Saturday, June 25, 2011


I’ve been in Florence, Italy for over a month now. Let me tell you this has been a trip to remember and it’s not even half over. I have to be careful not to treat this entry as a travel blog, but how can I not? This, in fact, is part of my evolution as an artist, so bear with me if you see some pictures of myself in the city where it all began… again.

First things first though, I have to remind myself that this adventure did not start well, in fact, it was a complete nightmare getting here and finding a place. I boarded my plane to Madrid on a Saturday afternoon, around 6 PM and if things had gone well I should’ve arrived on the next day at midnight. Guess what? Things did not go according to plan! Big Surprise!!! Everything was OK in Madrid and I did get to my flight to Rome with time to spare, but of course the flight got delayed and not only that, but it couldn’t land and stayed on the air for probably one hour more. For people who know me, by now they could guess I was close to have a nervous breakdown. I thought to myself “Could somebody please show me the gas tank of this damn plane?” I don’t like planes and having already been in a 10-hour flight was way too much for me to handle. Still, I somehow managed, but of course I missed my non-refundable ticket and last flight of the day to Florence. So by then, I was tired and utterly alone with my thoughts of desperation at the Fumicino airport in Rome. It wasn’t a good experience! I couldn’t understand a word and even worse I couldn’t speak nothing either! Damn you PIMSLEUR method for making me think I was ready to speak Italian.

I brought some cash with me, but nobody could break my bills, so it was like having paper on my wallet rather than Euros. Because it couldn’t happen any other way, I left my passport with all the cash at a cash exchange counter. Luckily two minutes later I realized I didn’t have it on me and panicked. Went back to that counter running, and out of breath I could see an honest guy telling the clerk somebody has left that on the counter. I could only say a million times “grazie” to that man. So I tried to calm down in order to think straight but that airport is not like any airport in the United States. It’s like you don’t have where to sit and it didn’t look kind of safe at almost midnight. There was a train that I could get on in order to get to Florence at 3 AM; so one of those unofficial taxi driver told me he could get me there in 30 minutes, and the train was scheduled to leave in 30 minutes, very convenient huh! There I was running like crazy to get to the taxi, but the driver was running faster with my 50 kg bag!!! By that time I was just trying to get to the driver to recover my bag! We got there and he told me it was going to be 70 Euros! Screw that! I was not going to fell victim to that crime. So I went back and decided to board a train from the airport to the train station in Rome to board a 6 AM train to Florence that arrived at 8 AM on Monday (Keep in mind that my classes started at 9 AM).

I was thinking of waiting at the train station until 6 AM. WRONG!!!! At midnight that place looked like a dark alley with criminals around every corner. Luckily, I was in contact via Blackberry with a very important person to me, who practically convinced me to stay in a hotel for the night (Thank you a thousand times for doing that). At first I didn’t want to but then I understood that my life, or my belongings, could be in danger. So I went with a guy who was passing by promoting his “hotel”. He took me to a place near the station that did not look like a hotel at all, didn’t even have a sign, so I turned away but the guy didn’t want to let me go. So I just walked away waiting for the knife at the back! Finally, I went to the EXTASIS hotel and I gladly paid for staying there for four hours. I showered and tried to get some sleep, which I could not of course. I went to the train station at 5:30 AM, and to keep this story relatively short, there I was running again with my luggage because who the hell can understand the train system in Europe (later on I guess I got the hang of it, but still sometimes it’s just luck). I arrived to Florence at 8 AM and took a cab to a friend’s apartment (who has been really helpful in this journey) to at least leave the luggage there until I finished my classes for that day. After that, everything worked perfectly well… uh… NOT A CHANCE my friend!!!! ;) I was supposed to have an apartment by my arrival to Florence, but somehow the place was no longer available. I could not stay at my friend’s house and also I didn’t want to bother her, so I decided to stay for a couple of days at a place that my friend told me about. It was practically a convent; with those friar cells I’ve seen so much in Florence. It wasn’t very comfortable either. By that time I could only watch the clip I had in my mind of getting to this beautiful city and be mesmerized by its architecture, but no, what I was experiencing was not it. I couldn’t sleep there either and after 2 and a half days without sleeping I finally got my nervous breakdown and considered to go back to my beautiful New York City.

