Tuesday, July 11, 2017

Sunday, June 11, 2017

My grandma lives on the 4th floor of a building in Sector 6. It's morning. Bustling pathways. A man sings from the church. Bread costs un leu and it's so hot you can't hold it in your arms as you rush through the streets. Children ride bicycles. "Repede! Repede!" Past the man with the American cigarette on his lips.
So I walk up 4 flights of stairs. As I'm walking up, my mind goes elsewhere. I'm gone. And I begin to breathe heavy. Slower. Slower. I've never felt this tired climbing only 4 flights of stairs. Out of breath, I find myself on the 10th floor and I realize-

I was thinking of you.

Tuesday, April 4, 2017

Eternally Unshaken.

It happened during a series of devastatingly cold weeks in January. One month after the American presidential election, I left the United States in search of the truth. I found the truth personified at the bottom of the staircase under the subway map in the station in Bucharest. The truth was eating a baguette as the trains went by, as the people passed, constantly in motion. She was stationary. She was sitting on the stairs beneath a glorified promotion for an American film when she saw me. “Are you lost?” She asked me. It was a question I thought about long after she asked it, one I had asked myself many times before, and still ask myself today. It was then that I found the truth in its most honest form. I found Ligia Miranescu.
She took my hand, led me into the street, and introduced me to her brother, Gheorghe, as no American treasure. During a time in which the whole world had its starry eyes on me, while my country screamed like a car alarm, crumbling beneath political turmoil, Ligia looked away from me. Her dark eyes were pointed upward, toward the Balkan sky. But she looked away too long, and Gheorghe hurdled a snowball at her head which landed on her chest and exploded upon her coat in a conflagration of crystals. On her ears, on her nose, on her hat, on her scarf.
But Ligia doesn’t brush it off. She just leaves it there and begins to smile. Covered in snow, she sparkles beneath the streetlights. Ligia comes from where the sun never sets, in the marriage of the East and the West. She is indescribably beautiful, eternally unshaken, and unapologetically Romanian.
The subway rumbles beneath our feet. In that moment, running down the staircase, we are alive in another lifetime. Now, we are the ones in motion as the world around us nears a full and complete stop. We are flying down the stairs into the subway station where we first met, not too long ago. But wasn’t it? A day ago? A lifetime ago? We rush past the magazine and newspaper stands covered in red, white, and blue. It reminds me of “home.” I don’t want to leave and before I have no other choice, Ligia Miranescu tugs me into the subway car.
“America needs you,
America kisses you,
Never forget that America misses you.”

They both kiss me in a rushed and improper goodbye as I’m able to leap out of the closing doors of the train before the voice can come over the intercom- “AtenĊ£ie!” From the window, the truth calls to me and says- “Amanda, remember! Polytechnic station! Don’t get lost!”

I wave as the train flies along the tracks. I am lost in the most beautiful way.

In Eastern Europe.

January 2017

In Eastern Europe, time is measured in packs of cigarettes. Lengths of conversations are determined by the amount of smoke in the air around you. Perhaps there is an equation to solve for these amounts of time. Or perhaps not, because it passes differently for each person. In Eastern Europe, cigarette breaks are not few and far between, but when they are over, people return, slowly, to their offices. The lights flicker above their desks.

In Eastern Europe, in a town called Bucharest, time moves slower. Especially in the winter time. Temperatures are sub-zero and the inter-molecular forces, the velocity of the particles in the air slows down. Although the speed of sound has surpassed us, the streets and cars seem inaudible. I am able to play guitar by the open window with my fingers, although my calluses are blistered from the cold, and I can hear myself. It's quiet.

In the streets, children hold to their mothers' arms, silently, and shuffle through the snow. For a moment it seems so quiet that the only possible conclusion I can come to is that everyone in this entire town is just holding their breath. Waiting, perhaps. Waiting for a bus or a cab or a train. Waiting- for metrou line number 3.

In Eastern Europe, there is a train. It runs along the third metrou line of Bucharest's underground subway system. There is a train that runs all the way until the "1st of December." No. Not the date. The place. Do not be mistaken, for in Bucharest there is a station called 1 Decembrie, 1918. I later learned that this was the national day of Romanian unification, "Great Union Day" they call it. It's the day when Transylvania, Bessarabia, Bukovina, and the Romanian Kingdom became unified as one country. But it's almost as if travelling along that subway line meant that you were transcending space and time. It's almost as if during the unification of those Balkan regions, time and space were also being unified, so that if you decided to travel through space on metrou line number 3, you were also deciding to travel through time, nearly 100 years ago.

And you could believe it too. Because in Eastern Europe, babushka, bunica, la nonna of the East, wears a fur coat. She is old and elegant. Her hands have seen the cold snow and her face has felt the dry wind of the northern Balkans. A vision of her could properly convince you that the year is in fact 1918, that the country has just been unified, along with time and space.

