Tales of Costa Rica: Santa Teresa

By the time she steps on to the beach, the tide has fallen. A silver glaze of water coats the sandy shore. She watches the ripples her feet make as they touch the ground beneath her, softly, as if she’s walking on glass. The wet sand feels cool between her toes, a remedy for her blistered feet. Over the past nine days they’ve carried her over rocky mountains, down muddy slopes, across rivers of rushing water.

It’s 5:30am. Early. Her body is weary, her eyes feel heavy, forced open and not quite ready to face the blazing sun. If there’s anything Costa Rica has taught her, it’s to rise. Always. Even when you’re not ready.

She stands on the shore, now ankle deep in the Pacific Ocean. The cold water pushes and pulls against her legs, prying her from her drowsiness. Her left hand is wrapped tightly around her violet sarong, holding it up to keep the bottom from getting wet. She wonders what the nearest coastline is. Maybe New Zealand, 12,000 miles away.

“Nothing before me, everything behind me,” she thinks.

The sun is just beginning to rise, deciding which colors it will paint the sky and sea with today. Gazing into the expanse of sterling pastels before her, she breathes in, filling her lungs with the salty air. It smells of the sea, and of the mangos howler monkeys pulled off the trees behind her. They take a bite of the ripe fruit, and then throw it to the ground. A nightly ritual. In the morning, the walk to Santa Teresa’s beach is always punctuated by the smell of abandoned mangos.

Waves crash all around her, whispering things she can almost understand. She closes her eyes and feels the cool mist of the ocean kiss her skin, her dark hair blowing wildly about her shoulders. Her fingers loosen their grip on her skirt, she lets it fall to the water.

Years from now she’ll remember this moment. The moment when gently, and then all at once, the wind howled, and she was changed.

A Love That Moves the Sun and All the Other Stars

**This article was originally published (with photos) on RenaissanceSwag.com**

I first met Dante Alighieri in Piazza Santo Spirito in Florence, a city that in my eyes seems enchantingly frozen in the middle ages. I was studying at Middlebury College and had registered for a course on Medieval Italian Literature. After class I’d walk through the cobble-stoned streets of the Tuscan city, saunter past the dizzying string of glittering jewelry shops that gild the Ponte Vecchio, and make my way to the other side of the Arno river.

There are other piazzas I could have studied in, but they’re too big, too touristy, too crowded. The more unassuming Piazza Santo Spirito is tucked away in a cozy corner of Florence. On one side of the square is a basilica; Brunelleschi’s bare, unfinished façade subtly hides the fact that inside rests a treasure-trove of art. The rest of the piazza is lined with tiny cafés, rustic wine bars, and lunchtime trattorias.

Every once in a while the smell of freshly baked bread and ground coffee beans wafts through the air. While espresso-sippers, the occasional guitarist, monks, and merchants selling the days produce from their carrelli (carts) bustled about, I’d find a seat near the fountain and spend hours trying to decode the medieval Italian poetry that is Dante’s Divine Comedy.

At first, you might say that my relationship with Dante was a rocky one. It’s a bit like reading Shakespeare. In another language. In the medieval version of another language. Can you say difficult?!

But I like a challenge.

Like most relationships, ours took time, and a lot of dedication. After a few frustrating sessions, the meaning of Dante’s verses began to take shape in my mind, and the profound beauty of his poetry left me breathless.

What can I say? The man has a way with words.

Dante suffered two heartbreaks in his lifetime: his banishment from his beloved city of Florence (it’s a long story), and the death of Beatrice, who he loved dearly. Ohh did he love her.

When someone endures a struggle, he or she might find sanctuary in the church, sweat it out à la Hulk lifting weights at the gym, throw themselves into a new business venture, or dramatically chop off their hair, dye it purple and go for a whole new look!

Anything to take their mind off the pain.

