Adventures in Puglia

My past month has gone like this: I finished my first year of grad school, visited family in Alabama, did a few photo jobs in Florida, and flew back to Florence a little over a week ago. Oh, and I’ll be back in the US in July for more photo shoots and an exhibition! If you’re around, you should either book me to take your photos or come to my opening at Lowe Mill in Huntsville. Or, you know, you could do both.

Since the age of 16, I’ve worked two jobs every summer. This year, though… well, I don’t have a plan. This is the only summer in which I will have a European visa (at least for the near future), so I've known that I've wanted to stay in Italy for the majority of my break. I thought I would find an internship or a job in Florence, but after getting so singularly focused on my work at school, I let time get away from me and summer rolled around sooner than I anticipated. So, my plan is to use part of the savings that I have from those aforementioned jobs and use it to travel. That being said, if you want to hire me for photos in Florence as well, I certainly wouldn't say no…

At any rate, I’ve been in Puglia (a region in the South of Italy) this week, and it is easily one of the most beautiful places I’ve ever visited. Here are a few things that have happened thus far:

I’ve been surprised by the amount of strangers that have talked to me on the street. There is an exuberance to this region that’s different from the atmosphere in Florence; I’m not sure how to explain it. Maybe part of it is the culture, and maybe Southern Italians just haven’t tired of tourists yet. Still, much like in Florence, the towns feel the most alive right before dusk. All of the young people in Bari sit at the harbor and drink and talk, and even though Polignano a Mare is a tiny little town, it seems as if every single local heads to the main piazza at dusk. There’s not a main street for the traditional “passeggiata” (evening walk) as far as I can tell, so instead I saw 5 separate groups of elderly men walking the length of the piazza over and over again, their steps often in perfect sync.

And then there is the food. Fish is one of my favorite things to eat, so I think Puglia may be my preferred region for food in Italy. I’ve eaten enough pesco crude for the next decade, and yesterday I took myself on a date to a nice restaurant to commemorate my last night in Polignano. Dining alone can be as weird or as wonderful as you make it; for me, it’s become something that I look forward to. Just as meals with friends are a time to connect with others, dining solo is the perfect time to reflect and brainstorm and just be calm. Learning how, exactly, one becomes calm my project for the summer, because it's not an inherent quality. That being said, I think that a year in Italy has loosened me up a bit.

Of course I’ve been swimming; ever since I was a little kid, the sea has been my happy place. I feel the most calm and liberated when I’m floating in an ocean, preferably as far away from other humans as possible. I know that's not exactly a safe thing to do... if it weren’t the 21st century, I’m certain natural selection would have taken care of me a long time ago. Severe food allergies, a penchant for traveling alone, and the desire to submerge oneself in large bodies of water is not a winning combination for long-term survival. Mom, if you’re reading this, I promise I’m being safe!

Well, mostly safe. I did cut my hand on a rock while swimming yesterday. It wasn’t horrible, but it did bleed badly enough that, by the time I found first aid, it was hard to distinguish if I was injured or had just committed a murder. As a result, the well-meaning attendant at the ice cream stand bandaged my hand until I resembled a bikini-clad mummy. All I needed was a band-aid… I’m not that fragile.

Really, Puglia is lovely. Today I am on a train from Polignano a Mare to Lecce, and I’m not sure how many photos will happen in Lecce due to this awful rain. The weather during the rest of my trip, however, has been gorgeous. I flew into Bari and have visited the little seaside towns of Trani, Polignano a Mare, and Monopoli. Next on my list is Otranto and finally Brindisi to catch a flight home. For now, I leave you with a little slice of life in Puglia as I've observed it.

Santo Spirito- 1 hour, April 2nd

I wrote a post in January about feeling homesick because I hadn't established firm roots in Florence yet. Now, though, I'm at a point where this has shifted, and Florence feels so much like home. Here's why: I have a fantastic group of friends, I'm a part of the community at school, and I'm settled into the apartment I'll stay in long term. The first year photo MFAs had our exhibition a few days ago, and it was my first time showing my work in a gallery in Florence (or, well, anywhere). That deserves its own post because it was one of the most wonderful and stressful and fantastic experiences of my life thus far.

