One year ago and other memories.

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A little over a year ago I entered a room on the third floor of the building where I took a majority of my courses and spent many hours on campus, utterly terrified, holding my personal copy of the thesis that had occupied and been the point of two years of academic research, drafts, edits, feedback, and stress.

I don’t remember much of my thesis defense. I remember that many people came and that my family and friends and classmates being there meant so much. I remember that some of the questions were quietly brutal, but that my thesis stood up to criticism well because it was thorough and thoughtful. I remember feeling gratitude for my thesis supervisor for her eagle eyes and brilliant mind, who took me on and helped me take a woman’s enormous life and help make her story into something manageable.

The weekend there was far too short. I was inundated with the want to do everything- eat at Pho Vy, drink coffee at Habit, go to the graveyard, take my family to the tiny sushi place that I treasured so much. I remember crying on the ferry that took me away from Canada, wondering when I’d be back.

I miss that city so much.

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It is very important to know how to be alone.

I was almost flat broke, determined to spend the last of my money on a ticket to Zurich. I was, after all, meant to celebrate my own birthday, yes, and 20 is big deal! And seeing as I didn’t want to be around humans, it would be better to be around art. Calculating that there was indeed enough money for a museum ticket and a train ticket, the decision was made.

I packed a large bag with two cameras, a book, some snacks, and walked to the train station to catch the train to Zurich. Due to Swiss geography, one does not get to stay on the train from Lugano the whole way to Zurich. After going through Bellinzona, then the steep Gotthard Pass, which is quite an engineering feat, the train stops at windy, lonely, tiny Arth-Goldau, a transit station where you have about 2 minutes to scramble and find the train that will take you to your final destination. Arth-Goldau is freezing cold in the winter, smack dab in the middle of Switzerland, and when you stop there it feels deserted and almost surreal.

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That is Arth-Goldau as I walked across the way to my train. I know, such a crisp photograph! (Please forgive the thin lines on many of the photographs- something with my camera, probably the backing plate, scratched thin lines onto several rolls!)

From there, I settled onto the final train. Rolling into Zurich, through graffiti-filled tunnels, the train parked and I got off. I had earlier researched which tram to get on and found the #3 with little effort. Paying for my ticket, I headed straight to the Kunsthaus Zurich, the city’s fantastic museum. Museums have always been one of my favorite ways to spend time solo.

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I spent the morning and early afternoon there, looking at everything from Piet Mondrian to medieval Madonnas. If my faulty, human memory serves me, it wasn’t crowded. I was allowed to have entire rooms to myself. In one room, a spider descended from the ceiling right in front of me, as though to have a better picture of the bright blue and white Fernand Leger painting we were both admiring. This is the only living, breathing thing I shared my experience with willingly.

Living abroad, one discovers the importance of being able to be alone. How to be alone, not lonely, and if you are lonely, to corral the loneliness somewhere else so that your living hours are not spent in sorrow. As I walked around the Altstadt (Old Town), past buildings that had lived through 500+ years of events, I passed art galleries and fashion boutiques. Carts of beautiful books for sale sat outside large, sunny shop windows. I thumbed through a few, unable to even think of buying anything. Languages from every corner of the earth were heard, mixed with the local Schweizerdeutsch, echoed from wood-beamed buildings. I will never not be bored of being in old places. This walls of these buildings had so many stories to tell, and the people who lived in them and worked in them surely could echo my sentiments. Wandering, listening, watching, are all wonderful things to do alone.

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It was a beautiful day- sunny but not too bright, a spring morning full of that omnipresent optimism that Primavera brings. Being able to wander with no time limits, no need to do anything, was perfect. I stopped outside churches, walked by the river, people-watched, and spent the whole day going wherever felt right. It was marvelous to do so.

Although this was over 5 years ago that broke girl and I are still very much alike. Being alone has become more and more normal. My friends, scattered across the globe like seeds, exist often on the fringes of my life, and my beloved partner is also geographically quite distant. Museums are still a place I go to escape reality and to embrace it, and I have been saving a weekend just so I can go to the museum here on a rainy, awful day.

