Wednesday, June 17, 2009

Best Of The Semester

Here are two videos featuring my favorite pictures of the semester and music from the Afterthought Quartet

Tuesday, June 16, 2009

Back In America (Goodbye)

2:00PM June 11

As I left the aircraft, I met up with Evan Crane, the bassist from Origin Blue, who happened to be on the same flight a few rows back on the opposite side. Approaching customs, there was a woman who seemed to be directing which way to go, so I proceeded towards her. She then poured a large gob of sanitizer on my hands, but after it became clear that I was an American citizen, she directed me to the other line. Apparently I had gotten in the international customs line. There was no hand sanitizer on the American side though. To combat swine flu they must have felt it necessary for people to have clean hands, but it boggles my mind as to why that wasn't also implemented in the American line. Do we ooze penicillin from our pores? Are we immune to swine flu? Is it not just as likely that we could contract it during our time abroad as any other foreigner?

It was pretty quick getting through customs, and I got the least appealing stamp in my passport—both in appearance and destination—from re-entering in Newark. I waited around at baggage claim for about twenty minutes before they called mine and Evan's names. I was not surprised that he was called because he had to deal with getting his double bass back overseas. He told me that in Italy they found that they couldn't get it on the plane, so the baggage check attendants came up with a thoroughly Italian solution. They still marked it for his flight, but made sure it didn't get on the plane, forcing Lufthansa by their own policy to be obligated to send it back to America as a lost bag. He would then file a lost and found report in America, and they would have to ship it to his house in upstate New York. As for me, it had seemed that during my forty minute layover in Munich they were unable to transfer my baggage, so I had to fill out my address and phone number so they could deliver my baggage when it arrived.

If anything, having lost baggage made it easier to get through the second line of customs, as I didn't have to declare anything I was bringing back, and riding home on the train. My dad was there to meet me, and we made for the station to catch the next Amtrak train. I was a bit flustered when my dad asked the train attendant something in English, as I've become so accustomed to speaking to any authority figures in a foreign language. It had just become natural to view English as the language I speak with friends and family, while superiors always spoke something foreign. This language barrier, or lack thereof, would continue to stump me over the next week or two. I regularly had to catch myself saying "scusi" or "prego" to strangers.

It was interesting to encounter the train schedule boards back at the American stations because they looked exactly the same as those in Italy. When I checked up close, I noted that they were made in Udine, a bigger town in the east of Fruili-Venezia Giulia, near Slovenia, and the terminal stop on the train line I took to Fontanafredda.

That night we got Chinese food from Sang Kee, as it had been several months since I'd eaten any Asian cuisine. Sang Kee is usually great, and I got some of my usual favorites, pan-fried noodles and string beans in bean curd sauce. Unfortunately it was a weak batch for both. I stayed awake that whole day-plus (considering the six hour time change), but by 10:00 I was ready to sleep. In fact, I've consistently slept much more at home than I did in Italy, giving my body a chance to recuperate.

I called Lufthansa the following afternoon to check in on my bags, and they let me know they were just arriving in Newark and had to take several hours to go through customs. Around 11:30PM, after I'd already gone to bed, their delivery service called me to let me know that my bags were on their way. They had seven stops to make, but they didn't tell me where I was on that list, or how long it might take. To ensure that there was somebody at the door to pick up the bags, I went down and napped on the couch. I woke up around 1:30 and 4:30 to check outside to see that they hadn't just left the bags at the door. That didn't happen though, and I tried to get what sleep I could while I waiting. Finally, at 5:30AM, a man showed up with both of my bags, and by that point, I was ready to get up.

It was a pretty miserable night of sleep, not only because I never really got to sleep, but more than once I woke up feeling very disoriented. It was a very surreal feeling, as part of me knew that my parents were around, but I still felt mostly like I was back in Florence with my roommates Adam, John, Sean, and Dallas. It took a little bit of looking around and realizing that the ceilings were not fifteen feet tall and the floors were not tiled till I refigured that I was indeed back in America.

There hasn't been anything quite as strange as that, but coming back has definitely been a bit of a readjustment. I like being American and living in America, but I'm so attached to Europe now, and I can't stand the way that certain things are here. It has taken me time to at least come to grips with dressing more casual again and in fewer layers, driving cars and seeing big trucks, bigger people, meals that only last a half-hour, relatively expensive public transportation, cities with tall buildings, and the general concept of suburbia.

