Tuesday, April 28, 2009


[Just pretend I'm writing this in real time.]

I got into Pisa on Tuesday (4/14) a little later than desired (this after the bank card debacle in Lucca), but that was okay because all I was really planning on doing was checking into the hotel, taking a nap, and waiting for the Good Doctor's* flight to get in. I accomplished all of these things, plus I went and found a pizza to eat. I was told the hotel had a car service (for only 3 euros!) that went to the airport to pick people up, so disoriented as I was when my alarm went off at 11pm, I went to meet the GD in person.

Pisa was really just a meeting point for us, but we got up and went to see the one, important thing the next day before heading out of town. The Tower! Look how leaning it is!

Amazing! Just kidding, I totally tilted my camera for effect. In case you couldn't tell by the nearly equally leaning buildings in the background. This is what it actually looked like, from the other side and further away.

Still impressive, and the church and dome right next to it were (although standing vertically) quite impressive as well, possibly even more ornate and interesting to look at than the tower itself.

Pisa is fairly small (compared to Rome and Florence), but if you get into the older part out town (nearer the tower), there's a good mix of chilled out cafés and tourist traps. Our hotel was right across from train station, which was very convenient, but meant we were in a kind of crappy part of town. It was only a twenty minute walk, however, to the Tower, and since there isn't much else to see, it wasn't a big deal.

After our big morning seeing all the, er, sight, the GD and I grabbed some panini sandwiches and beers and high-tailed it out of town, this time without incident at the train station. Next stop, Sienna, for some camping!

*I can't take credit, this is what my dad calls him, but I like it and I'm sticking with it.

Monday, April 27, 2009

High Self-Esteem: Take Two

So this is my last week at my job here in France, and no I haven't been laid off in the recession, my contract just ends April 30th. This means I show up with final lessons that involve singing and candy, and my kids present me with more awesome notes telling me how nice and beautiful I am. I work in four elementary schools teaching English, and I had my last day at my favorite school today (mostly because that's where I work the most hours). This is the booty I raked in:

My favorite is the card that says I love you because she actually wrote it in lipstick and it is quite sticky. I even got a note from the boys this time! Mind you, they sort of frantically noticed that all the girls were giving me cards and quickly huddled together to bang out (in 2nd grade French), "We love you a lot see you soon ANNE THANK YOU FOR HELPING US." Then one of them wrote, "Signature:" and they all signed it. Later in the day, after one of my other classes, one of the boys came up to me with a more eloquently written note (still from all of them, still in French, I didn't teach them that much):

Dear Anne,

We thank you for having taught us English so well.

and having been so kind with us.

I hope that you won't forget us.

We will miss you.

we hope that you will come back soon to see us.

See you soon Anne.

They didn't call me beautiful, but pretty much all the girls did, so I'll forgive them. Plus I'm sure it would have been a serious blow to their 8-year old reputations to write such a thing. I am not going to miss this town, but I am going to miss my students. Even the crazy, loud ones. Especially them. Here's the best picture I was able to get with them. By best, I mean no one's eyes are closed and they are mostly looking at the camera.

Pretty cool, yeah? Now on to worrying about finding a new job in this shaky economy, and trying to move to Dublin, and being a serious actor/writer instead of a teacher! I don't think I'll be getting too many admiring notes like this in the near future, but if I'm feeling low and battered by the world of auditions and submissions and constant approval-seeking, I know exactly where I can go: right back to Flers.


More catching up on travels in Italy.

Lucca is a pretty awesome little city just northeast of Pisa. The main part of the city is completely surrounded by a big, broad wall (that they've now turned into a park which is awesome for biking and walking), and at some point in Roman history, the town was some kind of cultural center of Rome. Or it was important. Okay, I wasn't really paying attention to the history, I was too busy biking. You can read the wikipedia page if you want, but I'm too lazy.

