Dear 21,

It’s finally time to stop looking back, where my writing and thoughts have so often been directed, pulled from, curated. There is something comforting about the past: it is finished. November is passing as fast as the leaves are falling off the trees. Time to take care of myself and fall back into the rhythm of things. I don’t have to start reeling through my mind the countless things I’ve learned the past 20 years of my life, which I so often like to do, as it’s so easy for me to look back and remind myself of the work it took to get here. Maybe instead, I can think about me now or me in the future.

My past only casts reflections on me, giving me old answers to new puzzles. 21 is cheers to my new life.

I am not old and dry, turning over a new leaf. I am growing younger with every step forward, putting my face towards the sun, encouraged by an inner drive like water, pulling itself through my stem and letting me dazzle with life. Every day I will grow younger, able to reach new parts of myself and my world.

Cheers to you, 21.

Regards,

Mary

Quarantine, Reimagined

I spent more than 50 days of quarantine in Italy. I struggled everyday with my own existence in a place so empty to me, so foreign that even words felt cumbersome. I was living and working in the home of a family that spoke Italian. Even my thoughts betrayed me as I guiltily redirected them to my role there, my work. Nothing could match the circles of uncertainty that washed over my being. Laying day and night between blank walls of that room that I could not change because it wasn’t mine. Scared to make a mistake because it was my work that kept me there. Everyday it was the large window in my room that helped ground me. Looking at the clouds gave me hope, and as they turned pink in the sunset, I knew my day would come. The birds that beckoned in the early morning brought the gift of sound, and variance. The flowers, watered and cared for brought color, blazing when the sun hit them. The lights that flicked on after 6pm in the ocean of surrounding apartments reminded me that I could have a life of my own someday. It was these yearnings that inspired my drawing, a depiction of everything that created my hope during quarantine all brought into the walls of that empty room.

3D cardboard relief

18″ x 18″ relief inspired by the work of M. C. Escher. I focused on applying the idea of “activated” vs “implied” space. Applied space is when the meaning is given to the viewer, whereas implied space is when meaning is inferred by the context of the surrounding shapes.

Taking up the middle, rectangular prisms of different heights form the shape of stairs creating a distorted rhombus shape-like that you would see as if you were looking down a flight of stairs, or M. C. Escher’s Penrose stairs, the inspiration for this piece. Some of the spaces for rectangular prism steps are missing, and they are implied.  One edge has two triangular prisms that touch the side of the distorted-rhombus “staircase”. There are a few details of corrugated cardboard as well.

I think the work tells a narrative of disconnect: meaning the story of walking down a path and realizing there’s a step missing so going back and reasserting from different angles to understand the illusion.  I think it could also be a city, with different buildings and passages.  In creating it, I made the foreground the side where there is a step missing next to the two lines of corrugated cardboard, but looking at it from different angles, I can see that there could be many interesting foregrounds.

After-effect

These days I have been seeing Rome; having flashbacks to a city in another part of the world as I’m living my life here. My quarantine was spent there: two months between the same walls day and night non-stop. Seeing gray. Forgetting color except for the occasional grocery excursion. I’ve been seeing Rome again these days even after coming home – because after having been stuck inside for so long, my weekends were spent walking the city for hours. I got to know the place. I became accustomed to routes, looking at destinations and not needing my map anymore. I knew how the light climbed between buildings and illuminated my skin, and how the sun worked it’s way through the gaps and wrapped me in it’s aura. Light from the sun was how I hoped for the future, how I dreamed, and now I’m seeing the same light across an ocean. When it rises to the trees behind my house at golden hour, I see into a corner of Rome at the same time: light hitting the same angle, resounding the same colors. For a moment my brain takes me there and it’s completely real. A moment later, it’s gone, the memory only flickering, and I remain dumbstruck, because for a second I was in another place. Eventually I regather my composure.

This is the after-effect of my time in Italy, scenes so ingrained in my mind from countless hours of escape from grayness on the streets of the city. Attached to these memories are powerful emotions: with days slowly growing longer in quarantine, my hope grew with it, along with the promise of living on my own in the not-too distant weeks. Walking around Rome, I slowly discovered a deep fulfillment inside, being free from judgement, living alone for the first time in my life, savoring that independence I had only weeks before, yearned.

