Let it wash over me- the Nostalgia post.

kic-image-0002kic-image-0003kic-image-0004kic-image-0005

How much of what I remember is real? How much of it is fantastical, invented by repetition of remembering? How much of Lugano that I possess in image won’t be there when I go next time?

I left Lugano in May of 2011, when I was 20 years old, sure of my return. I have not been back since. I ended up graduating from an in-state university instead of the prestigious, dual-degree giving small college in Switzerland I planned on.

I was surrounded by new things there, when at the age of 18 I embarked on the rare opportunity to learn somewhere entirely foreign to me. Ridiculous amounts of wealth stared me in the face- students in leased Porsches, BMW’s, and Mercedes-Benz vehicles lined the small student parking lot, bags worth my tuition gracefully hanging from fellow students arms, expectations of lavishness that had only entered my eyes previously through magazines. One classmate described growing up being shuffled around in armored vehicles in Colombia due to her father’s fear of being kidnapped. In Montana we keep a winter survival kit in the car in case something happens. In the cafeteria Arabic, Spanish, Russian, German, Czech, and English all mingled. Downtown Lugano was a space of tremendous, blatant wealth as well- I gazed at 800 franc shoes from Ermenegildo Zegna, gorgeously tailored suits, women wearing furs in the midst of May. Limited edition cars so rare that their worth almost couldn’t be ascertained- Bugatti, Lamborghini, Bentley, Jaguar- parked near 18th century Baroque churches. Versace, Bally, Hermes, Gucci, Missoni, Cartier boutiques lined the narrow, car-less streets weaving between quiet, elegant piazzas.

In the autumn, the piazzas were laced with the smell of roasted chestnuts. Sullen Gothic teenagers huddled outside Manor, sharing quiet comradery. Efficient buses hummed around and the funiculare which took you from downtown to the train station cost .10 francs and went to and fro full of passengers up the steep hill. Centuries old buildings with painted on windows, all shades of pastel, created a maze-like town of alleys and piazzas to stumble into. In the winter, one would hear the helicopters as large, regal Christmas trees were lowered into the piazzas. Old men played chess on the many painted large chess boards around the city. Swans, regal thieves, languidly floated near the edge of the lake, waiting to be fed. The sleek, small train station whisked people away to Milano Centrale or to the Zurich Bahnhof, wherever the rider wanted to go. I myself had the utter joy of having a train pass, being able to explore such cities as Lausanne, St. Gallen, Basel, and Zurich, easily and efficiently. Well-dressed older gentleman whose taxis were plush Jaguars asked if you needed their services. If you did indeed take a taxi, the inside was full of the sounds of bad 1990’s American rock and pop music that the drivers knew every word to. (I remember having one very patient Luganese gentleman try to shove my rather tattered bag into the back of his car at 5 am, probably much more used to dealing with more sleek creatures.)

Among all this newness and strangeness, I found my stride, my humble Montana-based stride, in the midst of all. Migros was the affordable grocery store that I regularly patronized. H&M clothed me. My friends and I splurged on warm Nutella crepes or nocciolo gelato, at 5 francs a welcome luxury, from the petite stands that emerged outside Manor and on corners. Churches full of relics, frescoes, and gorgeous, quiet details absorbed my spare time. Flowers in the Parco Civico, changed frequently, smiled at me, and in the early mornings, before most humans were awake, I could have the lakeside, and even the Italian mountains across the lake, to myself. On a few special occasions my dearest friends and I gathered at the Spaghetti Store by the lake to devour pizza with marscopone, arugula, and prosciutto with cheap table wine.

And yet, how much of this is personal mythology I coaxed from the threads of my mind? How many times was my identity as outsider made obvious?

I really hope, in the next few years, to go back and ascertain how much of what I think I know about this beautiful city is false. Human memory is so faulty, beautifully so, and if I find comfort in the ideas I’ve woven for myself,so be it. The curious part of me, however, is not always content with that answer- nor should it be. Lugano, I cannot wait to re-explore and analyze you with my veteran eyes.

The final days

My dog was dead. My beautiful, black and white Springer, Maggie, was dead 3 days before I left Switzerland. Leaving would validate her death. Upon returning to my home, she wouldn’t be there to smell all my clothes and jump on me like she had 5 months earlier. If I returned she would really be dead. As long as I was 6,000 miles away, she wouldn’t really not be there.

