November 23, 2014 § 1 Comment
So, lately, I’ve been dancing.
And loving it.
This past year has been kind of a (fun and exhilarating and much-welcomed) challenge to me… as myself.
It’s not that I didn’t have confidence in myself before, but I did not feel comfortable showing others that I had confidence in myself. I knew what I could do, and how much I was worth, but I did not want to portray that- not because I took pride in being humble or felt inferior, but merely because it almost seemed like a realization- this acknowledgement of myself- that was to be kept to myself, inside the outer layers.
Growing up, I was that quiet, nerdy, artsy girl in the corner. I took to the role. And there’s nothing wrong with it; it’s who I am it’s good. But, it was also a little bit limiting. Nerdy artist can’t put on heels and eye shadow and be sexy. That’s just odd. Out of their description. Not expected.
Well, now she can.
Because this year, I fell in love with two things that challenged that notion.
One: Italian. I fell in love with Italian, and Italy, and I wanted to be right at the heart of it. And I was, and it was glorious. And when I throw myself into my current passion, I do it whole-heartedly, not holding anything back. And I like props. So, there are accessories and reinforcements that help you experience that role- it’s hard to feel Italian sometimes when you are wearing flip flops and don’t like coffee.
I know, it’s a stereotype, and it sounds shallow. But, it felt empowering, to put on heels and nice clothing and hold a handbag and order a caffè with the same hand motion as the guy one spot over at the bar. You can’t really get the Italian intonation without confidence.
And, now, two: latin dance. I fell in love with the music, and the energy, and the movements, and what started as an innocent Sunday drive-by the salsa club to “listen to music and draw” turned into an all-night dancing session that quickly extended to all-nighters on most (all?) of my other days as well. Now, a day without an emphasized third beat feels off.
And, again, I embrace all of the things that go around the image of a latin dancer (even if I am far from one). I will put on sparkly gold heels and glittering dresses and whip out the eyeliner and find empowerment- rather than discomfort- from them. I used to be hesitant dressing up, because I thought that people would judge me as someone that I am not, and I took pride in the nerdy, artsy side. But, then I realized that it was I who judged myself more than anyone else, and who would match that judgment to that image.
Just like speaking Italian does not work when timid, neither does salsa dancing.
At first, it was just steps. Now, it’s movement that I didn’t even know my hips were capable of, and winks I didn’t know I could throw, and a heat in my heartbeat that burns, and it’s an exhilarating sensation.
And all of that contributes to the dance, and it’s good. I love it. I love dancing with people I will never talk to. I love deep, sultry bachatas with faceless strangers, and upbeat merengues with nameless figures. I love dancing with people I know well. I love fast salsas with silly friends and funky kizomba steps. I love it all; I love learning new moves and holding new hands, and I love practicing existing routines and seeing familiar smiles.
I don’t care who you are; as long as you know how to, I want to dance with you.
I can’t decline an invitation, and I can’t leave before the music stops. It’s hopeless.
Because every dance, I learn something new, and I become a little bit more playful, and I shake off some more of my shell, and I feel lighter, and energized, and happier.
And it’s great, to be a ‘someone’ comprised of multiple someone’s. Someone who is not easy to be placed under one role. Someone who is described with contrasting adjectives. Someone who has an entire shelf full of different shoes and can fit the role comfortably of each one of its characters- because in the end, it’s all the same figure.
*When I go out, I dance. But, sometimes, before stepping onto the dance floor, I take a few second to sketch. So, all illustrations are 15-second-ish sketches of poses and motions that I saw and loved. Tango, bachata, blues.
November 3, 2014 § Leave a comment
What a busy weekend of fun here in Austin, TX. Between Halloween, Dia De Los Muertos, Formula 1 and the accompanying Fan Fest, we can only be thankful for getting another hour of playtime out of Daylight Savings.
