Category Archives: Florence, a city like no other…

Florence, a city like no other..., Stories from the crypt of life

Just a writer in a square…

shot_1474728191720I woke up this morning with a buzzing in my ears. It was constant, like a baby’s cry that won’t quiet down until you are ready to commit to his needs and understand his plead. So here I am, a few hours later, sitting in a square on a sidewalk, writing. The buzzing stopped. The square is pleased. My fingers start dancing on the keyboard.

What to write about I wonder? About the people hanging out and having lunch while laughing and talking? About the mom who screams at her child and smacks him when he disobeys, only to pick him up and kiss every part of his body when he falls down because she hit him too hard? About the couple who are watching me like an alien probably because I sat down on the sidewalk and smiled at the square as if saluting an old friend? Tough choice right?

What is it about this square though? Piazza Santo Spirito, Florence, Italy. Three years ago I would have never come here to write or watch people. This filled with life and busy square, in the heart of the Oltrarno neighborhood in Florence never winked or allured me before. But then I met a man called Mark and a few months later this place became my office for a year.  I started knowing the people who always hang out here, the bartenders began to understand and make fun of my weird habit to have cappuccinos at any time of day, and soon enough I allowed a creative bubble to surround me every time I stepped onto the rocky pavement. I wrote dozens of articles here, I laughed and shouted out my deepest fears here, I gave up on myself and pulled myself together again here. This place has seen the best and the worst of me for the past three years and now it became my own personal drug, a guilty pleasure that I sometimes have to treat myself with in order to stay sane for the rest of the week. This square is like the forbidden cookie with that extra crunchy layer of chocolate.

The buzzing in my ears started again. It says I am not honest and deep enough. It says I am making up beautiful metaphors to avoid the ugly truth that circles me. The truth is…the truth is this square witnessed the beginning and in some way it predicts the end of a chapter in my life; a chapter that has been like an intense roller coaster ride that you never want to end. Soon enough this square will be left without one of its more beautiful spirits and will feel empty and stripped out of its meaning. Soon enough this square will only feed my sadness. Soon enough this square, this rocky pavement, that water fountain and the tables from the bar will only remind me that I am left alone.

And now, while my fingers are still dancing with joy and speak to the world, I am smiling back at all the memories I created here, at the man who is leaving this place behind and at the new chapter that awaits to be written. A writer, a square, and reminiscence….

Florence, a city like no other..., The human behind the artist (Interviews with artists living in Florence)

The Human Behind The Artist… final touches

Last week I turned on the recorder one last time for The Human Behind The Artist  project. All throughout the interview I was overwhelmed by mixed feelings and as I turned the recorder off I knew that the project is complete, that this was the final interview; I could almost hear a whisper telling me that it felt ready to be released into the world.

For those of you who don’t know, The Human Behind The Artist is my brainchild that I came up with in October 2013. I will never forget that day. Dragged to an event by my husband, I found myself standing in a room filled with artists, holding my ten month old baby, feeling lost and confused, when a painter, walked up to me. Her words changed my life and hours later, while driving home, the title of the project was settling onto my thoughts.

Two months later I recorded my first interview with a brilliant playwright, living in Florence at the time. I remember shaking and breathing in her every word, afraid not to miss a sentence, a frown, a smile. Her story only made me crave for more, to wonder about the mystery artists seemed to be surrounded by. She became one of my dearest friends.

Since then I interviewed over twenty artists, poking their thoughts, digging deep into their souls, seeking for the story within the artist,  trying to reveal their human nature, usually concealed by their alien looking outside shell. I had the privilege to meet, connect and listen to people from all walks of life. I had the honor to become friends with people I only dreamt of existing in real life.  I found a harsh, yet loving mentor in the bunch and I learnt that the word professional is not just a word. This project means more to me than I could ever express in words.