Dante mended his aching heart by putting pen to paper. Or, should I say quill to parchment? So he wrote, and he wrote some more. He wrote his way through the unforgiving fires of the Inferno, up through the mountains of Purgatorio, and finally into bliss of Paradiso.

At the start of his epic voyage he explains, “In the middle of the journey of our life I found myself within a dark woods where the straightway was lost.”

Most of us have been there at some point or other, had those moments where we feel completely paralyzed by grief, fear, or uncertainty.

How does he make it through the woods?

It’s love that pulls him from his state of bewilderment into a place of clarity and healing.

Don’t worry! I know that you’re thinking, but I’m not about to give you a lesson on the poetry of the Divine Comedy. You see, throughout the entire poem Dante struggles with a question that I think most of us try to answer throughout the course of our lives: What is true love?

His first encounter with it is in the Inferno. There he finds Minos, a hideous demon who, with his menacing tail, mercilessly hurls the wailing souls who tremor before him into the various levels of hell. Scary.

It’s the second circle of hell and there is no light here. The floor unsettlingly roars beneath Dante’s feet, and a violent wind relentlessly thrashes the moaning souls up and down and all around. They are the lustful. Among them are a few of our favorite lovers of all time: Cleopatra, Helen of Troy, Paris, Tristan, Achilles, Semiramis, and Dido. But it’s when he reencounters his old friends, Paolo and Francesca, that he feels the most distress.

Long story short, Francesca was promised to marry Paolo’s brother, Gianciotto (aka Crippled John), a man who was as ugly in spirit as he was in appearance. One day, while Gianciotto was out, Paolo and Francesca read to one another the love story of Guinevere and Lancelot. Unlike his brother, Paolo was easy on the eyes, and Francesca we’re told, was a beautiful woman.

And so, it was over the amorous words of the legendary story that this handsome pair locked eyes. Unable to silence their desire for one another, they shared a kiss, fell in love, and consequently, tumbled to their ruin. (Shortly after, Gianciotto returned home to catch the lovers in the midst of their passionate affair and stabbed them both to death. Ouch.) With tears in her eyes Francesca tells Dante:

“Love which pardons no one loved from loving

Seized me so strongly with my pleasure in him

That, as you see, it still does not leave me.

Love led the two of us to a single death.” 

(Inferno, Canto 5, 103 – 106)

Upon hearing the gentle-hearted Francesca tell her story, Dante is so overwhelmed with confusion that he faints. How can it be that these two are doomed to such a wretched fate for falling in love? Was their crime so unforgivable that they should be damned to an eternity of being whipped around in a ferocious storm together? (It should be noted that he ignores the fact that they committed adultery. I think it’s because Francesca was given no choice in the marriage.)

I started thinking, doesn’t this happen to most people?

You meet someone. A stolen touch here, a tentative glance there. One moment you’re both temptingly waltzing around each other, hesitating. Am I imagining it? You aren’t.

Then there’s the kiss. Soft and slow, you feel it ignite every inch of your being. You’re both entranced with each other; he loves your eyes, you can’t get enough of his smile. You’re distracted and thinking of each other at work, counting down the minutes until you can pick up the phone and call.

And then for some reason or other, maybe it ends.

The problem, Dante learns, is that what he thought was love, two people only having eyes for each other and giving in to that whirlwind of fiery passion for one another, isn’t really love, it’s lust.

It’s in the ethereal clouds of Paradiso, where corporeal forms cease to exist, that his darling Beatrice, the ideal of beauty and grace, ultimately teaches Dante the meaning of true love. Here, light is everywhere.

Unlike Paolo and Francesca, Dante and Beatrice do not lose themselves in the depths of each other’s eyes. Instead, Beatrice’s eyes are firmly fixed on God, who exists in the highest circle of Paradiso, and Dante’s gaze follows.

You see, what Dante learns is that true love is more than just the romantic yearning that two people feel for one another.

True love is what happens when you choose to be with someone who inspires you to grow into a better version of yourself, who opens up your mind to new capacities, lifts you towards a greater divinity, and who helps you to see the good that exists all around us.


