Tuesday, November 29, 2011

When life gives you olives...

...harvest them.

A few weekends ago, a friend in my study abroad program, Tsipora, (from San Francisco and goes to CC) asked me if I wanted to skip drawing class, jump on a train in three hours time, and work on a farm for the weekend. Without a thought in my mind, I ran home and packed a backpack of essentials and off we went to Chianni. A forty minute train ride and then thirty minutes in a car, and we were on top of a mountain looking out on vineyards, mountains, farms, nothingness, everythingness, what we'd been looking for in Florence, but man oh man, you can't find views like that in a city like this.

The date 11.11.11 arrived while we were climbing trees in T-shirt weather, singing songs in all different languages, and spending time with fellow WWOOFers from France, Italy, and Brazil. (WWOOF.org - check it out. World Wide Opportunities on Organic Farms. These farms exist in nearly every country you can think of. You give them your time, labor, and joy, they give you a place to sleep and call home as well as DELICIOUS food.)

I've wwoofed before in Japan and Costa Rica, but this weekend breathed new life into me. I would compare it to Michelangelo's Sistine Chapel. As God touches Adam in The Creation of Adam with the gentle wisp of a finger, he grants Adam the gift of life. These olive trees did the same thing to me. I feel renewed.

 Art analogy! God is to Adam, as Nature is to Danoonie.

I wrote my mom an email (15% joking, 85% pretty serious), and said "I really don't want to come home. If I accidentally don't get on the plane home, don't be mad, ok? Love you". Thank goodness that I have mama cin for a mama, because she immediately started looking for ways to help me change my return ticket home. She's a dream-actualizer. She's my rock. She lives and let lives.

I was supposed to come home December 10th..... but life is full of surprises, and plans change. Thus, I'll now be flying from Berlin to San Francisco on January 11th. What am I doing for Christmas and New Years? Not sure. Probs gonna be on a farm somewhere in Italy loving the language, the land, the people, the food, the wine. As my man Brett Dennen would say, "Blessed is this life, and I'm gonna celebrate being alive." Hallelujah.

Here are some of the pictures from our olive harvesting weekend.

That's me up in my tree that sways when the wind blows!

Tsipora (aka Zippy) little monkey.

I'm pretty sure it's illegal for kittens to be this cute and abundant, but I could be wrong.

We laid out huge nets under each tree and pulled the olives off by hand. This tree had five people working on it at once. The olive branches are forgiving, they bend. I aspire to be an olive branch.

Our cast of characters:

Simone - down to earth, knows five languages, way too cool

Joanes - Riding his moped from Lyon, France to Mongolia. Taught us the words to "La Vie en Rose"

Fabio - Played rock 'n roll guitar jams while we set the table for lunch

Claudia - our motherly figure who had patience to last for lifetimes as I made my way through Italian conversations

View from the top.

Wednesday, November 9, 2011

In Italian, Rugby = Rugby

Monday night, my procrastination skills proved to be polished and at their finest. I had to write fourteen pages (including one page of a creative 2D art project of my inventing), read over fifty pages, and read an article which I need to include in my 5-7 minute presentation that I had to give to my art history class Tuesday morning at the church of Santa Maria Novella, as well as read and answer questions about a story in Italian for language class.  Instead of making the level-headed decision and going home after drawing class ended at 7pm (aka 19 o'clock), I went to rugby practice. Ya ya ya!

It's a 40 minute drive (both ways) to get to the pitch.
It was raining the whole time.
I'm the youngest and least experienced out of all the women.
However; it was so incredibly worth it that I get giddy when I talk about it.

We speak in Italian on the field. For me, rugby is enough of an adrenaline rush on its own, but when you throw in the extra spicy ingredient of trying to decipher what someone is yelling at me in Italian, while simultaneously getting stepped on in a puddle of mud, and their mouthguard is impeding their speech... well this is a whole different ball game. And it's freaking awesome.

My name is too difficult for them to remember and yell out during practice.
"Ahh... Ok... Jeernaldi?"
"Hahha. No, Deeeenaaaaliii."
"Ok.... Dona."

They've given me a new name. Dona.
Ciao, sono Dona. Piacere.

