Thursday, July 25, 2013

roma (!)

I am in Rome! The city of sweltering heat and old things and sunny rains. I really like it. The landscape and context make me feel small and infinite at the same time. 

Every panorama here feels like a postcard, but the sort that Antonioni or Fellini would send. A few days ago, I was walking near the Pantheon and a row of counterfeit bag sellers were busted by a group of undercover police officers. At the exact same time, an entire group of grown men threw armfuls of faux Gucci and Hermes bags into the air and ran in all different directions. It was incredible--seemingly choreographed if not for the screaming and aggressive brutality--because as the bags all fell from the sky in unison... it reminded me of some sort of grandiose consumerist parade, with colors and movement akin to releasing a cage of doves or a fistful of balloons.

I don't normally do food photos, but this was an amazing slice of potato and rosemary pizza.

This is perhaps my favorite part of my walk to class every morning. I am not particularly fond of the area surrounding il Colosseo--it is very crowded and not very cute and also there is no shade--but it is such a surreal place. I do miss it on some days because I periodically use the public bus system, but let me tell you, there is nothing quite like a bus in Rome during the morning commute. The number of eyes that I have seen almost clawed out rivals the content of words such as "Mississippi" and "anti-authoritarianism" (IE, at least two sets of eyes.) It is not a pleasant or comfortable experience.

I have spoken almost no English during my time here! Che strano! One week down (almost), three to go.

Sunday, July 21, 2013

more thoughts on Cambridge

It really is a lovely town. I'm not sure that I would want to live in it for longer than a few weeks at any given time, because it feels quite small, but the buildings are so beautiful and the histories of the colleges are fascinating. Last weekend, my class visited Bletchley Park and the American Cemetery in Cambridge (circa WWII), both of which were neat--particularly the former, which is the mecca of modern cryptology. A group of friends and I spent a day in London again: wandered around Shoreditch, got Greek food, wandered some more, etc. I could definitely live in London.

I am happy with my academic experience at Cambridge, though I cannot see myself doing a doctorate there. I am a huge proponent of interdisciplinary studies and cross-collaboration, and there is a remarkable amount of red tape present between departments and colleges in the British system... or at least at Cambridge. However, my professors within this program were excellent. Having the amount of discussion time with Christopher Andrew (one of the best Cold War historians there is, and current official historian for MI5) that I did was incredible, and having plenary lectures by Sir Richard Dearlove and James Pavitt was pretty great as well.

 The formal dinners were certainly interesting. The appetizer soup on Thursday had a beet base, and included gems such as "vodka jelly" and "avocado sorbet" (and who knows what else.) It was definitely not what I was expecting out of English cuisine, that's for sure.

I am always grateful for experiences like my course at Cambridge because they remind me of how friendly, inquisitive, and profound other human beings can be. My favorite thing about traveling is so often the conversations that I have along the way, and seeing how much I have grown/learned/discovered by the time that they are done. Pubs are good for that. The English are doing pubs correctly.

 And now, after much fanfare and ado, I find myself in Rome. Today is my first full day here, and so far I have successfully navigated public transport and bought groceries in Italian. I start my literature classes tomorrow. In bocca al lupo!

Sunday, July 7, 2013

Cambridge: 1

If I am not afraid of the choices that I make in life, I am not being daring enough. I would like to be surprised every day. I need to integrate more of my passion for exploring, sharing, and taking risks that I rely upon so heavily while traveling into my regular routine. I would like to be The Most Alive, and I can't help but feel that I am doing an insufficient job of that.

[Cambridge has a way of making one feel like this: inspired, but somehow constantly and irrevocably inadequate.]

There are some nights in which the heaviness of Feeling and Breathing and Past are simply too much, and you have to hold a sort of fragile vigil to remain afloat.

(It is well after 4 am, here.)

 Around campus, as these images illustrate, there are many beautiful things. What you can't see are the people--how they are willing to discuss literature with me at the pub, how they pronounce their Ts, how they impeccably match their button-ups to their suit jackets, and how passionate they are about Their Things. It is invigorating. Going into London yesterday was spectacular--because I have been before, I could really direct my energy towards appreciating the gems of traveling: people-watching, local art galleries and food, more nuanced cultural details.

The coursework is fascinating. Tomorrow, I am attending lectures on propaganda throughout the afternoon and reading a number of books at the library (for the paper that I am writing on comparative intelligence tradecraft between Soviet and US agencies during the Cold War.) We cannot sit on the grass here, so I expect to gaze at it longingly (while sipping Earl Grey tea) and to write. If I feel really adventurous, I might jump around on the lawn for a minute or two in my hiking boots. Just to show it who is boss.

It is a pretty little world to try and paint.

Saturday, July 6, 2013

Budapest (by which I mean "BudaBest")

Budapest is a city full of wonder, and anyone who tries to tell you differently is attempting to sell you a western European timeshare. I found myself regretful of the fact that I budgeted so much time for Vienna and Prague when I could have been learning Hungarian while sitting in a thermal bath.

Budapest has a rich history full of people writing over its history, which is fascinating. Somewhat ironically (given this comment,) one of my favorite parts of the city was the presence of not only one, but two fantastic exhibitions at the Museum of Fine Arts: portrait photography by Helmut Newton, and paintings/sketches by Egon Schiele (yes, again!) (yes, my point is that neither of these artists were Hungarian/affiliated with Budapest.) Also, Budapest has an excellent zoo. The sloths roam free in this gigantic sloth-forest, and you can pet them and feed them pineapples and they will look at you with their tiny, gleeful eyes and readjust their babies--which look like gangly and affectionate pot scrubbers--on their back and make their little enthusiastic sloth noises.