Regal peplum blouse

I created this shirt for myself last year, thinking I would bring it to Italy with me, but in the end, I didn’t like it. However, after a year of travelling and coming home, I’m finally really loving what I’ve created. The simple yet beautiful lines, and the skimming yet not overly-tight fit defines my style.

August 4, 2020

What if I woke up from a long sleep and all I saw were cities between clouds, green space, and lines cutting through it, lives and the way people lived them, and the shadow of clouds on the earth. I’d wake up with the pressure of gravity on my chest as the plane would lose touch with the ground. What if that was all I remembered in life, the plane rides. But I know this flight will end and I’ll touch ground again, and it’s something that happens often. Falling out of touch, and then back in, returning is an inevitable part of life

Pisa: My favorite Italian city becomes yours

Chi orienterà le mie vele in mezze al mare?

Who will orient my sails in the middle of the sea?

Ovidius, Fasti, 1.466

AFTER living in Pisa for nearly 3 months during my first job as an Au Pair last summer I’m proud to say I’m no tourist to the city. Out of all the places in Italy I’ve visited; tiny Tuscan towns, mountainous trails by the sea, pizza in Naples and navigating my way through narrow Genoan and Venetian streets, in the end Pisa sits at the top of my favorite places in Italy.

Perhaps it’s because of the warm welcome I received from the family I lived with, or perhaps it’s the city’s balance: less than an hour from the sea – from which you are still able to see the mountains. Perhaps it’s the city’s size: small and quiet, yet home to one of the best Italian universities, easily reachable from other metropolitan areas (less than an hour from Florence, and 2-3 hours from Rome). It gets a good amount of tourists, yet you’ll primarily find them around the tower, and certain parts of the city center. Perhaps what gives Pisa its charm is the river that runs through the city’s heart, carrying a history that dates back several millennia.

Pisa rivals Florence in its beauty, is home to the oldest botanical garden in the world, birthplace and home of Galileo Galilei and although it is located further North, it still carries a relaxed feeling that you’ll find in Central and Southern Italy. Pisa lies in the region of Tuscany, it has an international airport, a bus route to the sea, a city center small enough to explore by foot, and numerous hostels, Airbnbs, bed and breakfasts, and hotels. Because of it’s university and airport, you may find it a fairly international city.

Where to stay

From my Airbnb, a large breakfast full of pastries and desserts

B&B Villa Liberty II Lauro

At 65 euro a night, Villa Liberty II Lauro is a short 15 minute walk from the train station. The B&B is a perfectly romantic home located in a residential area of Pisa. Although it is a bit far from the tower (about a 40 minute walk) it is in a nice neighborhood with a post office, beautiful church, cafes and a delicious pizzeria on the same street. I never actually stayed here, but I remember passing it by several times and feeling a bit envious of the guests

Airbnb

I highly recommend checking on Airbnb for a place to stay. I stayed in Pisa for a weekend with my boyfriend and we found a wonderful stay where we were served a large breakfast located in a lovely ‘600s building with frescoes in the city center about 15 minute walk from the leaning tower. Depending on the room you find on Airbnb, the typical pricing for one night will probably be between 30-100 euro.

Safestay Hostel

Within a few steps of the train station, you’ll find Pisa’s Safestay hostel welcoming you with flags from all over the world. It costs around 25 euro a night, and has a lot to offer such as large indoor and outdoor spaces, game tables, and bar & restaurant.

What to see

I. The Arno River

Life as an Au Pair at points could be extremely exhausting. Chasing two kids around, constantly being flooded with a new language. Whenever I had free time on weekends or after a day of work, I would find myself on the viale delle piagge, a beautiful wooded walkway along the Arno. You’ll feel like you’re one of the locals, and it’s the perfect place to gather inspiration for a story…

II. Chiesa di San Michele degli Scalzi

Along the viale delle piagge you’ll find another leaning building, dating back to 1178. It’s worth seeing as it’s out of the tourist area and in a beautiful location along the Arno river. You might even see a wedding take place if you’re lucky!

