Pisa. I’m smiling all the way through the half hour train ride from Lucca to Pisa. It’s early afternoon, on Monday. The grounds of the nunnery were covered in a thin layer of glistening white frost this morning. The sky is a clear blue from dawn till dusk. We went for a beautiful morning walk with S’s aunt through the romantic narrow roads winding their way downhill from the nunnery, framed by tall stone walls covered in moss and ivy, past beautiful peach-coloured mansions and olive groves. We talked a little, smiled a lot. When we came back home, the other nuns had prepared a scrumptious warm lunch, which we all ate when we talked about Italy, the world, food… I’m itching to ask each of the nuns about their lives and decisions and daily work and thoughts about christianity, but I’m afraid of coming across as too interrogative, so I just smile broadly at their, primarily Italian, cheerful comments and jokes, enquire a bit about the beautiful convent building and reply politely to their questions about Denmark (is it close to England?) and myself (what do you see in S?). In the company of these sweet, wise, lovely women is probably when I should worry least about the line between showing interest and curiosity versus appearing ignorant and blunt – I shouldn’t worry about myself at all; just ask away. I know. Maybe next time we visit. They are very eager for us to come back in the spring, if not this year, then next year. We’re also very welcome to get married here, they add, haha. After lunch, the mother superior drives us to the station, where we board the baking-hot train to Pisa. And I start smiling with childish excitement at the prospect of seeing, for the first time in my life, the famously slanting bell tower of the cathedral in this quaint ancient city whispering so loudly, among the signs of decay and poverty, of old times’ splendour. Walking from the station, we stop at a coffee shop for a double espresso, which we drink while standing at the bar, and after locating the tower and dancing around it a few dusin times, we take a seat at a wine bar facing it, clinking our red wine glasses for the cheesiest of tourist photos. We keep staring at it, marvelling at its stunning ornamental details, relieved in the way you are when your expectations are met and exceeded (it is truly impressive). I write a few postcards and send them off. And then we take the train back to Lucca, where S’s aunt is waiting for us at the station. Another evening in the company of the nuns, eating another one of their lovely local meals, drinking a small glass of their own wine, talking a little bit and beaming a lot at each other.
Venice. Exchanging one warm hug with each of the nuns after another, we prepare to leave the convent on Tuesday morning. As we’re flying to Singapore from Venice late on Wednesday afternoon, we figured we might as well spend the last two days of our holiday in the beautiful city of marble palaces built on a lagoon. We get off at Santa Lucia train station, facing the Grand Canal, and board a water bus to take us to Rialto Bridge, close by our Airbnb. The first photo I take in this fairytale-like city, where you’ll get a stunning shot no matter the light, the angle, in which direction you point your camera or with which level of photographic expertise you possess, captures Lorenzo Quinn’s iconic sculpture from the Venice Art Biennale 2017, Support, with hands reaching out of the canal water to support the beautiful almost delicate-looking structure. Whether looking at it makes you think of the political statement behind it or not, it’s impressive, almost eerie…. the artist himself says, ‘I wanted to sculpt what is considered the hardest and most technically challenging part of the human body. the hand holds so much power – the power to love, to hate, to create, to destroy.’ Little did I know that our stop was shortly after the piece, and that the windows in our bedroom look straight down at the same motif, haha. It’s a great flat – prime canal-side location, beautiful terrazzo floors, clean, spacious… If we lived here, we’d probably get rid of the heavy (if romantic) wooden furniture, dark curtains and knickknack harking back to the 1980s-90s, but apart from that it’s a hit. Besides, we only spend about 6 hours in the flat. We have two short days to explore the city, and we’re very lucky with the weather. Both days are sunny, while the first looks like a spring day and the second is covered in a thick blanket of glittery, soft snow. We’ve both only been here once before – S was around Christmas in ’03, while I was here on a summer vacation in the late ’90s. Funnily, it’s more beautiful than we remember – it rarely goes that way with memories, does it? Haha. We spend both days just wandering around, stopping to soak in the impressions around us – narrow cobblestone alleyways, pastel-coloured terracotta-roofed mansions and Gothic marble palazzos, the cute ondulating bridges and elegant boats, the