On Saturday, I headed into work a little bit early, with the intention of basking in the glorious sunshine for a few minutes before donning the coffee shop apron. Good decision. I crossed under the temporary bridge:
, and the mandatory tricolor of jalapeños:
Inside was an assembly of altars, each of them decorated to the character of the deceased (and many of them of them offering cookies or treats and family members to chat with). I love the festive, colorful take on celebrating the spirit of the person- a celebration of life, rather than a mourning of death. And I enjoyed creating the personalities of the people that have passed away based on their altars… from artsy to literary to whiskey-ish to earthy:
Outside were various school contributions to the holiday:
Then, it was time to rush off to work for the day and pour wines and make coffees. We ended up closing early because all of Austin (and the rest of the world, it seems) was a few blocks north of us, at the Fan Fest that took over Austin this weekend. So, I hopped on that bandwagon for a couple of hours. It’s been a good year or two since I dipped my toes into downtown festivities:
But, the cold front that blew in and mass wave of Europeans everywhere made it more than bearable. As did Grupo Fantasma, the lure that succeeded in making me take a detour on the way home:
It was a good session of latino music, dancing with homeless people in the streets and being surrounded by a marching band that took over as soon as Fantasma’s last song ended and started a mass migration through the street to the next stage.
There was also the mandatory Formula 1 sponsor displays, such as Red Bull:
, and Topo Chico (complete with a wheel of Topo fortune!):
I guess that every place has its vibes, its positives and characteristics that keep it its own. And there’s no lack of color and sound and energy to Austin. And, y’know… the pride that comes with carrying that flag:
Because we got this, world. We’re keeping it weird, and you don’t want to mess with that.
October 26, 2014 § 1 Comment
Another day off, another excursion out of Austin. This one slightly more sunny, but no less enjoyable (and with great company!).
Let me juxtapose these two things:
(a) I remember Bastrop State Park from ten years ago, when I would run through tall pines and jump on thick makeshift log bridges. It was the only real park I enjoyed in Texas, because there were trees and shade and, if I squinted my eyes and tilted my head to one side, I could almost pretend that I was back in some European forest.
(b) I had a great yoga session yesterday, which was started and ended with a poem by Rainer Maria Rilke:
Want the change.
Be inspired by the flame where everything shines as it disappears.
The artist, when sketching, loves nothing so much
as the curve of the body as it turns away.
What locks itself in sameness has congealed.
Pour yourself out like a fountain.
Flow into the knowledge that what you are seeking
finishes often at the start, and with ending, begins.
Every happiness is the child of a separation
it did not think it could survive.
A couple of years ago, a huge fire swept through Bastrop and turned the forest of ancient, towering pine trees into a field of matchsticks:
It was discerning, to think of the life that used to be there, that had been there for years, and then… just disappeared in flames overnight.
But, at the same time, a little bit magical. Because against this backdrop of burned, black, and dry, there was a short canopy of green shrubbery that seemed all the more vibrant and joyful set against its contrast:
And all of the little blotches of flowers (and how many, and of what variety!) seemed so much more energetic against the sand and dirt beneath them:
This contrast of life and death, in all of its dullness and vibrancy, made it seem as if we were walking to the end of the world- or at the very beginning of it, before any other creature had set foot upon it. At the beginning of creation, at the beginning of some new era, still fragile, but bold and bright.
After a meandering hike through the sticks, we sought shelter in the shade of a nearby, adjacent park, who was spared the worst of the damage. There was even a little lake, with herds of tiny frogs that arose in a cloud of curt ribbit‘s every time you took a step and dragonflies of the most marvelous purple hues.
And it was here that I reminded myself that this is life: life is change, and life is rebirth. Every change, no matter how drastic or ominous or unexpected, always ends with a phoenix rising out of the ashes. Even if at times, it takes a while and it seems like the most stubborn creature in the universe.
It was a comforting thought. I believe that everything happens for a reason, and everything happens for the best, but this week, a few big things came up that rattled my mind and turned me upside down for a while. And it took me a while before I realized that all of the potential ‘solutions’ that I came up with, and that I was completely unsatisfied with, were rooted in the granted acceptance of the restrictions of time and space… which is defined by us. Sometimes, that slips my mind.