This final interview was special, not only because of the wonderful people in front of me, sharing their stories and memories, but also because the playwright, now my friend, was a table away from us looking at me while I was working. That’s when I knew the project is finally complete. I felt as if the beginning page was looking at the ending one, nodding, approving and smiling at what I have accomplished in between.

The Human Behind The Artists still has a long way in front of it, but a few months from now will fly away to be revised and turned upside down by other people, other hands, other minds.  As the final touches are put in place a hint of melancholy caresses my memories, and I remember every artist I interviewed, the locations, their stories, their enthusiasm. Thus, I would like to thank all the wonderful humans who made this project possible. Thank you for sharing your stories, memories, struggles and fears. Thank you for allowing me to share them with the world. Thank you for your trust and most of all thank you for following your dreams and for trying to make the world look more beautiful through your art.

Last but certainly not the least, The Human Behind The Artist is dedicated to Laura Thompson. Thank you! This project would have never existed without you and your words.

_MG_9449jb1v

Amy Sarno – first recorded interview

Brendan Kiely, Jessie Chaffee – last recorded interview

Florence, a city like no other..., Once upon a time when I was living in Bucharest..., Stories from the crypt of life

Once upon a time I gave up on people

Ever since I was a child, I loved observing humans. I loved the way they talked, the way they walked, acted, thought, innovated, struggled, prevailed. Whenever there was a problem that needed solving, I was there to help. Of course, most of the time I made a bigger mess than needed. Thus, over the years, close family and friends discouraged my actions telling me that sooner or later I will be disappointed, that some day I will understand the cruelty of the world we are living in and give up. I knew they were probably right, but….

Friends broke my heart, colleagues took advantage of my willingness to always be there and still it seemed I would never learn, using what others called my favorite excuse: ” I never expect anything back, therefore I can’t be disappointed.” Until one day…

I was in my last year of University, preparing for my dissertation and also had just got admitted to a second University that year. The Universities were 300 kilometers apart, so my life was mostly spent in between 3 hour train rides. It was one of the best and worst years of my life. On that particular day, I had just taken an exam and ran to take another one the next morning. I got on the train and tried to find an empty compartment to study. The train was packed. I was just about to give up on my search and light a cigarette on the train’s hallway, when I saw him. An old men, sleeping in an empty compartment. I grabbed my backpack and went in, filled with hope. He would sleep the whole way, I would be able to study in peace. After an hour I felt confident. The texts weren’t that hard and if I was lucky I could probably even close my eyes for half an hour.

The old man started twisting and turning. I looked at him for five minutes trying to guess what kind of man he was. He looked over 60 years old, his breath reeked of alcohol. Still, there was something in his expression that made me smile. One more twist, one more turn. A bill fell out of his pocket and landed right in front of my shoes. It was the equivalent of 150 euros. I was a student, money were always a luxury. I could have paid ten train rides with that money, eat for a month, buy new books, go out with my friends, eat, eat, eat. I could have… but maybe he could have done the same thing. Maybe that was the only money he had for the entire month. Maybe…

I picked up the bill from the floor and reached for the old man’s arm. At first I shook him gently, but when he didn’t even move an inch I pushed him a little harder. Startled, he jumped up and looked into my eyes confused.

“I’m sorry to wake you up” I said ” but this fell out of your pocket”.

He grabbed the bill, shoved it deep into his pocket and asked: “Are you just giving the money back to me?”

I nodded in approval, smiling. What followed marked me for weeks, months to come.

“Are you stupid? Are you crazy? How can anyone be so retarded? You are 20 something right? From the books in front of you I guess you are a student. You don’t have money! You could spend the next week living like a queen!”

I was shocked, but he continued to shout.

“You, my dear, are the perfect example why humanity doesn’t work! Do you expect a thank you? Do you think that if you did this good deed, life will be more gentle or fair to you? Do you think I am grateful? You are just another hypocritical little bitch who will regret every act of kindness you did in your life. This money is drinking money for me; it would have been survival money for you. Or who knows, you may as well be a drinking bitch too!”

