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blog 13: as ending becomes beginning

Once upon a time there was a girl. A smart girl, a naive girl, a girl lost in translation. This girl had a passion, but sadly it was dwindling, flickering ever so slightly at the faintest touch of a light breeze. Soon it would surely flicker out and take its place in line with the rest of her forgotten loves, in the distant, once-lived land of years gone past.

Hey, let’s cross the sea and get some culture.

Up came a journey. A trek across a world of old and older and an occasional new. She saw what she was supposed to see, ate what she was supposed to eat.

Red wine with every meal, and absinthe after dinner.

Still she was left unsatisfied, wanting a passion, a fervor for something lost. Then someone handed her a book. A book of light and suspense and playfulness, and so the book was temporarily affixed to her hand. As she finally became tired of reading she noticed a glow, a glimmer reflecting from some glass.

This light looks good on you, morning came early.

It was concrete. And stone. And metal and ceramic and wood. It was constructed; complex but simple, solid but lithe, sensible but whimsical. Shouldn’t there always be  whimsy? she thought. And so she sat and she pondered.

Sitting on a park bench that’s older than my country.

Whimsy is the answer, she decided, and light, and play. How is a passion a passion without them? And slowly, as she began to see these in pieces of her passion throughout the rest of her journey, her ardor grew. She was now on a new journey– to uncover the secrets of the necessity of frivolity. Now she could return home and find a whole new world waiting for her.

Hey, let’s cross the sea and get some culture.

‘Absinthe Party at the Fly Honey Warehouse’

-Minus the Bear

blog 12: the stage setter takes center

What is a performance without the players? The buildings, the people, the vehicles, the rivers; these are the performers and the city is the stage. We see them every day. We watch, we observe, we laugh, we cry. The city can put on a pretty good show at times. But what is happening behind the scenes?

Someone is getting the stage ready. Someone is cleaning a storefront because the previous night’s rain has left watermarks. Someone is sweeping trash up off of the street as the garbage truck follows. Someone is mowing the grass to an even-edged perfection. They set the stage so the players will look even better as they go about their performance. Without them the show would surely end up in ruins. But the stage setters are never actually featured. With a role as important as the one they play, don’t you think they ought to be every once in a while?

blog 11: a tale of the once familiar

I am not a footrest, contrary to what my placement might tell you. I am not the ground– I rest above it. My worn wood is still warmer than the cold, hard stone beneath me. It has more give, too. I exist to keep your knees clean. To keep them soft and bruise-free. To give to you a special place, a specific place, to set your knees upon and pray.

I sit here basking in the glow of filtered light. The green and red and yellow dance with me. I sit until some tired wanderer, some aged traveler, some well-known brother comes and fulfills my purpose. To the rare visitor nowadays my wood is so familiar. Maybe not in color or texture, or height or width, but in the action; the practice is so familiar. And so I sit here, waiting here, gathering dust here, until I once again become familiar– at least for a prayer or two.

blog 10: on signs

For the sake of this blog, this trip, and my memories of it, Venice, and anywhere else for that matter, is made unique in how I experience it. I, as I’m sure everyone else, have had a certain pre-experience of Venice– on postcards, in short anecdotes, in scenes from movies. But postcards don’t show you how lost you’ll get trying to find that pretty picture.

Venice as I now know it (as little as I now know it) is much much more than these snapshots of bustling bridges and romantic gondola rides. Venice is a maze. I have a naturally horrible sense of direction. The odds should not be in my favor here. But in Venice, unlike in other cities I’ve traveled to, there is a found sense of direction. This sense is found in signs. Simple, clear, reductive. Signs telling me where the train station is; where the Rialto, the Accademia, the Scalzi cross the Grand Canal; how to get to Piazza San Marco and where to catch the vaporetti. Without these signs leading me down seemingly endless circles of narrow and narrower streets, I would be a lost cause– pun intended. Venice is surely unique in its topography, in its grid– or lack thereof, in its very foundation. But Venice as I experience it, is Venice because of the signs.

blog 09: on stripes

It has stripes. Stripes of colorful nightlife. Stripes on flags of the contrade. Stripes of far-reaching farmland. Stripes all over the Duomo. They are black and white for the colored horses their legendary founders rode in on. They are shades of green for the pastures surrounding their city walls. They are zig zagged and scalloped to wave during the Palio. They are blue and red and an orangish yellow for the lights around the Campo at night.

