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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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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