heat and chaos. I went with six other classmates, and we all made quite a spectacle as a group of American students sitting among curious, sun-bathing locals. The beach was very crowded, but the ocean felt great and the local pizza was much better than the touristy targets in the city. Coming home, we missed our train to the Termini station due to traffic out of the town and ended up taking two trains and two buses just to get back-it was pretty stressful and exhilarating all at once. The beautiful beach combined with the crazy travel complication is definitely something none of us will forget.

The town

The town

Walking the shore

Walking the shore

Food! Saving the best for last, here are some of my favorite places that I have eaten at so far. I try to avoid touristy areas; the restaurants in the city center are geared towards American palettes and simply don’t compare to local places from food to atmosphere. I usually have found the best places to eat by going in more residential areas such as Trastevere, which is just across the Tiber River (Fiume Tevere). I have also made the rule for myself that I must order a different flavor of gelato every time I go because I love pistacchio so much that I could easily order it all the time. I’ve only broken this rule twice…so I think I am off to a good start!

This gelato shop, Della Palma, has 150 flavors! Enough to last me a semester. It's located just past the Pantheon.

This gelato shop, Della Palma, has 150 flavors! Enough to last me a semester. It’s located just past the Pantheon.

Crepe with nutella made fresh at Lungotevere Trastevere. Nutella is becoming one of my weaknesses!

Crepe with nutella made fresh at Lungotevere Trastevere. Nutella is becoming one of my weaknesses!

Bolognese pasta from Ristorante La Canonica in Trastevere, very delicious and no tourists (except for me, Arnold, and Cassidy).

Bolognese pasta from Ristorante La Canonica in Trastevere, very delicious and no tourists (except for me, Arnold, and Cassidy).

Ristorante La Canonica in Trastevere. Outdoor seating is very common  and enjoyable.

Ristorante La Canonica in Trastevere. Outdoor seating is very common and enjoyable.

The bread and pastry section in Antico Forno Roscioli. Right next to the pizza :)

The bread and pastry section in Antico Forno Roscioli. Right next to the pizza :)

Caprese Pizza from Antico Forno Roscioli- which is apparently one of the best places to get pizza in the city center.

Caprese Pizza from Antico Forno Roscioli- which is apparently one of the best places to get pizza in the city center.

Mango and raspberry with creme! Not as good as pistacchio, but I'm not complaining!

Mango and raspberry with creme. Not as good as pistacchio, but I’m not complaining!

 

30
May

Taking Leave

Leaving Rome was hands-down one of the hardest goodbyes I’ve ever had to muster in my life. I had grown so attached, too attached, to the eternal city, that perhaps I became a part of it. I was its ear lobe, or perhaps a knuckle, a once clumsy appendage which had learned its place in the scheme of the whole body of Rome, a part whose purpose is not revealed without its relation to the whole.

I spent my last day, appropriately, clearing my apartment, mailing things, and touring. The images began to hit me as I ventured to mail my extraneous belongings at the post office. Everything had garnered a glistening beauty—each banality of the street life became completely mesmerizing, precious, and tender with a dewy shimmer. The cobbles, the pedestrians running their course of usual errands, those tattered street posters, the leaves on trees. They all began to seep into my very being. I began to relate to everything, and everything was imbued with an even more meaningful, even more melancholy significance; the sad old Dalmatian walking among the crowds with its tail between its legs, the school children playing with the water spilling out from the nasone, the flickering of cars in pursuit  amidst the sunshine. I walked around with tears in my eyes the whole day, overwhelmed by the majesty of the streets and their fixtures, the buildings and their faces. How did I become so enveloped in this life? In this experience? Maybe I was just being silly, I thought. I probably just want to go home.

But then, I found myself taking pictures of the things I would miss. It was the way the sun came in on the windowsill in our kitchen, the particular tangle of sheets on my bed, a plant that I nourished even though it was bent on extinction. I conserved my walk home, the river, aperitivo tables. I tried to pack it all away with me, as best I could. I took long, contemplative sips from my cappuccino that morning. I didn’t tell the cashier that it was my last day. I gave my ‘buon giorno’ as usual. I teased the barista after he asked me whether my coffee today was better than yesterday’s. I left my normal tip. And just like that I exited.