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Although the formula isn’t perfect, I do know how to be alone quite well, and it is very important to know how to do so. Especially in our lives, where it is so easy to feel despair and embrace negativity, knowing how to fortify yourself with books, Skype dates, plenty of sleep, and spontaneous adventures will keep you going for longer than you think.

Also, fair warning, but this might be one of a few escapist-like pieces. The world right now is a vicious thing, and the teeth and claws normally hidden behind lips and under fur are gleaming everywhere I look.

Quietly learning

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My grandfather is not the most verbose individual. But, he gave me boxes and boxes of his Ektachrome and Kodachrome slides covering the early 1960’s all the way into the late 1980’s. As I scan in the slides, 12 at a time, I see what he saw. I see who he photographed. I don’t know why or how or even sometimes where, but I get to see the world through his eyes.

My grandfather has a wealth of knowledge about almost everything. He doesn’t talk about it too often, though. One thing I love is to see how he frames his wife, his children, and his friends. My grandfather is careful. He is not reckless with his photographs. I love finding these very blatantly sensitive, conscious thoughts coming through his photographs. My intimidating, often quiet grandfather makes gorgeous photographs. I’ll post more soon.

These are from Maine in 1975, and the gloom and blue hues make me want to head East.

Every day is like Sunday.

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Currently:

Listening to Apres Moi by Regina Spektor and getting all the winter ominous feelings out in the open.

Lusting after the gorgeous veil creation by Gabrielle Djanogly, which makes me feel like a Renaissance Madonna painting and a goddess of the moon had a hybrid daughter.

Studying blood transfusion methods, which in the early 1900’s were grim, painful, and fascinating. The last 100 years of medical innovation have been beyond incredible.

Trying, for some reason, to recall the levels of Dante’s version of Hell and found a handy visual guide.

Thinking about goosebumps and sinking my boots into soft forest floors. When it’s cold I think much more about my body in a protective sense.

Admiring the creations and thoughts that make themselves apparent in the Instagram of Adele Mildred, a milliner, illustrator, mother, and general demi-goddess who creates magnificent things and does it while usually sporting perfect red lipstick.

Going to try to make this Hokkaido Milk Bread when I get back to Montana.

This morning my walk to the cafe was slick and tricky, but gorgeous- the frost has occupied every surface it can. I saw cars slide along the road and my icy breath swirl around me and am now clutching a cup of black coffee the barista filled to the brim.

I want to make lots of food when I get home. Take long baths and see snow and put on my enormous, -40F ready boots, go into the backyard and find animal tracks that weave around the grasses and bushes. I want to hug friends outside while we’re bundled up in our big coats and clap my hands together wearing enormous mittens.

I hope your Sunday is full of good whimsy and good moments.

Miei amici

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These lovely souls I haven’t seen for almost two years, but they’re all beloved friends that are being badasses outside of my world but nonetheless still being pretty wicked wenches.

From drinking Thai beer on wood floors to riding late night trains, eating Kinder Buenos and Chinese food in Zurich, to exploring such amazing places as Palermo, Krakow, Madrid, Istanbul, and Paris, these are the people that made it possible to do so with as much adventure as possible.

Many of these dears are graduating undergrad this semester, and although I’ve got another winter semester to go, I’m really hoping that sometime in the next year or two we can reunite through some weird force in the universe. The thing about going to a tiny little English speaking school in the weird Italian speaking part of German-speaking Switzerland is that you realize how minuscule the world is. You meet people, spend time, part, then reunite, find each other again, and the lapse in time in between becomes almost instantaneously erased.

I think in general remarkable people find fellow remarkable people and keep them in their minds until they can make it possible to see one another again. Although I am so bad at missing people, and so bad at coping, the fact that I know, that I have almost no doubt, that someday I’ll see the wondrous people I love and care about sooner or later…well, it’s very comforting, to say the least.

2010: Two years ago.

