from the mitten to the boot and back

Ann Arbor is cheerful and upbeat, there’s an electricity here. The University of Michigan is intertwined with the city and they depend on each other. In part, it’s powered by the students; the twenty-somethings buzzing to and fro with a furious mixture of excitement and anxiety. There’s either no money in our pockets or too much of dad’s. We’re confronted by our futures. It could be in 5 minutes from now, following the call of a grande soy vanilla latte  – or directing the course for years in advance, to major in English or Communications because “at least you can get a job with that”.

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“Townies” as we call the natives of Ann Arbor could be described as hip and well educated with a general acceptance that driving around this city is hell from September to May. Some are a bit eccentric, but they certainly add to A2’s flavor. Because of the University’s international scope, lots of people are drawn here from all over the world.

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Anyone who has an interest in anything can probably find it in Ann Arbor. The community and University combined offer a club for almost anything and activities from rock climbing, to roller derby, nerdy but cool gaming places and record stores to a botanical garden. Obama likes hanging out here and Madonna went to UoM for a little while – her daughter goes here now!!

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The truly, truly beautiful thing about college, and specifically University of Michigan is – we have this cradle of Ann Arbor, it surrounds us in comfort and offers the tools we can use to find ourselves. It is soft here, and welcoming. People are happy and helpful.

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Mid December overcast skies in Michigan, the trees have laid their leaves down and they are long gone from their raked piles on the side of the street. We barely hesitate, we slip on our gloves and our long, black, puffy parkas to head out into the cold. Although I know the routine, every year it seems I forget about the biting wind and the ever present chill that cannot be quenched by layers of clothes or artificial heat.

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I was staying with Nikki who graciously took me in for a few weeks when I came back from Italy. (roomies4lyfe) Thanks to this girl for always being there. Ride or Die. A truth speaker and often times my moral compass. The bigger the hoop earrings the better. I could say a lot but I’ll spare her. Days are spent pretty quiet – we stream tv shows on the internet and always have good talks over smoke breaks.

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And dearest Gaby who gives the warmest hugs lives two doors down. Within one block, four houses belong to my closest friends – a one minute walk connects most of the people I hang out with.

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This is our little baby Zilla, she’s two years old now, but she has the small stature and spirit of a kitten. By that I mean she’s pretty crazy and basically a ball of cattitude who is very loving in her own way when she chooses to be.

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By the time night falls, we pick ourselves up, and finally put ourselves together. With our energy wound up all day in books and working food service part time, after dark is our time to shine.

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Once the night’s supplies have been gathered and we are prepped to go, our troop begins to fall in line. Jackie, Joe and Théo come in from Division, across the parking lot behind Nikki’s house – the silliest folk I know who all have sharp wit, are keen on cuddling and cooking, and are the most generous with their love and resources.

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After a lil goofing off, we go from Jefferson around the corner to Division where my friends were hosting Théo’s birthday party. The party started with all of our closest friends. I heard many people say “if this is all that show’s up, I’ll be fine with that”. We are all in senior year, we have found our niches, our family, our spots. A night with the people you already know trumps a night of walking around looking for a party big enough to crash.

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The thing about college is that sometimes Crystal Palace is your only option, and that isn’t okay but it has to be.

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I can tell you with certainty that Taylor Swift’s “Shake it off” is streaming on someone’s iphone through the speakers to get us all in the mood to dance – it works every time.

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Leaving my signature.

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The best thing about my friends is how much variation we have amongst us – we all differ in background or race, career path, sexual orientation, major, and beliefs. My friends all have different perspectives that help me to understand and care more about the world outside of my own experience. They are all strong willed, I know that all of my friends will succeed in any endeavor they chase. I expect they will all go far. Nikki’s mom spent a night with us once and after observing our interactions, with heartfelt tears welling in her eyes, she compared us to “a good minestrone” with lots of different ingredients that each have a taste of their own and compliment each other. I admire my friends for their passions in human rights and for tirelessly putting acceptance and love into a world that is so often unforgiving. I am blessed to be surrounded by folks who support me to the max. They not only love me for who I am, but they helped make me this way. It’s people who make a place feel like home.

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We carry on from porch to porch around the neighborhood, meeting friends of friends which automatically makes them friends too. We let go, we drink and laugh and probably forget a lot of the details.