After screaming the last sentence, he turned around, laid back in his seat and closed his eyes to go back to sleep. For him it was over; for me it was just the beginning. Was he right? Was my family right? Were my friends right? Was I stupid? I tried to shake the weight of his words away, but I couldn’t stop feeling disappointed. Maybe I did expect gratitude? Maybe the smile a normal person would have given me for returning their money would have been my reward. Maybe humans weren’t as fascinating as I thought. Suddenly a wave of anger ran through my body. I wasn’t going to help anyone, ever again. It was decided; I was to blend in and believe that people were cruel and sooner or later they will hurt you for no reason at all.

I kept my word for almost three years; three years thinking only about my needs, not caring about others, pretending to be someone else. Until one evening….Walking back from work with a friend, I saw a drunk old man, muttering words, unable to stand up on his feet. I passed him by, but couldn’t help to look back. My friend told me to walk away and stop thinking about that foolish drunk. “What if he has a family that is looking for him? What if he is lost?” I whispered almost to myself.

Pointless to say what I did next but from that moment on I stopped thinking about what other people expected from me. Would I be disappointed? Probably! Am I a fool? I am almost sure of that. What I am certain of is that humans are worth it; that maybe I hurt someone once; that I surely disappointed a lot of people.

Humans are beautiful. They just lack confidence in themselves. Humans are beasts. They need a constant reminder to look into their souls. Who knows, maybe that old man from the train was so angry because someone reminded him that humans can also be kind. And yes, humans will hurt you for no reason at all, but do you expect them to be grateful or just follow your own path?

Florence, a city like no other..., Stories from the crypt of life

Thoughts of solitude

We are our best friend and our worst enemy. We take our first breath alone and we breath in for the last time… alone. Solitude saves us; solitude condemns us; solitude kills us.

When I was five years old I found my best friend looking back at me from behind the mirror, smiling, goofing around while I brushed my teeth, making faces and laughing at my jokes. Soon enough that cute, curly-haired girl became indispensable to me. She taught me how to enunciate words, how to create big speeches for the world to hear, how to laugh when tears where making their way on my cheeks. She told me to never trust anyone but her and she listened to terrifying stories that were never to be spoken again. She spoke to me about true love, humanity, and kindness. She promised me the world, she promised me peace.

When two decades passed since I took my first breath, the little girl abandoned me. Her shadow was still reflected in the mirror, but her spirit had died. She avoided my gaze, my smiles, my tears. She didn’t trust me anymore. I had disappointed her. Every night I searched for her words, every night I called out her name; all was in vain. I searched for her in writings, scribbled pieces of paper, long forgotten notebooks.

As any good friend, I moved on and forgot about her. I replaced her with new faces and bodies. I took on the challenge to trust other human beings. After one, three, ten different new faces, 20 different betrayals and who knows how many disappointments I gave up on humans. I gave up on friendship. I fooled myself that I could live without people. I locked myself in an imaginary world, creating its every corner, its every mountain and blade of grass. Life was beautiful again.

Three decades knocked on my door. I glanced into the mirror and grinned at the gray hairs that betrayed the passing of time. Suddenly, I saw her winking at me. The sparkle in her eyes, the smile on her face, her kind words invaded my whole being like a giant hug. We talked for hours, we laughed, we cried. I woke up the next morning and ran to see her. The person looking back at me had wrinkled skin like a crumpled piece of paper, her hair was now white as snow, her eyes tired and sad. She was dying.

It only takes a second to loose yourself. It takes decades to find yourself in the huddle you’ve created.

PS. Don’t forget to wink at yourself tomorrow morning: “You rock!”

Florence, a city like no other..., Raising Ephia to become my friend, Stories from the crypt of life

Dear diary….

Dear diary I am tired. I spend my mornings sending out hundreds of emails and my evenings racing my fingers on the keyboard while listening to stories in my headphones. Every morning I wake up hoping that today’s sunshine will last longer, that I will find at least one reply to yesterday’s emails, that my stories aren’t boring, that this day will be better, that I will stop frowning at the computer. Hoping works.