On the positive side, I have had the opportunity to get out and play sports again, something I've neglected to do since last summer. The first few times out were definitely difficult, as I could tell I was out of shape to an extent I've never felt before. I could feel myself getting tired and cramped quickly, but I keep pushing myself, and I've already noticed a vast improvement.

Catching up with my friends has been interesting. Those of them who have at least browsed my blog have had an advantage in re-connecting with me, as they got a taste of the experience I just had. They know I am mentally in a different place than before. Sometimes they ask for stories, or I run into new people who want to know how my experience was, and it's hard to pinpoint just what to say because my time in Italy was an all-encompassing life experience that had an impact on me in so many ways, from culture, to school, to music, to fashion, to travel, to food, and even to writing. I wouldn't say that I'm a different person at all, but Italy allowed me to connect with myself more thoroughly. I am more attune to my own personality than ever before.

One new thing I did take with me though is a passion for photography. I now find flaws to many of the shots I took at the beginning of the semester, even ones which I thought were great at the time and showed my improvement. I will continue to look for opportunities to take pictures, as I did one day at a local park with friends (below), and on my way to New York (top and far below), where I played a gig earlier this month.

The Willows (Radnor)

Skunk Hollow Community Farm

My friend Becca, sitting by the creek at the Willows.

My friend Aaron, walking along the creek.

Aaron and Becca's dog Roxy

Aaron and Becca candid

Aaron and Becca posing

When I went over to Italy, I was not intending to write a blog, but just on the plane ride over I found so much that I wanted to share with people, and no way to communicate it. Writing became my outlet, and I soon realized that beyond sending emails to a few people, publishing a journal on my adventures in Italy would give me a chance to reach a larger audience, while forcing myself to be creative and poignant in my retelling of the stories. I had no idea that this blog would be as successful as it has become. I figured that, if nothing else, my parents would read it, but knowing that there is a larger interested public out there has motivated me to take the time and devote myself to making this blog all it could be. I want to thank anyone and everyone who has taken the time to read and keep up with every entry of this blog or just skimmed one or two posts. It has been my great pleasure to write for you all.

Trenton Station

Princeton Junction

Coming into Newark

Newark Penn Station

The stage on the Bateaux, where I played.

Motoring by the Statue of Liberty

Ed. Note: At this point, I am going to focus my writing attention on music and two screenplays I have in the works with a close friend of mine. You can continue to check my music out at and If you are interested in a CD including performances from the various places I've played this semester, you can contact me at, and I will try to get it to you whenever possible. I am currently still waiting on a few recordings from Antonio, so it may be a while till that is completely together. I am also working on a book chronicling the places I went this semester through my photography with substantial excerpts from the blog. If you are interested in that, please contact me at the same address, and I will let you know when it is ready. Again, thanks for reading, and best of luck in all of your own adventures.

Monday, June 15, 2009

Coming Home

12:00PM June 2

Friday morning I was up again by 7:00, nervously awaiting my departure from Florence. I fiddled about for the better part of the next three hours, packing various items I'd left out of my bag before. I made one last attempt to catch up with Antonio before leaving, and it looked good for a time, but then he informed me that he could only meet me if I came up to campus. I didn't have that time to spare, so I waited for John to get up, and he joined Adam and I for one last cappuccino and pastry.

By 10:00, I headed downstairs to catch my taxi to the airport. I arrived in plenty of time for my flight, and Lufthansa didn't even open the check-in line until I'd waited around for half-an-hour. At that point I made it through security and found Adam, who'd left about a half-hour before me, at the airport's main cafeteria.

We chatted for about forty minutes, both reminiscing and discussing exactly how we planned to make it as musicians back in America. After he boarded his flight, I got a slice of pizza—which was closer to Pizza Hut than anything—and then headed down to my gate. I waited there for a while more, and eventually I ran into friends who were on a flight after me. We chatted for some thirty minutes or more before I had to board my own flight. I got tingles as I boarded the aircraft. That was goodbye to Italy for who knows how long. The sites that had become so familiar, the hills laden with olive orchards, the eighteenth century stucco buildings, the terra-cotta roofs, all of which I could see from the tarmac, would become foreign again.

On the tarmac at Florence International Airport

Just making liftoff

Overlooking the Tuscan valleys

The edge of Florence

Northern Tuscany

When I'm carrying my guitar on board, I always try to make sure I am one of the first people on the plane, securing a space for my instrument. The guitar is delicate, and especially in the soft case that I use to get around day to day, I can't afford to check it. That was no problem on my flights over to Italy, but the overhead compartments were not nearly big enough to hold it on my small flight to Munich. Fortunately, I spoke to a flight attendant immediately, and she found room for it in the unoccupied seats at the back of the plane, strapping it in with both seatbelts.

