Friday, October 22, 2010

Some Bad Planning or Why You Should Get Sufficient Sleep At Night

Last night, I stayed up until 6 AM. So I suppose I should've really started with: This morning....


This morning, I stayed up until 6 AM before finally going to sleep. Why, you ask? I'm not really sure. But I came up with a reason, so I thought I would share with you, so I feel slightly more justified, even though it really was just poor planning on my part.

Our heat turns on sometime in the evening (between 3 and 8 PM), but I'm never around when it turns on, or I'm not paying attention. I only notice that eventually I'm not freezing to death in my own apartment, and then I can be a real human being, instead of a pitiful, shivering bundle of clothing and misery. Since the heat is only on for a set number of hours (and I think it's on for WAY less than 12 hours, which is disheartening to me), I go to bed all toasty and warm and content, thinking naively that I will wake up in the same state to which I fell asleep, only to be rudely awakened in the morning to a loud alarm and the inability to feel my face or toes after they've frozen off.

So I had an epiphany last night. If I were to outlast the heater, I could go to bed cold, warm up the bed with my own hard-earned body heat, and then sleep in relative comfort, because there would be no sudden drop in temperature while I was unconscious and unaware of the malicious changes occurring in my surrounding environment. It seemed like a perfect plan for an unfortunate situation. If I had it my way, I would just crank up the heat and leave it blasting all night, most likely to the discomfort and chagrin of my other seven roommates, who are not as temperature deficient as I am.

So I stayed up with another nocturnal roommate and watched Sweeney Todd, comedy shows online, and then we listened to music. After, I skyped with my parents and friends for a while, while she skyped with her boyfriend. The time passed steadily. My plan was perfect. My roommate finally gave in to the sweet call of sleep around 4, but I was in an intense conversation with a friend about the wonders of bee juice (otherwise known as honey), and couldn't be pulled away. Then around 6, I was inundated by a flood of messages from friends demanding to know what time it was in Italy. I told them pleasantly, only to be bombarded with "WHYYYYYYYYYYYYYY?" or "GO TO SLEEP" or "WHY ARE YOU AWAKE, CRAZY?" I was unprepared for the hostility, and thus was shocked into realizing that my face was frozen and I couldn't feel my fingers very well (I was wearing thick socks, so my toes were protected... for a while). So I apologized to everyone for my bizarre sleeping habits and turned off my computer, ready to set part B of the plan into action.

I walked into my room, quietly, because my roommate was scheduled to wake up at 7 to leave for her holiday trip, and dressed for bed. I put on my warmest flannel and then pulled back my two comforters and blanket and sheet to snuggle into bed. I hopped in and sank into a bed of FREEZING (and yes, I did use that correctly in my sentence).

Suddenly, I was awoken to the terrible flaw in my plan. I had stayed up and deprived myself of any pre-sleeping happiness, because all the body heat I was planning to use that night had been cruelly ripped from my body, leaving me bare and vulnerable to the evils of the cold, hungry night. I lay, shivering, in my bed, clutching the blankets to my chest in hopes that they would share their warm secrets with me. But the selfish cloth divulged nothing.

Somehow, I managed to generate enough body heat to defrost myself to the point where I was no longer a human popsicle and miraculously fell asleep. My roommate woke up shortly after, but I was comatose and didn't even hear her at all. When I did wake up, I experienced the same misery I felt every morning: cold, numbness, and a genuine dislike for the heaters that failed me. Only this time, I had no warm and fuzzy memories of the night before, because I had squandered my precious warmth to listen to singing comedians serenade me with their humor.

I look at the clock. It reads 10:17. I squint and put the clock closer to my face, hoping that somehow the digital numbers would shimmer and morph into a different time, telling me that I had gotten more than 4 hours of sleep. But no. The numbers glared back, refusing to compromise. But finally, they gave in, but yielded only one more minute as the time read 10:18, but somehow I am not convinced it had anything to do with my power to sway time.

Too cold to go back to sleep, I rolled out of bed and decided to reward myself with a hot shower. Perhaps then I would remember what it was like to be warm. I stumbled into the bathroom, switched on the light, and placed my unsuspectingly bare foot on the tile. I woke instantly, shot to the core with numbing cold.