I felt like I made a mistake by coming here and I was willing to buy my ticket back the next day. Luckily my mother convinced me (and basically paid for it) to stay at a hotel until I’d find a suitable place for 3 months. I cannot thank her enough for doing that because I may have not done so by myself. I finally slept and everything was good, at least for a while, because at the second day I hadn’t yet found an apartment and was going out of my mind. At the end of the class, on a Wednesday, finally I got an appointment with a realtor. It was a beautiful loft, totally cozy with just two disadvantages, no air conditioning and the bedroom was in the upper floor connected by a spiral staircase to the first floor where the bathroom is (it is really inconvenient), but what the hell, it’s not like I had any more choices so I TOOK IT!

Believe me when I tell you that the next day Florence was beautiful again and the birds welcomed me with a lovely song, the bells from the churches were happy to have me, and the statues all seemed to have been smiling at that point ☺ What can I tell you, good things don’t come easy! Oh, and I almost forgot to tell you that my loft is next to “La Casa di Dante” (Dante Alighieri’s house) so everyday at home I hear “La Casa di Dante” in all possible pronunciations, dialects and languages. Like I said, it has a few disadvantages, but for Europe, and specially Florence, it is a perfect apartment and now I love it. I guess I extended way too much the part of getting to Florence, but you should understand what I went through in order to appreciate what is yet to come. Getting here was an experience all by itself that I’m not looking to repeat any time soon, but now that I’m here I can tell you it was worth it.

Staircase from hell

So let me tell you a little bit about my classes. In order to get my degree in 3 years and not in 4 I had to take two more art history classes. Remember that I got some humanities credits transferred from my previous bachelor, so I needed to get these requirements in order to shave off one year. What better place to take art history than here in Florence, where the Renaissance took place. For people who are not familiar with art history (don’t feel bad, before I decided to study I had just some vague idea) the Renaissance is an important period for art and for civilization as well because it was the rebirth of the classical art (Greek and Roman) that had been forgotten or put aside for centuries. It was also the time that Neo-Platonism was at its utmost height and culture and literacy was increasing at an amazing rate. So, Leonardo, Raphael, Michelangelo, Donatello (if you are thinking of the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles I may as well put a bullet in my head right now, then again, I think it is inevitable to think of them), Brunelleschi, Ghiberti, Alberti, Lippi, Fran Angelico, Botticelli, etc. are the main artists of this period and I could spend hundreds of entries talking about them. But art history is for me to learn so I won’t bore you with this stuff (Although is really interesting). What I really need to tell you is how priceless is to study these artists and their masterpieces, and after the lectures just go with the class to actually see them in person. So I just finished one of my art history classes, Early Renaissance, for my first summer, and an intermediate Italian course. I think I did fine but I have to wait a couple of weeks for my grades. Which brings me to my next topic, my itinerary.

You must understand that I need order in my life, so it wasn’t hard for me to create a schedule for my days. I wake up at 7:30 AM, make breakfast, shower, go to Art History class at 9 to 11:30 AM, go home (7 minutes from class), take a 20 min. nap, do my Italian homework, eat a Panini (sandwich) or cook something (out of necessity for survival, I’m not particularly fond of cooking), go to my Intermediate Italian class from 1:15 to 3:45 PM, take a 30 min. nap, draw by myself at home for two hours (maybe from 5 to 7 PM) following “The Structure of Man” DVD Tutorials to create a human figure from your mind, go out for dinner or cook something, take a shower, do rehab for my Achilles tendonitis injury for 1 hour, watch TV (downloaded episodes from my laptop) or read a book for 1 hour and then go to sleep. Next day, repeat! It sounds very anal but that’s me. Fridays I don’t have any classes so I decided to make them “Culture Fridays” and go to museums to draw or simply to learn. Saturday and Sunday I’m OFF! As you can see my schedule is very busy, and not laid back at all. Still, it feels more relax than my actual classes at SVA.