Next was probably the best part of the day. I had a ninety minute flight over northern Italy and the Alps. It was simply stunning. I spent the entire flight listening to music and shooting pictures of the mountains—I was fortunate enough to get a window seat. Forget about reading or writing; checking out the scenery was all of the entertainment I needed. Quite abruptly, the Alps ended, not turning into rolling hills, but vast expanses of farmland. The multi-colored plains were only broken up by what I soon realized was the grand soccer stadium built for the 2006 World Cup. It was one of the rare signs of sprawl that I saw in Europe, building such a stadium way out in the middle of nowhere, and at that point, I knew we had to be coming in for a landing in nearby Munich.

Farmland before approaching the mountains

Hills turn into mountains

Entering the Alps

Lovely snow-capped peaks

The mountains begin to erode

The plains of Germany/Switzerland

Munich's grand World Cup stadium

German Multi-colored farmland

Unfortunately, I only had about forty minutes in between touching down in Munich before my next flight departed for America. If I had more time, I definitely wanted to get a beer and a bar of chocolate for the road, but I made as quickly as I could for the gate of my next departure, breezing through customs, where I picked up another stamp in my passport. A majority of the passengers had already boarded this flight, but it was a giant Airbus with pairs of seats on either side and three in the middle, and I had no problem finding room for my guitar in the overhead compartments. As I was about to take my seat on the left aisle, the man with the window seat offered to switch so that he could talk to his companion directly across the aisle. I had no problem with this and was even pleased to have a chance to catch more of the scenery.

When I'd finally sat down at the window, I heard a woman behind me complain about there being a cello or something taking up all of this room in the overhead, forcing her to find a place for her bag that wasn't directly over her head. Another woman helped her get her bags together, and the two of them then commiserated about how it was always women who helped out other women, as if men have some deficiency for being gracious.

While waiting for liftoff, I heard the two men next to me speaking in some Italian-like language. They looked more German than Italian though, so I asked where they were from. "Croatia," was there response. When I mentioned that their language sounded Italian they both chuckled. "Italians speak so much faster," they said. I couldn't believe this. The only thing that Italians do fast is drive. There language is notably paced and lyrical. Especially compared to Spanish and French, Italian always feels very slow. They responded, "maybe it isn't fast, but it always sounds like they cram thirteen syllables into each word." Now if Italians are fast, I can't imagine how things move in Croatia.

I then checked out what was on my video system. The movie options weren't that interesting, so I watched an episode of 30 Rock. I think I'd seen it before, but it was still great entertainment. We were over the clouds at 38,000 feet for most of the flight, so I had no views down to the scenery below. I spent most of the flight either watching movies or catching up on the blog, which I had trouble finding time to write for at the end of the semester. There were probably eight movies or so, but, excepting the two I'd already seen The Reader, and Slumdog Millionaire, none of them were very interesting. Eventually I settled on Bolt, which was a poor rehash of the exact same story as Toy Story 2, made without any of the skill and care of Pixar.

At some point during the movie they brought out a meal. I got the chicken piccante, which, as airline food goes, was a really excellent dish. It came with a vinaigrette salad, and, taking advantage of still being on a European airline, I got a glass of red wine to sip along with my meal. Over the course of the flight, they were gracious enough to bring around snacks and orange juice several times more, including a sandwich before landing.

Even though it still felt like I was in Europe, I realized that I would have better luck speaking to the German attendants on my Lufthansa flight in English rather than Italian. I caught myself a few times, about to ask for "vino rosso," or inquire, "scusi." The language barrier was already gone.

I worked some more on the blog after the movie, but I was running out of battery on my computer, so I decided to watch Slumdog Millionaire. It was still an excellent film, but I really didn't need to watch it a second time so soon after first seeing it.

Just as the movie ended, we began to break through the clouds, approaching Newark from the north and flying parallel to the Hudson. I got a great view of the city coming in, and it seemed only too fitting that the last thing I saw before touching down after four months in Europe was the Statue of Liberty.

The Atlantic, just to the south of Iceland.

Entering the clouds as we descend towards Newark

"New York City, just like I pictured it...skyscapers and everything" -Stevie Wonder

The Statue of Liberty