And no, my dear reader, it is not due to merely cold tile. Cold tile I could bear. But sometime in the morning, when I was passed out in my ice tomb, otherwise known as my bed, someone had gone into the bathroom and turned on the shower and sprayed the entire bathroom with water. I suppose that it was hot water at one point, but by the time it forcefully greeted my skin, it had chilled to sub-zero temperatures. I could only imagine someone preparing to take a shower, when, suddenly, a ninja mosquito appears out of nowhere, intent on causing pain and misery to its victim, and because ninjas move fast, the shower victim could only think to drown the mosquito in a spray of water and would not rest until the mosquito had fallen and perished in the killing flow. Or they were practicing ballroom dance moves and needed a partner, and the nearest thing was our detachable shower head. Or the shower head was suddenly seized by an evil spirit and chased the poor person around the bathroom until it was strangled and tamed. But however it happened, I was left to forge my way through the battlefield.

The shower head did not attack me, nor did anything happen during my shower except that the water warmed me and I became cleaner, and I did wake up significantly, so I decided that I would dress and make breakfast for myself. I went into the kitchen and saw my can of oats sitting on the counter and knew that I would be devouring oatmeal for breakfast. I pulled out a pan (because we don't have a microwave, so we have to make things the hard way), and cooked my oatmeal. Then I spooned it into a bowl and sprinkled it with a teaspoon of brown sugar. And then I had a wonderful idea.

I know that brown sugar is only ever logically paired with cinnamon when you want to create an epically awesome taste experience, and I was appalled that I had not put cinnamon in my previous bowls of oatmeal whilst I had eaten it in Italy. I grabbed the jar of cinnamon and measured out a teaspoon of it as well. I was so excited for my bowl of cinnamon and brown sugar oatmeal I couldn't wait. But of course, I couldn't just mix it in and leave it at that. I lamented all the bowls of oatmeal sans cinnamon I had ever eaten and decided to make up for it by putting the missing cinnamon into this bowl of oatmeal I was preparing to eat. Before my brain could send off alarms and remind me that I am a rational human being with the ability to make intelligent decisions, I shook out what must have been enough cinnamon to feed cinnamon and brown sugar oatmeal to a family of twelve for a week*. I mixed it in with gusto and spooned some of it into my mouth.

NEVER PUT THAT MUCH CINNAMON IN ANYTHING. Unless it's a jar in which you store cinnamon so that you can use it in small quantities. VERY small quantities.

Determined not to waste the oatmeal, I drowned my concoction in milk and sugar and forced it down. One of my housemates came in and tried to start a conversation, but it was everything I could do not to let my stomach reject what I had cruelly shoved into it. My housemate kept up an awkward monologue while I nodded and made strangled noises in hopes that she would interpret them to be active listening noises. I don't think she quite understood.

I drank all the juice I had in the refrigerator to rinse out the taste, and still everything smelled like cinnamon to me. But I followed my housemate into her room and we planned out things to do for our Fall Break trip, and it was very productive and we didn't make any bad decisions at all.

I still have to pack, but we (me and three of my roommates) are leaving tomorrow to go on break and will be in Paris, Barcelona, and London. We'll return on Sunday, October 31st, and I'll update shortly after that to fill you in on my adventures. I am so excited to go! Until then, be safe, stay warm, and don't make poor decisions when you're sleep deprived.

*I am aware that too much cinnamon can be toxic, and I suppose at this point I exaggerate in my story. However, there was definitely too much cinnamon for one bowl of oatmeal, and I thought it would be a more dramatic story the way I tell it here. So worry not, I will escape coumarin poisoning.

Tuesday, October 19, 2010

"You Should Be More Like... Rembrandt"

So my printmaking professor and I have been battling all semester, trying to figure each other out and make my prints turn out. It took me most of the first month to figure out the printshop, and she gave me as little assistance as she could without being actively unhelpful, claiming that I was too timid and afraid of messing up my artwork, and it was causing my art to suffer, thus I would have to figure things out myself and make mistakes and learn how to deal with them. So after hours of frustration and undue panic, I adjusted to the way things are done in her shop.

She also made me work FAST. I don't actually have studio time allotted to me, so every time we met, it was essentially a critique, and she wanted to have a lot of material to critique. So I was working on several plates simultaneously, squeezing studio time between my classes, her classes and whenever the printshop was open (it's only open M-F, 9-8). It was frustrating, because frequently I would run into the shop because I had an hour of free time, and 40 of those 60 minutes would be devoted to letting the plate sit in acid. And when I pulled prints, I would be happy with the product, until I met with her and she just smiled, patted my head, and told me I had a long way to go.

I appreciated her help and guidance, but sometimes I just wanted to put my foot down and tell her that my plate was awesome the way it was. During one particularly rough critique, where I had put so much time and effort into my plates and I was really unwilling to go any further and she was adamant that the plates were not done, I essentially told her I was done. So she pulled out a book of prints and beckoned me over.

