Category Archives: TravelBeats

Where in the world is Monica.

Jazzy Austin: Summertime

Two months has come and passed, and I’m finally feeing like things are starting to fall into place. I moved to Austin two months ago and since then I have moved into a new house, had three different roommates, worked in a restaurant, found a new job at the University of Texas, quit my job at the restaurant, landed a sweet internship with my Italian University, LdM, found an apartment for the Fall semester, started a relationship, had my heartbroken, gotten in touch with long-lost friends, figured out the bus routes, gone to museums, gone to concerts, explored Austin, done yoga, felt depressed, felt liberated, sat in more hipster coffee shops then I can count, attended church for the first time in a year, bought a vintage bike, eaten my share of Tex-Mex and started planning my travels for the upcoming year.

As much as the summer in Austin has been lonely for me (seeing since I’m a newbie in town), it has really been positive despite it all. I am starting to see that  this is where I need to be right now… and im loving watching everything fall into place.

Ever since moving here, the electric, colorful, and youthful atmosphere of Austin has put a little more jazz and soul into my life. It’s vintage appeal, funky style and abundance of music has put a little more hopeless romantic in me, a little more starving artist in me, and given me a jazzier view on life.

My life is slowly transforming into a smokey, sexy, black and white, whiskey drinkin, growling, purring whispering, classic melody, and I’m loving it.

Here’s to a year in Jazzy Austin. May it reap good friends, good times, good art and good music.

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Find pride in your story: Leaving a Legacy.

I have lived abroad for almost a year now, and in that time I have learned and discovered much about myself and about the world around me. I have seen, watched, and read so much, but out of all the great lessons I have learned in this past year, the greatest would be that, no matter what, you must be proud of who you are and where you come from. Whether you are from high society, or you are from hardships and poverty. Whether you have never had the opportunity to go to grade school, or you have a college degree. Whether you come from a dysfunctional family, or everything has been picture perfect. No matter what your story is, I have come to find that the worst thing you can do to yourself and to your image is to apologize for who you are and where you come from. Because I have discovered that you must first love and respect yourself, before you can ever expect the same from someone who grew up in a different culture, social circle, or continent than you.

When I first traveled to Europe, I remember feeling something I had never felt before: I was embarrassed of where I come from and the culture I grew up in. I was thrown into a country where Americans are not number one, cultures are different, and the opinions of who Americans are is very low. I would see American girls and boys making a fool of themselves, ignorantly talking to everyone in English, acting superior in a foreign country, and running the streets at night getting drunk and giving Americans a sexually easy reputation. I have found that Europeans think Americans are uneducated in literature, music, visual arts, and language, and this fact made all of my years of going to school and hours of studying feel so insignificant as I compared myself to the cultured Europeans. And as I learned what the stereotypes of Americans are, and specifically Texans, and I found myself ashamed because of these stereotypes. I began to walk the streets in silence just so no one would hear my English, I stopped wearing the bright colored clothes I love so much and instead reverted to wearing only blacks and neutrals so I could seem “more Italian”. I stopped smiling so much, stopped taking photos for in fear of looking like a tourist, ordered coffee how Italians order coffee, found myself taking up things that I do not enjoy, denying who I am, and all for the sake of not getting labeled as a stupid American.

Yet, as time has pasted, and as I have experienced more abroad, something has changed within me. I finally got fed up with hiding who I really am and being ashamed of where I come from just because some Americans choose to taint the American reputation. So I pulled out the bright colors, slapped on a smile and decided my goal for being abroad would not be to blend in with the Europeans and the Italians, but to own up to who I really am and where I come from. My goal is, even if it was only to changed the opinion of one person, to change someone’s ideas and mindsets of who Americans are, shatter stereotypes, surprise people in a good way, and leave a positive legacy abroad.

I have found that the most important thing to do is to be proud of yourself and where you are from. Because no matter where you go in this world, you will find people who judge you because of where you come from, your skin color, and the language you speak. But if you first respect yourself and find pride and beauty from your story and your situation, it is surprising the respect that comes to follow.

This issue of leaving a positive legacy and being proud of who you are and your background is very near to my heart. I believe that if more people acted on this instead of accepting the preconceived stereotypes given to them and their culture, the world, and all its people, would become that much more united, because everything great always starts with little actions.

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And we travel next to find ourselves.

Third times the charm.

In two week my third and last semester in beautiful Florence, Italy will begin. I will have known Italy as my home for a year by the time I finally leave Amerigo Vesppucci in May, and this thought is tragic for me… I know my heart will be broken. I don’t know what will come of me after I say goodbye to the love of my life (Florence), but I do know that this last semester will be my best yet! SO EXCITED!!!!

