Summer Tripping

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Every summer needs a road trip. I know, I know – I’m only just back from an intercontinental trip! But summer just lends itself to kinetics and adventures. The world is big and bright and warm, and you can just spin around and pick a direction and go and find something amazing.

The best-case scenario is obviously to check something new off your list on your trip. But taking time to visit old beloved haunts is refreshing too. So I’m taking a trip with a few friends to Jes’s Gatsby-esque digs on Long Island. Hopefully I’ll be able to pester some of our friends there for their bucket lists!

To get the whole summer road trip experience, you need a good playlist. It has to be the right mix of upbeat, airy, and energy, with some sprinkles of nostalgia thrown in.

Usually I’ve been using the website 8tracks to discover new music. 8tracks lets you pick a couple of moods or keywords, and then shows you user-created playlists. Pandora and Spotify are also good, though I like finding new songs and bands on 8tracks. If you road-tripping with friends, it’s fun to have everyone create their own mix of ten or so songs to play.

And if everyone starts singing along, well, that’s just magic.

Because, there’s more to this whole thing that just crossing lines off a bucket list. It’s just as much as about making memories and even if you don’t remember every spoken word or tear-worthy joke, you’ll remember the feelings.

For me, while my road trip playlist will vary with the years and seasons, there are few standards I’m sure to include on this trip!

Tiny Dancer by Elton John
Maybe it’s just this urge to recreate the scene from Almost Famous that left me aching to be a groupie for a 1980s band and travel the country, but I need this song.

Life is a Highway by Rascal Flatts
I feel like you need to include it as a joke, ever after this episode of the Office.

Hawaiian Roller Coaster Ride from Lilo and Stitch
You always need Disney, and this movie OOZES summer. That said, you can’t have Disney sing-alongs without “I’ll Make a Man Out of You” from Mulan either.

American Pie by Don McLean
Because, it’s a classic and fun to sing. For that matter, Hotel California too.

I Want It That Way by the Backstreet Boys
As a 90s child, what better way to get in the fun mood of your road trip than by blasting the bands of your youth? Spice Girls, Aqua, and Smashmouth will be making appearances as well.

Call Me Maybe by Carly Rae Jepsen
Or something equally catchy like “California Girls” or shudder, “Friday” by Rebecca Black. “Gangham Style” if you want to dance along and not sing… unless you incidentally know Korean.

Don’t Stop Believing by Journey
This really doesn’t need an explanation.

Happy weekend!

Love always,
Gabriele

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Jes

Name: Jes
Age: 20
Hometown: Westchester, NY
Favorite Food: My mom’s spaghetti and meatballs with my grandma’s sauce
Superpower: Read minds; teleportation

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Jes isn’t a stranger on Brilliant Buckets – you’ll recognize her as my vivacious best friend who traipsed across Europe with me! Though she’s too tough on herself, Jes is a beam of pure sunshine shining on the rest of the world. She’s laughter and warmth, as she tries to capture life’s fleeting beauty in the snapping of her camera lens. If you’re in trouble, Jes is there, before you even think to ask. She has the craziest knack for remembering the exact date of obscure events and as you can see, does pretty incredible things with make-up. She also watches entirely too much television, even the cheesiest shows. But that’s more proof of her genuine nature. Jes happens to be a believer. She believes in happy ever afters for everyone, beyond the TV screen.

–       Make candy sushi

–       Visit all 50 states. Completed 23 so far, and three continents.

–       Visit all seven continents. Do South America and Antarctica in one fell swoop. Go to Panama to see both oceans

–       See the Great Wall of China.

–       Road trip across the United States. The World’s Largest Sandwich or Yogurt cup. Random crap like that would be so fun to see.

–       See the Northern Lights. “I’ve been to five places that have the Northern Lights, but never at the right time.”

–       Drink beer at Oktoberfest; “I don’t even like beer.”