"Let me show you something."
I saunter over, pouting.
"Your lines are good at describing objects, but you need to loosen up and give life to your lines and vary the weight, and the direction, and the style." She flips open a page and points to a print. "Your lines should look more like this."
I look at the print. I stare. I look at her, bewildered.
"You want me to be like Rembrandt."
"Yeah. You should be more like Rembrandt."

That's it. I resigned to failing the class. If I was supposed to be the next Rembrandt, I had a lot more than a semester's worth of work to do.

However, I grumbled my way to the next stage of my plate, and studied Rembrandt's prints to mimic his use of line and shape rather than hard description of objects. I even scribbled on my plate, something that took a lot of courage. But once I spread ink on the plate and ran it through the press, I could see the drastic difference. It was as if I had transformed my work. Obviously it wasn't Rembrandt quality, nor was it complete, but I started to understand my professor.

I had my critique this morning, and it was the best print class I've had all semester. We discussed what was left to do on the prints, talked about the development of the plates, and everything just clicked. I couldn't believe that I was starting to not only agree with, but anticipate my professor's comments. It was beautiful.

So here are some terrible photos of my prints, starting from my first stage all the way to the latest and most developed print.

Sunday, October 17, 2010

Saturday, October 16, 2010

Catholic Mass

Tonight I attended my first Italian Catholic Mass. Well, it was in English, but it was in Italy, so that counts, right?

The mass was held in the chapel of Brunelleschi's dome, and I only wish I could've taken pictures. The dome ceiling was beautifully painted and all the surrounding chapels in the church were decorated and wonderful.

I am not a Catholic, so I haven't attended very many Catholic services, but this one seemed a bit rushed. There was no singing, and the whole service only lasted 45 minutes. However, it was still a cool experience, and I'm glad I went.

I'm not sure what the core message of the priest's sermon was, because he rambled a bit. He started talking about remembering God always, even in times of distress or celebration. Then he went on to talk about Peter walking on water to meet Jesus, and how we are like Peter in that God is always the one who will catch us when we fall, but we have to call out to Him and do our part by putting our hand out so God can catch our hand and help us up. And then he ended by talking about faith, and how even having a little bit of faith is better than none at all, although I'm not sure where he was going with the last part.

I couldn't take communion because I'm not a member of the Catholic church, but I'm sure the wine was excellent, since this is Italy, after all.

What I thought was most interesting, however, (and this could be with all Catholic churches, I'm not sure) was the absence of Bibles among the congregation. I feel like having the text in front of me adds to the message of the sermon, as well as helps me remember it better, but not only were the passages merely read aloud, they were not discussed during the mass. Rather, the Biblical verses served as context from which the priest began his sermon. And all of the recitations seemed to have lost meaning to the congregation, and the people were taking pride in the fact that they were a part of the exclusive group who could say the right words, rather than meditating on what they were saying and saying the words with conviction. One of my roommates (who is Catholic) said that 90% of Italy is Catholic, but only 30% are active members. After attending this service, I wonder what percentage of the 30% truly believe in what they... well, what they believe in.

I suppose I am mostly just ignorant about Catholicism in general, but it seems difficult to enrich your faith when everything is scripted. I'm glad I went to this mass, because it's such a big part of the culture, but I don't think I'll be converting any time soon.



We can only have it on for twelve hours a day, and we can't control either the temperature or when it's on or off, but we have it. And the world rejoices. I may make it through the fall/winter.

Friday, October 15, 2010


It's been too long since I've posted food pictures/recipes. Time to remedy that.

330 g flour
150 g sugar
100 g almonds
2 eggs
1 egg yolk
4 Tsp baking powder
50 g butter
1 lemon

(This recipe makes A LOT of biscotti, so we cut the recipe in half. I would advise you to do the same, unless you really want to eat biscotti for the next few days)

Mix the flour with butter to make crumbles, then add sugar, eggs, grated lemon zest and baking powder.
Incorporate the almonds and make 4 long rolls of dough. Place them in a buttered and floured baking pan and bake for 15 minutes at 180 C (350 F).
Let them cool completely and cut into pieces. Put back in the over for two minutes or until crisp and dry. Do not burn.