Two years ago, in 2010, was the first time I really started getting into film photography. While I experimented mostly with old 80’s and 90’s hand-held cameras from the thrift store, it started getting me into my obsession quite rapidly! I like looking back on my old images, and so here’s a sort of retrospective of my foray into film. And yes, I did have a red shock of short, curly hair two years ago. Some days I miss it terribly!

 

I miss this city.

 

Lugano, Switzerland. A paradiso among the Svizzera landscape, a gem among the glinting, often snow-capped mountains.

Placed on the Italian border, this gorgeous city has broken my heart time and time again. It is almost a year since I left, and thinking about this place makes me so happy and yet so sad.

Leaving a place so beautiful, so multi-faceted, and so full of life is not an easy thing to do. When this place has the best friends you’ve ever known, it gets harder. I have cried so many times over missing Switzerland, and my heart still bears bruises somewhere, but they’ve backed off to become a dull thud. They’ll always be there.

Now, Bozeman is blooming. Montana has the same crisp feeling as Switzerland, and a similiar landscape close to the Rockies. I look at the peaks nearby and if I don’t look at the landscape below I leave this English speaking place for a bit and return to a place that felt pretty damn amazing.

I took these photographs almost exactly a year ago for a project to document the streets and the people. The results were gorgeous- and still are.

Once Upon a Time

Right now, it is cold and windy. I spent the evening in a bar having conversations with amazing, intelligent people, but the wind was fierce walking home, and I found myself naturally going to a rainy, warm place that I used to know.

This was November- snow was on the outer mountains that ring Lugano, but it hadn’t touched it. Instead, we got rain and sunshine, and cloud formations like you wouldn’t believe. It was marvelous, and I miss the days when the clouds were like cotton balls.

For some reason, the clouds here spread out and form beautiful patterns, but never get the cotton-y texture that the Swiss clouds did. And yes, I did just romanticize clouds.

 

My first trip to Zürich, in 2009.

The very first time I went to Zurich was September, 2009. I had just gotten semi-used to the humid hell that was Lugano, when our professor told us we’d be spending a Wednesday in Zurich for our Freshman Seminar class. Luckily, my friends Katerina and Laura came with me.

Zurich to my immature eyes was perfection. I haven’t changed that opinion much, now, but I can tell you that everything was amazing. The streets, the Altstadt, the trams, the train itself which was so quiet and smooth! Katerina and I went and saw an American movie, ate a great lunch near the Ferris wheel, and we spent the evening eating a traditional Zurich dinner in a dining hall that was over 500 years old.

Touristy? Yes. Magnificent? Definitely. I didn’t even know what the Grössmunster was, or how wonderful a Luxemburgerli tastes! And yet, I feel in foolish, uneducated love with this gorgeous Swiss city.

Note: All these photographs were taken by a teenager obsessed with contrast and saturation, and armed with a terrible Nikon Coolpix digital camera. I do not claim that these are quality photographs, only a medium to see through!

Crippling nostalgia and irrepressible wanderlust

Right now, I am sitting in a Starbucks in Montana with Chelsea, surrounded by people in military issued camo and young people, and completely engulfed in memories. The trees outside are bare, and the people speak in English, a langauge I am fluent in, and strangely I do not feel at home.

Even though I was only there for two years, living in Switzerland has essentially warped my ideas about “home”. Home is more people than place to many people, but I have become defined by a foreign location that I am not a native of. I do not speak fluent Italian, but I can get around, order food, ask for things, and have basic conversations. I can travel with my Binario-7 (After-7) pass to Zurich, Basel, Lausanne, etc.- all without problems. I can order food in German and French and I know how the Swiss work, because it eventually became the way I worked.  I became absorbed in a place that was so unfamiliar- expect for the landscape, which Montana possesses also. Right now all my energy is monopolized by the past, which I so painfully wish could be my present.

Please excuse my nostalgia. It surfaces with such vigor there is no point in trying to battle it. If you get sucked into a rip tide at the beach, you ride it out and then eventually swim out of it, and my nostalgia is much the same. Unexpected, but powerful.

Zurigo, how I miss thee!