By now, I recognized people on the street, and they recognized me. They had nicknames for me, they even confided in me the tiny details of their lives. I had heartfelt goodbye dinners with people I hardly knew just a few months before this day. They wrote silly autographs in my books. I gave several goodbye kisses. I had fostered a family. I was daresay even a bit eloquent in my facility with Italian. I knew the streets, I knew the life, I knew it all just enough for it to sting when I left.

Lastly, I listened. I listened to the street life, listened to the familiar swing of the elevator door as it brought me up to my apartment, the little harmonious buzz of the hinge serenading me down the hall. I mulled over the sounds of scooters frantically climbing the hill outside my house, wondering where these commuters were going, who they intended to see. I recognized the familiar staccato of Italian tongues on a short walk around the block, the rhythm of friendliness.

And like phantoms, they have followed me. They followed me to Paris and London, which are not good replacements for my Roma. I can taste the missing elements in my breakfast. My feet are unadjusted to the flat and straightforward pavement. I pick up on other native speakers, blended in with the sea of occidental and oriental languages. They fade in and out as I move about the alien streets just as I drift about, misplaced.

I’m hoping that one day the phantoms will be comfortable reminders of the wonderful things that went on. That these impressions will change me for the better. That they won’t always remain inklings of something that once was, but become the foundation for what is.

I don’t know when I will be back. I don’t know if it will be soon. But I learned more about myself and the world around me in the past six months than I have in a really long time. I don’t want to say goodbye. And I’m determined. This is not the end. Something tells me I won’t be able to keep away. So I won’t say goodbye just yet.

 

The Images:

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29
May

Running Rome

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You’ll be surprised at how good, and bad Rome can be for runners and fitness enthusiasts. I was looking up gyms I could go to in Rome months before my flight over! However, after arriving in the city- I realized the climate was warm and the city hospitable enough to make public spaces within the city my gym- I didn’t find the prices at the gyms in Centro Storico justifiable.

Low and behold, yesterday, I found (by accident of course) the perfect running route from Isola Tiberina up to Villa Borghese and back. The route hosts pull-up bars, benches for sit ups, hurdles, stairs, drinking fountains, hills, clean air, dogs, and friendly people who might run up to you and ask for a free hug.

Although the art of people dodging as you run past the Pantheon can get a bit troublesome, running through the ancient city centre is a completely different experience from walking it, with all those endorphins being released in your brain-especially on a sunny day, so you’re bound to see the city in a different light!

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29
May

Lessons for the Working Actor

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So there’s something I’ve been keeping a secret for quite a while. I’ve been weaving in and out of my schedules, traveling to the unseen and the forbidden. I’m making a movie. Yes, I’m making a movie with two Italian directors.  I’ve shot about two weeks’ worth of footage already in the countryside, amidst abandoned churches and atop the Vittorio Emanuele monument. It started with a fortuitous trip to Termini Station with my drawing class. Sitting above the noise making impressions of passersby in my moleskine, I spotted two men peeping at me between snippets of conversation, making periodic eye contact. Equipped with neglected suitcases whose contents were chimerical in nature, they had been there all day, waiting for someone to come into view. And they happened upon me, or I upon them. After a long debriefing, a few auditions and emails bounced back and forth, I became one of the curios in their cabinet of humanistic stories.

vittorio emmanuelethe rig

Filming hasn’t been easy. Although the movie is narrated, which means I don’t have any lines to memorize, it’s still hard to fit all the traveling and action into my school schedule. Weekends and audited classes were sacrificed in order to pursue my indie dreams. Because the movie’s an indie and the budget is virtually null, we do a lot of rogue shooting with small rigs. Making art certainly isn’t free, expression is gauged by permit after permit, request after painstakingly humble request. What I gained were places I’d never see, aspects of life I’d never imagine, characters who without my new-found connections could not reveal themselves to me. I got to hone my Italian in the company of exclusive speakers, but I also got to explore forgotten aspects of the Italian countryside—those places riddled with stories of Italian contemporary culture between shards of stained glass and blades of grass. Most of all this film has brought me the consciousness that comes with being on screen—the kind of attention to the details and the potentiality of each moment for a cinematic richness that speaks beyond images and transports the viewer through experiences. And a chance to connect with other actors, namely one Hal Yamanouchi, whose vast knowledge and guru like tranquility gave me the strength to tackle some particularly tough shoots. Never did I imagine leaving New York that I would ever find acting work while I was here, but it turned out to the be the opportunity of a lifetime, let alone the chance to become part of a new art movement.