Then I had a very liberating laugh as I realized that there are infinite solutions out there, if we only step outside of the box and limitations that we place ourselves in. And, suddenly, the world seemed really big, and really good, and inviting to be tackled and tasted and explored.
Just because we have a thought pattern or a “plan” for life and the future… doesn’t mean that that is the “way” to go. Every step leads somewhere; you don’t have to keep treading in the same direction. That’s why the world is round, right?
So, go forth and open yourself to change, and be humble, but be bold, and conquer.
October 20, 2014 § 1 Comment
When I taught in Italy, every class to which I introduced myself as being from Texas responded with a “Woah! So you ride horses and live in the desert?” (and I, naturally, responded with a “Yes. And I always carry a rifle under my cowboy hat.”)
Living in Austin, I feel like we are outside of that stereotypical Texas bubble (for the most part). And, although there are reminders in the form of hand-drawn Tex Mex signs and armadillo memorabilia, it’s easy to get absorbed in the thriving city life and forget the fact that, a few miles away, is the real Texas. In all of its glorious emptiness. The Texas that stretches on forever and doesn’t have a schedule to adhere to or people to respond to. The Texas that isn’t made up of buildings, but of nature. Rocks and dirt and water.
Yesterday, I had my first real day off since I got back into town, and I was in desperate need of sunshine and fresh air. So, I packed a few apples and zoomed west, out of town, toward Pedernales Falls State Park. An hour away, a world apart.
Leaving the car at the top of the parking lot hill, I headed off to tackle the 5.5-Mile Loop first. It started out crossing the river:
, and through colorful cactus fields:
, and through less happy cactus fields:
, and between seas of yellow:
, and under rugged tree branches:
, and through a low canopy of shrubberies that blended in with the flat surroundings as the gentle turns became a sort of therapeutic progression into away:
I had never really appreciated the barrenness and dryness of Texas, nor the Flying Biting Things and Creepy Crawling Creatures, but I left on this excursion with an open mind and eagerness to experience the things that the outing had to offer. Life is made up of moments, and each ‘phase’ of moments has its own set of charms.
The beauty of life is overarching and all-encompassing, but I think that another level of appreciation is reached when you take each phase that life offers and extract all of the wonder and lessons of that chapter, and make the most of it. I loved my days of running around New York, searching for jazz, or teaching in Milano and going to the opera, or living in Austin and breathing theatre, or backpacking through random countries, but they are all chapters, each with their own adventures and splendors, and it is this juxtaposition of opportunities and experiences that sets them apart and makes them special and even more beautiful for what they are. And you just need to drink your fill of what is offered in the moment.
And sometimes, the easiest way to look at life in a new way is to just turn yourself upside down. So, that’s what I did. I sprawled myself over a large rock in the middle of the stream, let the water play with my hair, and watched the world upside down. It’s kind of cool, to watch the water fly downward, to the sky, and water splashes rising upwards, and everything happening the opposite way of how it usually does. It’s strange, but intriguing. Makes you woner why things are how they are, and how they are not. Life in inversion. New perspective, new gravity.
Maybe even time can be viewed as the contrary of what it is; adding up, instead of running out? Where consuming time doesn’t diminish the supply, but merely gives you more… of something that doesn’t exist. I contemplated life a bit, with a swarm of large orange butterflies to keep me company:
After another few miles of hiking barefoot next to the stream, I ended up at Pedernales Falls, just as the evening sun cast that dark gold light upon the land:
I had another Contemplation Session here, perched on another rocky island. And I felt very, very appreciative of the clarity of the moment.
It was a great day off, out of the city. The Texas landscape isn’t something that I ever took a particular fancy to, but I kind of fell in love with it in this moment.
Because there is nowhere else in the world quite like it.
