An Email with Transatlantic Correspondences

Email snippets between Myrna and Nuell about their travels. Inspired by Miranda July’s We Think Alone project.

 
Myrna: Say “Hi” to P. Franny for me when you get to Rome. But before you go, it’s my duty to send you off with a Naples Pizza Guide and a wholehearted recommendation to hike through Cinque Terre. Cinque Terre is a coastal region on the west side of Italy consisting of five small seaside towns that are all connected by a beautiful trail. It’s an awesome day trip. And the trafie al pesto is unreal — you gotta try some. Expect some more transatlantic correspondences.

Nuell: I’m gonna do my best to track down and greet this P. Franny for you, but I can’t promise anything. From what I hear, Rome is a pretty large place… I’m looking at that pizza guide and I am getting so excited. I seriously can’t wait to go. Two months of sitting on my ass in 110 degree Fresno weather is plenty. I checked out Cinque Terre, it looks amazing, the towns weirdly makes me think of The Life Aquatic. They all look so colorful and impossibly perched on these cliffsides. Definitely going there. I also looked up this place in Poland called Białowieża Forest, it’s one of the last old growth forests in Europe, and it looks like some fairytale wonderland shit. Like the type of forest Hansel and Gretel would get lost in. I am slightly nervous for Rome life though, my Italian is sub-toddler level right now.

M: I’m sitting on a couch with a bag of pretzels by my side on a perfectly fine Saturday night. And I just binged watched the last 4 (!) episodes of Orange is The New Black. It’s so friggin’ good I almost feel half okay that I wasted a Saturday night.

How did you find your housing? Tangent: Most apartments in Florence are super old and don’t have any drying machines so I had to line-dry everything and I felt like I was wearing crunchy, starchy clothes the entire time.

Have you hiked the Lost Coast Trail yet? I really want to do that one! We should definitely do it together. Also, I haven’t been to Joshua Tree since I was a wee toddler, so I’d love to go there, too. I went camping and river rafting in the American River this last weekend and that was a blast. Though, I got really sunburned. The front of my thighs are lobster red — such a weird place for a sunburn!

N: Just tried to watch an episode of Orange is The New Black, but Netflix doesn’t work on Italian internet. I really want to watch it now though, I feel like a show must be pretty special if you can watch it for four hours straight. On a scale from 1 to Gilmore Girls, it must be pretty damn close to Gilmore Girls. Does your boredom end soon? When do you leave on your North American tour?

As for the Białowieża Forest, my sister clued me in on it. I find about all the cool nature things from my sis. She also told me about this place called Coyote Buttes North (the wave), and, well, just look at it. It looks really, really cool. Coincidentally enough, that is in the top 3 places I want to go in the US along with… Joshua Tree and the Lost Coast. I’ve never been to either and I want to! Fuck jobs and working and real life and stuff, let’s go adventuring!

My first actual day of work was today. I didn’t really do anything, but it was okay. Lunch was kind of weird. We went to the cafeteria of a nearby pediatric hospital. It was actually really delicious, but it was so strange, actually going out of our way to eat hospital food. I think my favorite part of the meal was seeing all of the grown men sip espresso out of their tiny little cups post-lunch.

My professor is very Italian and I love his accent, he adds an a to the end of pretty much every-a word-a he says-a.

M: I’m oogling at your pictures right now! It’s completely baffling to me how these ancient churches, arches, piazzas, pantheons, theaters, bridges, statues, and forts are built. I. just. don’t. get. it.

My real question that I want to know is: Which one is cooler, the ancient Mayan ruins or ancient Roman ruins?

I will be back up in the Bay for a few days for the Fulbright interview, but after the interview I’m making moves to take a pit stop in Detroit/Chicago/mid-west and possibly move to NY (eeek!). NY is just an idea at this point. I don’t have a place in the Bay and I don’t want to be in suburbia, so Detroit seems like an exciting place to visit a friend and figure things out (aka think more practically about the future…ugh, but I wanna resist thinking that way so badly).

The great thing about Italy is that the culture is all about leisure. It’s almost easy to mistake Italians for being lazy, but they just know how to do it right, ya know? There was this one shoe repair shop that I passed by everyday at the same time on the way home from school and sometimes it was open and sometimes it was closed. The owner (I remember him being a super cute old fella) would work when he wanted to work or not work when he didn’t feel like it. Super long lunch? Why not! Multiple aperitif dates? Heck ya!

