Month: September 2015

Tips For Travelling Alone

Tips For Travelling Alone

When I was a teenager, I would daydream about travelling alone. It was ultimate sign of ball-busting independence: Going to bars and restaurants alone and talking to strangers, taking risks, making friends along the way, lounging in a park and sketching in my notebook, and spending countless hours of wandering and walking and looking.

Growing up in New York in a tight-knit Italian family where there was always someone to help you or do it for you (whether that’s cooking, washing the clothes, choosing friends, or how to wear your hair), I knew that in order for me to learn how to be on my own and have a cool life the way I dreamed it to be, I needed to go far enough away so that when things got difficult I wasn’t tempted to go back home. I dreamed that one day I could be the type of person that could travel alone, to go to strange places and try to speak their language, to be free and mobile with just a backpack on my back. Hah! When I went away to college, I chose one that was nearby and by the end of the first semester, I had left the dorm and moved back home. I was so angry with myself! But then I got the chance to spend a year abroad at Oxford for my junior year, I knew that was my chance!

It was a difficult year since it was my first time away, but I pushed myself and by the end of the year I had gotten enough confidence in myself to spend the summer travelling on my own. I went to Paris, Amsterdam, Florence, and Athens and after that I spent most of my 20s travelling and living on my own in different countries and learning languages.

Travelling solo is a great way to learn about yourself and even if you’re scared about being lonely or put into uncomfortable situations, do it! The great thing about travelling alone is that the cultural differences will have a greater impact on you as you experience them on your own and you’ll be able to notice more subtleties and nuances and learn more about yourself along the way.

Continue reading “Tips For Travelling Alone”

Tips on Travelling Solo:

  1. PACK LIGHTLY: Bring as little clothes as possible. (Easy to do in the summer). Wear a backpack or push around a little trolley. You’re on your own so you won’t be able to leave your bag with a friend while you run to the toilet or check out the newsagent while you’re waiting for the train. Don’t worry about not packing enough underwear to last you the trip. Do your laundry in the laundromats.
    paris laundromat
    Laundromat in Paris

    I’ve always liked doing my laundry in strange cities, it made me feel like I was part of place and it was a great place to people watch. Just bring a book.

  2. MAKE SURE WHICH HOTELS OR HOSTELS ARE OPEN LATE: If you arrive late in a city and you haven’t booked a place to stay, make sure you know which places are open. You don’t want to be searching alone late at night for a place to sleep.
  3. BE SAFE: I don’t mean to sound like your mom and don’t avoid visiting a place on your own just because it seems dangerous (Naples, Mexico City, Bangkok). But you can set a few rules for yourself to keep yourself out of harms way, while still enjoying your freedom to travel.
  • Trust your instinct. I once took a self defense class and the instructor said that of all the stories she’s heard from people who have gotten mugged, raped, and assaulted happened because they didn’t follow their instinct. So, if going down that alley feels wrong, even if it’s in the middle of the day and there are people all around, listen to yourself. Don’t do it.
  • Stay in open and public spaces, especially at night. Use your judgment. When I lived in Mexico City, I never ventured out alone in the city after 10 pm, even if there were people around. That said, if you’re in Rome hanging out in the piazza that’s full of people at 12:30 at night is a pretty good place to be.
  • Walk with confidence and purpose, like you own the place. When I was 21, I spent 4 months living in Florence. In the beginning, I was shy and I got lots of unwanted attention from men on the street. I kept my head down and walked quickly, but some would follow me or shout after me. But as I got used to the place and started to feel more comfortable, I started to look at the annoying men in the eye. If they said hello, I brightly and exuberantly said hello back, which made them run away.
  • Moderate your drinking. By all means have a glass of wine or two, but make sure you keep your wits about with you, so you can travel home safely. And if you need to, spend the money on a cab home.
  • Keep your wallet close to you. Carry cash and cards in separate places. Keep copies of your passport. If you sit down at an internet café or a restaurant, make sure your bag stays on your lap or next to you. Even better keep a small cross-body bag on you at all time with your most important things. I once made the mistake of putting my bag under my chair and when I got up to leave, it wasn’t there anymore.
  1. EAT, EAT, EAT: I love taking myself out to dinner with a notebook and trying new foods. But it can also get tiring always eating alone. If you’re uncomfortable eating alone, you can get some nice picnic foods and sit in a park. It’s also cheaper. Also, travelling alone doesn’t mean you’re always alone and it’s easy to make friends along the way. And if that’s difficult for you, too, you can also check out this website Invite for a Bite http://inviteforabite.com/. You can organize or join a meet-up group for a meal in whatever city you are visiting. It’s a great way to both travel solo and have some company.
  2. DOCUMENT: Take photos and keep a notebook. Selfies are great, but also take snapshots as little souvenirs and reminders not made for social media. Keeping a notebook is a great way to remember and place to paste all those ticket stubs, maps, and flyers that you’ve collected.
  3. KEEP AN OPEN MIND: Say yes to meeting someone and travelling together on a whim, take a chance on a taking part in a guided tour that you know nothing about, push your boundaries and go on that diving exhibition even though you’re afraid of sharks (maybe).
    Sunrise in Tulum, Mexico
    Sunrise in Tulum, Mexico

