Some interesting answers to the question “What facts about the United States do foreigners not believe until they come to America?” The economics of food was a popular response:
Fruit and vegetable prices, compared to fast food prices:
A bag of grapes: $6
A box of strawberries: $7
1lb tomatoes: $3
Big Mac : $1 ( I think. I don’t go to McDonalds though)
HOW DOES THAT EVEN WORK?
At the same time, there are things that you wouldn’t associate with first-world countries:
It is hard to believe that a first-world country has non-progressive ideologies, especially that hurt women (the vaginal probes and other abortion related woes). Not only that, the belief in Earth’s age, talking snake etc. Being from India, it is even harder for me to understand this. I expected US to be more progressive. It is not as crazy as back in India but still something that I think is enough to be detrimental to the progress.
Others are pleasantly surprised:
Many Indians are very surprised to find out that there are large numbers of Americans who actually love their parents and siblings and wives and children and have normal, healthy relationships with them. Our media has them convinced that all Americans are very self-centered people who throw their kids out of their homes after high school, don’t care for their parents, and divorce their spouses. And, I swear, it is literally true that many Indians do not believe that this is not true until they have been to the US and seen examples of good healthy family relationships themselves. I have had heated arguments with people who’ve never been to the US, but can give lectures on how screwed up family values in the US are.
But we could also use some improvement:
There actually is an accepted piece of clothing called a ‘wife-beater’.
Direct from Kottke.org
Mary Lee called me at nine on Saturday morning with an idea. Why don’t I come for a visit in Verona for the night? She and Doug visit Italy every year and at Christmas time we had talked about meeting here in Florence, but when it came right down to it it made more sense for me to head north to visit them and stay at the apartment they rent there. I’m glad I did!
As we were walking up a narrow street from their apartment to the Castel San Pietro it stuck me that I was already familiar with the color and mood of the city, I remembered from seeing so many of Doug’s paintings. I saw scraps of them all over. Arches, scrolls, columns, vines, washes of rich color; nothing is hidden but it all exists behind a diffused veil of light that makes it impossible to grab hold of.
In bed too late on Sunday morning I thought to myself, “get up now and get on the train otherwise you’ll never do it.” I threw off the covers and threw on my clothes and took myself on a day trip to the Picasso exhibit in Pisa.
After printing a train ticket to Pisa Centrale from one of the big green automatic ticket machines I took a few steps and validated it in the small yellow ticket stamper machine and stepped up into the second class train car. A group of four Gabriel García Márquez reading German girls dressed in Renaissance costumes rode across the aisle from me for the ninety minute journey.
Pisa is charming. I walked north in a straight line out of the train station doors to the river, stopping once to check a map taped-up in a cafe window to be sure I was heading in the right direction. When I turned around to set off again I was standing right in front of a huge and beautiful Keith Herring mural. I don’t think I have ever seen a piece of his in person. The mural in Pisa is huge, vibrant and delightful, but be careful, it’ll sneak up on you.
There were no celebrity paintings among the prints and pots in the temporary exhibit. Maybe paintings don’t travel as well or they were afraid of being stolen à la Mona, but what they had on display was impressive. I was inspired by the levels of detail and gray-scale in the essential bull lithographs and the curatorial wallop of a long hallway of vivid book illustrations dead-ending with this goat’s head. There were a huge series of beautiful copperplate etchings of minotaurs, bull fighters, Bacchanalias, and loungey women that were overwhelming in their number and variety and gave me the sense his balance of skill and production. It was definitely worth the trip.
By the time I was out of the museum it was getting dark and chilly. I headed right to the train a little ashamed that I’d return without getting a picture kicking the the tipping tower. But I’d let go of that by the time I rolled into Florence, happy at least that I’d gotten my lazy bones up and out.
Something I learned after leaving Florence for the Christmas break was that I haven’t really seen much of the touristy stuff in the city. Now that I’m back I’m committed to seeing more of what’s available here.
West from the Ponte alla Carraia, the bridge I cross every morning to school.
Gene invited me to the photography museum that houses the Fratelli Alinari collection, apparently the oldest photographic archive in the world. Along with some very beautiful old daguerreotypes and albumen prints from around the world there was a room lined in back-lit negatives and a wild collection of photographic albums, some of them huge sculptural assemblages with metal hinges, gemstone covers and painted edges.