–       Mardi Gras in New Orleans

–       “I want to throw a dart on a map and just go where it lands”

–       On that note, “throw a dart at a wall and whatever it lands on, get a tattoo. I’d have to make sure it has a lot of tattoos I’d want.”

–       Have a photo in National Geographic magazine. “One of my Africa photos probably.”

–       Publish my own photo book. “Probably of my family. They don’t like how I portray them. They were beautiful photos, but not beautiful photos of them. Now they shut off when I take photos, but it’s the first body of work I’m really proud of.”

–       Go on a romantic date

–       Fall in love and have kids. “At least three, I want to say. It depends on what we’d decide together. I wouldn’t have more than five.”

–       Conquer a fear. “I don’t have anything specific, but everyone’s afraid of something.”

–       Ride a mechanical bull at a bar, while wearing a cowboy hat

–       Fire a gun

–       Be a movie or TV show extra (for Buffy or Charmed if they were still on air!)

–       “Get to my goal weight and do a shopping spree of really tiny clothes. And then I’m going to feast. I’m an eater and I’ve always been an eater – that’s not going to change no matter my weight.”

–       Solve a Rubik’s cube

–       Rescue a dog from an animal shelter, ideally a corgi

–       Live somewhere other than New York, probably California. “I wouldn’t want to live in LA. Too much traffic and no subways. Beach house maybe, that’d be cool if I could afford it. I don’t think I’d ever want to live in a foreign country for a while.”

–       Go skinny dipping

–       Have an awesome apartment. “I think it’s unnecessary to have a house if you don’t have kids. I want really funky furniture – really strange, really bright colors but comfortable.”

–       “Be as satisfied with my portfolio as I could be. Be consistent with my work. I’d love to make it into the mentor program at SVA. I want to know what I want before I graduate.”

–       Honeymoon somewhere warm on a beach. A nice tropical island.

–       Dream wedding – “Somewhere outside with lots of flowers. A big fairytale wedding. Gazebo, rose petals. Really, my dream wedding is my entire family getting along.”

–       Always wanted a really nice designer dress, a beautiful floor-length one to wear to fancy events. “It would have to have some sort of black lace in it.”

–       Learn how to ballroom dance. “I don’t mind acting like a fool but I’d like to learn.”

–       Learn how to cook. “I want to be able to cook all of my mom’s recipes without having to call her to walk me through it because I’m afraid to burn the house down.”

The Three B’s for Summer Buckets

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Hello, world. I’ve been taking a week to unwind after both the trip and my family affairs, so I’ve been rather quiet on the Brilliant Buckets front. But not to worry; there is an ocean of ramblings in my head that I have to add to the already bulging and bloated interwebs. And more bucket lists! Of course! That’s why we’re all here, right?

So, July is halfway gone and then all we have is August. I hope you’ve been making the most of your summer and the days that seem to stretch on forever. With all the extra sunlight, I always feel like I should be running around and doing so much. More hours means more time for bucket list achievements, right?

But it’s easy to get burnt out. And while I’m all about the seeing and doing new things, life is a journey, not a race. So I highly recommend taking time for the three Bs: to breathe, to bond, and to give yourself some brainfood this summer too.

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How so? Well, I caught up with friends all week (see? Bonding!). Tuesday, my friend Spencer and I went for a hike (breathing, enjoying nature, and GETTING COVERED IN ITCHY BUG BITES). I gathered the red jewel-like raspberries that grow in my yard (more breathing/nature appreciation).

Yesterday, I met up with my friends Steph and Alex to go to the Museum of Modern Art and see the Rain Room exhibit (Bonding and brainfood! Double whammy!). Also, I’m just going to add that I appreciate Van Gogh and Monet and art in general a lot more since Europe and going to all the museums and learning about their lives. We went to Serendipity after, which I’ve never been to. So that was a serendipitous thing to cross off the ol’bucket list too.