So really, we shouldn’t fall in love, we should rise in it.  


Why am I writing all this? Well, Valentine’s Day is coming up, and what better time to celebrate love, right? It’s also true that love is just something that’s been on my mind lately. I’ve wondered what it should feel like, when you know it’s real, what makes it last. At times I’ve doubted whether or not it even exists. That type of love, the kind my parents have after being married for 25 years plus, is it a phenomenon that’s gone extinct?

I don’t have answers to any of these questions, but I can tell you the type of love that I’ve chosen to believe in. As children we’re taught that someday our Prince Charming will come galloping into our lives on a white horse, sweep us off our feet, and together we’ll live happily ever after.

We’re taught to think that we each have a soul mate, and when we meet that person and fall in love it’s bliss: two people living together in ultimate harmony. But I don’t think it always is, or that it should be.

Blame it on naivety, but I’m a big believer in the “spark.”

Before any sort of relationship can develop, there has to be something that draws you to the person. Maybe it’s their eyes, sense of humor, or the comfort you feel in hearing their voice. Chemistry and more than that, passion, is important. It’s what keeps us coming back for more.

But I think that to love, once the initial thrill of those things begins to simmer down, that’s a choice that we make. The first few months of a budding relationship, when you’re still discovering parts of each other, are always exhilarating, easy. And then life happens, and you’re faced with challenges that you both need to overcome. It’s at that point that we make the decision to overcome them together, or alone. To choose love, or not. And if we do choose it, doesn’t that make it all the more special?

I hesitate to say that love is not perfect, because I think that it is perfect… in its power to overcome imperfection.

Life is messy. We’re all flawed, and we’ve all made mistakes. Those are the things that make us real, beautiful, irreplaceable, strong.

True love isn’t the absence of imperfection; it’s what persists in spite of it.

It’s what elevates us and inspires us to see past those flaws, to recognize a person’s full potential and encourage them to see it within themselves too, so that they can project their light onto the world. And what could be more beautiful than that? Than finding someone with whom you know you can share yourself with entirely, who will love you not only for the pretty parts (that’s easy), but for the ugly parts too?

Call me crazy, but I think that’s a love worth finding. That’s the sort of love that parts seas, changes everything, or in the words of Dante, “moves the sun and all the other stars.”

Confessions of An Italian Love Affair

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I had an affair… but it’s not what you think.

Sometimes, when I go to Italy I can’t help but feel like I’m cheating on New York. It sounds dramatic, but just hear me out.

I remember when I first fell in love with this city. I was a freshman in college. It was terrifying, exhilarating, all-consuming, the way that new love tends to be. I never wanted to be anywhere else. In my eyes, New York City could do no wrong.

Since then, we’ve gone through our ups and downs and lately, New York and I… we fight a lot. This city has electrified me with the highest high, and battered me down to the lowest low I’ve ever felt. It neglects me, I’m constantly fighting for its attention, it never tells me I’m beautiful, and I’m not even sure it misses me when I’m gone. Each day is a battle, and I’m always the only one trying to make it work. I swear, I’m not one of those girls that are in denial about being in an unhealthy relationship. I fully acknowledge that living in New York City can be exhausting and even emotionally draining. Sometimes, we just need to go on a break.

That’s when I run – no, fly – to Italy.

It begins the moment I step onto the plane, when the Alitalia flight attendant – You know, seductive brown eyes, sun-kissed skin, perfectly scruffed chin, silky brown hair that you just want to run your fingers through? Yes, he exists. – greets me with a warm “Buonasera signorina…” No matter how long I’ve been gone, or how disheveled I look after an 8 hour flight, Italy always wraps me up in the warmth of its arms and makes me feel loved. From the sunflower fields of Tuscany, to the deep blue oceans of the Amalfi Coast, all the way down to the ruggedly handsome mountains of Sicily, there isn’t a single region of the country that doesn’t captivate me. From arancine and panzerotti to bistecca alla fiorentina and linguine alle vongole, it seduces me with infinite quantities of fresh, delicious food. From the ruins of Pompeii, to the duomo of Florence, the mosaics of Ravenna, and all the way down to the Valle dei Templi in Sicily, it mesmerizes me with its art and with its history. And best of all, it knows that sometimes, all it takes to make me smile is a granita al limone (It’s the little things.)