clean-looking green water chuckling in the canals, well-dressed people, the absence of traffic – and drop into cosy little neighbourhood wine bars, cafes, boutiques and galleries for pasta, pasta, pasta, pizza, pizza, pizza, multiple cappuccinos, even more espressos, several glasses of wine, souvenir browsing, inspiration… We take a water bus to the Murano island (in the 13th century, all Venetian glass makers were forced to move here because their work entailed a high risk of fire), and walking among the cute doll houses with their displays of glass art, we open a bottle of wine that we bought for 2 Euros in a small charming wine shop, and clink our plastic cups against the sunset light dancing in the water. Around 10pm on Tuesday, headed towards Timon all’Antica Mola for some seafood snacks, we stop in front of a tiny gallery, the owner of which, a Brazilian-Japanese guy, is standing in the street, rolling down the metal blinds for the day. The kind man senses our curiosity and invites us into his small shop, which also seems to function as atelier and office. An architect by trade, he’s the artist behind several meticulous Venice street depictions stacked on the floor, while the more abstract oil paintings dotting the walls are his wife’s. On sunny days, the reflection of the waves in the canal flickers through the window to play on the walls, he explains. A wonderful source of light and inspiration for the couple – as well as for their children; the rougher illustrations of animals and fantasy creatures printed on postcards and books around the room were created by his 10-year-old daughter and 6-year-old son. We leave the gallery with two of his own drawings, both illustrating the street we’re in. On Wednesday, we spend a few morning hours checking out the magnificent Peggy Guggenheim Collection, which is just so impressive … the villa right on the canal … where the inspiring woman used to live and entertain… the stunning pieces by Picasso, Pollock, Dalí and other masters … the pink marble floors! Best aspect of the trip, nonetheless: my company. I feel very lucky. To get to experience all of this with my best friend.
Italy. S has been to Italy once before; in his early twenties, just before moving from America to Hong Kong, travelling from Rome to Tuscany to Venice. His fondest memory is the quality of the cappuccinos he had here; now, he realises that there’s a difference between coming from America in the early 00’s and returning with the solid knowledge of the coffee scene in Hong Kong, Singapore, Melbourne and Sydney that he has acquired since then. We like the coffee we’re drinking these days – but we’re not blown away by it. As for me, my memories of Italy are restricted to the Dolomites, a school trip to Rome in the 9th grade (I went to a catholic school; the highlight of the trip (besides a particularly delicious thin-crusted cheese-free tuna pizza, the pair of red velvet trousers from Miss 60 that I bought and the wine that my sweet classroom teacher took me out for when I was dying from homesickness) was when we met the pope – and sang our school song to him!), at which time the culture and architecture of the city made a big – positive! – impression on me and a lovely beach holiday by the Adriatic Sea when I was even younger – that’s when we went to Venice. In Lucca, S’s aunt told us of the decay that the country is facing – how ugly and trashy the streets of Rome have become. To us, with our relatively limited experience, and on this brief trip through Tuscany and Venice, Italy seems lovely. Maybe we’ll come back some time, in spring, in summer, in autumn, to gain a more extensive insight; maybe we won’t – there are so many places to go and get to know.
Next time, we’ll go to Slovenia’s Piran.
Travel. Leaving for Singapore on Wednesday, I feel a bit torn. On one hand, it’s horrible to leave Europe – even in Italy, we’re so relatively close to my sweet family and friends in Denmark. These past few days in Tuscany and Venice have worked as a nice transition – rather than going straight back to Asia after skiing, I’m glad we chose to spend a few days in this idyllic European cocoon. If it weren’t for S, I’m not sure I’d wanna go back to Singapore; it would seem more logical to follow my family back up north. However, truth be told, I feel incredibly excited to be travelling (anywhere) – with him. I miss my parents and brother deeply, especially after having spent a whole lovely week with them, but really I am just grateful for having such a lovely family, for how lovely it is to spend time with them, for having the opportunity to do so, relatively often, and, finally, for living the live I do – S and I do. As soon as we’re back in Tiong Bahru, on Thursday, I remember why I love living here. We unpack, drink a cup of tea together in our new couch, work, go out for a midnight foot massage in our lovely neighbourhood, go to sleep knowing that we will wake up to wonderful new adventures together.