    That’s what’s great about travelling. You allow yourself to be open and vulnerable and you can get some great experiences from it. Of course, you follow your instincts and say no when it feels bad and you’ll know when to say no.

  4. CARRY A DICTIONARY: Make an effort to learn a few words in the language. Even if it’s just please and thank you. Natives will admire you for making the effort and it’s a great way to break down some barriers
  5. TAKE YOUR TIME: Even if you prepare yourself beforehand, there are going to be long queues, flight, bus and train delays, and cancellations at the last minute. Relax and try to take it for what it is, you’re on holiday and no one is expecting you to be anywhere. Put on your headphones and open your book and sit back and wait.
  6. YOU DON’T HAVE TO BE ALONE: If you get tired of being alone, don’t beat yourself up for it. Join a tour group for a day trip, look up online for a an expat-meetup group in the city, linger over breakfast in the hotel and talk to some other guests, pick your head up from your book and look around the room. If you’re feeling lonely, don’t beat yourself up for it, but realize that you have the advantage of meeting people because you’re travelling solo.
  7. DO YOUR OWN THING: There’s no right or wrong way to travel. If you feel like crossing off every item listed in your guideback, go for it. If you want to sit next to the Acropolis finishing your Danielle Steele novel, that’s great! No one’s testing you on this shit, it’s all about you and your stories.

 

 

Gaspara Stampa, Female Renaissance Poet

Gaspara Stampa, Female Renaissance Poet

I found this ceramic plate a few years ago at a charity shop in Tufness Park. The back of it is stamped and says that it comes from the Guerrieri workshop on the Murano island in Venice.

The phrase “Vivere ardendo e non sentire il male” can be roughly  translated as “To live in flames and never feel the pain.”

Ceramic plate from a charity shop in Tufnell Park

It’s like what I talked about yesterday. I’ve been looking at this phrase for years now, using the plate to put my rings on it while I wash the dishes in the kitchen, and it never occurred to me that it could come from something.

So finally I looked it up and yes it comes from a poem, written during the Renaissance by Gaspara Stampa, “Amor mi ha fatto tal ch’io vivo in foco“. (Love has made me such that live in fire).

 

I hadn’t heard of her before, but Gaspara Stampa is considered to be one of the greatest female poets of the Renaissance. She lived in Venice in the 1500s and she was educated in literature, art and music. Her family hosted salons in their homes and had regular visitors of artists, writers and musicians. She shunned society’s constraints and lived quite freely as an educated woman with lots of lovers.

 

I’ve been having this poem staring me in the face all this time! And what’s more it’s written by a Venetian courtesan poet, considered to be one of the greatest poets during the Renaissance. Can you believe it?

Here’s the poem in Italian:

Amor m’ha fatto tal ch’io vivo in foco,

   qual nova salamandra al mondo, e quale

   l’altro di lei non men strano animale,

   che vive e spira nel medesimo loco.

Le mie delizie son tutte e il mio gioco

   vivere ardendo e non sentire il male,

   e non curar ch’ei che m’induce a tale

   abbia di me pietà molto né poco.

I’m still trying to understand the old-fashioned Italian myself. But I like the part where the phrase comes from:

Love has made me such that I live in fire,
Like a second salamander in this world
Or like the phoenix that lives and dies in the same place.
All my delights and my game
Are to live in flames and never feel the pain
And never care if he who leads me to this,
Pities me little or much.