I biked the new Bay Bridge the morning it opened! It’s awesome! But it’s more like The Bridge to Nowhere. The bike/pedestrian path only goes like 80% of the way to Treasure Island because there was a design flaw. The old bridge runs into the new bridge and cuts off the path just short of the island. Once the old bridge is demolished, they’ll add the rest of the path.

M: Oh, yeah, the home of porchetta sandwiches is not a bad place to be at all.

N: I’m having a Myrna kind of Saturday night tonight. I’m sitting on my couch in my underwear watching Friday Night Lights (it’s great, I swear!) and eating cheese and grapes. I’m just too tired to go out. Last night I went to a bar alone, which turned out to be amazing. I met a bunch of people, had a bunch of drinks and then around midnight a band came in and starting playing a bunch of covers, in a sort of punk way, I’m not really sure what genre it was, but they did a Surfing USA cover that was incredibly cool. So I danced a lot and sweat a lot and stayed out until 3. Then I woke up at 9 this morning to go to the Vatican. The museums, the Sistine chapel, St. Peter’s Basilica, all of it is mind-blowing. It is all gorgeous and perfectly preserved and the scale of everything is crazy. I felt so small!

And you asked ancient Mayan ruins or ancient Roman ruins. I have to go with the Mayan ruins because Mexican laws are so lax you can climb any and everything. In terms of aesthetics though, I gotta go with Rome, and part of that is probably due to actually having laws to preserve things.

Your life sounds so hectic right now. So much to do, so much to figure out. I hope some kind of crazy perfect opportunity just pops up out of nowhere. Like Alice Waters runs into you on the street and asks for your help making a cookbook kind of thing.

I’m trying to put off all that thinking until I get back. Unfortunately I can’t put it all off. If I want to go to grad school next year I’m going to have to take the GRE while I’m here and do all my apps. I don’t think I’m totally sold on the PhD thing, but real life is scary! Anything to postpone it.

You’re totally right about this leisurely Italian lifestyle. I like it. The only pressure on me at my job comes from myself. There are no deadlines or anything like that, people roll in at 11 and leave at 4. It’s beautiful. This Friday I stayed until 5 and I was the only person in the whole building by the time I left. I walked out past completely deserted hallways and labs and offices when I went home. That shoe repairman sounds so ridiculously Italian, that’s excellent. I can completely imagine him, all stooped over, brown vest on, round glasses sitting on the tip of his nose, large mustache, salt and pepper hair, playing the accordion in his off-time. Yeah, definitely.

M: Welcome to the Music Edition! It’s like candy for your ears.

I think Rome wins for city with the most lavish historical establishments per square foot. Pantheon, Coliseum, Vatican, Sistine Chapel, St. Peter’s Basilica, … I can’t keep up.

I’ve been biking a lot! Especially in the city! I even organized a scenic bike ride around SF last Sunday and invited your bff along with a few other buddies. But your bff never even replied to my invite! What’s he up to?! I wouldn’t know cause he stopped talking to me.

I’m actually in the nest of the suburbia right now. I took the red-eye megabus on Monday night, which turned out to be a terrible idea mainly because the bus was freezing and I was ill prepared for a bumpy 6-hour ride in an icebox. Though, I’d probably use it again if I had a fur blanket with me or something. The destination was Union Station, LA. I walked around downtown until my brother picked me up around noon-ish. Walking 3 blocks in LA feels like walking a mile. My first destination was Handsome Coffee, a schmancy third wave coffee place that roasts their beans on-site. It was recommended by a food editor at Chronic B. Everyone there was handsome. I couldn’t tell if that was a weird coincide or just a sign that I arrived in LA.

This email is too long it’s making me dizzy. I’m saving the music for the next email. It’s not even a mixtape or anything, just a random motley of songs I discovered recently.

Also, 11-4 is the most cush workday ever. So lucky.

I’m working on a sandwich list. I’m imaging a google doc of some sort where people throw down their recommendations and input on sandwich places all around the Bay (heck, why not all of the US!). It will be shared amongst all of our sandwich loving friends.

M: I retract my sandwich list idea. A spreadsheet feels like too much like work. Sandwiches should never be mixed with work.

N: You got me so hyped for the special music edition (“candy for your ears”) and then bam! Nothing. So cruel. I am even further hyped now though, and this way I have longer to prepare for my retaliatory musical special. I am going to spend the night scouring the furthest reaches of the internet for something to knock your socks off.