Dear diary I burned my laptop the other day. I tried to be romantic and lit up a candle. Obviously romance sucks. Now I have to stare at alien lights on my screen because of the big round shaped burn smiling to me from the screen. My computer is still alive, but my romantic flame faded away.

Dear diary I am happy. Every morning I get unforgettable smiles from Ephia while she sits quietly at the table having breakfast. Every day at 1,30 pm we look for fish in the pond near her school. Sometimes we find them, sometimes they are sleeping. I still get a hug for the effort. Every afternoon we snuggle in bed and watch The little mermaid together. Lucky for me there is also Little mermaid II otherwise I would dream about the lines every night.  Dear diary being a mother is nothing like I thought it would be. Being someone’s mom is a privilege.

Dear diary I am restless. I wish I could have a magic wand to make everyone smile and look around them. People are busy, people are connected, people don’t look into each other’s eyes when they speak. Dear diary I wish everyone would get a hug from someone every single day. I am sure people would smile more. Life feels empty without hugs.

Dear diary I am a small ant that has elephant friends. My stories would be so boring without them in it. Dear diary I miss my friends. I miss having long coffee breaks on Friday afternoons. I miss finishing each other sentences. I miss feeling like an elephant for a couple of hours.

Dear diary tomorrow I will write some more; I will smile some more; I will watch some more cartoons and I will hug my daughter more. Dear diary I salute you.

Love,

Ela

Florence, a city like no other..., Stories from the crypt of life

Friday thoughts

Sitting in Piazza Santo Spirito watching people. A small market nearby invites people to look at the merchandise while making small talk. I feel like an ant standing still in a constantly moving colony. A beggar approaches and asks for a cigarette. I have none; he walks away. An old couple holding hands smile at me while passing by. Birds are circling my table, the leaves of the trees are singing their own music. Everything is moving, speaking, telling a story. I sit perfectly still with my cappuccino cup in one hand, listening, watching. I wonder if they notice.

After a week of rain and grayish sky, the sun has finally come out to play. Maybe it heard my prayers and decided to indulge my wishes.

People around me are moving faster now. Tourists are taking pictures and rush to another square or monument. The bartender from the bar across the street hurries to wipe away any sign of this morning’s rain. People on bikes speed blindly through the square as if they want no memory of passing through here. Two lovers enjoy their coffee, each with a phone in their hands, typing frantically, avoiding to look into each other’s eyes. Love is weird. The world is weird. Or, maybe…

I am the only one sitting in silence. I enjoy watching them dance without any desire to join in. I am an outsider, a small audience of their life’s movie. But one hour from now, a day from now, I will be a moving ant too, a living, breathing image for someone else to analyze. Are you watching?

Florence, a city like no other..., Stories from the crypt of life

Why do I write?

Sometimes I feel dead inside. A feeling of nothingness lurks me from around the corner, grabs my senses and throws me into a void. I write the feeling away. The keyboard becomes my best friend and every word pulls me back into this crowded world.

Many people ask me when do I write? Why do I write? Do I have a schedule? Do I have a plan?

I never know how to answer that question. I sometimes believe that I can write myself away; divide myself into little pieces and place them neatly on a page for others to discover. Writing has always been a part of me; you cannot schedule a piece of yourself, just like you cannot schedule your feelings towards something, someone. I write to unleash my darkness, to fill that void, to feel alive. I write when nothing else makes sense except my fingers racing on the keyboard. I write because I need to.

Everything we do is a choice. Every frown, smile, touch, gesture is a choice. Every word we speak out loud is a choice. Most of the times we hate those choices and most of the times we try to take the easy way out. There is no easy way out. That’s just a beautiful mirage created by our twisted selves.

So, why do I write? I need words to fill my life; because stories make us who we are; because shelves would feel lost and sad; because this is who I am and what I chose to be.