Monday, June 20, 2016

A "Traveler."

To me, instant coffee, the kind that comes in those little packets, the powder that you pour under
boiling hot water, tastes like Italy. And it tastes like my grandmother's apartment in Eastern Europe, the one with drawers full of old Communist love letters and where me and my father would hang our cleanest dirty clothes above the shower. Those instant coffee packets taste like the late nights in Milan when we didn't have enough money for an espresso. It tastes like stress. Like wondering where you will sleep the next night.

I remember getting off of a bus near Treviso in the region of Veneto, Italy with my father. And from there, we walked all the way to Venice. My father with the backpack on his back and I with my guitar in its case in my right hand. And we had to have been the only Americans who went to Venice and did not ride in a gondola. When I returned home people would ask me, did you go to Murano? Did you go to Burano? (The islands around Venice.) My response every time was, "Is it possible to get there on foot? Because if it's not, I haven't been there."

Passing through, wherever we happened to be passing, people began to joke, calling us "white gypsies," "zingari bianchi," "tigani albi." And we looked the part too. Especially after we climbed one of the tallest mountains in Moldova, "Ceachlau" in the range of the Eastern Carpathians, in one day alone.  We reached the summit in the afternoon and were back on the ground on the other side of the mountain that night. My dad picked up a hiking stick along the way and carried that with him which didn't help much with the previously mentioned image. We had to cross to the other side in order to catch a train that night that would arrive in the capital city of Bucharest by the morning. I remember my eyes being closed in the train with my head against the window, I was drifting off when I heard two young girls, about my age, laughing. I opened my eyes and saw them pointing to my legs and as I looked down, I realized that the pantyhose I was wearing under my dress, had holes in them.

I remember walking through the cemetery in Bucharest with my father, the one where the relatives of my grandmother were buried and as we were leaving, a gypsy man with dark skin and green eyes, who was sweeping the walkway, lifted his broom from the path upon which we were walking, so as to make way for us. He kept his head down but as we passed him, he smiled at my father and bowed before me. He said to me in Romanian as I passed,

"Saru' Mana." May I kiss your hand.

I didn't understand until we left the cemetery and I asked my father what he meant. He explained to me that people from a lower class do not greet others with, "good day" or "good morning" but instead, "may I kiss your hand," as a way of showing respect. Not even a moment later, we passed a bus stop on the street where the bus driver was screaming at an old gypsy woman to get off of his bus, that he did not allow people like her on his bus. A white woman stopped us and asked us why we wouldn't lend the gypsy woman any money to ride the bus, in that moment she turned to us and showed us her hands, full of coins. She had more than enough money to ride the bus.

That night, my father and I had run out of money. We decided to just go to sleep because we didn't have enough money for food, The thing is, every time I hear an upper-class, Tuscany vacation-home owner call himself a "traveler," I can't help but wonder whether he has worried where he will sleep the next night. I want to ask him how many times he has used his backpack as a pillow in the last empty train car, or argued with the woman selling bread on the corner of the street. I wonder if he has ever seen discrimination, occurring before his eyes, in a foreign language, and tried to comprehend the world in real time. I wonder if, when he smells the smell of instant coffee, his mind is instantly flooded with images of the open window in an apartment without air conditioning and the millions of little wrinkles on an old woman's hands, filled with coins. The blissful ignorance of never having seen or felt. Is it really his luxury to never have known these things?

The last night we spent away from home that summer, I lay awake in the chair in which I had been sleeping, in my grandmother's apartment. And I'm embarrassed to admit it. But I cried.  And I couldn't tell whether it was because I was sick to death of the growling noise my stomach kept making, or if it was simply the frightening image of my country that loomed in the near future. An image of responsibility. The image of a country in which, I had a life made out for me. The country in which, I had to be someone great. The country that my parents came to so I didn't have to sleep in a chair, on an empty stomach every night like they often did. And I was scared to death. Terrified even. I started to question myself, who I was, where I was from, where I belonged. It was a feeling in my heart. I lay awake and wondered if any of the others I had met, the ones who flew to Tuscany every summer, the one's who called themselves "travelers," had ever felt that feeling, in their hearts. Lost, alone, and terrified.

Tuesday, March 15, 2016

Si Diventa Le Persone Che Si Incontra - The American Foreign Exchange Student

I'm sitting here in class, on my last day of Italian school. 3A Europeo at Liceo Classico. There's a teacher speaking French at the front of the room and all of the words pass over my head. I understand stand some of them, but for the most part it is just a song to me. French has always just sounded like a song to me.

Here, there is my good friend, Carol. There are the girls who only talk to me because I'm American. There is the fascist, there is the one who broke my heart. But no matter how much they hurt me or helped me, I will remember them all, without a doubt. No matter whether they left a bad or a good impression on me, I will remember them all.