Siena’s stripes are different from Rome’s ruins, from Terracina’s terraces. They signify a particular history, a connection to its beginning, a thread of life that is very much a part of Siena’s past as of its present.  In Siena, stripes are not merely playful decor. They have weight in tradition. From the Duomo to the Palio, Siena’s stripes are those of a deeply rooted culture and activity. And while it is not alone in having a deeply rooted culture and activity, Siena is very much Siena in its vibrant and ever-flowing stripes.

blog 08: translating narrative

According to our most recent readings, a successful translation occurs when not just an object, a scene, a concept is translated, but when that object’s depth of meaning– it’s expression is translated into something just as meaningful in a new context.

In the case of the Ara Pacis Museum by Richard Meier, a sense of narrative is translated from the Pax Romana to the 21st century viewer. The Ara Pacis itself is a monument: made for propaganda, it was to tell of the Augustan Golden Age, the prosperity of the republic and of the people, the implication of military victory, cultural revival; the list goes on. To tell the story of Roman peace brought by Caesar Augustus is the essence of the Ara Pacis, its very purpose in performing for Romans of the failed Republic.

The way it was viewed in 10 BC is very different than how it is viewed in 2010 CE. Today we don’t “read” this monument as a reiteration of the wonderful deeds our fearless leader has done for us. We don’t explicitly relate to its content, and it really has no direct effect on our lives. We view it as an artifact, behind the glass case of Meier’s museum.

Whether or not Meier’s architecture is reminiscent of or relevant to the classical Roman monument; is liked or disliked, is not my subject of discussion. But the translation of the monument’s narrative capacity from the Republic to modern day seems, to me, to be quite effective. It is what it is: an honest representation of how Rome preserves its history– except instead of open air and chain dividers, it’s a big glass box with white corners. However “tacky” or “unutilized” it is to have become a tourist attraction, Meier at least captures the current identity of historical Rome in his museum, and puts a pretty sweet light show on it, too.

blog 07: REactivating history

History is made active through participation. By rebuilding, renovating, rejuvenating, reusing– we reignite history. We have quite literally built on top of it, seemingly negating a previous history, but actually recreating it through simple addition. We have preserved it, for study and staring alike, to be remembered in all its former glory. We use it still today, as it reenacts a function so intrinsic to it, it’s hard to imagine it as anything other in the future. We as participants in an ongoing history determine how and how effectively history is made active, because really, history is always active– always in the making. It is when history becomes stagnant, deemed too brittle to touch, it is then that history must be reactivated.

blog 06: my living map

This map tells me about Rome the way I have seen it thus far.

This map tells me that I really loved Aventine Hill and the secrets it revealed to me. It tells me that I need to try the Chinese restaurant right off of the Piazza Santa Maria in Trastevere. It tells me there are some horrific stairs that I will no doubt climb again to reach the Borghese Gardens, despite the ensuing soreness in my legs . This map tells me not to cross through a certain part of the Jewish Ghetto around 7 pm on a Thursday, because I will find the man who parks cars peeing in the alley. It tells me that I loved this cafe’s cappuccinos, and that that cafe was stingy with the froth. This map tells me those things about Rome that only I have experienced in my short 6 weeks here. It’s a living, breathing map, as long as I keep walking Rome.

blog 05: weaving between mountains and sea

The hills and mountains of Southern Italy’s Amalfi coast come right down and meet the salty Mediterranean, punctuated only by manmade villages and the ribbon of roads connecting them. Small but beautiful towns lie hidden among the vertical folds of earth; colorful specks of culture enticing tourists and Ferrari enthusiasts alike.

In California I’ve seen mountains rising straight from the ocean; bare rocks with creatures holding on for dear life from the pull of the tide. Full-grown forests ascend the piles of natural sediment as trails weave their ways to the top for people to hike.

The Amalfi and Northern California coasts have much in common, but there’s still an intangible difference between them. I’ve now had the pleasure of experiencing both stretches of road bordered by mountains and sea. And as I remember the sun on my back and the wind in my face, I can’t wait to return.

blog 04:

What’s the difference between a big building and a small city?

Not much, it seems. After visiting Hadrian’s Villa, then walking through towns as small as Castelvecchio Calvisio and Ostia Antica, the similarities between one man’s massive residence and an entire population’s local amenities are easily comparable. A theater, a temple, a library, a bath house… Complexes often shared by a couple thousand in the same neighborhood were also shared by an emperor and a few of his guests. The ratio of people using facilities to number of facilities available shifts drastically from big building to small city, even though the square footage of land space seems relatively the same (from what I’ve gathered from walking tours of the aforementioned sites).

I learned in some sociology class that significantly less than 1% of the world population contains more than a third of the world’s wealth. What’s the difference between a big building and a small city? Nothing, really. What’s the difference between people that live in a big building and people that live in a small city? Numbers; it’s the difference between a hundred and a hundred thousand.