Over the past few years I’ve returned to Italy pretty frequently. Last summer I spent three unforgettable weeks in Sicily with my cousins, and the year before that I adventured my way through Tuscany. This year I was in Puglia. Bari, to be exact, for my best friend’s wedding. Donatella and Vitopier were married in Italy on August 26th at Castello Marchione, a 13th-century medieval castle located on a hilltop in the small town of Conversano. The entire day could have been ripped from the pages of a fairytale. I wasn’t the queen that day, but I felt like a member of the royal court.

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Memories of the event come to me in hazy flashes – and no, it’s not the effects of too much champagne. It’s difficult to put into words, but there was the vague sense that love was literally in the air. I remember pieces of it: a brilliant sun, champagne glasses clinking, laughter, guests happily swaying to the jazz band’s smooth rendition of Nat King Cole’s “L-O-V-E”, a seven– yes, seven– course meal, one dish more delicious than the other, waiters wearing white gloves elegantly pouring my wine, smiles everywhere. It was euphoric.

Ok let’s be real, every day I ever spend in Italy is euphoric. So much so that every time I’m there, I’m thwarted by the sensation that there’s been a huge mistake… Italy is where I am meant to be.

To be clear, I’m under no grand illusions that living in Italy would be like anything out of Under the Tuscan Sun. Coming from a fast-paced New York mindset, there are elements of Italian life that absolutely infuriate me… like the fact that everyone knows your business, or the way pranzo (lunch) must take up two hours of your day, every day, and if you plan to meet someone at 9:00, it really means 11:00, and it really drives me nuts. Lines do not exist – not at the post office, not at the bus stop. The towns that during the summer are vibrant and full of life, in the winter months are lifeless, cold. Opportunity is scarce. I see my cousins, most of whom have graduated with degrees in medicine and law, struggle so much to find a job that they’re only hope is to move out of the country. In Italy, one’s chance of finding a job doesn’t depend on your qualifications, or your willingness to work for it, but on who you know. So why am I so drawn to country that is so notoriously unorganized, and politically and financially unstable? Well, I hate to sound ambiguous, but there’s something about being there that just clicks. The sound of the Italian language alone is soothing to me, and there are few things as freeing as riding through the streets of Florence on the back of a vespa with your arms raised, the wind blowing between your fingers. I love the warmth and the friendliness of the people and I can’t help but think that Italians have a better understanding of what’s really important in life: time spent with family, good food and wine, romance, memories made with friends. After all, in the end, aren’t these the things that really matter?

As the dreaded day of departure inevitably approaches I find myself wishing more and more that I didn’t have to leave. I board the plane and I can instantly sense the change in my mood. I’m bitter, defensive. The sound of English being spoken makes me cringe– you ever notice how New Yorkers talk like they’re waiting for an excuse to pummel each other? The whole flight home I try to hang on to the blissful memories of my visit. Like the time nine of us packed into a five person car on the way to the airport knowing that the chances of being pulled over by the carabinieri were slim to none. Or the night we stayed up until 4am waiting for the fish market to open so we could buy fresh (and by fresh I mean still moving) swordfish, octopus, shrimp, for dinner the next night. The free cappuccino the owner of the local coffee shop across the street offered me, just because it was Sunday. Or when the impossibly good-looking, impeccably well-dressed man driving a red Fiat stopped traffic to let me cross the street, making me feel like royalty. “Io sono un gentiluomo, ma gli altri forse no,” he said. Swoon. It’s like trying to remember a dream, with every mile my plane flies farther away from Italy, the more I feel those moments slip away, the more reality begins to set in.