PAPPA AL POMODORO (Bread and Tomato Soup)
250 g (8 oz) stale country bread, sliced
3 cloves of garlic, crushed
4-5 Tsp olive oil
1 leek, finely chopped (only the white part)
Fresh sage, chopped
1 cup water
700 g (1 1/2 lbs) ripe tomatoes, peeled and cut into pieces (OR you can use a jar of tomato sauce)
1 L (1 1/4 pints) chicken stock (OR 1 stock cube)
Salt and Pepper
3 Tsp shredded basil leaves

Toast bread lightly in the oven so that it dries out but does not color, then break into pieces. Fry the garlic in 1 Tsp of oil until it just begins to color, then add the leek and sage and 2 Tsp of basil. Cook until the leek is transparent and the water is evaporated. Then add tomatoes or sauce and bread until the bread falls apart and blends with the sauce. Stir in enough hot stock, a little at a time, until you have a thick, mushy consistency. Season with salt and plenty of pepper, add the remaining basil, and simmer gently for about 20 minutes, stirring occassionally. Serve hot with a little olive oil dribbled over each serving.

AGNELLO IN CROSTA (Leg of lamb stuffed with artichokes)
Not for those who don't absolutely love artichokes. You can ask for the recipe if you want it.

300 ml (1/2 pint) cream
2 Tsp sugar, or more to taste
About 8 drops of vanilla essence, or one vanilla bean, split
1 tsp powdered gelatine

Simmer the cream with the sugar and vanilla for 2-3 minutes. Do not let the cream boil. Dissolve the gelatine (do not use more or the gream will be rubbery) in 2 Tsp cold water and beat well into the cream. Pour into a little serving bowl or small ramekins. As the cream is very rich, small portions are best. Chill for a few hours until set.


1 box of strawberries
1 box of blackberries
1 lemon, juiced

Blend strawberries and most of the lemon juice until smooth. Remove and then blend blackberries and remaining juice (blackberries are naturally more sour, so do not use too much) until smooth. Serve over panna cotta.

Also, I went to Tijuana (the restaurant in Florence, not the city in Mexico) and ordered chicken fajitas. They were not anything spectacular, and certainly not real Mexican food, but they were delicious enough, resembling food from On the Border or any other typical American-Mexican restaurant. We also got delicious cocktails. I got a virgin strawberry daquiri and the others ordered strawberry pina coladas. Yum.

And yesterday was National Dessert Day in America, and in honor of it, I made a pumpkin cheesecake with a chocolate crust, and sugar cookies. The desserts were consumed before I could photograph them, but oh well. My cheesecake turned out a little more soupy than I expected, but otherwise, dessert day was a success. I had never made sugar cookies, and while they were good, I wouldn't recommend the recipe, and thus will not post it.


Tuesday, October 12, 2010

Côte d'Azur, or the French Riviera

Last weekend I went to the French Riviera, which is basically the southern coast of France. It was absolutely beautiful. Being right next to Italy, however, meant that a lot of the Riviera's influence and culture is derived from the Italians, so I definitely didn't have an authentic French experience, but more of an Italian-French cocktail. Still, it was incredible, and I learned so much about the location.

Our first stop was in Monaco, an independent city-state within the borders of France. It is officially known as the Principality of Monaco, and has its own prince, currently Prince Albert II, son of Princess Grace Kelly.

Having only 2 km of area, Monaco is the second smallest country in the world, larger than only Vatican City. The residents of Monaco do not pay taxes, because the revenue of the country come from casino in Monte Carlo and the industrial sector, where they manufacture cosmetics. However, if you're an American looking to move here to lift your financial burden, I'm sorry to disappoint you. Only European residents are able to enjoy the benefits of this "tax haven."

There are no kings/queens in Monaco, although the government is a monarchy. The reason deals with politics and history. Long ago, the Genoans from Italy established a fortress here, to defend the Italian border. In Genoa, there were two main families (think Montagues and Capulets). One was under papal dominion and the other was essentially the ruling, political family. The political family, having more money and power, managed to expel the papal family from Genoa, giving them absolute control over the city. So in 1297, to take revenge, the head man in the papal family went to the fortress in Monaco and disguised himself as a Franciscan monk and asked to stay the night in the fortress. The guards were not legally allowed to bar monks from entry, so they allowed him to enter. That night, in true homage to the Iliad, he opened the gates and let his family flood in, take over the fortress, and establish dominion over the area. Ironically, monk in Italian is monaco. Ever since, that family has ruled over Monaco. However, since they were not descendant from royalty, they could not assume a title higher than prince, otherwise they would have been open to attack from France and Italy for insolence to the royal crowns. Thus, there will never be a king of Monaco.
The palace, which is still the fortress that was besieged all those years ago, has an extensive set of guards. Monaco has no military, as France takes care of national defense for them, but the guards of the palace of Monaco are a local force. The interior guards have 24-hour shifts, while the guards at the entrance of the palace are changed every hour.