I took the train from Rome to Lucca (changeover in Florence) on Sunday (4/12), and then had to grab a taxi at the station to the much smaller town I was staying in about 12 kilometres away. At this point, I had been devouring my little French-to-Italian phrasebook in an attempt to seem less like an Amercian jerk, and I (sort of) told the driver where I was going in Italian. The great thing about Italians (outside of Rome) is that if you speak even a little bit of their language, even really badly, something clicks in their head and they're like, Oh! This person speaks Italian just as well as I do! and then they just launch right into it. Whatever it may be.

So my cab driver launches into this explanation of how much it's going to cost, and I understand enough to get that this is what she's talking about, and that she comes up with "Maximum 20," and so I agree and get in. When she's driving me there someone calls on her cell phone and in the midst of asking this person if they know exactly where in Santa Maria del Giudice she might find Marta guest house (where I'm staying), I also understood her saying that I "understood her" because I "spoke Spanish." Sure! I did take some Spanish in high school.

I ended up booking at Marta Guest House by chance, because the only hostel in Lucca proper was listed online as booked out (though I later found this to be untrue). In any case, it was a magical and fortuitous find. Marta, yes Marta herself, runs the show, and she is the image of hospitality and kindness. She welcomed me in and personally showed me up to and around my (amazing!) room.

With a balcony!

Marta was very worried that there wasn't a shower in the room, even though I had booked a room without a private bathroom and it surprisingly came with a sink and toilet. In true Marta style, she offered me the use of her own shower (she lives downstairs), and gave me some fancy orchid shower gel. She then made me coffee, and I sat down and had a great little chat (mostly in English) with her and a friend of hers (Rosarita, I think?). It was wonderful. Marta called all the restaurants in (the very small) town to find out who would still be open for dinner on Easter Day, and I had a delicious pesto and calamari pizza that evening.

In the morning, Marta served up a homemade, four-course breakfast, including some delicious ricotta chocolate cake. I had asked her if there were any buses running into Lucca, and after she called only to find out that they weren't running until the afternoon she said, "Anneh (she adorably pronounced the e at the end of my name), my friend will take you into town." So, true to her word, her friend (a middle-aged man who spoke no English) saved me a 20-euro taxi ride and drove me into town. And thank god I had been such a dork about reading my phrasebook and writing down new things I had learned to say, because that man wanted to have a conversation; and have a conversation we did. He told me about how he was too old to learn English, about his honeymoon in Spain, and we talked about how traveling in April was ideal (my contribution). He also asked me lots of questions about myself that I was only able to answer in broken sentences, but he was happy to fill in the blanks for me.

Lucca itself is a pretty little town. The hostel I stayed in was huge and clean and more like a hotel in feel, except for the fact that there were 6 of us in the room. I hired a bike at 2.50€ an hour and rode around the wall.

I had clearly rented the cheapest bike available (I didn't pay the extra euro or two for a mountain bike or a road bike) because you could hear and see me coming without any kind of bell (though I had one). The thing was neon green and rattled to the point that I actually stopped to make sure nothing was falling off.

I spent a day and a half in Lucca and that was plenty. There aren't many cars that go inside the walls, so the streets are mostly full of bikers and pedestrians. It's a cool place to walk around, and there are some important churches and towers that I admired, but didn't bother to learn anything about. Mostly I ate more gelato, did some laundry, and had a Bloody Mary (with limoncello!) when I wasn't just wandering the streets.

On Tuesday, I went to the train station to buy my ticket and head to Pisa, and my French bank card was eaten by one of the ticket machines. The women working at the train station were completely unhelpful saying they didn't have a key and I would have to call the machine company. After much arguing (in bad Italian by me, bad English by her), one woman finally found me the number, but refused to make the call, herself.