They say that distance makes the heart grow fonder, and maybe it’s true. In the words of Ayn Rand, “I would give the greatest sunset in the world for one sight of New York’s skyline. Particularly when one can’t see the details. Just the shapes. The shapes and the thought that made them. The sky over New York and the will of man made visible.” As I make my way back to New York City and drive up the FDR drive into the glistening skyline, the buildings sharply rising higher and higher above me, I can feel my heart start to beat a little bit faster. I can sense the chills running up my spine. I’m excited, nervous, biting my lip. It may not wrap it’s arms around me, caress my face, or soothe me, but in an instant New York City sets my heart on fire all over again.

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Yes, it’s true, this city wears me down. Sometimes, I swear I can feel it sucking the color out of my complexion, desaturating my skin tone so that it blends in with the grey shades of my surroundings. Just a few hours under Italy’s golden sun, or in the refreshing crystal blue waters of it’s oceans and the colors are fused back into me, radiating from my cheeks, eyes, smile. Italy pampers me with certain comforts that New York doesn’t offer… but it doesn’t challenge me. The reason for why I fell for this city in the first place is because I crave adventure and the uncertainty that comes with it. Because monotony would kill me. Because in the reflection of that unrivaled skyline I can see the best possible version of myself. This city shows me my greatest potential and it does it without sugarcoating the fact that achieving it will be anything but easy, and if I thought it would be easy, I wouldn’t be interested. Yes, it crushes me with disappointments in both my career and in love more often than I would like, but it only makes the victories, no matter how big or how small, that much sweeter. And when I do win, I stand a little taller, walk with my head raised a little higher. In those moments I can feel myself growing into the bold, independent, fearless woman I’ve always wanted to become. In those moments I know that New York City is my home and it is exactly where I am meant to be.

V.

Some snapshots from the wedding:

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Mirror, Mirror On The… MET?

 

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Just when I thought I’d seen the Manhattan skyline from every possible angle, in every time of day, transformed by every available Instagram filter… Dan Graham and Günther Vogt install their “Hedge Two-Way Mirror Walkabout” on the MET’s rooftop garden. It’s a skyline I’ve seen a thousand times, from the rooftop of a museum I’ve been to a hundred times… but this experience was different. Partly because I was there on a first date – and if you know me, you know I hate dates. But mostly because I had never been to a location in New York City quite like this one before.

The American artist and Swiss landscape architect have designed an innovative space that seamlessly merges a modern urban landscape with elements evocative of an 18th-century Victorian garden, presenting visitors with a series of contradictory views. As you push through the glass doors and step on to the artificial turf of the roof garden you are welcomed into a pleasantly shaded passageway created by a wooden trellis, intertwined with blossoming lavender wisteria vines that hang directly overhead. From this peaceful haven, a rare find in NYC, you’re instantly entranced by the breathtaking view ahead: an endless blue sky and the billowing green trees of Central Park. Running across the horizon, like a zipper binding the edges of these two vibrant planes, is the Manhattan skyline – the buildings merely peeking above the greenery, subtly poking at the sky.

To the right of the trellis is Dan Graham’s roofless pavilion. So what is it exactly? Basically, the installation consists of a swerving glass mirror that is supported by a steel armature and book-ended by two ivy-covered walls. You’re invited to venture into the two sections of the pavilion and catch glimpses of yourself and your surrounding environment in the two-way mirror. Since the mirror is curved, the reflection is distorted, like in a funhouse. Good thing, because the 450 lb version of myself is sca-ry.

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As you move towards the outer corners of the pavilion and peer into the glass, you’re suddenly struck by an awe-inspiring view. The same buildings that a moment earlier seemed faraway, short, and squat are in an instant transfigured into glinting steel skyscrapers that fiercely soar to the sky, brazenly pierce the Manhattan skyline, and ominously loom over you. It’s a drastically different view compared to the one from earlier, but one that in my opinion more accurately reflects the sometimes overwhelming sensation you’re filled with when walking through the streets of this concrete jungle.