Monaco's official language is French, but they speak Italian just as much, not only because of their proximity to the Italian border, but also because the ruling family of Monaco is Italian (from Genoa, remember?).

Monaco is small, but they have several significant attractions. The first is the casino, where residents of Monaco are actually forbidden to gamble. This brings in the largest revenue for the state. They also have a Formula 1 racetrack in Monte Carlo, the resort sector of Monaco. It is the most difficult track in the world, and is also where they filmed a segment of Iron Man 2. Because there is not enough space to create a large track, drivers have to go around the track 78 times to complete the race. However, it takes an average driver just under an hour and a half to finish, again emphasizing how small the track is.

Monaco is nestled between the Alps and the Mediterranean sea, making access difficult, or at least a long process. If you fly into the Nice airport (the closest airport to Monaco), you can take a taxi for about 90 euros, and it will take over 45 minutes to arrive. Or, you can take a helicopter for the same price, arrive in just under half an hour, and land on the helipad in style.

Speaking of Nice, that was the next stop on our trip. Nice is the second largest city in the French Riviera.

Like Monaco, it was originally an Italian city, but France took over and so while the official language and culture is French, they are heavily influenced by Italian culture. But around the 18th century, Nice became a fashionable place for wealthy English citizens, and so the main street, the Promenade des Anglais (Walkway of the English), is named in honor of the people who made Nice into a great resort area.

The Casino Ruhl was pointed out and significant for a reason that escapes me. But here's a picture of it!

Guiseppe Garibaldi, an Italian nationalist, was born in Nice in 1807 and was a key player in unifying Italy. He pushed very hard to get Nice recognized as a part of Italy, but the French king did not want that to happen, as Nice was a profitable city and well-known throughout Europe. So the king exiled Garibaldi. There is now a plaza dedicated to him in Nice, which goes to show how influential the Italians still are in Nice, since logically, Garibaldi has no reason to be honored in a French city.

We were encouraged to try socca here, which is a type of crepe made with the flour of chickpeas and salt, rather than wheat flour and sugar. I was willing to try it, but didn't know what to expect. What I experienced was a thin pancake that tasted faintly of hummus and was quite delicious.

Nice also tries to pretend that it's not a metropolitan city and thus has gardens and trees all over the city. Each patch of green has at least one fountain, and they are all well-lit at night, creating a very beautiful scene.

After Nice, we visited St. Paul de Vence. It is frequented by the creative types (artists, writers, musicians, actors), and has always had a reputation of being famous. It is certainly picturesque and easily a source of inspiration. Even the streets are artistic.

There were galleries all over the town, filling the streets with art. I wish I could've spent a longer time there, browsing the galleries.

We also went into the cemetery and saw Marc Chagall's tomb. He was a modernist Russian painter and pioneered Surrealism.

We departed from St. Paul and headed to Cannes, where the Cannes Film Festival is held every year. Most of the city is dedicated to hosting the festival, and since celebrities visit during these times, the streets are lined with luxury shops and everything, even the food, is very expensive.

We walked along the street outside the film theaters, and saw the handprints of all the famous people who had been to Cannes. There were so many of them, but a lot of them were international actors, and since I don't have a memory for actors, I didn't recognize the vast majority of them. However, I did photograph the ones that I recognized, which means I photographed recent, American, big-name actors.

I was least impressed with Cannes, because I expected it to be a glamorous area. Perhaps because it was overcast and drizzly, or because there was a lot of construction around the theaters (they were already preparing for next year's festival, in May), I was underwhelmed. It was still a beautiful area, with cool, Lothlorien-esque trees, and so many really amazing nautical vessels in the port, but it was my least favorite area of the French Riviera that we visited.

Our final stop was Eze, where the Fragonard perfumery is located. French perfumes are world-renowned, and Fragonard is the best of the best. They have special workers, known as Noses because of their trained and highly sensitive noses, that are able to recognize over 3,000 scents and are responsible for creating new smells for the perfumes. There are only about 50 professional Noses in the world. They go to school to learn the trade and are forbidden to drink alcohol, smoke, or eat spicy food, otherwise they risk destroying their sensitivity. They only work 2-3 hours a day, because they cannot maintain a sharp sense of smell after much longer.

In the perfumery, we were invited to test our own noses, and sadly, we all struggled to match 8 fairly distinct smells. Then we saw the "perfumer's organ," which is several large shelves lined with thousands of essence oils that look like the pipes of an organ and are the tools of the perfumer.

That was what I experienced in the south of France. I loved it, and can't wait to travel to Paris during Fall Break and see what "real" France is like. But I have to get through midterms first...