The language endeavor is coming along slowly but surely, and my day-to-day comprehension varies wildly depending on who I'm talking to. Still, I'm making progress. My teacher is about to pursue a PhD in Italian literature, so with his guidance, I'm working through my first book in Italian. To say that I'm thrilled about it is an understatement; in another life, I'd be studying to become an English professor rather than a photography professor, and I feel like a whole new world of books is opening up for me. It's a little like English class (something I really miss from college), except I'm struggling to sound intelligent both when analyzing the book and, well, speaking like a functional human.

In short, I feel so at home in Florence these days, and I'm trying to soak up life here as much as I can. I'm familiar enough with the city that I have my "happy places": several favorite cafes, a hole-in-the-wall sandwich shop, so on and so forth. If I have guests in town, I know exactly where I want to take them first (usually it's Mercato Sant'Ambrogio). I have my preferred piazzas for people watching, such as Santo Spirito, which isn't frequented by tourists as often as the piazzas on the other side of the river but still manages to be one of the liveliest places in Florence.

I'm trying to photograph as many of these places as possible before I visit the US in two weeks. For example, if you were to spend an hour in Piazza Santo Spirito on any given spring Sunday, it would probably feel something like this:

Budapest and Vienna

Last month I booked a last-minute ticket to Budapest and Vienna for my spring break, and it’s nothing short of a miracle that I actually boarded the plane last week. Why? Well, I accidentally booked the ticket under Cocoa instead of my legal name (which I haven’t gone by in a very long time, so it was an honest mistake). The sole reason I was allowed to leave Florence was that a professor of mine was gracious enough to vouch for my identity at the airport. Lufthansa still couldn’t change the name on the ticket and I was told I might get questioned in another airport, but surprisingly I didn’t run into trouble. I didn’t even know these things were possible.

Another factor working against me was the fact that, at the time, I hadn’t gotten a copy of my Italian permit of stay. For those fortunate enough to have never needed to register with the italian questura, it’s a long and frankly ridiculous process to get a permesso di soggiorno, even with the backing of a school. Think the DMV except about 17 times more tortuous and staffed by angry government officials with whom you can only sort of communicate with. I filed for my permesso at the end of last year, and one would think that would be the difficult part. However, for some reason, the real issue was returning to the questura just to pick up one simple ID card. I tried to do this a few days before I left but had no luck; this past Thursday I went back with more success. It was an eight hour ordeal, but… at least I’m legal now? Unlike when I crossed national borders multiple times two weeks ago and somehow no one bothered to check my passport.

I mean, how sketchy would that be? Some random girl traveling with a ticket booked under someone else’s name and no permit of stay? I swear I’m usually not this much of a mess when I travel.

Actually, that’s a lie. I’m always a total mess when I travel.

Anyways, back to the point: Budapest and Vienna. When I visit a new place, I have a tendency to put a lot of pressure on myself to take amazing photos while I’m there, sometimes to the extent that it takes away from my enjoyment of the city. It’s a habit I’m trying to break, so this time, I refused to take a photo of a single landmark and spent the vast majority of my time sitting in cafes. It was an excellent life choice. Italy doesn’t have a cafe culture like Hungary or Austria or even America with our overabundance of Starbucks on every corner. Here, you drink your espresso down like medicine while standing at the bar and go about your day. However, in Austria and Hungary, you are allowed (if not encouraged) to stay a while and linger over your beverage without fear of getting any dirty looks from the barista. Over this little trip, I drank an absurd amount of coffee and read as many books as I could. Admittedly, I also took a lot of pictures… just not of castles or landmarks. There are enough photos of Schonbrunn palace in the world.

So, here are some pictures from the trip I risked getting detained on a layover in Germany for. Thankfully that detainment never actually happened, but even if it had... maybe this trip would have been worth it? (Okay, I can't say that with certainty. If getting detained in an airport is anything like the Italian questura, I definitely would have preferred to stay home.)