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dispatches from Europe: who needs religion when you have art

Piazza Navona, Roma (Sat, Aug. 8, 2015)

It’s cloudy and it was drizzling a bit here, but so nice and cool right now in the evening. Dusk is starting to fall and I’m people-watching in Piazza Navona where the famous fountains are. It feels slightly weird being here alone, but really though I love people watching. The tourists roaming about, the locals chatting loudly and smoking, the street performers and artists and vendors et al—what a lively crowd. I’m glad I decided to come here tonight instead of eating in, even after three hours on the train from Florence and another hour trying to find my flat from the station. I just read a post I wrote this time last year while I was smoking argileh solo at a coffee shop in Amman. I wrote how much I love people-watching, and I was wondering what I can do with that passion. Still haven’t found found the answer to that. But anyway, I honestly think I’d be just fine if I didn’t find something to do with it. It could just be a thing I use as a source of poetry or art and things.

I’m really glad I decided to do this solo portion of the trip. There’s something kind of refreshing about being alone with your thoughts, but also relying on the kindness and friendliness of strangers for help sometimes or even just some company. Also, being surrounded by so many historical things is pretty moving. You know countless of people have seen it before you, and yet you’re still able to feel intimate with the object or site or artwork or whatever—gasping as though you were the first to ever see its beauty or wonder at its marvelousness.

Outskirts of Piazza San Pietro, Vatican City (Mon, Aug. 10, 2015)

Holy fuck. The Sistine Chapel. Now I know why everyone’s really into the Museo Vaticani. And also holy shit, Michelangelo’s Creation of Adam is probably the single greatest use of negative space in all of art history. I had to buy two postcards just because I didn’t want to lose sight of it. I also took pictures discreetly (with low quality, no doubt) even though you’re not supposed to. The sheer scale of the artworks there and in Raphael’s Rooms is enough to make a grown person cry (thank God for that art history course at GRCC also).

This is my last day in Europe. Kind of bittersweet, but I’m also very happy to be coming home. It’s raining in Rome right now, and it’s actually kind of nice. I appreciate the light drizzle that makes the air cooler and reminds me of Seattle. Chuckling at all these tourists clutching their umbrellas for dear life though. Going to St. Peter’s Basilica after this. I’m sitting at the edge of my seat.

Portofino Cafe, Via Colo di Rienzo

Another holy fuck from me. St. Peter’s Basilica is fucking stunning. Again, I almost cried. And St. Peter’s Square with its welcoming vestibule and piazza design, I can see why millions flock to it. If I were Christian, I would want to take mass there all the time I think. For me, being inside these basilicas and churches and all, it’s fascinating because these are man-made things. Yet, the spirituality within the dedication with which they are created is kind of mind-boggling. I mean how do you get the determination to finish hundreds of square feet of paintings and frescoes and tapestries or large sculptures?

I’ve always had the belief that art-making is never solely the result of divine intervention or inspiration or whatever. It’s absolutely the result of hard work and skill. It’s blood, sweat, and tears. But still, seeing works of art at a scale that grand, you can’t help but think that maybe it does have something to do with the divine? Kurt Vonnegut once said that the only proof he needed for the existence of God was music. I would agree, but I might also add that the only proof I needed was the human brain. Because it’s through these that people built and carved and composed and created these absolutely stunning, touching, and telling works of art—like the walls of the Sistine Chapel, like the sculptures within St. Peter’s Basilica, like pretty much everything in the Louvre for God’s sake. Who needs organized religion when you’ve got art as a way to channel your spirituality? It’s tolerant, it’s healing, it brings people together, it’s divine. The greatest thing is, it explains the human condition so eloquently without having to use words. It’s a way of understanding why we are put on this Earth, which, to many, is kind of why they gravitated to organized religions to begin with.

But you know what the best part is? It doesn’t require you to convert anybody or compete for some otherworldly being’s validation. Yet, it still gives one that sense of purpose and the therapeutic effects that come with the good parts of religion.