The above is one of many European monuments devoted to protecting the public from the plague! We saw this shortly before going to the thermal baths. Apparently bacteria love 38 degree Celsius bathing water, and so I am uncertain of the efficacy of this sculpture. Despite this, I found the thermal bath experience super soothing and not at all awkward or overpriced.

Budapest is the land of the "Ruin Pub," and given my love of deteriorating things/elderflower syrup/absurd items chained to the ceilings of commercial establishments (EX: desks, mini golf scenery, 1950s vehicles,) I was an enormous fan. Szimpla was probably my favorite bar ever. If you are ever in Budapest, go to this bar. Also, go vintage shopping. Also, take the trek up to the castle and look over the city. Also, wander around aimlessly (and bring both an umbrella and sunglasses with you.) Also, stay for a week... or just buy an apartment there. I think it is a solid investment!

Now, I am in Cambridge. Stay tuned for more tales of adventure and intrigue!

Thursday, July 4, 2013

Hooray for Bratislava!

 Unlike the majority of people with whom I have spoken who have been to Slovakia, I actually really enjoyed it. Bratislava is an interesting town. It is like a pastry with a soft, fluffy interior and slightly crunchy crust. Like it was made in the morning, and it probably would have been best eaten by early afternoon, but it is about 5:15 and you would like to wait on dinner until 6:30 and so you will reheat the coffee pot but also snack on some leftover Bratislava.

 Again, the free tour given here was invaluable. The city has a lot of grey statues with stoic faces, and I appreciated learning the context of their expressions (even though now, in retrospect, I remember very little of it.) In my opinion, Bratislava could have used more than two days (which was what we allocated.)

 Their faces! And mannerisms.

Apparently, the waiting list to be married in the blue church of Bratislava is quite long. This is because it is reminiscent of a fairy tale. I think that 80% of this phenomenon comes from the font showcased on the face of the clock. If the lettering style were completely generic, would anyone come? This design element indicates magic (or sorcery, or witchcraft, given the history of the city... the first witch was burned at the stake in 1602.) Another magic indicator: at our hostel, the local cat had kittens, and they were beautifully fuzzy.

This is an abandoned hospital immediately across the street from the blue church. As much as I enjoyed Slovakia, I think that the country could use some serious infrastructural investment. The food was glorious--they even had vegetarian spatzle--but I need more. If only they had a more impressive array of music/art at their markets... next decade?

For now: Budapest!

Monday, July 1, 2013

fashionably late Vienna post

Now that I am officially settled into my comfortable existence at Cambridge, I have returned from my brief blogging hiatus. This post is on my experience in Vienna, which was mostly wonderful, though slightly less wonderful than Prague or Budapest, and slightly more wonderful than Bratislava. I was there for about six days, all of which were filled with art and delicious food (and love, and apple strudel.)

The above is my favorite painting by Klimt, which was on display at the Leopold Museum. The star of the show though, really, was Egon Schiele. Schiele was a contemporary of Klimt... and in my opinion, the superior artist. Google him. He is excellent. The Leopold Museum in general was actually really fantastic--they were doing an exhibition on clouds and were showing Warhol's Silver Clouds in one room, which is a glorious time if you enjoy comfortable seating, pleasant conversation and helium-filled plastic silver film pillows.

During the same day, we also went to the Haus der Musik (The Music House/Museum), which had some very interesting interactive exhibits on the history of music and the study of sound. It absolutely made me wish that I hadn't dropped AP Music Theory... and that I had a greater knowledge of classical music. One of these days, I will be a composer.

I photographed this bird at the Naschmarkt, which proved to be another highlight of Vienna. While the market's usual focus is on food, it hosts one of the best flea markets that I have ever attended on Saturday mornings. I bought a small Edra typewriter ribbon box for a couple of euros at it, and it has a very happy lizard on the lid, and it is probably one of my favorite investments. It had a small ivory carving of a girl sitting in the woods nestled inside of it (by mistake,) but this is an excellent omen.

As for the food, I did get to try a few Viennese specialties. I found a restaurant that makes vegan schnitzel, which was a fascinating (and delectable) experience, and I tried a number of different apple and custard strudels (however, my loyalty to American manifestations of pie remains strong.) Figlmuller proved to be a very neat restaurant, and had the best potato salad that I have ever eaten. I drank Almdudler, which is a great herbal soda, and tried Sacher Torte, which was a remarkably anticlimactic chocolate cake.

I photographed this excellent face-and-snake plaster sculpture thing during the free Vienna walking tour. I successfully completed walking tours in Prague, Vienna, Bratislava, and Budapest during this trip (and intend on doing several in Cambridge... and perhaps even one in Rome.)  Victory for history! And art, obviously, because this facade was/is great. St. Stephen's Cathedral was another architectural marvel in Vienna, and yet another was the first mental institution, which we also visited (in contrast to the cathedral, the institution was dilapidated and creepy and cylindrical in shape.)

Wandering around north of the river in Vienna was mostly not worthwhile, with the exception of this posh crocodile couple.

Certainly one of the best decisions during my time in Vienna was going to the state opera house. Julian and I waited in line for four hours for our four euro standing room tickets to see Capriccio (and then stood for another three hours to actually watch it,) but it was absolutely worth it. Our view was epic, and even though the final aria/conclusion of Capriccio is lousy (nice try, Strauss, maybe next time), the show on the whole was definitely entertaining. Fun fact: Music in Vienna is amazing. Even the street musicians are spectacular. Hooray for music! Next up on the blog: Bratislava, Slovakia!