Returning was necessary. It was financially unfeasible for me to remain there. My family didn’t have the money to keep me at the school, and I was unwilling to perch precariously on a mountain of debt. In late May, I got on a little plane with whirring propellers to Zurich and headed “home”.

“Home” at this point wasn’t real. I was leaving my new family- my beautiful, vivacious friends. I was leaving my new home- my messy studio apartment with lentils on the ceiling due to a bad canned lentils accident and a tiny shower in a black granite bathroom. I slept in my house with the door open to the balcony, hearing rain pound endlessly just outside my door, letting the cool air waft in. I wore rain boots and ate horribly and drank sugar-laced apfelsaft. I walked downtown to get Thai food with my beautiful friends, and Hannah and I shared gelato and meandered around, buying gummy candy for no reason. We walked through the park or made food at ridiculous hours.

To me, leaving was the worst. I was in mourning about 2 months before I had to leave. I desperately photographed everything- even playing Uno on the floor drinking heady wine and bier. I took videos on bad and good days. I tried to piece together what it was like, even though I knew I’d glaze it over to only the good moments.

Packing up my room was the weirdest. At that point I was numb. I simply got rid of things without understanding their significance. How proud I was to put together the Ikea shelf I bought, how much I loved my little duck-shaped laundry hamper meant for children. How heavy it was so get my books back to America and how I refused to leave almost any of them. How taking photographs off my walls made them echo more.

Taking the taxi to the airport was surreal. I’d done it quite a few times before. I knew the drill. The overdressed Switalian man would load my luggage in his trunk and not be able to fit both enormous suitcases in. He’d drive the same beautiful Jaguar and listen to bad ’90’s pop on the radio. He’d make minimal conversation and I’d go over in my mind if I had my passport and boarding pass. Getting to the airport I didn’t want to cry. Nobody I knew was on my flight. I felt so alone. I checked in, using some of the last Italian I’d use ever. I stumbled over the words, making a mess of the language I’d hated and loved and messed up for two years.

I got onto the plane, and looked out the window. It was clean and white. I saw classmates faces but they didn’t know who I was. No flicker of recognition. I sat silently, looking to see how long of a layover I had in Zurich. I looked around and saw the hills in green, covered in the lush trees.

Crying finally caught me as the plane took off. Planes out of the Lugano airport take off at a very steep angle because of the surrounding terrain and I remember loving how I knew that and how I would hopefully fly back in fast and hard in a year or two. I took pictures out the window and saw San Salvatore underneath me. I could spot the park and Gandria and all the places I’d marched all over that beautiful city.

I haven’t been back. I don’t know if I ever will be.

What spring elsewhere looks like.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAIt’s raining outside my window. I didn’t sleep the night before- wine, Moonrise Kingdom, chess, backgammon, and a walk in the dark ended up being valuable ways to spend time.

Lugano, my city (citta in Italiano) welcomes spring with such fanfare, by now the flowers have been planted in the Parco Civico (the Swiss bring in pre-bloomed flowers to maximize visual pleasure- who wants to watch buds?), the swans are hungrily attacking whatever people toss at them, and the gelato stands might even be up. (Oh, man- I could really use some good nocciolo gelato!)

One morning in spring Hannah and I took the FLP train to the nearby town of Ponte Tresa, me using only Swiss change I had accrued in a bag. That was a good day.

Now to collapse dramatically in my lovely bed.

Nostalgia from a solo adventure

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA One Saturday in late March the temperature reached into the 70’s and I hopped onto a 9 am train to nearby Bellinzona. For 7 CHF, it was a deal- the morning market was happening, the sun was shining, and I was quite happy to be exploring.

Bellinzona has three UNESCO castles- I only made it to two. The first, Castle Grande, has a gorgeous field of grass in the top complete with an old tree. If I ever was able to, I would throw a grand party there, with string lights and lovely glasses on tables.

I hiked to the second castle and sat in the grass, ate a small lunch and enjoyed the sun and the ancient castle grounds. The fact that I could choose to do this for a day is still mind blowing to me. That I could hop on a 30 minute train ride and hike to two castles, sit on their lawns, and have them almost entirely to myself.