First and foremost I went to Naples and have to say that it was amazing. The food was fantastic and the city itself was incredible. It reminded me pretty strongly of Oakland, surprisingly. I loved it. The train getting there sucked because it was second class and there was no guaranteed seating, so I had to stand the whole way, but after that everything was great. I stayed in a hostel and met a few Brazilians, a few Italians and a Chinese artist. The first night we went out walking in the historical center, and the city at night was so much fun. There were so many people out walking and drinking and talking, it was really lively after dark. We stayed out really late and I barely slept at all because I got up bright and early to see Pompeii, which was also crazy cool. The town was pretty massive before the volcano hit. I spent all day walking around there, like 6 straight hours of walking and checking everything out. A lot of the buildings are pretty intact and there are murals on the walls and it was all just really incredible. Definitely one of the best places I’ve been. The next night I went out again but slept early, then woke up late, had pizza at one of the places on your Definitive Pizza Guide, and took the train home. I ended up eating at 3 places on your guide (including the one Bill Clinton ate at!), and, while they were all great, Rome won the pizza battle.
And I have no idea what my bff is up to. I’m gonna email that boy, maybe he will even email me back.
The sun does not stay up super late, it sets at like 8, but there are a lot of piazzas. I kind of wish it was summertime while I was here It is transitioning into fall and it has started raining and already the daily temperature has dropped 5 or 10 degrees. I love piazzas, except for how difficult they make my navigation. Google maps directions are so hard in Italy. Every street changes names after every major intersection, and every piazza is labeled on google maps but not necessarily in real life. Still, it’s cool to have like a million public gathering places all throughout the city. I’ve decided on Florence this weekend and I need advice from you, what places should I go? And see? And eat?
I applied for four coyote buttes tickets in early January. I have no idea what days they were anymore and I can’t find any email confirmation or anything to remind me. Welp, I guess we’ll see. I went with four because it seemed like a good, solid manageable number.
Did you ever have the semisecret Dirty Bird sandwich at Star Meats? That is my top recommendation for the sandwich list that lives only in our collective memory. Oh, and I finally had a porchetta sandwich. I had two actually, because the first one was so good I immediately bought another.
M: Chyeah, Firenze!!! The town is all about their Renaissance art and architecture. It’s like a Medici love fest.

Here are my recommendations in no particular order:

To do*:
1) Go to Piazza de Michelangelo (great view and very open) and then walk farther uphill to Church of San Miniato al Monte (even better view with a lot less tourists)
2) Arno Rivier (you can walk along it) and Ponte Vecchio (pretty bridge with water spouts/fountains that you can drink from…not sure why I thought that was cool back then, but I did)
3) Climb to the roof of the Duomo! (super cool view from the center of the city)
3) Boboli Gardens (huge and gorgeous landscape for the Medici)
*as you can see, I’m all about the view

To eat:
1) Mercato Centrale di San Lorenzo (amazing open-air market) I remember there being a crazy big dried fruit selection. There’s also a place called Da Nerbone inside the market that offers good sandwiches and pastas.
2) LAMPREDOTTO! I think this is a must try. It’s an old school working person’s lunch served out of street-side stands. Basically, it’s a sandwich filled with cow’s stomach and a salsa verde/pesto-like sauce. I’ve eaten it at the Sergio Pollini stand.
3) Sandwich at All’Antico Vinaio (!) or Da’ Vinattieri (though I recommend the former over the latter)
4) Grom Gelato (definitely a favorite of many, but too me, it’s nothing to write home about. There’s delicious gelato everywhere.)
5) I can’t recall any pizza places, but I think you should ask around and try at least one. You’ll have a really cool cross-country pizza comparison by the end of your stay!
6) “secret” bakeries that are open in the middle of the night — the perfect fresh-outta the oven pastry fix for any late-night craving!
7) Trattoria Mario (kick-ass, rustic osteria). Firenze is known for bistecca which is simply, a huge friggin’ T-bone steak. You can get that there along with other classic Florentine dishes. They have communal style seating so it’s great if you’re just going there by yourself. I’m speaking from experience, cause I went there alone. I think it’s a lunch-only place.
8) La Giostra (it’s on the pricey end and might not be suitable for your short visit, but I had to mention this resto because I ate a game-changing dish there. On one of my last nights, one of my apartment-mate’s mom took us all out, so I got to splurge a little bit. The dish I had was raviolis filled with pears and pecorino swimming in a parmesan brodo. Unbelievable. It blew my mind. It was sweet and savory at the same time, and so fresh, simple, rustic, authentic, traditional, and humble — everything that I love about good Italian cuisine.)
9) Aperitivo. It’s a cultural pre-mealtime drink and bar snack thing. The staple cocktail in Firenze is the Negroni, which I’m not really a fan of cause it’s ridiculously bitter.