[** To make the outing even more special, at the very end of it, as I was pulling myself up the last rocky hilltop, covered in dust and sweat and scratchy scratches, I ran into a woman who greeted me with a “oh my gosh, you’re the travel blogger girl!”. I had never been recognized by a stranger in the middle of a state park before, especially not for my online rambles. We had a lovely conversation, and I walked away grinning ear-to-ear, feeling a little bit like a celebrity for a few minutes.
So, this one is for you. Thank you.]
October 1, 2014 § 1 Comment
If you get offended reading about people that are happy, please don’t read this. If you roll your eyes when people state how wonderful life is, don’t keep reading. If you feel angry or upset when other people smile, just stop here.
How did I get to the point that I feel almost guilty saying that I am happy? Why does it feel silly to say that life is great? It’s almost as if it is a statement better whispered than sang; keep it low, among your best friends. Others don’t want to hear about it. They have enough problems, and there are so many things wrong in the world, why would they waste their time with pointing attention to positivity? You wouldn’t want to feel like you are rubbing it in their face, or showing off, or putting them down.
That is not what I am trying to do. And I know that most people feel better after reading something negative (how does that work?). But, I would just like to get this out:
I am happy.
And it’s okay.
I know that people roll their eyes sometimes, when I start to ramble on about some international adventure. I sometimes feel bad producing happy post after happy post, after painting after painting, after photograph after photograph, when other people have important (ie, sad and serious) things going on. I see ‘that look’ that people sometimes give me when I rave on about some opera performance or spontaneous trip to a different continent or story from the awesome place that I can call work.
I have traveled, a lot. Constantly. For fun, you might say (though for me, it is for necessity). I always get what I want, because I am stubborn and can’t compromise.
This doesn’t mean that I am a happy person.
Since I have been back in Austin, I can’t complain about anything other than allergies (fuck you, dammit). I have an ideal living arrangement, with wine and cats and opera music. I have a beautiful park and pond(s) outside of my window. I walk across it and, in two minutes, I am at my yoga shack, or at my massage studio, or at my favorite local theater. I spend my days down the street (past the best breakfast taco window in town and that one awesome coffee shop), painting scenery and costumes from morning until evening. At night, I write and go out and dance until dawn. Work days consist of either (a) working backstage with performers from all over the world or (b) learning about coffee and making delicious, healthy smoothies in a great cafe on the river, with fun coworkers and the best music selection to keep us boogie-ing all day long.
In other words, I am surrounded by everything that I love. The only complaint that I have is that I don’t have another 24 (or 2424 or 242424) hours in the day to do more of it.
Life is pretty perfect, isn’t it?
I am fortunate to be living this life. I am grateful for every single moment. But it doesn’t mean that I am a happy person.
Some of the most beautiful and happy people that I have met in the world have had nothing, have lived in a shed, have eaten off the ground. Some of the saddest people that I have met are millionaires, have successful careers, have perfect wedding photos and get a thousand ‘likes’ on every post they update on Facebook.
It is nothing new to say that money or fame or things don’t make someone happy. And we all know that everyone is different, and thus everyone needs different things to make them happy.
To me, happiness is personal, is a reflection of yourself, of what you want. Going out and finding checklists of ‘Things That Make You Happy’ aren’t going to do the trick. Yes, we have to take care of ourselves, and be nicer to people, and take occasional bubble baths. To smile more, and give things away, and surround yourself with people you enjoy.
But, these Checklist Things are going to be different for everyone. So, it’s kind of simple. To be happy, you need to do what makes you happy. You need to know what you like, and don’t question it. It doesn’t have to make sense, or have a reason, or even be feasible. It just has to feel good, and inspire, and make you smile. And then you do it.
And, (most importantly), you have to allow yourself to be happy. Despite me doing all of these great things in life, and living in these beautiful places, and meeting these amazing people, I, for the most part of my life, have not been happy- not as a general, longtime condition. Not because I am spoiled, or hard-to-please, or childish. I’m not going to give the “my life isn’t perfect” or the “my childhood was hard” or the “I worked my way there” speech (even though I could, all three), because that’s not the point. The point is that, even if I had this great, dreamlike scenario, it didn’t equate being happy… simply because I wasn’t. Because I didn’t like it, because I didn’t want to be…. maybe because I felt bad being happy.