Why do you do what you do?

Florence, a city like no other..., Once upon a time when I was living in Bucharest...

A place I used to call home

We forget the places we come from. We keep into our thoughts and memories certain smells, some mental pictures and moments, the faces of the people we love. We pretend to remember and to know what is happening in those places even if we are far away and disconnected from that world. The fact is that we only remember what we choose to and never the reality that is played everyday in the lives of the people who are left behind.

I am back to the place I used to call home and I remember now. I remember how much I used to love this house. I remember how we assembled all the furniture and the comfort of the couch that hosted my tears and smiles over the years. I remember how I used to pace the kitchen floor thinking that it was the most beautiful place in the world. I remember our first Christmas here and my 25th birthday spent at the kitchen table with good friends eating dinner. I remember the dreams we forged in this place, the kisses, the parties, the smell of good food and incredible sweets. I remember the despair, the long discussions in the middle of the night, packing and unpacking after every long trip in different parts of the country. I remember how we decided to completely change our lives on the same couch I am sitting now and the following painful months before we were reunited as a family again. I remember and can feel everything now.

Coming back to this house that witnessed so much, is joy and sadness at the same time. I am everything I set out to be when I packed the last boxes and moved away never planning to come back. This place confirms my decision and fills my heart with melancholy and maybe a little bit of pain. It’s hard to face your past and your last memories within the walls you chose to be your family’s first home. After tasting all the good and bad memories, there is only one image that dwells into my thoughts: my final moments of loneliness here. Never in my life have I felt a greater pain than that of sitting alone in a home we had build ourselves, struggling and fighting the thought of leaving my country, my city, the people I love. Being alone, packing our memories in cardboard boxes, sealing them and putting them away in a dark place, sleeping in a big empty bed, isolating myself from the rest of the world, sitting on the terrace breathing in the cigarette smoke feeling empty and abandoned. That is the last memory I shared with this place.

Now, after so many years, after building so many new, wonderful memories, this empty house smiles back at me and tells me: “I told you so!”  No longer my home, but still a big part of me.

365 days of my life

Day 365 – The beginning of the end

Happy birthday both to me for tomorrow and to this wonderful project! We have been through a lot this year and even from our first day together I knew this will be an amazing adventure for me. I designed the project to start on my birthday because for me a whole year is not the one written in the calendar, but the one that passes over me, starting from the day I was born. My birthday has always been really important to me and although for almost five years now I stopped celebrating the old fashion way, my birthday will always be a very important day in my life. Not because of the presents or the attention, but because this is the day that reminds me that I am here with a purpose: my own.

Last year I celebrated my birthday into a beautiful cemetery that soon became one of my favorite places in Florence to have coffee at, to breath in the air or to read the pieces of my felow writers from time to time. From then on the adventure began and I encountered obstacles every step of the way. Day 4 for example was like a warning sign for all the closed gates I was about to knock on and I must admit I never even imagined what I was going to face while writing for this project. It all started as a joke, as a way for me to develop a certain discipline and some organizing skills. Many people around me warned me about this being a difficult journey, sometimes an almost impossible one, but I refused to listen and I wrote that first post with fear and happiness in my fingers. Along the way I introduced you to my friendsmy daughter, my better half and even my cat. I shared my pain and my depressions, my way to love and my happiness, my writings and my dreams, my vision of motherhood. I wrote under the influence of morphine, from the hospital bed, too many times from the emergency room and while having to make difficult decisions. I wanted to cheat so many times that I lost count, but I somehow managed to stay true to the path I chose, no matter what it cost me that day. I managed to disguise my feelings sometimes under beautiful metaphors, metaphors that helped me move on and not give up just because my soul was exploding or my day was so horrible that I couldn’t have handled to write about it.