How do I know this?… well let me explain (hehehe)

My bags are lighter this time. Not only because I have become a pro packer 😉 , but because this time I am finally leaving that extra emotional ‘baggage’ I have totting around with me these past two semesters, behind. I am finally at peace with myself.

Third times the charm.

It’s funny… shouldn’t I be stressing out a little more about a four month long trip across the world? But I’m not. I haven’t really even thought too much about packing… and I am not stressed at all. It’s wonderful! I think it shows that awesome characteristic I have picked up in Italy: easy goes it, everything works out. 

This semester will be much different than my last two. I am no longer be living in the touristy city center. I am living 30 minutes outside of the city (near the beautiful hills of Fiesole. Hills, grass, trees, yippie!!)… basically where no one speaks English (thank god!), and I am finally living with an Italian! Not an American, not a Mexican, but a Florentine 🙂 I will also, amazingly enough, be in an the advanced Italian class (can we pause for a moment and consider how amazing this is!?!…. a year ago at this time I was getting ready for my first trip to Italy, and the only word I knew was, ciao)… as you can imagine, I feel very accomplished.

Third times the charm.

Last week I got introduced to this quote by a friend, and literally I have not stopped thinking about it:

‘We travel, initially, to lose ourselves; and we travel next to find ourselves.’

A year ago I found myself in this big new world. I left my home, and I was in wonder-lust. I was brave, but nothing could top how brave I was the next semester when I changed everything. I dropped out of school in the States and went back to Italy alone. I was no longer labeled as a TCU student, I was labeled as an independent student. I did it alone. I met people I would never have dreamed to met, and my ideas of myself, my future and my goals were definitely yo-yoed around. I initially lost myself, both in a wonderful and tragic way.

I came home… and home is a hard thing when you no longer see it as a home anymore.

Third times the charm.

This semester I am finally having the opportunity to take some studio classes. I’ll have the opportunity to define myself without that extra ‘baggage’ I’ve been carrying around for years, and I think setting myself up outside of the city will really put me right where I want to be: in real Italy! You know, shinny jackets, Hogans, cigarettes, gelled hair, small cars, the works. The next four months will be the closest to Italian I’ll ever be 😉

So heres to next semester and the beautiful hopes and dreams I see blossoming before me.

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Observing Florence: San Frediano

I once again found myself walking over the Ponte alla Carraia, but this time I cannot help but think on Mary McCarthy.

Taking us back to the year 1304 in Florence, McCarthy tells of a performance held on this very spot.

Below the bridge, a performance, which was a depiction of hell, was performed on a makeshift theatre floating on boats. The spectators, who came to view the performance, filled the bridge to capacity, and due to the overload of weight, the bridge collapsed, and the people ironically fell to their deaths.

 

As I walked along the bridge today, I for the first time, thought on a violent past instead of the beautiful, idealistic, and manipulated present of Florence.

Looking down at the water, I imagined what it must have looked like: the night sky being illuminated with fire, noise, and satanic dance, and the air being suffocated by shrikes, the sound of fire and the sudden collapse of everything falling into the water. And hundreds of years later, here I stand, walking over the Carraia, and think on their souls.

 

 

After crossing the bridge, I turned left and began walking on an unknown path, with a hopeful destination: un panino con lampredotto in Borgo San Frediano.

As I wondered a bit through the ‘most Florentine area in Florence’, I sudden knew I had arrived at my destination before I even saw it. The smell of food, pulled me around the corner, and brought me face to face with Piazza de’Nerli.

 

The piazza itself was not a particularly beautiful place. Used almost like a parking lot, and with no quaint or beautiful buildings, it was in every sense, nothing special. Yet immediately, I love it.

The piazza had clothing and jewelry stalls, filled with ugly things, but enchanting people. A cloud of old, short Italian women gossiped and shuffled around the small market.

And I could not help but smile.

 

As I reach the Lampredotto stand I approached slowly, instantly observing the fact that I was the only young woman in sight.

The stand, and its make shift dinning room was filled with only men (an intimidating factor to any woman who is trying something new).

I waited awkwardly, until I finally hear,

 

-Dimmi!

Replying, I calmly delivered my Elementary Italian,

-Posso avere un panino con lampredotto?

-Certo, con tutto?

-Si, Grazie.

 

Ffffuuuueeewwww… a successful order.