And now, it’s okay. I learned to let go of those negative connotations associated with happiness, and not do anything that should make me happy. Only the things that do make me happy, and I surround myself with them, and it makes me smile, and I don’t feel guilty about it, because I don’t have to, because being happy in a world that is sad is okay, and it’s not bad, and it doesn’t make you a bad person. The same goes the other way. If you are in a situation in which you should be happy, but you’re not… it’s not your fault. You don’t have to feel guilty about it, it’s not bad, and it doesn’t make you a bad person. You don’t have to be grateful for it, if you don’t want to be, if it’s not something that you want. You don’t have to do it for anyone else, or even for yourself. There is no part of happiness that is a condition, or an obligation.
Being happy is a decision that people make for themselves. You don’t have to accept or approve of their decision, and they don’t have the right to do so about yours.
If having money makes you happy, do it. If being lazy makes you happy, do it. If being fit makes you happy, do it. If eating chocolate cakes at midnight makes you happy, do it. If traveling makes you happy, do it. If collecting old steam trains makes you happy, do it. If being alone makes you happy, do it. You don’t have to justify any of it.
I can say that I feel happy when I have my independence (financially and transportation-wise, with my own space and schedule), when I can do what I like (art and travel and dance and write), and when I am active and fit(-ish). Then I feel good about myself. I like when I am surrounded by a place that inspires me (usually something old and run-down and kinda gloomy, yet colorful). There’s a lot of simple things that make me smile, like dandelions and canvas ballet shoes and camel expressions and bubbly wines and thick parchment and French records and ladybugs. I know that I am demanding, and it’s okay. I’m responsible for it. I don’t have to tone it down.
And if you are happy, it doesn’t mean that you always have to be happy. You can be sad and angry, just because. Happiness is a state of being, and ‘being’ is an existence in the moment, not something consistent or uninterrupted or unchanging.
And if you are happy, it’s a good thing (if you want to be happy, that is) (some people don’t).
Don’t hide it.
It’s not selfish.
It’s not wrong.
It’s not bad.
And I hope that you
let it be.
September 30, 2014 § Leave a comment
Day Eleven: AKA The Last Day.
It was bittersweet, and already from dawn did we feel the diminuendo of the trip, of the thrill, of the timelapse that we experienced on this great island. But we did our best to stretch it out.
After a very long morning of breakfasts (yes, multiple) and lounging in the conservatory (I have always wanted to say that), reading travel books and listening to the rain pounding on the metal roof above us, we packed up our things into the car and continued through the Lothians, south. After a few minutes, we entered the Lammermuir Hills, which was kind of almost exactly like I have always imagined them to be in Lucia di Lammermoor.
For our midday hike, we stopped by St. Abbs, a tiny harbor just a couple of miles north of the Scotland-England border.
There wasn’t much to it other than a cafe’ and a few boats- which was exactly as it should have been:
This one was my favorite:
Although I much preferred stalking the sea gulls in the harbor and watching them scream at each other like an old married couple:
From the harbor was a walking path that continued along the coast for a long, long time.
There is a nature reserve stretching up from St. Abb’s, complete with a loch and the usual herds of sheep:
… and the last lighthouse for us on this trip:
It was a quirky little structure, not any bigger than a shed, and without the tower. Just a light booth perched upon the hill, with a foghorn (apparently, Scotland’s first audible fog signal) a few feet below it. Not exactly what I was expecting, especially considering that it was designed by the Stevenson brothers (whose daddy was the genius of the Bell Rock Lighthouse, which is practically the opposite of this cute, compact structure)… but, somehow, it was the perfect surprise to the end of our Grand Coastal Lighthouse Adventure.