I learnt a lot from this experience and while all of this started out as a joke and let’s say a childish challenge, I would never advise someone to start a project like this in that way. You never know what kind of joys or pain you will face during the next year and if you want to commit to something like this, you should always ask yourself how well do you know yourself in order to let other people know you? This project did much more than just discipline me and make me write everyday, this project has killed me, revived me and then break me again so I could only gather the good pieces of the puzzle to make myself a whole again. This project has introduced me to beautiful people who inspired me to be more than I could be. This project was a piece of my soul for 365 days and it truly served its purpose on more levels than I could ever explain.

If last year my birthday caught me in the cemetery, this year I will spend my day at work and maybe sharing a cappuccino and a piece of cake with my beautiful family in the morning. I will think about the seaside, where I used to spend my every birthday since being on Mars and make a wish upon a chosen star when I get home at midnight.

Thank you all for standing by me every step of the way, supporting me and sometimes giving me a call or sending me messages when you sensed that my words were more than it met the eye. Thank you for reading almost everyday, even on those days when nothing made sense and everything seemed questionable. This year has been both horrible and incredibly beautiful in the same time and writing here everyday was a small joy in some dark and what felt like empty days. Most of all with each day that I shared with you, I found myself on a brand new path of self-discovery, one that I am sure I couldn’t have found otherwise.

Happy birthday dear project and farewell! You have been one of my closest friends, my worst enemy and my consciousness throughout this whole year.

P.S. Tonight as I was riding the bus home, I realized I have ended the project having drinks with the same people that were with me a year ago: my writers group and my family. Beautiful ending! I couldn’t have possibly asked for more than that! Thanks guys!

365 days of my life

Day 364 – Inspiration

Because this is a special day for my project it only made sense for me to introduce you to someone who has changed my way of looking at the world. I won’t name names yet, but human beings refer to them as mentors, I like to call them giant cliffs that one would want to explore, learn from, conquer and in the end enjoy the view with.

Last year, when my mentor, G.G. Marquez died, I was determined never to sit and wait around for something I want to just fall into my lap. I said to myself that any dream is worth exploring and any idea is worth unpacking. It all started from there, from a feeling of regret and the thought that I will never find someone else again that I will look up to as much.

Many months later I met someone who changed my entire perspective on things. I was fascinated on every single one of our meetings and more than once I lost myself into his words. When you meet someone like that, at first it’s only normal to be intimidated and slowly, your curiosity grows and knows no limits. You want to learn and understand it all, you want squeeze everything out of them and you feel like a sponge that fills itself with knowledge and runs home desperately trying to not loose a single drop on the way. After those first few meetings, if you are anything like me, you will start to feel more comfortable, not knowing that the next step is actually getting out of your comfort zone. A person like this, a mentor, or whatever you’d like to call them, will always bring out to light the best and the worst in you and that’s when your work begins. You have to accept your worst in order to believe you can be the best.

I must admit I struggled a lot in the beginning. I used to listen to all the words, analyze them, but still was trying to find a way out, a small escape door that would have ensured what I longed for: an easy path. I fought with my own thoughts so many times, thinking that it doesn’t matter that it all made sense, that wasn’t my way and my perspective. Until one day…

As a story hunter I feed myself with other people’s stories. I cherish every word they share with me and treasure every emotion they let out in front of me. When it comes to my own story I was used to dismissing anything that would hurt or get me out of my comfort zone. Until that day… A day that I will never forget and that completely changed my path and my way of looking at things. A day when I had to face my defects with no escape door around and no way of turning my gaze away. That was the day when I really started to listen and when I understood that it’s not enough to treasure one’s story, you also have to immerse yourself in it in order to truely understand it and learn from it.

So, this post is a thank you note. Thank you for metaphorically slapping me when I needed it the most. Thank you for making me doubt myself and constantly ask questions about my view of the world. And thank you for being tolerant even when I probably drove you crazy. 🙂 I still have a long way to go, but that’s the thing about learners they never stop learning.

P.S. Anyone can be your mentor and guide. You just have to listen.