There’s a part of a speech that we’re read (scroll down and just read the last three paragraphs, or all of them if you wish) before every major concert at the UW. It basically says that artists are sort of like a therapist for the human soul. We look at the insides and see if we can get things to line up again. A great work of art can lead people to be incredibly peaceful and well.

Here’s the thing though, I know a great many pious and devout people who are religious as much as they are spiritual (please note the difference here), and the existence of religion has brought an immense amount of joy and wellness and purpose to their lives. And they do this in private, between them and their God, without feeling the need to judge others or compare themselves and think, “I am holier than you.” If every religious person in the world are like that, how incredibly peaceful our world would be? I think the arts are an encapsulation and an idealistic portrayal of what religion could be (or maybe used to be? God knows at which point people just started going berserk and started killing each other in God’s name). Of course that’s not to say that the arts communities can’t be corrupt and money-driven and capitalistic—that just comes with being human in the 21st century. But they way the art community support system is created, in its purest form, weeds out that sort of thing. It has less of an established hierarchy and much, much less of a baggage compared to religion.



dispatches from Europe: backlogged thoughts from the last night

Necci Del 1924, Pigneto, Roma (Mon, Aug. 10, 2015)

This is such a hipster place I love it. Plus, the waiters are really cute also? There’s plenty of artsy crowds here which I appreciate. I’m glad I decided to come here today. The neighborhood I was at a few hours before was also pretty nice—Colo di Rienzo. It’s more upscale compared to Pigneto with its graffitied walls and quiet alleys. This evening’s been very pleasant so far (thank God for the rain, the weather got immensely forgiving and I love it).

It’s intriguing to watch young Italians, smoking and drinking wine and being fab af. I can’t believe this is my last night in Europe. I’ll save this time for observations on the people/places that I’ve been on this trip so far.


Amalfi Coast (Sorrento, Positano, Capri), Italia

Middle-aged tourists. You gotta be rich to stay here a prolonged amount of time and enjoy it. There isn’t really that much culture in downtown Sorrento. Massa Lubrense/Sant’Agata, which is pretty far up in Sorrento, is pretty nice though. It’s a lot smaller, more Italian with a pretty small community. I love walking the streets there at night, with the white laundry hanging from apartment balconies, people and kids staying up late almost every time I go out, gelato places that open late—I love it. Also, the desperate 18-year olds/middle-aged men that hang out at Gringos.


Lille/Roubaix, France

A really pleasant small town. I probably couldn’t live there for long given my dislike for small towns, but having a friend there was nice. Highlights include the antique market and the old town. I must say though, if I have to live in a small town somewhere, I’d probably do so in France. The weather was pretty shitty when I was there, and after coming from fucking sunny Sorrento, my body was a wee bit shocked to say the least. But still, catching up with old friends was very gratifying. Especially when you’re in Lille and get to enjoy really fucking good cider from Belgium. That and the crepes and Yanka + her dad’s cooking. I’ve no reason to complain.


Paris, France

Probably my favorite leg of my trip. I stayed here the longest, so that might have something to do with it. But in addition to that, I think my love for Paris has as much to do with the company I kept in addition to the things I got to do. Living with Archie was lovely. Again, catching up with old friends is immensely satisfying, especially friends you know you’ll want to keep in your life. I think reconnecting with these two people from my childhood/teenhood has helped me come to terms with what I’ve gone through the past few years, the things I’ve done, and the person I’ve become. Some of our experiences have kind of paralleled each other. It’s so relieving because I don’t encounter that a lot in Seattle, except for several other fellow whitewashed Indonesians who’s in the same boat as me. I think it’s also a nice way to close a chapter in my life. I’m out of college and supposedly an adult now?