After that, it was time to hike back against impressive winds:
Then we drove through some army-style pig farms:
, and crossed over into England. The next few hours consisted of rain, bumper-to-bumper traffic, and bags of potato chips in every possible imaginable flavour (and more). At the end of the day, we arrived in Nottingham and its invisible castle, staying with a couple of Couchsurfers who greeted us with homemade falafel and oatmeal cookies and life lessons and language lessons that lasted late into the night.
As we collapsed onto our squeaky air mattress and set the alarm for four hours later, we thought about just how big and impressive our Scottish loop was. In the eleven days that passed since we landed in the East Midlands and drove west, and then north, we were nothing but flabbergasted and on a perpetual high of life and beauty and love and digestive cookies and everything great. And then we drove, in considerably less days, east, and then south, and our high lowered with our latitude. And, now we were back where we started from- but had so much inbetween. So many adventures and landscapes and laughs and lifetimes, that it seemed almost crude to separate them back into days. So many different night accommodations and so many different breakfasts and so many different sunsets and so many different accents, that tracing our frenzied route on a map on the airplane back to Italy felt impossibly detached.
This was a short, compact trips, and not my usual type of travel. And yet… even this little bite of Scotland was enough to make me fall in love with it and try plotting a way to return- for much, much longer.
September 25, 2014 § Leave a comment
Day Ten of our Scotland Adventures was the only day in which we woke up in a city. . . and by the time we took the twenty-minute stroll into the center, I was ready to leave. By city standards, Edinburgh isn’t terrible, but compared to the rest of Scotland, I don’t understand why anyone would want to be in in instead of out of it.
Even if it was full of cozy cafe’s and art boutiques that made me wish that I had a kitchen to decorate and wasn’t flying back to Italy on Ryanair. From underground cellars to rooftops patios to church corners, quirky cafe’s could be found everywhere:
Then we trudged up to the top of the castle hill, poked our heads in, and headed back out. With the entire castle turned into some sort of performance venue, my favorite nook of it was the couple of stereotypical phone booths lodged in the corner:
After that, a brisk stroll down The Royal Mile, which was full of souvenier stores and fancy tea rooms serving porridge and scones and cuppas:
, and a couple of smaller museums:
At the end of the Royal Mile was the Scottish Parliament Building, with the unexpected Holyrood Park reaching out to the sky. I have to admit that it was pretty cool to see such an impressive peak and green park thrown in the middle of a flat, grey landscape.
From there, we started to loop back, taking a detour through the Regent Gardens. At the top of Calton Hill, we found another scenic wedding photo shoot (this time complete with cannons!):
After a blueberry ice pop and a funky art show/sound installation at the Collective Gallery, we wove our way back down and found a court full of international food trailers. We tried the haggis burger and cinnamon crepes, and then took a stroll down Dundas Street. Just as the first downpour we experienced out of the car started to come down, we ducked into a gay cafe’ (literally, and it was the most colorful and fun place ever) for some onion soup and ale:
I was a little disappointed (but probably more shocked and thrown out-of-place) by Edinburgh. Despite is being a big city, I was looking forward to seeing this artsy cultural center with a great theatre scene. But I think that it is meant to be its own trip; fitting it into a tour of rural Scotland does not work too well.
So, by the time that we rolled into Snawdon, a “village” of two houses (one of them our last B&B of the trip), I was back to feeling content and giddy with the fresh air. Our house was a perfect farewell night to Scotland: cozy and personal and intimate and a bit kitsch:
With warm bathrobes and sunflowers in the fireplace:
Our host was an intriguing man that dabbled his interests in a vast variety of hobbies and thus provided a steady stream of interesting conversation. We nibbled on his dinner together, and then (for the first time all trip; finally, whoot!) sipped on different bottles of whiskey and attempting to find corresponding adjectives for each one of them (this got easier the more we drank). We also tasted Slow Gin, Snawdon’s own elderberry liquer that tastes like unicorns and rainbows in a bottle (but so much better).
After all that city and drinks, we collapsed into bed with utmost eagerness to do nothing but pass out and hope to wake up to a dreary, drizzly morning.
Good night, Scotland!