Another great way to nourish yourself with some brain food this summer is by reading. They’re called beach reads for a reason! I’m always reading, but summertime lends itself to lighter and more whimsical books than winter. Since I love pushing books on people, here’s what I’ve been loving.

  • The Giver, Gathering Blue, Messenger, and Son – Lois Lowry
    I loved the Giver and Gathering Blue when I read them as a child, but I didn’t know Lois Lowry recently wrote other sequels to the story. Thank goodness she did! If you haven’t read the Giver, do so immediately. The Giver is about a Utopian community where life functions seamlessly and everybody is content. Jonas is chosen to be the Receiver of Memories, and learns just what the community gave up in exchange for their perfect little world.
  • The Great Gatsby – F. Scott Fitzgerald
    You probably read this in high school. I did, and I didn’t really like it until after we finished reading it. But, I just reread this week, and enjoyed it so much more! I didn’t remember Fitzgerald’s witty prose and crystalline construction of all his characters. I’m going to have to read more of his work. It doesn’t hurt that I know picture Gatsby as Leonardo DiCaprio either.
  • The Kingkiller Chronicles – Patrick Rothfuss
    This is a bit hefty to lug to the beach, so I’m thankful for my Kindle. If you’ve been twiddling your thumbs waiting for George Martin to hint at a Winds of Winter release, check out the Kingkiller Chronicles. It inhabits just as rich a world as A Song of Ice and Fire (aka Game of Thrones) and despite a slow start, crafty Kvothe becomes a best friend you’ve known all your life. Just one that happens to live in a world that’s way cooler. And then you’ll be furious at me since the third book isn’t out for about a million years.
  • Gone Girl – Gillian Flynn
    This book is a mind melt. It opens on the strained couple Nick and Amy’s anniversary… only Amy has vanished and all signs point to Nick as prime suspect. The book alternates between present day Nick and the diary entries of Amy from when she fell in love with him. The setup creates a juxtaposition of the angry couple’s current problems and the time when their love was fresh and happy and full of promise. Nick is quickly proven to be a very unreliable narrator, and as you race through the pages, you’ll argue with yourself if he’s guilty or innocent of Amy’s disappearance.
  • Everyday – David Levithan
    What if you woke up everyday in a different body, a different life? You’re still you, but you control someone else for the day, with their own parents, home, job and school drama. When you go to sleep, you begin anew as someone else. This is A’s life. A knows better than to try to hold on to anything in this odd existence. Don’t interfere is the main rule, and it serves well. Until A falls in love with one girl. I just started this today and I’m already half through. I’m highlighting it all over. What a fantastic read.

So get thee to the library! I know you probably haven’t been there since cracking away at your senior thesis, but they let you take books home… for free! It’s an incredible thing.

Love always,
Gabriele

Musings – Our Legacies

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I’m sitting at my laptop in my dining room, back at home from Europe, surrounded by the usual clutter and the sound of my dog’s nails against the hardwood floors, typing this on keys that need to be cleaned, and just so completely unready to face a world without my grandfather in it.

It’s crazy how sometimes we can be prepared and sometimes we can’t be, but either way it’s like the person has just walked off stage and you’re waiting and waiting for them to come back for the next act.

My brother said it best yesterday at the cemetery, “If Grandpa was to walk up to me right now and say hi, I wouldn’t be surprised.”

Death is surreal in how final it is. To me, it feels like the people I’ve lost are only waiting in the wings, just behind the red velvet curtains.

But I write about this because we talk about our bucket lists here, which is slightly morbid when you consider that it’s your list of what you want to do before you “kick the bucket.” I don’t pretend to know what was on either of my grandparents’ bucket lists, but I can talk about the legacy they left behind.

By that, I don’t mean fame or fortune or material goods. I mean their lives were their legacy.