I've missed playing rugby more than I thought I would.  Both our women's and men's teams back at Colorado College are kickin' butt and I'm stoked for them. I'm so excited to have my cleats on again that I feel like a young puppy trying to jump around and tackle the older, wiser dogs.  I run everywhere and retrieve all the balls.  (By the way, I learned how to say cleats- Le scarpe con i tacchetti, which literally translates to "the shoes with the studs".)

They've been so open and welcoming (sometimes translating for me during practice) that Mondays are my new favorite days of the week. Monday = rugby practice with the RhinoGirls. (Awesome team name, eh?)

So, I wish my Italian was better, because if I understood correctly, one of the women told me that we have a game this Sunday and she wants me to come for a team photo an hour away to play (unless it's raining)... but then again, since my Italian isn't what I wish it was, I could be making the whole thing up. Maybe she said, "I like playing games on Sundays when it rains. I take photos for hours."  Who knows? Well, clearly not me. We shall see.

Tuesday, November 1, 2011

We Make Friends by Making Music

The roomie, Rebecca and I have embarked on our musical career together as the temporarily adopted Florentines that we are. Strangers in a strange land, this city (much to our chagrin) is full of tourists, full of American students... but is also delightfully full of Italians. It's the Italians that we're after. Within our first weeks in Firenze, Rebeckles bought a green ukulele and I bought a red guitar... (now all we need is to recruit a bongo player with white drums and we've abstractly created the Italian flag.) We sing nonstop whether we have our instruments or not. Our criteria for singing and playing are: anyone, anytime, anywhere, anyhow, anyway...

-Brought the lil ukulele ("lil ugu") to Cinque Terre in our first weekend here

-We learned a Roxette song for our host sister, Bea's, 30th birthday and performed for the party. Her four month old, Sheila, smiles and shakes her legs when the ukulele sounds.

-A month ago we made friends who also play music and went to their apartment to grab guitars and a bongo and sat in a park until 5:30am singing our hearts out.
-They invited us to open for their band at a show forty minutes away from Florence. A woman who heard us play said she wanted us to perform at her wedding. I'd say that's a successful show. (Becks was sitting on her stool during her solo Cat Power ukulele song... ended up falling forward off of the stool, mid-song, into Antonio's arms. Great friend-making tactic if I ever saw one.)
-Slung my guitar over my shoulder so we could sing and play on the walk home from our favorite bar three weeks ago, and ended up serenading the strangers who were walking in front of us... strangers no more. The other night they invited us over to their apartment and made us dinner.

-Sometimes when we sing and dance in our room with the window open, our neighbors across the street sit on their balcony to listen.
-Saturday: We BUSKED!!! In one hour we made 33 Euro and 1 Franc! (What we're going to do with the Franc is undetermined.) Pointer: "Hallelujah" by Leonard Cohen is a money-maker.

We've met some wonderful people with our music. Sometimes just the fact that I'm carrying a guitar is enough to make a friend. One month and nine days. After letting music take us where it will in this city, ain't no way I wanna go home. La vita vola. Life flies.

(Apologies for leaving y'all hanging without any updates for the last month.  I felt like I was documenting more than I was living, so I took a break... Truth be told, I only have internet for an hour a day, five times a week, so blogging was put on the back burner. Mi dispiace.)

Monday, October 3, 2011

My Feelings on Ancient Art

I try to pay attention when I'm standing in the Baptistry of the Duomo in Florence, or inside of a church within a church in Venice, or three feet away from frescoes which were painted in the 13th century in the Crypt beneath the Duomo in Siena, or noting the similarities between Donatello's style of carving statues to Michelangelo's... but I feel so much of it has been going in one ear and out the other.  How is this possible? I want to appreciate it SOOO much. I wish I could have a stronger appetite for the history and art woven together, but so far, it's been a bit of a struggle.

Italian class has been my jam. I couldn't be enjoying it more. Also, drawing class is always a good time. Again, a bit of a struggle, but an enjoyable one. After six hours over the course of three days in the studio, this is what I came up with.

(Before and After)
Walking around the other day, I stumbled upon a discarded statue.

This is how I wish I felt about ancient art.