On my birthday, I was miserable. I was far away from home and I was turning 20. I felt as though I had accomplished nothing, and my self esteem was non existent. I had barely any money, but I knew what I wanted to do anyway: go to Zürich. Something about getting away from Lugano, getting away from the people I loved, and getting away from the fact that at that point my future was so tremulous I got myself on a 7:00 am train and got to Zürich at early lunch.

I first went to the Kunsthaus, the art museum in Zurich with stupendous art from Mondrian to van der Weyden. They had a magnificent room devoted to Ferdinand Hodler, one of my favorite Swiss artists. I went from room to room, absorbing the energy from each work and wondering what the artists’ lives were like. I wandered around the gift shop and got some postcards with my favorite paintings on them- I do this and I collect these postcards so that I have a little miniature art collection of my own that is portable.

After the Kunsthaus left me full of artistic thoughts, I spent some time in Starbucks, listening to five or six languages being spoken simultaneously, then wandered through the Old Town, or Altstadt, walking to the Grössmunster, the two-tiered church right in the middle of the Altstadt.

The church has agate windows and draws many tourists, but I didn’t stop walking. I wandered around the Grössmunster, admiring the copper doors and the height of it all. I walked across the bridge where the Limmat River meets Lake Zurich, and saw the Ferris wheel and walked down Bahnhofstrasse, past the shop of Luxemburgerli’s. Of course, I couldn’t resist going in, fighting the crowded space and getting a box of them for the ride home.

Right off the Bahnhofstrasse on the right side as I was headed to the Bahnhof (train station) was an English book store- thank goodness! I had been craving literature and bought 3 or 4 reasonably priced books, deciding that even if I was going to broke I should have some words to salve the wounds.

On the train home I made friends with a Turkish girl studying in Milan, got off the train at about 11 at night in the dark, took the bus home, and collapsed in my bed. I didn’t feel so insignificant anymore, and it was a day well spent.

I just looked outside to the cold, familiar world outside my window and now I’m back in my seat instead of curled up in the SBB train waiting to get off and go to my apartment. It seems like a whole other world.

Ho pensato che sarebbe meglio ormai.

Ah, heart pangs. Wanderlust. Debilitating moments where instead of being productive, I skim through the thousands and thousands of pictures I have of my two years studying and being a part of Switzerland.

A lot of people treat my two years abroad as a sort of vacation. In that I first went to travel and have fun and second study. That is very very false. Being at a small school you learn how it works, and you want to learn how to get involved. Even though my photographs rarely show the blandness of the cafeterias or the classrooms, that’s because I take them for granted and appreciate my time spent in il centro and fuori scuola (downtown and outside school).

My school had a rigorous course schedule and unrelenting amounts of papers and homework. German, British, and Italian professors  with heavy accents teach you about gender roles, the history of Italy, and how to do algebraic equations. If I earned an A, it was something I had worked my ass of for. My B’s were also hard won…a particularly brilliant and quick witted professor named Professor Pyka would give us obscure readings and ask us to make connections. His insatiable appetite for academic progress made us all cower in fear, awe, and mostly confusion.

It’s strange, because now that I’ve transferred elsewhere, I still wake up and consciously have to adjust myself to what is to being a new world. I’ve been here for seven weeks and I still think I’ll see my professors in the local bar. I see students here who look like friends back in Switzerland. I hear people speak German and I smell cigarette smoke and I am brought back to nights huddling at the tables outside the Irish pub or making my way to Club 1 in the dark alleys of Lugano. I think my professors are accessible by email at 3 am.

Honestly, Franklin is not an Ivy League institution, but I’ve been here for seven weeks and have seamlessly gotten into the level of academic rigor as befits a junior in college. My money that I have paid for an international education has paid off; in fact, I’ve been acing all my exams, and feel totally competant to face any challenges the world  holds for me. Maybe it’s because I’ve slept in train stations, been lost in foreign countries, have made friends who don’t speak English on train rides, and have ordered food in multiple languages, but something about living in Switzerland for two years has bolstered my confidence in myself and my ability to do whatever I want to.

Franklin, do not forget me. I shall never forget you!