To see*:
1) The Academia Museum (where Michelangelo’s Statue of David is housed)
2) The Uffizi Museum — all Renaissance art (honestly, it’s not totally my jam, but it’s one of the world’s most prominent museums, up there with the Louvre and Met)
*as a student, I was able to get a free pass to all of the museums and skip the lines, but for you, there might be wait to get in. Just a heads up.

Ugh, I wish I could have made this clearer but it’s so late and I’m soooo tired. I wanna catch you up on what I’ve been up to this week — cause I have more recommendations for what you should do when you’re back — so expect a follow-up email! My mind is so unfocused right now…

Oh yeah, if you’re curious, I lived near the Piazza di Sante Croce. Wave to my old, in more than one way, apartment for me!

N: Thanks for the recs, I will do my best to visit and eat it all, although I don’t know if I can afford La Giostra.
Rest now, Myrna.

M: Coyotes Buttes feels like an impossibility — 20/256 chance and only getting slimmer! Umm, got anymore cool outdoorsy places, haha?

Heck ya, I’ve had the Dirty Bird!!! It’s my fave at Star Meats, too! More sandwiches shops to add to our collective memory:
Gregoire, Berk
The Local Butcher Shop, Berk
Stag’s Lunchette, Downtown Oak
Deli Board, SF
Rhea’s, SF
Darwin Cafe, SF
Bakesale Betty’s, Temescal Oak
La Ciudad de Mexico, SF
Little Vietnam Cafe, SF

I’m always on the hunt for more…
If you get homesick, you should read aloud the Star Meats menu… just an idea.

N: I was planning on going to Pisa and Cinque Terre this weekend but now I am not sure. I woke up this morning feeling so shitty. This might be a really lazy weekend. As for coyote buttes though, you’ve gotta believe! We’ve got almost an 8% chance! I also want to road trip across the American south, but, uhh, I don’t really know when that is going to happen. Actually, how do you feel about that? It could be weird and fun.

Florence was amazing! I loved it! I’m retroactively jealous of you for living there. I ate at Da Viniatteri and All’Antico Vinaio and I got some Lampredotto from a street vendorman. I loved All’Antico Vinaio but it was legitimately intimidating how they had no menu. I had to design my own sandwich and ask these sandwich gods to make it for me. It was nerve-wracking! I loved what I got though. Superdank prosciutto and sun dried tomatoes and arugula and gorgonzola, all on that focaccia. The best place I went was that Piazza de Michelangelo, it was such a gorgeous view. I spent all day saturday walking around and going to museums and whatnot and saved that for the end, and it was the most perfect end to a day there could ever be. Didn’t get to ascend the dome or eat at Da Mario though, both of them were closed on Sundays. I should have probably looked that up beforehand.

Doing the hostel thing is awesome but it kind of makes me sad. I inevitably meet some people I really like and then realize I’m never going to see them again. It is very strange. It’s like moving into a new co-op for just a couple of days.

Well my head is throbbing and I’m tired. That’s enough for now.

N: I went to Bologna this weekend, the city, the food, the punks that I found, the punk show I went to, it was all *does the kiss fingers as they spread italian move* bellissimo.

M: Dude dude dude dude dude!!! I’m the worst pen pal ever.

I think about writing you every day… but then I fail. Really though, every day.

Hahaha, your Bologna trip sounds mamma mia good. It’s kinda unfortunate the city shares the same name as the Oscar Meyer mystery meat. I google imaged Bologna and there were a bunch of joyless round slabs of meat mixed in with pretty pictures of the town. What was unique about Bologna?

I’m happy you got to explore Florence! It’s a puuurrdy town; great for visiting and would love to go back again someday. Do you plan to go to Sicily? That’s somewhere I’d really like to go.

After leaving the Bay, I was at home for two weeks and didn’t do too much. It was pathetic. Highlights include: getting my wisdom teeth pulled out and blowing through two seasons of The New Girl with Zooey Deschanel. The fact that I don’t even like that show that much speaks to how boring my time at home was. I can’t imagine what a month or two months at home doing nothing is like.