Friday, September 30, 2011

Highlights of a Weekend in Venice

Venezia, Italia.
Three nights, two days in the city of canals and singing gondoliermen.

After seeing a demonstration of glass blowing (it took a man two minutes, lots of heat, and strong forearms to make a glass horse with red flares on its tail out of a ball of molten glass) I walked past a window in Murano where my soon-to-be new friend, Lilla, was standing. I took a picture. She invited Rebecca and I inside for a candy and showed us a beautiful picture another tourist had taken of her and sent to her. She didn't speak English and didn't have a computer, so I took down the photographer's email address and have sent him an email to let him know she received the picture.

Ninety year-old Lilla at her window.

Cruise ships came through and were larger than the buildings in the city. It was overwhelming.

Two worlds come together.

We took a break from viewing Renaissance art and refreshed our mental palettes with modern art. Peggy Guggenheim Collection. We were so excited, that while we waited for the gates to her house (now museum) to open in the morning, we chanted "Peggy! Peggy! Peggy!" Classy Americans.

Yoko Ono's Wishing Tree that she gave to Peggy and now grows in the garden. Ours were the first wishes of the day that we wrote on paper and stuck onto the branches. They get taken down at the end of the day and sent to Yoko. Hope she can pull some strings to make mine come true. Only time will tell.

Ode to our bathroom

Dear Shower,

You make me clean. You also make the entire bathroom clean at the same time. The water you use to clean me with also cleans the walls, the sink, the toilet, and the bathroom floor. Why must you spray water everywhere? Maybe if you sprayed warm water it would be better, but you're the same temperature as the rain. Are you trying to tell me I should just wait for the rains to come and dance in the streets to get clean?
Io capisco. I understand.

Yours truly,

Monday, September 19, 2011


I haven't been collecting souvenirs or kitchy lil gadgets along the way (which could have been easily obtained in surplus on the streets of these grandiose cities I've been traipsing through).  Instead, I've unintentionally ended up with a large family of postcards from England, Spain, France, and now, Italy.  The majority of them are from art museums.

A postcard cannot, by any means, do justice to these awe-inspiring works of art in the same way they can inspire a person in real life... a postcard is a postcard.  However, they remind me of great things I've learned or experienced along the way, and they also happen to be the perfect size to write a paragraph of sweet nothings on the back and send to the people I love, miss, haven't talked to in years, talk to all the time on skype, the people I've met along the way, and any and all other loved ones with a permanent address.

Snail mail is a wonderful way to make someone's day, so if you have a mailbox that might enjoy a postcard from Florence, Italy, email me your address- denalig@gmail.com.

As for my mailbox, it will be graciously accept any and all postage items. For example: baked goods, postcards, a jacket (winter is coming, and I conveniently lost my one jacket in the airport... I have a scarf and a long-sleeved shirt as the rainy season approaches ha. Mom?), kisses and hugs, as well as yourself packaged up in a box by way of mailing yourself to me.

Here's where I'm at:
Denali Gillaspie
c/o Linguaviva
Via Fiume, 17
Firenze, Italy

My lil bed can hardly fit all of these postcards. Some of them are looking for new homes, yet some of them are staying with me. I've put post-its of Italian phrases all over the room. The post-it on the wall says Solo chi ama conosce, which means "Only those who love understand." Another personal favorite is, Mangia la minestra o salta dalla finestra! "Eat the soup or jump through the window!" I only learn the most practical Italian phrases.

Tuesday, September 13, 2011

Perché no?

Gelaterias in Florence are abundant, delicious, and have proven to be dangerous for those with a lack of self-control, such as myself. My professor, Michael Grace, whom I hold dear to my heart who taught me in my first class at Colorado College, as well as my summer block in Paris.  While in Florence, he advised me to seek out the gelateria, Perché No? Why Not? Low and behold, they have lavender gelato. (Not anywhere near Fairfax Scoop's Vanilla-Honey-Lavender, but beggars can't be choosers.)

This mentality of Perché No? permeates my life.

Rebecca: Do you want to walk home instead of taking the bus?
Me: Perché no?

Me: Do you want to go drink wine on the Arno River tonight instead of studying past tense verb forms?
Rebecca: Perché no?

