The Travel Bug

As soon as school ended on Friday, June 17, I was on my way to the airport and on a flight to Venice to visit my family. Most people were a bit surprised at how soon I was leaving, barely leaving time for one last simit at the gate, but I reassured them that I booked my flights that way not out of desperation to get out of dodge, but because I wanted to spend time with my mom, who was visiting our relatives in Udine (2 hours north of Venice) and would only be in Italy a few more days. In truth, I was also eager to get a little distance from the year and to get the clarity of vision and introspection that come from travel.

After only a few days there, it already feels as though the year is long behind me- the more troublesome parts at least, and I was left with the pleasant aftertaste of having spent nearly one year in Turkey. Without  work and other stresses staring me in the face, it has become easier to see how fond I have grown of Istanbul in my last 10 and a half months there, in spite of my initial hardships acclimating. I have had time to ponder the things I have learned there, the sights I have seen, and the people I have met, and I have to say that any way you add it up, the sum comes out positive. I am excited to explore the southern coast of Turkey this summer and to come back to Istanbul in the fall for another round in the ring- to continue to learn Turkish and jewelry-making, and to settle back into the pace of life there.

While in Italy, I greatly enjoyed spending time with my family in Udine. The Sunday after I arrived, we were able to drive to Braida, a small mountain town, to my uncle's house. My family has been going there longer than I've been alive and it was my first time back in many, many years, and it was funny to adjust the reality of the place and the way I remembered it as my smaller self- much, much bigger. It's a lush green place that smells of trees and is covered in wildflowers. After a plentiful barbecued meal and lots of catching up, I put on my uncle's heavy rain boots, and headed out with my cousin to pick wild strawberries in a neighboring clearing as it started to drizzle. They were plentiful, although they were well hidden by the tall grass. There is nothing like the simple pleasure of picking wild berries, squatting down where you are surrounded by the smell of wet wood and leaves, and feeling the satisfaction of gathering enough to be able to garnish ice cream with later that evening. We both got a little wet as it started to rain harder, but it took a while for it to drag us back inside.

As usually happens while I'm in Italy and listening to my grandma's stories- stories that it seems she's become ever fonder of sharing with a listening ear- I learned more family history and consolidated stories that I had heard previously. This time around, I learned more about a certain character in my family, who everyone calls La Beppina, described by family members as a black haired and blue eyed beauty, who was a cousin of my grandma's. Although I've heard about her many times, mostly just stories in passing, mention of her struck a deeper chord this time around. It seems that this cousin, had the travel bug, just like me, and made her way to far off places, where she did exotic things for her time, like ride camels and live under tents. She didn't up and take off alone, however. She went with her husband, whose job was also the reason for their travels. He was a veterinarian for the Italian army- back in the days when armies still had horses. Their travels took them to places such as Lybia. Although my grandma doesn't remember much of her stories from those travels, she recalls one peculiar story about a chicken. It seems that as a gift to repay her husband for his veterinary services in helping a horse give birth in a small village, the village residents gave Beppina a chicken. She didn't want to keep the chicken in the house and so tied it by the leg to a post just outside the back door. When she came out the next day, she saw what looked like a pile of feathers. As she got nearer, she saw that her chicken had been devoured by ants, which were still feasting on its carcass! Finding out about this distant relative made me smile in thinking that love of travel and new cultures, although under very different circumstances, links us across generations.

Since before the trip, I had been anticipating going to Venice to visit a friend from my time interning at the Peggy Guggenheim Collection, and going to the Venice Biennale- the international contemporary art show, where many countries host pavilions, where they showcase artists. I was able to stay with my friend Diana and catch up with her life since I'd last seen her 2 years ago. Since she was working at the American Pavilion, she let me get climb up on one of the sculptures from the show Gloria, by artists Jennifer Allora and Guillermo Calzadilla- an upside down tank with a treadmill on top, on which a professional athlete would come run at schedule times during the day. The running would also spin the tank's wheels and tracks. While I did not get to see this in action, I did get to quickly climb inside the tank. The show also included an ATM machine attached to an organ. Whenever anyone carried out a transaction with the machine, the organ would blast music until the transaction was finished. Each transaction got a different set of sounds.

The show as a whole was overwhelming in its sheer size. It occupies an area of Venice called the Giardini, where the original pavilions where housed, as well as the Arsenale, where pavilions were added, as the Biennale expanded over the years. In addition to this, there are other pavilions sprinkled around the city, which makes seeing the show in its entirety and time consuming undertaking. As I walked around, I found myself frustrated by the lack of explanation for certain artworks, as if no deeper description were necessary other than the artwork itself, which seemed a very pretentious idea. A lot of to-do was given to certain artworks, such as Mike Nelson's piece, housed in the British Pavilion that supposedly recreated an Istanbul workshop, but just looked like a haunted house filled with junk. The space that had been created didn't seem to give me a new or meaningful experience and I was left wondering "Why did the artist make this piece?" and especially "Why all the fuss?".

A definite highlight of the show was Urs Fischer's sculpture, which replicated the Renaissance sculpture Rape of the Sabine Women, by Giambologna. Although the sculpture appears to be made of stone or marble, its surprise comes from the fact that it is made from wax and that its existence is therefore only temporary. It was lit at the beginning of the Biennale and will slowly melt throughout the duration of the show. The piece also included a wax figure of a friend of the artist's and of an office chair. The melting down of such an iconic piece and the fleeting nature of the sculpture seemed to perhaps remind the visitor to enjoy the present moment and not to become too attached to the past. Another big hit of the Biennale was Christian Marclay's "The Clock," where the artist created a functional clock by splicing together footage from real movies, where time plays a prominent role. The amazing part of this piece is that the footage shows precise times to the minute, which allows the film to show time passing on a painstakingly minute scale. The clips are loosely tied together- one character from a film makes a phone call at 11:53 and another character from a different movie answers the phone at 11:53, but there is no narrative, only the constant catalyst for action- the clock. I found myself completely mesmerized by the film at the same time as it was calling attention to exactly how many minutes I was spending transfixed by the screen- precious time that I should be using to do other things in my life! I think I spent about 15 minutes in front of it, before I finally peeled myself off of the comfortable couches and continued to explore the show. 

Melting Statue

Checking out the Biennale was fun, but the highlight of the trip was getting to spend time in this ever stunning city, reconnecting with a friend, and meeting new friends. I'd forgotten how magical of a place Venice is, but was reminded as soon as I started to wander and let myself lose my way in its labyrinthian streets.

Diana and I

The last few days I spent in Italy were mostly mellow. I met up with a childhood friend in Gorizia, where we caught up on life, while escaping an enormous downpour in a tiny bar near the train station. I also spent a lot of time with my grandmother and aunt, and although it always seems like there is never enough time, I am comforted by the fact that I am so close to them now- in fact, just a 2-hour plane ride away, and that I will therefore be going back very, very soon. 

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