I thought the famous Florence lion was a monkey until I was corrected.
The whole school seemed to come out for Darryl’s birthday last night, he’s the Australian everyone is pointing at in this photo. We met at a cozy, over-mosaiced wine bar, Rex, for aperitivo and a few rounds of house-rules Uno.
Aperitivo is the European answer to a bar offering free peanuts or popcorn with a beer. For five euro you can have a drink and as many rounds as you like of delicious tapas dinner. Sometimes its as simple as a few slices of salami and some very salty olives or it can be as generous as slices of pizza and lasagna, pesto pasta, fresh salads and an assortment mysterious spreadable tasty pastes. Rex serves something more on the salami and olives side of the spectrum but no one blamed Darryl for that.
Happy birthday Darryl, and thanks MC for the photo!
I spent an afternoon in Amsterdam before heading back to Firenze for the start of the second term. It started out to be a long walk around the canal path the tour boat takes you on but by two o’clock it was pouring rain. I scrambled back to the train station ducking under awnings and dashing over the low bridges everywhere.
The red light district took me by surprise. One low retail window opened onto the pink powder room of a woman on the early shift, brushing her hair while looking in the mirror. I passed by a few of the famous aromatic coffee shops too, it seems like there’s one on every street corner.
It’s a beautiful city, but I was exhausted from not sleeping on the flight over and got rained out anyway so I go back to be airport with a few hours to spare.
I must have had all my papers in order when I visited the Italian consulate general ten days ago. My passport and new visa were waiting for me when I arrived back to the Main Street Theater here in San Francisco.
Nikolas had a tight rope lesson earlier today and offered to give me a lesson before he took the rope down. I climbed up onto the heavy hemp line in my socks and jeans and had a great time. I practiced falling off, walking forward and backward, turning around and falling off again. It’s something I definitely want to try again, tricky as hell and lots of fun.
UPDATE: This song played at the NYE party I went to later that night and two people asked me, “what’s this song?”
Maybe you’re waiting in a tiny laundromat for your clothes to dry and you strike up a conversation with the couple of people in there with you. That might lead to a lunch at il Raddi a delicious little hole in the wall restaurant that serves a plate of pasta al pomodoro for €2.50. That conversation may stretch out for two hours. Maybe you’ll be told of a beautiful hot spring in south Tuscany called Saturnia. Maybe that leads you and three co-conspirators to rent a car and drive down for a night.
Travelers make friends fast.
It took us much longer to get down to the hot spring than we had planned. A Helikoser from San Francisco, Ramshackle Nikolas, drove while fellow American Chelsea, Aussie Izzy and I contributed by being terrible navigators. We took the scenic route, a road that is equally winding and beautiful so we stopped a lot along the way. That meant we got to scramble around on the stone walls of San Quirico d’Orcia, picking figs and peeking past garden gates.
We found ourselves a spot on the top of a hill to see the sunset over a misty valley and stargazed at the entrance to an electric candle lit graveyard. We knew we were on the right road to the hot spring and followed the a sign but somehow missed it and had to perform a 10 point turn under a bridge at a golf course. We retraced our route and asked a man at the restaurant at the edge of town. “Just down the road there, you can’t miss it,” he said.
It was something like nine o’clock when we finally found it. Jupiter and the full moon lit the natural mineral pools, already moon white, in a beautiful pale light. Before we dipped in Nicolas and I made some very ugly sandwiches—without the modern convenience of a knife—and we all devoured them before lugging our bottiglia di vino down to the edge and slipped into the water.
It was a really charming spot. I’d definitely go again, though the water was about ten degrees cooler that I had expected and my clothes all smell like Yellowstone now. We cruised back to Firenze on the fast road through Siena and got back to the car rental place with a half hour to spare.
More photos here.
One night after class, a few of us walked through the narrow flagstone streets to the Piazza della Signoria where one of the David statues stands. It’s a clichéd sentiment but totally true: I felt like I was walking through a picture book or a movie set. It was so overwhelmingly beautiful and romantic and perfect the city seemed unreal. I imagined the buildings as giant painted flats and that I might find myself behind the scene, able to kick out their wooden supports and see them fall with a whoosh and a puff of dust. But nope, they’re made of impossible stone.