I feel like I’m full of all these ideas right now, of poems and writing, of Venice, of Italy, and of all these possibilities that life offers if you can ignore the self-doubt and what society says you can and can’t do. Of course, if you’re wealthy and educated, life is a lot easier, but this woman is still great inspiration. From this poem, she’s a woman who doesn’t back down because she’s been jilted in love and continues to fan the flames of her passion and personality.

Gaspara Stampa from: papale-papale.it
Gaspara Stampa
from: papale-papale.it
My Love For Italian Ceramics and Its History

My Love For Italian Ceramics and Its History

You know that feeling when you finally notice something that you’ve been looking at or seeing for years and years and you realize that it is the most beautiful thing you’ve ever seen? It’s kind of a cliché, but why is it? Why did it take you all that time to notice it?

That’s how I feel about Italian ceramics. I grew up with pieces at home and seeing them at them at all of my relatives homes in Italy and the US. I passed by countless shops in and around Napoli and it was just something familiar and passé, souvenirs hocked to the tourists.

Ceramics shop in Ischia
Ceramic shop in Ischia

This past year, it suddenly hit me how beautiful they are. Travelling to Venice to visit my in-laws, I noticed ceramics in their homes too, all these plates and jugs and bowls full of colours and patterns that seem to have absorbed all of that Mediterranean sun and gleam it back out inside the home.

What was wrong with me all these years? These are the most beautiful things in the world and I want to cradle them like babies. Lots of places sell cheaper pieces like souvenirs, which are still incredibly beautiful in my opinion, and I’ve found lots of them in the charity shop for a pound or two.

Continue reading “My Love For Italian Ceramics and Its History”

little ceramic plate from Murano, Venice
Ceramic plate from Murano, Venice that I found in a charity shop in North London. The phrase comes from a poem by the Venetian poet Gaspara Stampa, a great female poet during the Renaissance.
Water jug from Musa, Sicily
Water jug from Musa, Sicily that my mother-in-law gave me

But it made me wonder, being blind to these beautiful things surrounding me all these years, why were ceramics so popular in Italy? Why did they start making them?

The Italian pottery that we see all over Italy is called maoilica, a tin-glazed earthenware that makes the pottery gleam with colours that never fade. This type of pottery making originated in Mespotamia during the 9th century and the process travelled along the major trade routes. It made its way to Italy via Spain (specifically via Majorca hence the word maoilica) during the 12th century.

During the Renaissance improvements were made to the kilns and glazing process. New colours, in addition to the original purple and green, like orange, blue and yellow were used and the hand-painted pottery was elevated to an art form. The noble, wealthy families commissioned these pieces. Jugs, dinner plates, platters, vases, and tiles were all put into use and on display. The decorative patterns and colours taken from the Islamic and Spanish pottery soon turned into an Italian style of using mythical and biblical narratives and figures with ornate and colourful decorative patters against a gleaming white background.

harmacy Jar, dated 1515, Siena
harmacy Jar, dated 1515, Siena
Ceremonial Water Jug Sicily, c1450
Ceremonial Water Jug, c1450, Sicily

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

And the noble families even changed their eating habits because of the maoilica craze. Where before they engaged in family style eating, all eating off of the same platter, meals began to be served on beautiful individual plates.

Lustre majolica plate. 1520, Deruta, Italy
Lustre majolica plate. 1520, Deruta, Italy
Dish with an allegory of Chastity and the arms of Matthias Corvinus and Beatrice of Aragon, 1476, Italy
Dish with an allegory of Chastity and the arms of Matthias Corvinus and Beatrice of Aragon, 1476, Italy
Bowl with a putto holding a pinwheel, ca. 1530, Gubbio, Italy
Bowl with a putto holding a pinwheel, ca. 1530, Gubbio, Italy

I’ve only touched on the top layer of the history of pottery in Italy and I haven’t even mentioned the towns throughout Italy that were famous for making these these works — Deruta in Umbria, Montelupo in Tuscany, Vietri in Campania, Grottaglia in Puglia, and Monreale in Sicily. There is so much more to read and learn about and I’m only getting started. I know that following the history of these works also entails following the development of Italy as a country. From looking at one beautiful object, I can uncover a whole story and as well as the history of the development of Italy as a country. It’s incredible.

BUY ONLINE:

If you can’t make a trip to Italy right away, there are lots of places to buy maoilica online.

  1. That’s Arte
  2. Italian Pottery
  3. Authentic Deruta
  4. Bonechi Imports
  5. Ebay