 

I watched as the man prepared my sandwich.

Slicing the bread roll in half, he piled on the lampredotto, the salsa verde and the salsa picante. Dipping the top bun in broth, he wrapped up my sandwich and presented me with my first panino con lampredotto, a seriously typical food of Florence.

I sat in the corner chair, as the best watch the men who came in and out of the stand, and commenced.

Unwrapping my sandwich, I felt like the nervous tourist looking down at her first ever bite of cow’s stomach, and I could almost feel all the Italian men around me staring in anticipation for my opinion and reaction.

 

Biting into the moist panino, it was surprising very good… something I had definitely not expected from this experience.

Funny thing was, this unidentifiable meat, its odd texture and the spicy sauce, oddly reminded me of home in Texas.

It reminded me of afternoon lunches in Mexican Taquerias, a place where you never knew exactly what you were going to get, but no matter what, you always knew it was going to be good!

 

-Questa e la mia prima volta provare un panino con lampredotto, è molto bene!

-Brava! Brava ragazza! The man pronounced to all.

-Buongiornata! Ciao ciao!

 

God my Italian is horrible! …Thank God I am in Italy where a pretty face and a smile can get you anywhere!

 

 

After a lunch of Tuscan fast food, I was in need of a café to wash down the idea and fact that cow stomach that was now sitting in my own stomach.

Walking towards the direction of Piazza Tasso, I entered the first bar I saw and order a café. The barista, a grumpy and prefect, old Italian man, made me a coffee with the most beautiful crema on top.

Looking around, and sipping my café, I enjoyed to visions of an old woman eating a sweet cake for lunch, Italian men gossiping at the bar, lottery tickets and slot machines adding cheap thrills to the atmosphere, a wall lined with colorful cigarettes and the smell of coffee drifting through the air.

For it is true, most everything I love about Italy, can and will be found in a cafe.

 

As the bells chimed 1’oclock, I started heading back to the main city center. And gratefully, I realized that sometimes only going one street, one piazza, one day, or one risk further, you can, and will eventually find yourself right where you want to be.

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Cigarette stubs and beer caps: Preconceived Italy.

Flick, Flick.

I hear the all too familiar sound of a cigarette being lit.

Before me sits two men, no older than 25, on an already littered lawn of cigarettes stubs and beer caps.

I have chosen for myself a huge tree to sit under, and this late afternoon is feeding my huger for all things green and is a much needed release from the grey of the city center.

Another friend walks over and joins the two men with tall, cold Nastro Azzuros in her hands, wearing a red linen skirt, loose top, a nose ring and bare feet. All together they cheers to the Monday afternoon light that has lit the park gold and green.

Clink, Clink.

A couple near by sits crossed legged and silently read a book together, ahh romance in Italy. And just behind me sits a young woman twirling a finger through her dread locks and writing in a journal- a journal most likely filled up with thoughts in a language that is still so foreign to me. ogni giorni, piano piano.

I remember when I first came to Italy last January. I was not quiet sure what the “Italian youth” would be like… and I still do not think I could describe them in words per-say. But as I sit here in the Giardino della Fortezza, after a day I would not mark as a good one, and I am thankfully transported by the wind, trees, and these three friends conversing, into a place that is not my own. I am a foreigner here.

The man with the tattoo under his right ear expressively thrusts himself, his hands, and his intentions forward as he passionately describes something to his friends. Using his hands as an extension of his words, and waving his hand rolled cigarette about, he is everything I have come to see as the definition of Italian youth.

Maybe grundgy could describe Italian’s style… or maybe it is just an unspoken vibe, the effortlessly cool air of being European, of being Italian, which I can never truly possess.

Flick, Flick.

Smoke rises off from the friends.

The sound of traffic and revving Vespas is muffled in the background- and if I stop, just for only a moment, close my eyes and think of nothing else except to listen, I hear the Italy I love.

I hear the wind through the leaves of the tall trees, I hear a child fussing with his mother, the old squeaking of a bicycle passing by, conversations in the language I love, the splashing and squawking of ducks on the pond, and the laughter and unanimous chiming of, Che cazzo fai!, as friends gossip and share ridiculous stories of their day.

Maybe the tell- tell stereotypes of who Italians are is no longer true. Maybe all this ‘authentic’ façade that restaurants and bakeries are giving off is just for the tourists. I think the real Italy is a lot different than the preconceived. It is something that takes time to grow on you.

“I wanna take the preconceived out from underneath your feet. We could shake it off and instead we’ll plant some seeds.” –Jack Johnson

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