 

tarkovskij shots

 

if you’re interested in sampling their previous work, I’ve left their last film trailer here:

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=bR9iMpF0p7g

 

29
May

“So Long, See You Tomorrow” – Arrivederci, Rome

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Group Photo at Caprarola, Photo Courtesy of Michael Raspuzzi, Jr.

In the waning twilight hours, I hastily packed my bags and cleaned my room. As I left the apartment, a thin layer of charcoal still blanketed the floor, remnants from finishing some final drawings the night before. At half past five, I dragged three full suitcases along Via Trastevere—past the now-notorious Porta Portese studio site, the Conad grocery store, and Istanbul Kebab—and met some friends at the taxi stand. A layover in London, a flyover of downtown Chicago, and some twelve hours later, I had left the ancient Roman arches for the Gateway Arch. All of a sudden I was home, and my adventure in Rome—and Europe—has come to an end.

My last couple weeks in Rome were a feverish blur. Metaphorically, I worked “feverishly” to finish my studio project for review. Literally, though, I actually spent a feverish night at the Roma Emergency Room for stomach infection, probably an unfortunate side effect from the former and some bad fish. Despite all this, I still had fun here and there. A “last hurrah” field trip to Caprarola and Bomarzo; one awesome night of clubbing with the Smolyn gang; an all-nighter adventure at the Pamphili Palace; a lazy afternoon nap on Tiber Island; and a metric ton of curry and gelato for dinner on my last night. Honestly, I won’t remember much of the stomach fever or the studio fevers—just all the good times in between.

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Night out with the Smolyn gang, Photo Courtesy of Angela Liim

Which reminds me: these past four-and-a-half months have been all about the adventures I had—and lessons learned—outside studio. Looking back, studio gave me a Roman perspective on architecture, as well as some valuable lessons in urban mapping. But everything else was what made it real, and what made architecture real. There is the unbelievable gravity of history—and two millennia of architecture—on the ridge overlooking Herculaneum. Then there are the ghosts and monsters of the Renaissance, lurking in the arcades of Palazzo Massimo and the grounds of Bomarzo. There is the frigid expanse of the Venetian lagoon, beyond the Doge’s Palace and the settlements of Giudecca. And finally there are the views of Rome—from the Janiculum, the Aventine Hill, the Castel Sant’Angelo, the Vittoriano, and the top floor of Dandolo 12—that reminds you, architecture can be a glorious symphony of the human imagination.

Herculaneum

Overlooking Herculaneum, Photo Courtesy of Angela Carbone

 

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Lisa at Venice, Photo Courtesy of Kevin Jin He/Jimmy Chen

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Visit to Caprarola, Photo by Kevin Jin He/Jimmy Chen

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Venetian Lagoon from the Giudecca, Photo by Kevin Jin He/Jimmy Chen

“Stepping outside” was one of many lessons of the semester. Another, and more important one, was “make a choice.” For my studio review, critics complained that I attempted to develop five projects at the same time, when instead I should just follow through with one idea. This valuable studio suggestion also applies to life; picking between chocolate and vanilla gelato, deciding to visit Denmark, or choosing a summer work opportunity should never be an excruciating, life-and-death choice. When it comes down to it, I should always choose an option, go with it, live it up, and have no regrets.

There is life, then there is drawing. Like neoclassical architects rediscovering all-antica in Italy, I rediscovered sketching during my stay in Rome. Since attending Cornell three years ago, my sketchbook had taken an extended hiatus; I gave up recordings of daily life for abstract plans and sections. On that first visit to Herculaneum, however, I felt inspired again. Perhaps it was the layering the of ruins, or the Miyazaki-esque cerulean sky. Maybe it was Jan Gadeyne’s inspiring narrations, or the memory of Piranesi’s breathtaking etchings. Probably, though, inspiration came from experiencing a little bit of everything, and I am confident the rest of classmates were inspired as well.