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Both of them lived their lives in honest, giving, and kind ways that are hard to find anymore. They gave so much of their energy and love to people and animals both, the downtrodden and the down on their luck. Some of these people may not have been the most deserving, but Grandpa and Grandma always found another chance to give and they did so gladly and unconditionally. They were of that fading generation that honored compassion, integrity, and altruism above all else.

Being in my twenties, I think so many of us Millennials are so busy of looking for the next thrill and not a moment beyond it. Others desperately want to follow Peter Pan to Neverland and avoid growing up. And it’s not just twenty-year-olds. So many people are brusque and hardened or selfish and indulged. They live with their eyes inward and their ears plugged to anything but their own whims and hardships.

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And I don’t want to live my life that way. I have always strived to make choices that would make my grandparents proud, even more than for my own parents. Putting a smile on my grandfather’s face was the highest badge of honor and achievement. It’s hard to reconcile that I will never earn that badge again. But even if he’s not here, I can still use his moral compass to guide me.

So let’s keep going. Because there’s nothing else we can really do is there? I will keep crossing off things on my list, but I will make sure that my grandparents would be happy to see me do them. I’ll think of my own legacy, and hope to leave behind one as powerful as theirs.

Always with love,
Gabriele

Accomplished! Flourishing Florence and final thoughts!

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En route back home, to July in New York. Back to big wide roads, super stores, and giant cups of coffee.

Come to think of it, the biggest difference to me between America and Europe is exactly that – size. Bigger is better in the states, and we live our lives as large and loud as we can. We rush around so much, worried we’ll miss out on the next grand adventure.

I know I’m going to go through reverse culture shock. I’m going to miss the better quality of food and the stricter regulations against factory farming and harmful chemicals. I’m going to miss the friendliness of Europeans and the camaraderie amongst fellow travelers. Taking actual time to have a breakfast, lunch, and dinner that we don’t just eat mindlessly. And tea! So much tea, everywhere, in proper cups and kettles! I’m going to miss how the majority of European men dress WAY better, and how much more active and healthier the people live. And hello, celiac awareness… I know gluten-free people who would’ve wept at being served warm, crusty GF Italian bread at a restaurant. Ah, Europe.

But I have missed my family, my friends, my New York. I did cook at our hostels, but it’ll be nice to have my kitchen again and go to the farmer’s markets to find new ingredients to play with. Pick up my running! I need to work out! Also, both Jes and I are planning on spending some time being tourists at home and going to do all the New York sights. We’re going to drag some friends on a walking tour, like we did abroad. Time to appreciate the place we live!

We had such fun this trip. The last two days we spent in Florence. Unfortunately they were Sunday and Monday, so many places were closed. The longer Jes and I spent in Italy, the more we found ourselves even speaking to each other in Italian. And people were often surprised, but happy, to hear us actually speak the language. Sunday we explored and Jes took me to all the important places to see. She spent a month there when she was 16, on a summer study program. We saw the Duomo and street markets and statues and basilicas, and goodness it was all so old and pretty.

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We went to the Boboli Gardens, which was the seat of the Medici family.They were incredible and gave us such a view of Florence, after the steepest hills and stairs guarded by the sweltering summer sun. It was so weird to walk these roads and think, this is actually where the Rinascimento, the Renaissance was birthed and stretched its limbs across Europe. This is where Michelangelo and Donatello and the rest actually lived. And the Tuscan hills and little houses, they look like – imagined fancy, rather than somewhere real people still live.

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Europe always seemed like a fairytale to me. Like there was no way I could ever really touch it. And it has been a dream to be here. I am so grateful to everyone who helped me take this trip. I am so proud of myself for going this far away and working so hard to be able to pay for it. And I can’t thank Jes enough times for everything. She has seen me at my best and worst on this trip – my neurosis, my Pisces spaciness, and tendency to spout random trivia. After seven years of friendship, she’s still one of the best friends I could ask for.

I’ve learned a lot about myself this trip. That’s a story for another time. But I want to keep tackling my bucket list, and to live my life with as graciously as possible. My advice for any of you who have made it this far, following along with me?