Rebecca: Do you want to have a dance party in our room before dinner?
Me: Perché no?
(Note to self: This was a great idea at the time. No regrets. However, sitting down to dinner with our host family sweaty and panting is a bit strange to explain in our broken Italian. Abbiamo ballato in la nostra camera prima di la cena perché siamo due ragazze pazze. We danced in our room before dinner because we are two crazy girls.)

Last night we serenaded a bus driver in exchange for a bus ride because the bus that we normally take home at night had stopped running by 12:45.

Bus driver: Will you sing me a song while I drive you home?
Le due ragazze pazze: Perché no?

Rebecca and I at Perché No.
Lavender gelato!
Rebecky and the ugulele.

Monday, September 12, 2011

Cinque Terre

Dreams do come true. It's called Cinque Terre, Italia.

Last weekend our class ventured to Pisa via the one hour train ride West from Florence. (The Tower of Pisa really is leaning.) The spectacle of tourists taking pictures of themselves "holding up" the tower is quite a sight. I might even say that taking pictures of them could be more interesting than taking pictures of the tower. Debatable.  Inside the baptistry a man stood in the center of the dome-shaped structure and sang voluptuous "AAAAaahhhh"s towards different directions of the inside of the building, and my knees went weak. His voice was echoed by harmonizing notes in response to his initial sounding. It was difficult to believe that the architecture had created this musical miracle.

After walking around as a grand group of American tourists, we went our own ways. I branched off with the roomie, Rebecca, and our friend Tiela, to catch another train to Cinque Terre. The Five Lands, aka heaven.

Arrived in Riomaggiore, the southern most town, settled into our hostel, bought wine, cheese, basil, tomatoes, and of course, mozzarella, and headed to the water. Three minute walk from our door to the sea. Played the ukulele Rebecca bought last week, goofed around in the warm waters, and dined on the rocks.  I made a friend, Pietro, who was a fisherman in his sixties living in a yellow house overlooking the sea. He told me I wasn't allowed to swim anymore because when beautiful women swim where he wants to fish, the fish aren't interested in the food at the end of his fishing pole. What a charmer. We climbed cliffs and had many pictures taken of us by strangers and tourists. I wonder how many pictures I'm in on other people's cameras.

Rain storm all day, with a few hours of beloved sunshine in the afternoon. We purchased stylish ponchos and hiked through all five towns, up in the mountains, along the coast, stopping to swim at every possible chance, even in the rain.  Not a single inch of our bodies had remained dry by the end of the day.  The views from the top were well-earned after feeling like we'd been walking mother earth's stair-master walkways for hours. And every time we descended into a tiny town with beach, gelato, and colorful buildings, we could rest and rejuvenate. When we finally made it back to Riomaggiore, we stocked up on mozzarella, bread, and tomatoes, and made our way home to Florence.

I wish I could get out of this city to live on that coast.

Leaning Tower of Cheesa

 View from the top

My friend, Pietro, fishing at Riomaggiore

Friday, September 2, 2011


My roomie, Rebecky, has proven to be quite the expert with misunderstandings and bizarre translations of Italian in these last five days together. Since Monday, we have spent about seven minutes apart from one another. We lie in the grass (the minimal nature that there is in this here city), take photos together, eat gelato (minimum of twice a day, always from a new gelateria), wander down the wrong streets, sing aaaaaall day, sleep in the same room, yada yada yada. This is her best misinterpretation.

While she was talking with our host mom, Cristina, in the kitchen, Cristina was delighting in the fact that she had vacanza (pronounced "va-kan-tza). Sounds a lot like "the cancer". Rebecky felt terrible that Cristina would have cancer until the middle of September... Then I came into the kitchen and smiled a lot while talking to Cristina about her vacanza. Vacation until September 15th is great.  Vacation and cancer are very different things that happen to sound very similar in Italian.

 Our dinner the second night in Florence was full of wine, bruschetta, and pizza. This is the "before" shot.
And the "after" shot. Rebecca and I held strong to our no tomato left behind policy.
P.S. Papa Don - check out how thin this crust is! Like crisp, sturdy, tasty paper that crunches with the first bite.
Can't wait for the fam to come visit in October. Food and family. Two of my favorite things in life.