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Nils drawing. Photo courtesy of Kevin Jin He/Jimmy Chen

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Gosia drawing. Photo Courtesy of Kevin Jin He/Jimmy Chen

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Cole drawing. Photo Courtesy of Kevin Jin He/Jimmy Chen

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Everyone drawing at the Aldo Rossi school. Photo Courtesy of Kevin Jin He/Jimmy Chen

Yes, there were a lot of places and sights I missed: I never went to Spain, and I gave up a visit to Paris for a trip to London. But I am not upset. This was Cornell in Rome, after all; I would never exchange a night of cooking fancy dinners with my apartment mates, or a midnight stroll through the streets of Trastevere, for another experience. Now, I have more excuses to return to Europe.

One thing I will miss? Spending time with the most talented group of people I know. Especially during the pasta nights.

Smiling in a group

Photo courtesy of Kevin Jin He/Jimmy Chen

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Photo Courtesy of Kevin Jin He/Jimmy Chen

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Photo courtesy of Kevin Jin He/Jimmy Chen

Lucia Lee

Photo courtesy of Kevin Jin He/Jimmy Chen

The adventure continues. On my flight’s final descent into O’Hare airport, I looked out the window. Below me was the vast blue expanse of Lake Michigan. On the horizon, an impressive collection of supertall skyscrapers greeted my return to America—and the Windy City. The lessons of Rome are now past, and a new destiny awaits.

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From the streets of Rome… Photo courtesy of Kevin Jin He/Jimmy Chen

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…To the shores of the Windy City. Photo courtesy of Author.

This is Umberto signing off. To Rome: So long, see you tomorrow*.

*Note: This is also the title of the latest album by English indie band Bombay Bicycle Club. Tomorrow means “in the near future.”

05
May

Finally getting outside of the box

I experienced culture shock, or the closest thing to it. It was bizarre because it was so close to where I am right now, geographically. Southern Germany is not too far from Italy. But arriving in Basel, en route to Freiburg, I was already rattling in my cushy microfiber VW bench seat. Even the car, in its pristine factory form equipped with rare bottles of still water and deluxe carpets, was alienating a bit. We sped off on the autobahn, and before I arrived at the row house perched in the valley separating the black forest, I had already been in three countries.

I was stationed in the city of Freiburg. It’s really surprising to see that the residents here all know the facts about their town (e.g. there are 200,000 residents, the local crops and their respective seasons, the complete building history of their town church) Little streams strung together the city and provided a path through which I could learn more. More about its rigorous structure, its exposed lumber beams, its meticulousness.

Everyone in Freiburg rides a bike. You can’t live in Freiburg and not have one, or dare I say not know how to ride one. I took the commuter route through the countryside into the city center, and I probably saw at least 200 people with their children, spouses, and dogs whisk by on bicycles. Freiburg’s openness and wide city streets  lends itself well to the bike traffic, but if you pay close attention, you realize that cars are not allowed within the city. Seen often in Italian cities to reduce the cramped and polluted feel of medieval towns, the relocation of cars to outside the city center seems to be motivated more by pride, and less by disdain of the age of the motor vehicle. The automobile has its place on the elegantly crafted straight shots through the rest of the country.

The culture is sumptuously rich—with a knack for nature. I definitely saw more fresh, homegrown produce in Germany than anywhere else in Italy. This is probably the greenest place I’ve been, a kind of attainable utopia without the foibles of big brother (not that there are fewer or looser laws regulating the pristine land here!). The dinner table may be ridden with dense bread rolls, potatoes, and creamy Spaetzle with veal, but the cooking’s so good it’s all guilt free. And you can’t forget the unveiling of the nacreous, white asparagus glistening behind its steamy veils, whose complete shadowy immersion under white Tyvek ends with this ripe, show-stealing appearance on your platter. Popping in and out of the steamy town of Ronchamp, spending time in the chapel of light on a foggy day, and the fissured city known as Staufen, I realized how interconnected Europe can be both physically and culturally, while being totally different. And I got to see how a green city, a sustainable city, could actually work. How to retrofit or adapt this model to existing cities would be the real issue. But it was truly inspiring to see this kind of health, beauty, and efficiency.

 

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02
May

Random Classes

02
May

Caprarola, Bagnaia, Bomarzo