I’ve just heard right this instant “La Casa di Dante”. I SWEAR!!!!!!!

Also, for my art history class I had to make a paper and a presentation of the “David” from Michelangelo. Because I could not take any pictures in the Galleria dell’ Accademia where the original David is located, I’m uploading a picture of a replica situated at Piazza della Signoria in front of Palazzo Vecchio (I sound very sophisticated, Am I not?). Still, I assume and hope everyone knows who the “David” is. Because I’m an overachiever I decided to go to the museum and draw it from life. You have no idea how good it feels when some tourists come to you and tell you how amazing your artwork is, how much talent you have, and how you’re going to go places in the future!!!! It’s a confidence boost. Someone even took a picture of me drawing ☺ I’m not necessarily that good, but they are not art critics, they’re tourists who happened to admire the process and liked the final result. At the end my art is for anyone who enjoys it! I don’t have to get use to those compliments though, because at art school you just get critiqued, which is a good thing to better yourself, of course. This is my second time in Florence, my first time was in 2000 and when I was here I drew the David also. Therefore, I’m posting a comparison between them in order to see if I’ve gotten better. I have much to learn but even I can see the improvement, but you’d be the judge of that. Also, it seems that the right hand is way off, but I read somewhere that the statue’s right hand is in fact out of proportion, so I’ll stick to that in order to keep my artistic ego intact ;)



I had a few guests in Florence so I didn’t feel lonely this month. The only problem is the fact that I got used to being with people I knew, and haven’t made any new friends. At the end they had to return to Ecuador and now I do feel a bit lonely. Thanks God for the Blackberry messenger and for my high speed Internet at home. The time difference is a bitch but still I can manage to speak regularly with the people I love. Like I said before, good things don’t come easy! (Please remind me whose song was that! It is definitely an eighties song).


So now it comes to the list of undeniable truths:

- People have loved action figures since the dawn of time. (Say what you want about my Superman statue, but I see heroes or gods everywhere in the streets of Florence).
- Italian supermarkets don’t know or can’t control their inventory, so things run out.
- Cars and bikes here are far more dangerous than in New York.
- When it rains hard it probably means NO INTERNET, NO LIGHTS.
- NO air conditioning!!!
- NO dryer machine!
- One cinema theatre (Odeon) with one movie (may be American) for each day. Forget about multiplexes.
- They close stores to go to lunch! If you’d just arrived the second they’re closing, they tell you to come back in two hours.
- NO customer service! And if you complain about anything they will probably yell at you.
- You don’t really know for sure when they’re pissed off at you or when they’re just messing around.
- NO Milky Ways (I had a hard time with this so now I eat Magnum Ice creams daily!)
- This city is 40% students, 50% tourists and 10% Italians (not an actual study, just my humble observation which could be mistaken of course)
- Art is in the air.
- Italian language, even for people who speak Spanish, is not as easy to speak and is even worse to understand an actual Italian.
- The city is so beautiful that all of the negative aspects I’ve rant about above seem as little inconveniences.
- Also food is simply amazing!

This really is a lovely and amazing city, and I’m absorbing everything it has to offer me, but if you ask me, there is nothing like American comfort, so if I have to live somewhere I’d rather live in America ;) Still, I cannot regret this great opportunity and from time to time I realize how old this city is and how good is preserved. Simply gorgeous!

And if things don’t go according to plan, well, there is always plan Y and plan Z.

And there was Pisa also,

Finally, two more pictures not related to Italy but definitely connected to my artistic formation. One is the painting I did for a friend of mine, but it is nice to actually see it hanging on the wall, it makes me feel… I don’t know, official. The other one is an original art that I bought from Derek Riggs, the famous artist that illustrated all Iron Maiden covers! This has a huge value for me because when I was fourteen I drew the same character (with my blue BIC pen) and it was fairly good for a fourteen year old artist. Full circle! Thanks Derek and Kim for this great opportunity.


With nothing else to add, and from far far away, I hope you are doing what you love because God knows that I do! ☺


José Luis