I’ve written a bit about Paris already, but I might as well repeat myself right. I love that I get to go to a strip club in Paris’ red light district/have a picnic next to the Eiffel Tower with my middle school friend. Those were really wonderful parts. But also just seeing beautiful churches like the Notré-Dame and Sacre Coeur Basilica, drinking coffee in the early evening and talking about life, seeing the fucking Mona Lisa and the Winged Victory, walking around while tipsy around Pigalle looking for kebab, seeing Salvador Dali’s works, visiting Isadora Duncan’s grave, finding out that a piece that I made might potentially be performed in NYC?!?!? Also the wonderful museums and exhibits I visited like Monet’s Nymphéas, images à charge at Le Bal (probably my favorite exhibit, SO glad I went a few hours before leaving for Florence), Victor Hugo’s house, Memorial de Shoah, the Lanvin Exhibit at Palais Galliera (I didn’t think you could cry from seeing an exquisitely beautiful dress, but you could).

Also, the city works so well. Public transport is very reliable. I can’t help but love it.


Firenze, Italia

One thing: Really fucking hot. However, I’m still glad I visited the slightly less-visited Oltrarno first. The thing is, Florence’s central area is also pretty small so that you can’t help but see tourists everywhere. But still, the small bits of local life that I got: the vintage store and jazz stores I visited in Oltrarno, the street food and food market in Mercato Centro—those were very comforting. The Biblioteca (local public library) was also another source of comfort. They’ve got really good caffe freddo and a really interesting view of the Duomo. It’s also very local, lots of Florentine students studying and chatting with friends. Another highlight: Michelangelo’s David at the Accademia. Now I know what the fuss is about, it’s pretty damn insane, but the Rape of Sabine is also pretty damn gorgeous. Also: Museo Gucci. It’s so interesting seeing the quintessential Italian aesthetic. And Gucci’s eveningwear dresses for Blake Lively and Evan Rachel Wood that were on display made me teary again. The Duomo was alright, not as moving as other churches I was at, I actually prefer Santo Spirito better. Bottom line: I’m glad I decided to take an extra day to explore both sides of the Arno. It made me cut Rome a little short, but it’s fine though, I can always come back here.


Roma, Italia

The sheer amount of history I was able to witness and unearth by being here is really fabulous. The Colosseum is obviously very colossal, and there was a cultural history exhibit on Terra/Gaia which fits very well with the visit. I’m sad I didn’t get to go to any of the flea markets here (or in Paris), but I was able to discover some A+ vintage/thrift stores, which deserves an A+ on its own. Fontana di Trevi and Spagna was gross and tourist-filled, but not rewarding enough to make it worth it. At least Piazza Navona was worth it with their 15Euro menu and lively street performers.

Today was really wonderful though, quite a nice bookend to the whole trip. I went to Museo Vaticani and waited in line for what seemed like for-fucking-ever. But it was worth it to see the Raphael Rooms, and obviously the Sistine Chapel. Not enough can be said about it. I wanted to stay there and witness the ceiling and the Last Judgment for hours. It was that moving. And obviously St. Peter’s Basilica. Lemme tell ya, one thing I love most about traveling solo is that you can cut into any line you want and no one can say fucking anything. Can’t tell you the number of times I did that. Just walk with a purpose, look like you belong, and get what you want. Saved myself a good two hours waiting in line.

Anyway, the Basilica was something incredibly spiritually moving. Sad I couldn’t see the Pope irl, but saw the balcony where he would go out to greet his people from time to time though, so that’s close enough right?

And now here we are, chilling, listening to Italians catch up and chat about random things. It feels very bittersweet to understand that this trip is almost over, but it’s been such a fulfilling ride that I’m glad I was able to do it. The people I met along the way, the things I got to see and experience, the things I learned about people and the world around me? Europe is pretty damn fabulous. Ciao for now I guess? Or until the next time I travel :)

Gonna miss Europeans and their late dinnertime, but for now, it feels good to go back to America. Damn though, this is a simultaneously tiny and big world, and I’m just a fucking tiny speck of dust on it. This trip was one hell of a way to be reminded of that.