There is a mark left on me from every person that I've met while I've been here. Some of the marks are pretty, others are not. But they have all contributed something. And now I'm composed of all of those things they've contributed. I'm still Amanda. I'm just a different Amanda. And tomorrow I will step out into the cold air and return to The States.

For the longest time I thought about running away, not coming back to the U.S. I'm being serious. It's easy to do here in Europe, you don't have to be an adult to do things here, like in the U.S. All I would have to do is get on a train and go South, then take a boat to Sicily. No one would find me because I would change my name. Kids of 17 years old can do just about anything an adult could here. I could get a job and find somewhere to stay, with the amount of Italian that I know.

But I decided I wont. Not because I miss America but because if I don't return, to whom will I tell these stories? It is time to start the next chapter so that I can tell these stories all over the world. Even if I don't return to Cosenza, (though I'm sure that I will,) I will never forget any of these people. It is because of them, that I am who I am in this moment.

Holden Caulfield put it best when he said, "Don't tell anybody anything. If you do, you start missing everyone."

Monday, November 30, 2015

"What do you think of Americans?"

Photograph by Carol Gagliardi
The question I ask every time I get to know someone enough in a foreign country. Of course, it is hard not to get a biased answer, as they know that I am myself, American. But the answer always seems to follow along the same lines.

I think that travelling abroad is something that a lot of people associate with the rich. Because they are the ones with the money to travel. This foreign exchange program that I'm part of, is not for rich kids. The cost of the trip was only the plane ticket. In fact, most of the students on this exchange are not upper middle class.

Italians, (foreigners in general,) have this idea of, "Americans," that isn't truly accurate. The idea that they have in their heads, (tall, blonde, affluent,) is not in fact an image of an American but rather that of your average rich person. For them, rich and American are synonymous. It is not their fault however that they have this idea, the media feeds them a dreamy image of bourgeoisie America and nothing else. I mean, here and there they'll see a minority or two, a prole, or a working class hero in a movie but primarily, these people are not given the spotlight. The respondents of this question are not being lied to necessarily, but the truth is being hidden from them. Therefore, it is easy for them to assume that all Americans are like the ones they have seen in the media. They are left to conclude that this image is all that we are, when in reality, it is only a very small portion.

Out of the 13 American students on this exchange, only one fits the tall, blonde and rich image. 1 out of 13. Anytime that 1 represents 13, there is a disproportionality. Why is it that this one, (the minority,) represents the other twelve, (the majority.) It is not only numerically wrong to represent the whole group by the minority, but it is blind and ignorant to do so. In describing this case, "numerically wrong," is an understatement.

If we have given anything to these Italians on the foreign exchange trip, brought anything to them, more than the American-English slang and pop songs, it is the hard truth of who were really are. We are dark skinned, we are brown eyed, we come in all sizes. For the most part, we are not rich. We are not MLB players or movie stars.

We bring you our dark faces and rough hands and this is more than any education anyone could ever give you on the America of today. We are the "Stories Hollywood Never Tells." We are the ones who are asked,
"You're American? All American? And nothing else...?"
"No, I mean really...where are you really from?"
"American...? Are you sure?"
We are the ones who are asked if we are "sure," of who we are. Because of course there is always someone richer, blonder, who knows better than us, who can confirm our citizenship.

We are the tired. We are the poor. We are the huddled masses "yearning to breathe free, the wretched refuse of the teaming shore." And if there is in fact a poor and dirty, but tall and blonde boy in America, he is not American for his white skin. He is American because someone sometime in his family scaled the highest of mountains to arrive at the pedestal of lady liberty who lifts her lamp beside the golden door.

We are all American and everything else.

Thursday, November 19, 2015

Italian School - The American Student

Many of the people here look familiar, as if I've seen them before, as if I know them from before. I do know them. I know her, the very smart girl at the front of the class and the boy who sits next to her just to copy her work.

And I know him, the smart boy who sits at the back but doesn't try. The boy who wears the mask of someone stupid, so that no one expects anything of him.
"Ah, Federico? Lui non fa niente."
But I see through him. I know him. I've know him from America.

I know her, the pretty girl on the side, the one with the red lips. The principal's daughter who talks back to the teacher and fixes her makeup in class.

I know the professor of philosophy, "Il Pazzo," they call him, Crazy. Everyone stops talking or using their phones when he starts talking about il verbo essere. In Italian he says existentially,
"Come state? Tell me how you are. I mean how you truly are. How you exist." Veramente.

Most of all though, I know the girl to the left of me, at the back of the class, Carol. She's intelligent but she doesn't sit at the front with the others. She prefers to watch from afar. Observant. From here, she can see everything. She is quiet because she doesn't feel she can say anything until she has a view of the entire room. She is lost. She is different. I know her well.