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Like I said earlier, I’m not a fan of dates. Especially first ones. Not that I haven’t been on great ones, but let’s face it, it’s rare. For the most part they’re awkward and uncomfortable, I either talk too much or too little, and chances are I will probably spill something. Ok, maybe not. But I still think they’re awkward. Needless to say, I had different expectations before going to the MET’s rooftop. I mean… it’s the MET! I expected a stuffy atmosphere and people with their pinkies in the air while sipping on champagne. A terrible place to spill something. I was way off. It turns out that it’s a casual, low-key place to go with someone you’ve just met, hang out with friends, or even relax by yourself. There’s a bar, but no tables or chairs, so you just get a drink, pick a spot on the grass to sit, relax and enjoy the view.

Last year the MET decided that each summer they would commission an artist to transform the rooftop garden. This year’s installation, a far cry from last year’s provocative, bomb/blood-inspired floral garden, is only the second in the series. The pavilion is on view until November 2nd so if you’re looking for a temporary escape from the chaos of New York City, or a quiet place to reflect, I’d definitely recommend stopping by!

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V.

 

6 Months and It’s Only Just Begun

I’ve always envisioned my first New York City apartment to look like something out of an Anthropologie catalog. Exposed brick walls, one of those half-moon floor-to-ceiling windows overlooking Bleecker Street, old hardwood floors, hand-woven Moroccan rugs strewn about, mismatched vintage furniture, Marrakesh jewel-toned lamps, an iron, spiral staircase leading to a wall-to-wall library of books, a giant leather reading chair – the kind your body just sinks into…

I thought it was an impractical dream that would never come true. Until 6 months ago… when it did.

Sort of.

My Upper East Side, two-bedroom apartment, tucked away on York Ave., looks nothing like the exotic palace I meticulously designed in my mind.

It’s tiny, probably as big as that floor-to-ceiling window I’ve always wanted. The perfectly matched furniture is from the not-so-faraway land of IKEA and the bathroom sink… well, let’s just say it’s a good thing I have small hands. Oh. And we can’t forget the occasional cockroach, a repulsive species that definitely did not exist in my fantasy vision. (I will never not scream and lunge my body onto the couch as if it’s about to eat my feet whenever I see one.)

But it’s still perfect – charming in it’s simplicity.

In the morning the sunlight shines through the white, sheer curtains and illuminates my entire bedroom, making it difficult to stay in bed. I’m not at all a morning person so normally, this would irritate me. But I’m in New York City and there’s an energy here that surges through the air and trickles into your bones; it’s impossible to ignore. There’s always something to see, somewhere to go, someone new to meet.

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I’m determined to make the most out of my time here and in 6 months I’ve already seen more compelling art exhibitions, eaten at more delicious restaurants, met more interesting people, and enjoyed more adventures than I can count.

That doesn’t mean that there haven’t been days when it feels as if the entire city is conspiring against me, or that there haven’t been obstacles to overcome. Like killing my first cockroach, for instance– my roommate and I have developed a fool-proof method of assassination. And if I had a penny for every time I got caught in a rainstorm without an umbrella, I’d be living in a penthouse. But each time I overcome a challenge this city tests me with, I feel myself grow a little bit stronger. Even with the disappointments, obnoxious attitudes, challenging work days, and sometimes lonely moments, living here has proven to be better than any fantasy I could have ever imagined. It’s real, and I’ve never felt more like myself.

So why am I telling you this? Like I said before, from Yayoi Kusama’s Infinity Rooms at the David Zwirner Gallery, to 4am Artichoke Pizza and outdoor movie screenings in Bryant Park, to drinks on the MET’s rooftop garden… I’ve done and seen so many wonderful things since I’ve moved here, I thought it was about time I started to write them down. So I hope you enjoy!

V.