By this time, I was already embarrassing myself by crying in public, and someone else had told me I should go to the police station to report the card lost. This didn't really make sense, but thankfully while looking for the station I stumbled upon the office of tourism, and the nicest man ever who worked there made multiple calls to the machine company for me, finally relaying the message that they're based out of Florence and they couldn't come until tomorrow or the next day at the earliest, but that they needed the train station to call and report the problem. He tried to call the train station, but no one was answering, so I walked back to try to tell them they needed to report the incident, but the women again refused and said the man at the office of tourism didn't know what he was talking about (even though he had talked to someone at the company). Long story short (sorry, I already told the long story), I had to cancel my card and borrow money from my dad until I got back to Flers and received my new one.

Conclusion: Lucca is beautiful, but Santa Maria del Giudice is even more so. If you're in Tuscany, stay with Marta, rent a car and take day trips around the area. Don't put your card in the ticket machines in Lucca, and people in the service industry are grumpy, no matter what country you're in.

Sunday, April 26, 2009

Sarah Haskins is my celebrity WIG*

*Were I Gay (and were she) I would totally imagine us dating because you don't actually get to date celebrity crushes. Don't worry Lauren, you're still my real life WIG.

No Means Yes

I recently decided that if I ever want to actually be an artist, I need to get my act together and start making shit. For me, this means getting past the point where I have a really good idea, go to write a story or outline or script, and then immediately allow my voices of doubt to tell me that what originally seemed really cool is actually stupid and that I'll never be able to make it work. I start to write and my internal critical voice points out how obvious my jokes are and how unoriginal my premise is. My new friend* Jay was struggling with a similar problem back in Dec of 2007, and seems to be working through it again with his recent commitment to the Morning Doctrines.

Good questions Jay! And I know that cycle so well! But it's actually just really helpful to hear that I'm not the only one. Sometimes I skype up my friend Guy (master knitter and funniest person ever) just so we can lament the fact that we are not being productive enough, listen to each others' ideas, genuinely find them to be awesome, and encourage each other to write and dance and perform and generally just do the shit we talk so much about doing.

I've been trying to take inspiration anywhere I can find it. Inspiration to do, I mean, not even inspiration for what to do. Like look at this lady!

She is 83! I can't do that! But do you know what? Neither could she 50 years ago. And the reason that I know I can't do that is because in Winter 2007 I enrolled in a break-dancing class. My interest in hip hop had been growing for several years, and when I finally acted on my long desire (overcoming years of doubt/procrastination) to make some sort of a return to dancing (which I had quit at 16), I found that the studio where I worked and took modern and hip hop also offered break. After standing outside the door of class during my work study shift for the entire Fall Session, and watching how all the other awkward white women kept coming back week after week, slowly improving, I signed up for the next round.

Here's something I don't need to tell you: break-dancing is hard. I'm not talking about windmills and headspins, I just mean teaching your body to be comfortable in a constant squat and learning to do a six step without tripping over yourself and dancing in 30 second spurts 4 or 5 times in a row (freestyle was required at the end of each class) without collapsing. And I looked pretty stupid and sweaty doing it (thanks to the wall mirror for that constant reminder). But I got better. (And by the way the mirror was integral in that process.) I taught myself how to stand on my head (weeks and weeks of yoga freeze to tripod to falling over every day until I got it). I learned to do a baby freeze and side freeze, and my six step is still relatively slow, but that's probably because I haven't worked on it enough.

I can't do a cradle freeze yet (what Granny is doing there above), but I couldn't do any of that other shit before. I kept it up until the end of last summer, when I moved to France. Shockingly, the tiny town I live in has a hip hop class, and I made myself go. It wasn't really my style (a little too much Christina Aguilera, a little too little floor work) and the teacher was a pretty sleezy guy who hit on all the high school girls in the class, so I stopped going after a month or two. But I'm working on handstands now, and I should really pick up the speed on my foot work.

In a recent whirlwind of creative productivity, I wrote a 25-page first draft of a script and submitted it to the Dublin Fringe Festival with accompanying images (drawn by me!) and songs (recorded by me!) all based on an idea that I had and didn't let die! So even if Dublin doesn't want it, I have a solid jumping off point, I have project collaborators, potential rehearsal space for this summer.