I’ve never done the hostel thing, so I don’t know what it’s like, but it’s nice that they can be really social places for solo travellers and small groups. Speaking of travelling solo, I’m joining the club! I’ve been in the D for almost two weeks (but it feels longer than that) and have been doing a lot of solo travelling during the day.

I’m borrowing a housemate’s bike to get around town and it’s been really great so far. It’s ridiculously flat in Detroit (and all of Michigan it seems). Literally, the only places that have inclines are highway on and off ramps. It’s a very auto-centric city though (duh), so a lot of folks don’t know how to drive with bikers on the road. Despite the roads being super wide and having low traffic, I’ve almost gotten hit a few times and can tell that drivers aren’t conscious of sharing the road with bikers. I’m aware of several small bike advocacy groups in Detroit that recently popped up, so I’m hopefully that things will change and more people will get into cycling for commuting. For such a flat city, I was surprised by how small the biking culture is.

Detroit is a mess. A hot mess. It’s completely true, there are swaths and swaths of vacant lots and abandoned buildings everywhere. Hospitals, projects, single family homes, retail buildings, parks, factories,… you name it. It’s utterly mind boggling. Brick is king here. I’m convinced Detroit has a monopoly on brick, because 90% of the buildings are made of it. Unfortunately, brick buildings aren’t the most attractive thing to see everywhere. Your average abandoned building looks like this: overgrown lawns and flora crawling up the facade, shattered windows, graffiti everywhere, dark and cavernous interiors, and sometimes roofless and charred.

A specific example of an abandoned building is a small hospital a couple blocks down from the house called Detroit Hope Hospital. The irony of the name is not lost on anyone. Three years ago, basically overnight, the hospital decided to stop running and everyone just up and left. All the windows are shattered, dust is everywhere, medical equipment and tools are still strewn about, chairs and tables are still there, confidential files remain, pictures of high school football games and family members are still on the walls… it’s crazy. And this is one of THOUSANDS of buildings like this is this gigantic city. People just left and let the buildings and the things inside them wither away. So weird. So strange. But often times, the abandoned buildings aren’t just left to age from weather, they are ravaged by scrappers (people who strip homes to sell the materials) and destroyed by vagrants.

The city is huge. At 138 square miles, it can swallow SF, Manhattan, and Boston. But it feels like there’s barely anyone around to occupy or use all of the land. There are tiny pockets and blocks where there are “new creative industries and retailers” i.e. hip schmancy coffee shops (Astro), new restaurants (Slows), and artisan distilleries (Two James) that are nice, but they are few and far between. Midtown and Corktown are the most happening place. Midtown’s the cultural center of the city cause there’s a commuter school, Wayne State, several museums (the DIA rocks), and food staples like Avalon Breads (my fave place in all of Detroit), yoga studios, and Great Lakes Coffee (a cookie cutter “hip” coffee shop you would see in Brooklyn or SF). There’s 20 square miles of vacant lots; that’s the size of Manhattan. One of the cooler uses of the vacant lots that I’ve seen, other than urban farms, is a mini putt putt course made of salvaged pipes and industrial scraps. This is the fun kind of stuff I was hoping to see. There’s also a lot of art everywhere; mostly graffiti, but tons and tons of sculptures, too.

When I bike around, I can’t help but imagine what bustling and buzzing 1930’s-50’s Detroit looked like. There are so many abandoned homes and buildings that, at one point, a lot of people actually lived in and worked in and shopped in. Detroit is in a strange place. The heyday of the Ford/WWII/Motown era is long gone and the future is completely unclear. So the present state of Detroit feels like an awkward, uncomfortable in-between stage dealing with lots of growing pains. Essentially, the city’s at square one and grappling with tons of social, gubernatorial, and financial issues. Most people are struggling and just trying to survive. It’s difficult for me to understand what’s going on, but I do sense hope when I talk to people who were born and raised here or who moved here and want to make Detroit a better place to live.

Everyone in the house is in TFA, so a lot of my understanding of Detroit is through the TFA lens and perspective.