Just go. Do the things on your list, the things niggling in the dustiest corners of your brain. Pull them out from under the rug. Because you’re brave and strong and awesome and of course, BRILLIANT, so go and do them.

You won’t regret it.

Love always,
Gabriele

Accomplished! Venezia!

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Italy!

It’s so weird, coming to Italy. I’ve been studying Italian since I was about 11 years old and listening to it in some form or another since I was una bambina, so in a way, it didn’t feel like a foreign country as much as a homecoming.

I’ve read about the country so much, listened to their music and watched films and TV shows. To hear people speaking Italian around me is like being all wrapped up and snuggled in a warm blanket, made up of this beautiful language that is usually dormant in my mind. I love it – the nonnas, the overly romantic couples, the men who border between appreciative and creepily leering in their gazes, and the little babies whining “Mamma, aspetta!”

Venice felt like walking into a postcard. It was a labyrinth of alleys and piazzas and bridges and you turn and turn and you lose yourself but its not really lost but poetically adrift.

The words of Tolkien come to me over and over on this trip. And in Venice, they’re especially true. “Not all those who wander are lost.”

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If you turn two corners, you escape the tourists and happen upon little churches tucked away, or little shrines to Mary hiding in the wall and marked only by some dusty dry flowers. You find where the Venetians live and overhear a nonna telling a story from her open window. Flowers hang down and lazy bees hover above the canals, not realizing the splendor of being in Venice.

Turn another two corners at random and you are back in the busiest of streets. There are plenty of tourists and a handful of gypsies. St. Mark’s Piazza was surprisingly lacking in pigeons when we went and we went each day. We found a horde of them in Florence though, so maybe they were taking a holiday here.

We went in Doge’s Palace (where the government was run and Cassanova imprisoned), up the Campanile tower for some lovely views of the Grand Canal, and into the Basilica.

We couldn’t have asked for a better place for our little hotel. It was bare bones, four flights of stairs, and the room looked like a Gryffindor’s acid trip, but the people there were nice (gave us a glass of champagne when we arrived!) and just a few steps away was the Rialto Bridge. Over the grand bridge were the markets, fruits and fish and masks and glass as far as I could see.

I spent some time wandering and stumbled upon a little bookstore. It was fun to see Il Grande Gatsby on the shelves. I was tempted but it’s a little above my Italian reading level!

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Also, one would think Italy would be terrible for celiacs but it’s actually the best place in the world! Italy tests all their children for celiac and there is senza glutine food everywhere. I think it’s because food and enjoying it, are such intrinsic parts of life here. There’s a saying “Non si invecchia a tavola”, meaning one doesn’t grow old at the table. And I think that applies here.

So we ate at two adorable restaurants. The first, La Vecia Cabana, had a GF menu for me, and after I ordered, they moved the bread basket to Jes’s side and came back with GF bread and breadsticks for me! Oh my goodness! And towards the end, one of the waiters came over and told me he too was celiacci. But wait… Before we left, they brought Jes some pastries and me… Gluten free cookies!!!!!!! They tasted just like the Italian bakery I went to as a little kid. It was the sweetest thing. On our last night we came back and they recognized us and remembered I was celiac. Bawwwww.

The second place we went to was good too! It was called Trattoria Da Fiore, and as soon as I told the waitress, she immediately knew what I could and couldn’t have, and was super sweet and knowledgable about it.

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We went to Murano and Burano on our last day. Murano is where they blow glass into the most stunning, intricate sculptures. We watched as a man turned an orange molten sphere into a vase, and then another into a horse. He pulled at the glass with metal tweezers and the horse’s limbs emerged crystalline and clear. At the museum there, it was hard to wrap our minds around how old some of the glass was. How did people ever figure out how to make these?