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The holidays bring about ugly sweater themed parties to celebrate the end of a semester. Peppermint patty shots are  peppermint schnaps poured down the hatch, followed up with chocolate syrup to chase it down.

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Walking down liberty towards main st we head to the German bar, Heidelberg, then a cab ride across town to Blue Lep.

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And he’ll probably hate me for putting this in here, but since leaving Italy in November, my boyfriend Peppe has been stuck behind a screen. 4,000+ miles is really far and difficult but we’re going strong and totally excited for the next big adventure: Peppe in America! Coming soon!

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dam good

DSC_7093 copyLast week I had a delightful treat in the form of this lovely lady, Erin. A fellow Michigander and photojournalist, Erin was staying in Florence for a week and a half with her family. I love it here so so much, but I can’t express how refreshing it is to have a familiar face around.

DSC_7112 copyI met Erin through University of Michigan’s student newspaper, The Michigan Daily. We were taught as photojournalists to “ask for forgiveness, not permission.” So basically – investigate, take risks, use your camera as an excuse to apologize later.  We took a walk around the south side of the Arno just to catch up and hopefully find some photo-worthy adventures.

DSC_7113 copyAfter a panino at Santo Spirito and having a creepy old man take pictures of us, we reflected on the benefits of being small cute girl photographers. We walked around for a while and finally something caught our eyes! Like, how did he get down there?

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There were a bunch of people sunbathing out on a dam in the middle of the Arno. The perfect, unsuspecting subjects to capture. So OBVIOUSLY we had to figure out how to get there.
DSC_7131 copyThe point of entrance wasn’t obvious from the street so we had to peak over the wall a few times to find the best place to hop over. Climbing over a brick wall and down the side got us where we wanted to go, with only minor setbacks due to too-tight pants.

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DSC_7139 copyAnd so we were released to roam and capture an array of different folks who flocked here: the sunbathers, couples, families, kids, fishermen and other camera-wielders.

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I climbed out out and sat on the far edge of the log beneath a deer statue made of sticks and wire.  My legs dangled over the water and I took a moment to set my camera down and take in my surroundings. It’s times like this when I consciously acknowledge that I’m actually here. When I feel the weight of such an incredible opportunity, the realization of a dream setting in, it’s nearly incapacitating. I can’t even estimate how old the ground is beneath me, how many feet have walked it before me. The buildings stretched along these streets have seen so much, their presence seems to impart a type of wisdom I can’t describe. I said to Erin, “I could seriously fall into this river and die right now and be happy.” Well duh, It’s not that I want to, but it’s that I’m so content and I’ve come so far.

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DSC_7213 copyThe thing about photographers is we actually hate having our pictures taken. It’s necessary to be a little sneaky but I loved this snap of Erin. That Tuscan sun gives a special type of glow.

DSC_7216 copy These girls were taking pictures of each other in a senior portrait sort of way. I offered to take a photo of the two of them together on their camera, in exchange for one on my own.

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And then there were these guys, couldn’t have been more than 15 years old drinking beer wearing beer shirts. It doesn’t really get much better than this.

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There’s nothing more satisfying than taking a walk with no destination and discovering such interesting places. Thanks to Erin for her wonderful company and for bringing a little mid-western warmth from the mitten.

***Check out Erin’s seriously amazing photography at eakirkland.tumblr.com****

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creatures of the night

Since I arrived in Florence, I’ve been working with an American painter and performance artist who lives in the city. Friday night, we attended a vampire themed party hosted in his beautiful studio which has an incredible location right near the Uffizi museum. The invitation called for all black attire and vampire teeth.

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Of course, we had to have a little drink before heading out to the party. My roommate Luca offered me a sip of absinthe, which I’ve never tried. It was so strong but super delicious, it tasted like black liquorice. The four of us shared a roomie shot of tequila (my drink of choice) before taking off. Meet Luca and Ziba –

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As we were walking to the party, Peppe kept saying he felt strange wearing only black. He works in a bank, is pursuing an economics degree and let’s just say, he doesn’t have too much experience with us “artist types”. I honestly didn’t know what to expect either, but I assured him because it’s a party of artists, there would probably be people there sporting full face make up and costumes –  we weren’t let down!