Last Thursday, I spent the whole day exploring Hamtramck (pronounced Ham-tram-eck, but I call it Hamster Track) which is a small city within Detroit. It’s kinda like Piedmont in Oakland. It’s a historically Polish neighborhood but there’s also a large Yemen enclave in the neighborhood as well. Everything and everyone looks so friggin’ old school and old town Midwestern. And very Polish. I went to New Palace Bakery and Polish Village Cafe, cause eating Polish food is just what you do in Hamster Track. The bakery had so many varieties of pastries and baked goods it was beautiful. I think the popular thing there were paczkis which are jelly filled donuts. The Polish Market was uuhhhmazing. I saw aisles and aisles of food stuffs that I’ve never even seen or heard of before. Lots of creamy white cheeses, cold cut meats like headcheese and sausage, two full aisles of pickled veggies and canned small fish, teas, egg noodles, and wafer cookies. All of the packaging was Polish, too. There were no cereals or anything American like that. The cafe restaurant was an interesting experience. I got a variety of pierogis and a stuffed cabbage. The quality of food was clearly not that great and I could tell a lot of canned and frozen stuff was involved, but I also knew that everything they served was very honest, authentic, and homey. The place was popping with Polish people and I saw more people inside the restaurant than I did outside for blocks. I peeked into the kitchen on the way to the restroom and saw all Polish (I’m guessing) women cooking together. It just looked so homey, familial, generational. At the bakery, too, the only people who worked there were Polish (also a guess) women. It was crazy and totally unexpected, but Hamtramck has a pretty large and well rooted Polish history in Detroit.

N: Hahaha, you aren’t quite the worst pen pal ever. My sister is worse, and when she finally does reply to me it’s like three sentences long and incredibly unsatisfying.

Bologna was completely rad in every way. Its defining feature is its really, really old university, the first in Italy. It is the city I would want to live in if I could speak Italian. There were a bunch of cool music venues and flyers for shows and great restaurants and it wasn’t too expensive or touristy. The politics were extremely left wing, with communist flyers and organizations everywhere, and the food kicked ass. Bolognese sauce and tortellini and mortadella all originated there and they are all represented in a big way. In the main square of the town there was some sort of weird mortadella fest. There were like 20 booths all selling their own artisanal mortadella. It was pretty interesting, although I don’t really like mortadella, I’m pretty sure it’s what bologna is based on. The best meal I had was lasagne alla Bolognese. It might have been the best meal I’ve had in Italy. Home made pasta, incredibly tasty and filling and only 6 euros. It was from the cutest old Italian lady who had been running the same little shop in the same little location for decades. Another thing that was fairly interesting was the amount of arcades in the buildings, and arcades meaning a series of adjoining arches, not a place to play video games. At some point Bologna decided that every single building needs one. It’s pretty great as a pedestrian. You are always sheltered from the elements.
The next weekend (last weekend) I went to Venice. It’s still blowing my mind how completely everything changes after a few hours on the train. Culture and architecture and food traditions are all entirely different city to city. Venice was lovely though. That’s an understatement. It is so goddamn pretty it’s unbelievable. I walked around all weekend in awe of its beauty. The food was just alright apart from a really excellent pizza that was gorgonzola and apples. I am falling deeply in love with gorgonzola dolce. I have a fat block sitting in my fridge and I throw it on or in anything I cook. Sometimes I worry I’m going to get a horrible case of malnutrition because of how few fruits and vegetables I’ve been eating. Roman food is pasta with cheese and sometimes tomato or pizza, and I’ve pretty much stocked my fridge the Roman way.
No Sicily for me on this trip unfortunately. Gotta save some stuff for the next time I’m here. I didn’t really visit Southern Italy at all. I barely went to northern Italy either, no Milan, no Verona, no Turin. I mostly stayed in the middle. This is my last week in Italy (!) the weekend will be spent in Pisa and Cinque Terre.
Dude, the New Girl isn’t even that good. I am sorry that your time at home had to come to that. Should’ve watched Friday Night Lights. It is the best network drama series that ever was or will be. Seriously. I feel for you though. At least when I’m stuck at home I’ve got my high-school friends. My awful vortex of a town has kept a good 3/4 of them stuck there in minimum wage go-nowhere jobs. It’s sort of like Friday Night Lights, actually.
That whole wall of text about Detroit is really eye-opening and heart-breaking. It sounds like some post-apocalyptic shit. The beginnings of a cyberpunk dystopia. It’s seriously hard to believe there are places in the US like that. I mean, Fresno is probably one of the worst cities in California, but there aren’t huge tracts of abandoned houses or abandoned hospitals or anything quite like that. It’s nice to know that residents seem hopeful though. I hope it does turn around for Detroit. I love the old brick building aesthetic. It would be cool to live in a revitalized Detroit in an old brick home someday.