III. The Museum of Ancient Ships

As someone who is interested in anthropology, and loves learning about ancient cultures and how/ why people in a certain place reacted to and created their environment, my visit to the Museum of Ancient Ships provided me an incredible learning experience. Not often does one find a museum with all the archaeological objects still existing in the place where they originated (Pisa). The museum had lots of interactives and thoughtful design elements that made the history of such an important city easily comprehensible. The museum was created not only for adults in mind, but children as well. It probably ended up being one of the most well done and interesting museums I’ve visited. There’s lots of information, but don’t feel bad if you can’t see it all.

IV. Corso Italia

Corso Italia is the main shopping street in Pisa. It’s beautiful buildings are filled with high end boutique clothing, bookshops to spend hours reading in, restaurants, and gelato. It’s super easy to reach, as you just go directly straight from the train station in Pisa Centrale, across Piazza Vittorio Emmanuele II onto the cobblestone street with no cars. You may find yourself people watching in a cafe, walking by a fountain, or smelling a delicious pizza from the somewhat hidden L’Arciere. If you continue straight down the street you’ll reach the Ponte di mezzo, a beautiful bridge that crosses the river. On the opposite side of the river you will find even more quaint shops as well.

V. Teatro Verdi and Free Concerts at the Sapienza University Concert Hall

Follow your ears and you’ll find music. One night as I walked down a street, I came across the sound of music, so I walked up the steps of the unknown building and came into the entrance of a grand music hall. I asked the man that awaited me for entry to the concert, and he offered me a free ticket. After looking all over google maps for the building and what I found was Pisa’s Sapienza university Orchestra, so I assume they offer free concerts! I also recommend Teatro Verdi for Operas, Concerts, and many more shows.

VI. Keith Haring’s Tuttomondo and other street art

A little known fact that I discovered while living here is that Pisa has a lot of great street art, and graffiti. Spend an afternoon walking through the streets and see what you can find.

VII. The Marina di Pisa

Lose yourself on a beautiful white marble beach in crystal clear water, and you’ll wind up asking yourself are you dreaming? The answer is no. In less than an hour for a cheap bus ticket you’ll arrive on the rocky Marina di Pisa. Walking further down, you’ll eventually reach sand. You may be surprised to hear that the beach is completely free, all you need is a towel and suit.

VIII. The World’s Oldest Botanical Garden

Connected to the University of Pisa, and just a few steps from the leaning tower, the world’s oldest botanical garden is an oasis from the tourists. I found it to be surprisingly quiet. For a 2 euro fee, you can view a beautiful garden, walk along ponds, pass through a greenhouse, and even step inside a small museum. I spent an entire afternoon here, exploring and drawing.

IX. Instituto Linguistico Mediterraneo

Learn Italian above the city’s central Piazza, Vittorio Emmanuele II. After 4 weeks of class, I felt much more confident speaking in Italian. The school also offers activities outside of class such as wine tastings, trips to a pizzeria, among other activities. The class is four hours every morning with a coffee break halfway through.

X. Chiesa di Santa Maria della Spina

XI. Piazza dei Miracoli

You can visit Pisa’s famous Piazza dei Miracoli for free or pay the entrance fee to view inside the historic buildings, and learn more of the history. One of my favorite buildings was the baptistery of Saint John, because of it’s view from the window across from the cathedral, and it’s echo; a tour guide had demonstrated this by singing separated notes that (with the acoustics of the building) were layered on top of each other in such a way that I had thought multiple voices were singing.

XII. Giardino Scotto

A serene park located along the banks of the Arno river, Giardino Scotto houses sculptures, a small playground, and an outside theater used for showing films, music, dance and performances. It resides in the heart of the city center, and is a great place to relax after walking through city streets. Connected to Pisa’s Teatro Verdi, the daily shows begin after 9:30 pm and cost 5 euro or less.

XIII. Luminara Festival

One night a year Pisa has it’s Luminara Festival. On June 16th, all the houses along the Arno river turn out their lights and put candles in the window, the Leaning Tower of Pisa lights up for the only night the entire year, and people gather along the banks of the river. The festivities celebrate the eve of San Ranieri, the city’s patron saint.