Burano is where they make lace and we met a little nonna who was delighted to overhear us speaking Italian outside her shop. We saw her sewing away and marveled at the little lace butterflies, farfalle, on the door. But mostly we wandered the brightly painted buildings. The brightest shades of red, blue, green, orange, pink, and purple, their reflection in the canals created a wavering watery rainbow.

From Venice we took the train to Florence, where we are spending a last couple days and flying home a week early due to the sudden passing of my grandfather. It’s fitting that I end this trip in his favorite European city. His eyes would light up when he spoke of seeing Florence in his army days. He was an incredible man and I have always tried to live my life to make him proud.

I am a little sad to miss Rome but it’s okay. We’ve been traveling a month. We’ve been to six countries on this trip if you count Monaco. Rome has been here for three thousand years, so it’s not going anywhere. Next time to Rome, and also the south of Italy, to the tiny village of Siano where my Nonno came from. And Germany! And Holland and Greece and back to Ireland and Wales and more England and then Asia and Africa and Australia and EVERYWHERE.

I’ll get there. It’s been an amazing ride, this past month.

Now I’m off to enjoy our last night in Florence. There will be a Florence update too, of course.

Buona giornata, tutti.

Sempre con amore,
Gabriele

(Also, no bucket list this week… Hope to be back on track next week!)

Accomplished! France beyond Paris, and first steps in Italy!

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Happy ‘Murica Day! Jes and I won’t be seeing any fireworks; we’re en-route to Venice after spending a couple of days in Nice (pronounced ‘niece’), a town along the French Riviera.

Little did we know when we arrived that the Tour de France was taking place! Odd coincidences and stumbling-upons are all a part of life. So at first, we thought it was really cool, but then we ended up stuck on one side of it, crammed in with a huge sweaty mass of people all looking for a way around it. Then we were really done with the novelty of the Tour de France. But hey, after all, we both have the same amount of medals of Lance Armstrong! Too mean?

Anyway, as we explored the brightly colored buildings, we came upon the open-air fruit and flower market. It was tucked into an alleyway of salmon and orange peel walls on either side and we wandered down the cobblestones oohing at all the spices, lavender sachets, and fruit so bright it looked plucked from a rainbow.

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Jes haggled a lovely wooden turtle figurine down to half price! I don’t think I could do that! We bought a basket of strawberries and ate them next to the cerulean water, red juice running down our chins and sticky fingers. The beach isn’t sandy, but instead made up of flat oval gray stones. But it was still pretty! Refreshed, we then walked up about a billion steps of La Tour Bellanda, which gave us a beautiful view of Old Nice and the water. A man played the accordion for tips. To my delight, he played one of the songs from Amelie, one of my favorite movies!

We also took a trip to Monaco, but I have to confess I didn’t care for it. It was just exorbitant and gaudy… Like a foreign, super rich version of Atlantic City. But we did see some amazing views along the cliff edges getting there. We passed through the village of Eze, which is perched upon the mountain face. There were some Roman ruins upon the highest hill that were nice to see as we passed by.

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Our hostel – Villa Exupery Gardens, was spectacular too. It is in a converted monastery and mostly staffed by university students. There was a mix of ages, but everyone was so friendly! They had both a clean kitchen and available dinner provided, and a big lounge/bar area for hanging out and meeting people. This little gray cat would wander inside and meow expectantly at us for food. Jes and I always ended up sharing stories with fellow travelers and having a laugh.

We have two weeks of travels left but we’re on the last country of our journey. Italia. We had a layover at the train station in Ventimiglia, or Vintemille (depending if you’re looking at it from France or Italy), and it also had Roman ruins just chilling on a mountain, like Eze.

Already we’re slightly relieved to be able to speak the language again. Although, nearly everyone we talk to answers us in English! But that makes our lives easier, I suppose.

Anyway, happy Fourth of July to my loves back home! Though I’m loving our trip and the delay of reality as a college graduate, I miss you all!

Love always,
Gabriele