There are a few important (and obvious) things that teachers and other more experienced people have told me over the past few years that I have to constantly beat into my psyche when the doubt cycle begins.

  1. Never edit as you write†. I always do, and it really slows me down. Draft writing and editing are meant to be two separate steps in a process. Editing is when your critical voice is aloud and welcome, but if you let it in during the creative process, you get stiffled and spiral into doubt. Or at least I do. (Gleaned from every creative writing class ever)
  2. No means Yes. Okay, well not exactly, and never would I say that in any other context (obvs.), but I take the idea from a teacher I had recently at a weekend workshop at the London International School of Performing Arts. He talked a lot about the voice in your head that says "No" to everything. "No, don't do that you'll look stupid," "No, that's not good enough," "No, you don't know what you're doing." What Jay would call the little hater. Every time it says No, you have to say Yes. Sometimes even outloud. Even if it makes you look like a crazy person. (Thomas, founder and head of LISPA)
  3. Hang out with kids. Adults become creatively blocked because we've had years to develop our finely tuned level of self-consciousness, but kids are crazy. I mean, young kids. They just do and say anything and can just sit for hours and make up conversations between their toys, without caring what anyone else thinks. At least, that's what I did as a kid, but we didn't have cable. So just watch them. I mean, don't get arrested or anything, but notice how kids do things that adults think are outrageously funny without meaning to. Adults were always laughing at the things I said as a child, and it pissed me off because I didn't get it, I wasn't in on the joke. Now I wish I was still so free from self-judgment. (More advice from Thomas)
  4. See your future. Another video courtesy of ill doctrine. KRS One is amazing.
So I think this post has been at least a little self-indulgent, and possibly self-congratulatory, but I needed to write it for a couple of reasons. One, writing helps me work things out. Two, if I write to everyone that I'm going to start being a more proactive artist, I hope that's just one more reason to actually do it.

*Not actually my friend. I just wish I could hang out with him and his cat.

†I don't apply this rule to my blogging as I tend to write entries in one go. This is more of a creative writing tool.

When Men in Rome

Do as the Romans do. They wear headbands! Because how else are they going to keep those flowing Italian locks out of their eyes?

My opinion on men with long hair is made strictly on a case by case basis. Perhaps, as a lady who has rocked super short hair for some years now, I should be more lenient and accepting overall but guess what? I'm not. Because I've seen some pretty terrible ponytails on some dudes. Number one rule: Don't, don't, don't grow out your hair if you're balding. Even if you're in you're twenties and in denial about it, just don't. Because that top bit will never, ever catch up, and you will look like a fool.

That being said, I totally had a sight-only crush* on a ponytail guy all through college. Mind you, he had great, fluffy, wavy-ish hair, and his ponytail was very small. He was also the first dude I saw rocking the man headband (cloth only), so I'm not totally unfamiliar with the concept.

Even though I (kind of) tried not to notice, Roman men are (generally) pretty good looking. So I was okay with them growing out their hair, and I completely support their use of plastic headband to secure it in place. Like, this kind of plastic headband:

Only not on Nikki Cox. On a dude.

Or maybe this kind:

"Mine's funky!"

I was in Rome for three days, and believe it or not, I did more than just ogle the men. I also saw pretty much every important tourist/historically important thing to see, ate some really good and slightly less good gelato, bickered with my sister, stayed in the worst hostel ever, used my phrasebook to speak broken Italian, embarrassed my sister by bickering with her in front of her friends, and went on a pretty decent pub crawl. Rome is, as imagined, spectacular and full of more things to do than one visit allows time for. The only thing I didn't make it into was the Vatican itself. I went into the Vatican Museums, which includes the ridiculous series of signs that look like this:

So you're like, Oh! I must be close to the Sistine Chapel now! But then there's like 17 more of those signs and it takes you 45 minutes to an hour to actually get there. And then you're finally in, but you're not aloud to take photos! And even though everyone around you is sneakily doing it anyway as the guards are yelling "Silence! Silence!" to the crowds, you decide to just admire quietly and move on. At least, that's what I did.