Being a teacher in Detroit, man. I don’t know how he handles it.

Hamtramck sounds a lot like the Polish neighborhood in Baltimore! My mom’s parents were Polish and Lithuanian, and we would go to the old ethnic neighborhoods they grew up in whenever we visited. The Lithuanian one was tiny, but the Polish one seemed like it was thriving. It’s probably been eight years since I’ve visited, but I remember Polish being spoken by everyone and sausage and pierogies and blinis everywhere. A lot of my Polish second cousins still live in the area, too. The Polish community is big enough in Baltimore that there was an entire season of the Wire focused on them.

Now that you’ve seen the magnificent D where you heading off to? And how much longer are you traveling for?
I know you’re hitting up Chicago at some point, you should see an improv show. One of my good friends from high school moved there and is in a couple troupes. I will ask him if he has anything coming up.
My real traveling begins soon and I am so excited. I’m heading straight up to Munich, and spending about a week in Deutschland before I catch a plane down to Barcelona to meet my cousin for about 10 days of traveling in Spain and either France or Portugal. Then I’m hanging out with my favorite professor at his new job in Marseilles and catching another plane to Eastern Europe. I really want to visit Budapest and Bratislava and Krakow and Wroclaw while I’m there. Then I’m gonna spend a few days in Dublin and head to Dallas for a few days to hang out with my best friend from high school who recently moved there, then SFO sometime around December 14th. It’s going to be really hectic and fun. I need to buy tickets back to the states soon before prices get gouged up for Christmastime.
I’m going to start the music edition, here and now. Going to start off with two Italian bands, one of which I saw in Bologna.

(Soviet Soviet, Dumbo Gets Mad, Ging Nang Boys, some Japanese band, The Microphones)

M: Your sister’s emails are like phone calls with my brother.

Hot damn, Bologna sounds amazing. I absolutely love Bolognese sauce and tortellini! You know how some people always order their favorite dish anytime they see it on a menu even if the restaurant doesn’t specialize in it or they already ate that same dish the night before? Well, I’m a sucker for pappardelle/tagliatelle with ragu alla bolognese. And cute old ladies are always great, too. I really like the idea of cute old ladies of the same kin who cook at the same little shop for ages because it’s so steeped in tradition, but sometimes I feel like my personal enjoyment of these kinds of things is a little too one-sided. It’s culinary tourism, essentially, but I suppose if I’m not intruding too much then everything’s a-okay. I’ll be the first to admit that a lot of my traveling explorations are lead by my stomach.

Arcades sounds like a lost architectural treasure. Now we just have cookie cutter concrete buildings painted in some ambiguously beige color. Speaking of annoying cookie cutter crap, I’m sick of hearing The Smiths and Morrissey at every friggin’ coffee shop I ever walk into. So cliche. So over it. Back pedaling to arcades, in addition to advocating for more of those in the States, I think we should also mandate to have every street lined with trees on both sides cause tree-lined streets are prettier.

Alright, alright, I’ll start watching Friday Night Lights. I have a feeling I’ll like it.

I don’t understand anything about the existence of Venice. I’ve been there, too, and completely agree about its beauty. Something interesting that someone once told me is that barely anyone actually lives in Venice. People who work in Venice commute from somewhere inland and everyone else is a tourist. Hahaha, I can totally see you digging gorgonzola dolce — I’m glad you found romance in Italy! But don’t get scurvy. Gotta get some green in there. I don’t know how vegetarians travel and make it out alive.

This entire time, I thought you were going to be in Rome for three months! It’s only been two months, right? That is one heck of a travel itinerary! I’m beyond jealous. You coolly named 10 destinations: Munich, Barcelona, France or Portugal, Marseilles, Budapest, Bratislava, Krakow, Wroclaw, Dublin, and Dallas. And you casually mentioned “hanging out with my favorite professor at his new job in Marseilles.” WHO ARE YOU?!

Here’s my mixtape! Thanks for yours.

(Camera Obscura, Broken Social Scene, Born Ruffians, Nicki Minaj, Andrew Bird)

I went to Chicago this past week and had a great time. Was super impressed with the city… and may even consider living there.

p.s. Did you go to Cinque Terre?