The Abruzzo story

One of my professors hails from Abruzzo, a quiet region where you can find some of the incredible nature in all of Italy, and I've been hearing about how enchanting it is nonstop for the past year. Finally, after the chaos of midterms and thesis preparation, we loaded up a car and drove the 5 hours to Abruzzo for a weekend in the middle of nowhere. It turned out to be just the sort of escape that I needed; in fact, I'm still daydreaming about spending another week there. There's something intoxicating about those mountains.

We slept in tiny cliffside Pacentro, and our B&B is one of those uniquely Italian places in which the family history was displayed on the walls. The best way to begin this story is to show you the photos I took there…

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When I asked people for their photos, I never heard a no. In fact, the baker even threw in a loaf of bread after I took his portrait. My professor Romeo also kindly agreed to being photographed in one of the restaurants we visited…

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It was two days driving down winding mountain roads, wandering through forests and along lakes, exploring both inhabited and abandoned villages, and- of course- making lots of photos. I tried regional foods like arrosticini and a special type of coffee that's made with cream of hazelnut. Each of us brought home a local specialty; for me and the other student it was wine and chocolate covered almonds, but Romeo may have bought half of the town (2 kilos of bread, 5 kilos of potatoes, chocolate, jam, and more).

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At this point the MFA photo group is a bit like family, so getting to see Romeo in his element was another highlight of the weekend. I'm convinced that Abruzzo is part of his genetic makeup, and by seeing it in person, the rest of us have deeper understanding of who he is. Now I understand why I've heard so much about this place, and I'm already ready to go back...

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London portrait challenge

I was in London this weekend for two specific reasons: to see the Alec Soth show (yes, it was amazing) and to meet up with a friend/fellow photographer I met during the photojournalism workshop I did back in August (y'know, the one with all the speed dating). Oh, and if I'm being honest, reason #3 was to go and eat at my favorite Ethiopian place again. Florence is sadly lacking in Ethiopan food, but I digress. It was a lovely weekend of bookstores and photography shows and great conversation; in fact, it was so lovely that I didn't even mind my flight back to Florence getting canceled. Well, maybe I minded a little... but the airline did give put me up in the Hilton overnight and I ordered room service. Maybe that was also a blessing in disguise.

Before going to the photo show, I spent the morning wandering London and ended up stopping a few strangers in the street to ask for a portrait. I told my friend about it later and mentioned how, for whatever reason, asking people for their photo is so much harder than shooting candid street photos (ironic considering I did commercial portrait photography for years prior to grad school). Oddly enough, my friend has the opposite problem and can talk to strangers without problems. So, what do two photo nerds decide to do when they find themselves in a city like London armed with cameras and 30 minutes to kill? The answer: a half-hour photo challenge. We gave ourselves a set period of time to take street portraits, alternating between posed and candid, and shot what we could.

Because "posed" portraits are a little outside the realm of my usual street photography MO, those are the ones I'm going to show you today. So, here are the results of a day in London spent talking to strangers... it's a side to this kind of photography that I'm (slowly but surely) getting more comfortable with.

Casa.

It’s a strange thing to make a home for yourself in someone else’s space. My current apartment is actually owned by two Italian grandparents that spend their summers living in Florence, and due to their impending return, it’s time for me to find somewhere else to sleep. My new apartment is in a quieter, more residential neighborhood. It’s gorgeous and spacious and full of light, with a big kitchen and a terrace. Assuming everything goes as planned, I’ll stay there until my time in Florence comes to an end. That being said, I think I’m going to miss my current home.

Every apartment has a history, but the longer you live somewhere, the easier it is to forget that others have made a life for themselves in that space as well. However, seeing that my home is full of objects and mementos that belong to strangers, it’s impossible not to wonder about those that were here before me. We’ve never met and we probably never will, but we share a deep intimacy by virtue of our homes intermingling. Almost every worldly possession I care about is in this apartment, and yet I wake up every morning to a house filled with the personal effects of someone I do not know.I always feel their presence. I wonder if they will feel mine when I leave. During these three months, my life has blended with theirs, albeit not quite seamlessly.

I’m a homebody, and I need a space that feels like my own. Though I’ve only been in this apartment for a few months, it’s come to mean something to me, maybe because it’s the first place in Italy that I’ve been able to feel some degree ownership towards. When I think about it, the way I've become intertwined in the lives of these strangers is similar to the relationship I have with Italy. I’m a guest in a place that I can't claim as my own, but this place has begun to inform a significant part of who I am. There's plenty I still don't recognize about it, but at this moment in time, Italy is my home.

The longer I live in this apartment, the more influence I bleed into quasi-home of mine. At the same time, bits of this new culture seep into both the objects I own and the life I am building. Some of my notes from class are in Italian, and my apartment is practically papered in worksheets and grammar booklets. If you look in my pantry, you’ll find American staples that I couldn’t leave behind (such as my morning oatmeal that’s become more of a ritual than a meal) sitting next to food items like farro and polenta. I hang my laundry to dry in my bathroom and I leave sticky notes of Italian translations on all my furniture, but I still cook with a microwave and a crockpot.

I guess this significance is the reason why I'm going to miss the little apartment on Lungarno delle Grazie (even though I'm thrilled to have a proper oven and a sink that fits more than one dish at a time). It’s funny the way the threads of experiences cross, sometimes without us even realizing. Mine have become entangled with this strange family's and with Italy as a whole. I sleep in a stranger’s bed in a strange country, but with a little time, both of these places have become more familiar.