The Sistine Chapel was beautiful and impressive, especially Michelangelo's use of perspective against the curves of the ceiling, but I have to say after all the signs and winding through other parts of the museum, it was a bit anti-climactic. Like, if that weren't the most packed room in the Museum, I might not have even known it was the Sistine Chapel, because the whole building was decorated with ceiling and wall frescos. And by the end of it, I was too tired and hungry to make my way over to the real Vatican, which my sister and her friends had gotten up at 6am (morning after the pub crawl) to go see without a line.

If you do make it to Rome, I would definitely get out to Villa Borghese, a huge park in the northwest of the city. There are several museums and a zoo around the edges of the park, and I highly recommend the Galleria Borghese, which has The Rape of Prosperina by Bernini, a pretty impressive sculpture with that oh-so-common Roman theme. There are also several locations to rent bikes, which I regrettably didn't do, and ride around the park.

Rome is full of history (obvs), and if my sister is right about European fashion, its also full of America's future. So look out for plastic headbands on the heads of men everywhere come next Spring, and be warned, men in Europe where purses as well.

*It's not that we didn't have the opportunity to converse, it's just that every time I had the chance to speak around him, I would completely freeze up. I was so afraid of saying something completely inane like, "Table," that I just didn't say anything at all.

This is how we do it

I was out at our favorite Flerien bar tonight, the Why Not? and as usual, they were showing awesome 90s music videos. Do you remember this? Because I forgot about it until tonight.

I love the random multi-cultural renaissance fair dance party and erotic consumption of fruit.

Saturday, April 25, 2009

Canned Heat

Oh man, I really hope I look like this all the time when I'm dancing.

Like maybe I'm just doing a quick smell check? But still looking really cool. Unfortunately, I think I probably more often look like this.

Like a really sleepy zombie. That's probably what I felt like too.

Jay Smooth

Okay, as usual, I'm the last one to find out about anything on the internet. That is to say, I'm not a very aggressive blogger (note the weeks of absence), and I'm pretty useless when it comes to finding new blogs to read. I love me some Jezebel, and my WIG Lauren's blog is always a source of witticism and insight, but I think a combination of laziness and lack of internet savvy keep me in the dark. Oh, and as proven by my recent discovery, anytime I find anything new and awesome to read/watch, I tend to just sit down and do that for hours and hours instead of doing, like, anything else.

It was the Jezebels (as usual) who led me to ill Doctrine: a hip-hop video blog with a post on the whole Miss California v. Perez Hilton debacle. That's right, I may be in France, but I am mostly up to date on shit. Mostly. Anyhow, I watched Jay Smooth's take on the whole thing, and I was like, Who is this guy? And who edits his videos?

I still don't know the answer to that second question, but answer one is he's the host of the longest running underground hip-hop radio show in NYC, and he makes video blogs that at least make him seem like he knows what he's talking about. Plus he's adorable and energetic.

[Update: the embedded video doesn't seem to be working, so here's the link.]

See? Also, I watched that episode of Oprah, too. I usually watch Oprah because it's effing formulated to make you cry and fight it as I might, it pretty much works every time. That's right, I usually watch Oprah to exploit other people's horrific stories for a good cry, but this particular time, I had just stumbled upon it while channel surfing. I was similarly annoyed by the episode, particularly the division which pitted a panel of dudes representing "hip-hop" against a group of young women representing "feminism." I found it problematic that only men were representing the voice of hip hop (although they were really representing the voice of the industry), and that the women were made to seem whiny for not wanting to be called a bitch or a ho. But I wasn't able to deconstruct Russell Simmons' argument the way Jay Smooth did, and I am grateful to him for laying it out for me.

So in conclusion, ill Doctrine = my latest internet obssession and Jay Smooth = my new internet crush. Now to catch up on more videos and also back blog on my last two weeks in Italy. Whew. When will the madness end.