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A table in Giovanni’s painting studio was set up with costume make up and as soon as we got there, guests had already started getting a little freaky. I tried leaving in my vampire teeth but they made it pretty much impossible to speak clearly or take drinks, so they ended up being mostly just for pictures.

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Giovanni’s costume definitely took the cake, keeping a cape on in 80 degree weather is a feat and he had garlic strung around his next but as far as my knowledge goes, vampires hate garlic. I asked him about it and he claimed to be strong, it was a show of his ultimate vampire power.

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There were boxes of wine, which I automatically associate to college parties with Franzia and slap the bag – but Peppe explained that it was in a box because a farmer made it, assuring it was actually fancy and fresh.

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By 10:30, the party was in full swing. Plenty of introductions and interesting people, plenty of drinks and snacks to go around. There was a huge range of people, young and old speaking different languages and from all over the world.

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One of my favorite people I met was an Italian man named Flask who noticed the lens on my camera was old, a film lens. So we had a really great conversation about photography and how the only way to really make money in the industry is to work in a very commercially prescribed way.

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Peppe made a comment about how different the atmosphere of an art party is. To him, a boss’ party would be men in suits talking about making investments. He said his favorite part of the night was “The air, the artistic waves in the air. For me it’s a new experience.”

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For me, it’s tradition to take mirror selfies in bathrooms at parties once we are feeling good and tipsy.

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Not many people were dancing, so me and the studio manager, Anna wanted to break the ice. She’s from Colorado and is studying here in Florence. We hung out with her and her friend Luigi for most of the night.  Shortly after, a few more people filtered into the dance floor. I love dancing and if music is on, I can’t help but shake it just a little. Creds to Peppe for this blurry dancing photo.

DSC_6691 copyAfter maybe one too many shots of tequila, we headed for home and I was desperate to prove to myself I wasn’t too drunk to take pictures.

This was definitely an ideal way to celebrate my first full week in Florence. It feels great to be making so many connections and it already feels like I have a place here.  I am definitely missing all of my friends from Ann Arbor – nobody parties like they do. Coming from an art school, this event really hit home for me and sort of opened a whole new world for Peppe.

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Where it all began –

I attended Studio Art Centers International in Florence for study abroad during July this summer.  My whole life I’ve dreamed of traveling and this was my first time out of the States. Seriously, everything I have studied and worked for was leading up to this moment. The experience was eye opening and life changing, to say the very least. The first few weeks I was only taking photographs when I realized they weren’t adequately capturing my feelings. So, I felt compelled to make this video.

First and foremost, I fell in love with this city; the cobblestone beneath my feet, the smell of leather wafting through the streets – I could go on and on and on. (my only complaints being mosquitoes and a lack of ranch dressing) There was something about this place that really hit me, hard.  I joked about marrying an italian man so I wouldn’t ever have to leave – which is another story entirely. I remember having the thought, “I don’t feel homesick whatsoever… does that mean in some capacity that I’m already home???” It may seem a little drastic, but I became totally attached.

FAST FORWARD

A week after arriving back home in Ann Arbor, I had a lot of trouble adjusting back into my life. The thought of starting school, starting my senior year and a huge project right after I had this experience that changed the way I saw absolutely everything – it seemed impossible. I just didn’t feel finished in Florence yet. I didn’t get to leave the city at all, I wanted to see more, do more. So, one Sunday morning I had the though “What if I take a year off of school and move back?” wait.. what if I really do that? Once I had the thought I knew I had to try or I would always regret not doing so. I would push forward until something got in my way, and if nothing did I knew it was right.

In that following week I busted my ass more than ever, arranging housing, making sure my academics were in order, seeing what the consequences would be to take the time off and researching what it would take. To my surprise, the entire plan unfolded almost effortlessly and most people in my life were completely supportive – the doors were swinging wide open and all I had to do was step through. By the next Saturday, I purchased a one-way plane ticket.

DET -> BOS -> NY -> MILAN three planes, two trains, a cab and nearly 36 hours later, I arrived back in Florence 40 days after I left.

So here I am. In a month, my life became something I could have never imagined and at the same time it’s like living a dream. Anything I could have ever planned is tossed to the wind, my heart flutters from the excitement of the unknown and endless potential. I’m not used to expressing myself with words, so bear with me! With this blog, I invite you all to join in on this adventure of mine.

 

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