Oh Switzerland, how on these cold Montana nights you make me miss you.

 

While I am bed ridden

09060007 09060024 09120008 09120015 09140020 09180013I think I was too young to appreciate the fairytale setting of Lugano. I was only 18 when I went to live there and I think if I went now I would treat it better- I would explore more, try my Italian with a little more zest, and push my limits.

Regardless, I am bedridden right now, and when I make these images full-screen I can almost transport myself back to the lakeside, where coots and ducks co-existed with the Swiss fisherman, where I would run laps when I felt up to it, where nocciolo gelato provided comfort on those humid, hot Lugano days. When I would wake up earlier than anybody else and almost sneak down to the edge of the water, having the vast body of water almost entirely to myself to relish and selfishly view. I wanted to eat it all up with my eyes and leave nothing for anybody else.

 

Pretty living things post. (Look away!)

Everything here is dead. (I mean flower/pretty plant wise).

I mean, dead. It won’t re-appear or re-animate until maybe March…but that’s a stretch. To cope with this bout of lifelessness here in Montana, I periodically post sappy photographs of pretty naturalia (natural things). Today, it’s flowers. If you can’t handle the cheesiness of them, I suggest you go play Tetris or make some hot chocolate or do something – anything- else. This is going to be pretty, it’s going to be sappy, and it’s going to be repetitive.

Also, I sadly do not know the names of a lot of these flowers. If you want to get all horticultural on me and spread your knowledge, let me know so that I can properly identify the flora! Thanks!

Switzerland + Italy = Switaly

At the moment, I’m in the midst of nostalgia. What better way to share this nostalgia than visually demonstrating where I’ve been spending the better part of two years of my life?

My college life has never been normal. After deciding to hop on a jet plane to go to school in Lugano, Switzerland, my life took every twist and turn away from normal possible. It’s reality, but it doesn’t fit what most people would call a “real” life.

Lugano is a town of about 50,000 people tucked right on- you guessed it- Lago di Lugano. It’s a wealthy enclave only about 5 miles away from Italy, and the third biggest banking city in Switzerland after Zürich and Geneva. Zürich, being close to Germany, makes tax evasion handy. Geneva is for France, and Lugano is for Italy. Woo, proximity!

My school is bizarre. About 500 students come to our campus to study degrees from Finance, International Relations, Art History, Communications, History, etc…and we have classrooms, syllabi, professors and all the usual college-like amenities, including dorms. However, being in Lugano means that college takes a surreal spin. Lugano is in Switaly: the canton of Ticino, the only Italian speaking canton (state) in Switzerland. That’s why students often call it Switaly. It’s got the Italian culture blending with Swiss culture into a weird, but wonderful mix.

Lugano is beautiful; there is a wide shopping street, piazzas scattered all over town, lovely parks and swans, adorable well dressed Swiss children, and lots of money. It’s not uncommon to see Porsche  and BMW vehicles  jostling for space with superior Ferrari’s and Lamborghini’s.  Women don minks, men wear tailored suits that you know they went to Milan for, and the footwear that the Luganese sport is delightful. High heeled Salvatore Ferragamo shoes clack while double monk leather Bally shoes stand next to a pair of Gucci kicks waiting for stracciatella gelato. Chanel ballet flats and Yves Saint Laurent spiked booties, man sandals from the likes of Prada and the flip flops of eager tourists all meet together.

None of my pictures show this, of course. Instead, they show study sessions in a park near La Ghetto (no joke), windows as one walks to class, and lots of scenic beauty. I can’t help, though, to at least verbally try and demonstrate how bizarre Lugano is. Luckily, this is all in it’s favor; it’s also a hip contemporary art town with a world famous symphony and some really classic Alpine views to boot. 2.5 hours away you’re in Zürich, 1 hour to Milan. Getting to airports is quick and cheap, and the weather is temperate, although super rainy.

Right now, it’s in the 80’s outside with no humidity. Even though I know Lugano is probably reaching 37 C  (almost 100 F) and is at 100% humidity, right now I’d rather be sweating to get a nocciolo gelato and then eat it in the shade of my favorite bench al centro than be in my room typing this.