Waking up at sunrise on Friday, I stare out into the gloriously golden and pink light beyond the balcony with this succession of thoughts in my head: it’s so romantic and beautiful here in Italy; we have a long journey ahead; I’m sad to go and so, so glad that S is right here with me; psjjj, hmm, zzzz; we are in Singapore; I feel good, physically and mentally. With whereabouts and state of wellbeing thus established, bit by bit, I stretch, get out of bed and follow S into the living room for some Yoga with Adriene. Glad that, because I didn’t sleep on the plane, I was able to sleep all through the night; I feel energised now. After the light, gentle 24-minute class, we go out to feel a bit of the morning community buzz around Tiong Bahru – smiling at the locals queuing for brekkie at the corner coffee shops, buying mangos at the market, picking up fresh coffee and juice at the bakery, walking back home to eat, drink and read morning papers and kiss each other good day. At 8:50am, I cycle to the office for an intense work day, only interrupted by an express barre class around lunch time and a chat with two of my closest friends, one of whom is based in Stockholm and the other in Sydney, near the end of the afternoon, and then cycle to Bugis at 6:30pm to meet S for dinner at our favourite Thai place, Jai Thai, in Purvis Street, followed by a meander around the area, getting cocktails at Bar Stories. In case we miss the Mediterranean, there’s a giant burning rosemary twig in my gin-based drink; S is sipping on a mescal sour. Apart from those few hours last week when I was skiing and he wasn’t, we’ve been glued to each other at all times for the past two weeks. Perched over laptops and surrounded by colleagues at our respective offices, we both started missing each other a lot today. Which is probably healthy, haha. Either way; it was pretty sweet to meet up for a Friday night date.
On Saturday, we wake up at 11:30am… haha! I guess I do get hit by jetlag sometimes, even if I like to think I’m always unaffected by it. Suppressing the slightly panicky feeling of having missed half a day, I try to focus on how much I must have needed that sleep and how fresh and well-rested I feel while putting on my running shoes for one of my favourite weekend morning rituals: going for a run along the river; ending up at the buzzing Tiong Bahru Bakery to buy a soy flat white and two Great Detox juices from the smiling French woman behind the counter; heading back home and handing one of the juices to S, who downs it while making us a cup of chai (my coffee having disappeared on the short walk up to the flat), while I make us a bowl of overnight oat/chia pudding and fresh mango from the market; breakfasting on our jungle-like balcony with a splendid view of the sunny, lush street, a pile of magazines between us, good music sounding from the livingroom… Ahh. I spend most of the afternoon and night translating articles for Danish Rock Paper Dresses into English, loving the many layers of that task (being seated at our sturdy wooden dining table and sensing S milling around in the flat around me (he brings me snacks as well – a home-made turmeric latte; medjool dates; half a mangosteen) as well as the sounds, smells and light in the streets below me; the many choices I have to make, on all levels of the text, in terms of which strategies to apply to best translate/transfer/recreate/assimilate Cathrine’s tone of voice; spending time in her universe, reflecting on her reflections, her humour, her wit and passions, which I’m trying to convey to an international audience), while helping S doing a tonne of laundry, and then I also have a long, lovely Skype date with my grandmother, who is glowing with happiness at the sight of me, haha, which is quite contagious and wonderful to see, chatting about Italy, family, snow, health, habits, life, age, ageing, gender roles – the latter spurred by me mentioning that S is doing laundry and trimming/watering our plants today, haha. In the evening, we head out for a walk in the cosy little alleyways of Tiong Bahru, buy goodies at Wild Barley, return home for a glass of wine and some fresh salad, after which S curls up on the couch with his iPad and I return to translating.
Sunday starts with a soothing 8am hatha yoga class at Yoga Inc, after which we walk to Chinatown and Fort Canning Park and back along the river for some exotic, tropical vibes, haha. On the way back, S shows me around the UE Square, where there’s such a phenomenon as an (Ikea-outfitted) Infant and Toddler Atelier (!), a really pretty clothing store, Colony Clothing, the automatic laundromat where he used to drop off and pick up his laundry before we met and, finally, a great coffee shop, Dutch Colony Coffee Company, where we stop for one of the best, strongest, smoothest, most aromatic cups of coffee we’ve ever had in Singapore. Tonight, a friend is coming to stay for a few days, and until then, while S is getting a 90 minutes massage in Chinatown, I’ll be sitting in my spot in the corner of the dining room, my attention circling around this platform. And I will go for a run along the river when this torrential afternoon downpour dries up. Then cook wild Alaskan salmon with S and two glasses of red wine when he comes home. Another glass when our friend arrives. Then pop up to PS to pick up our key, which the sweet cafe manager used when watering our plants while we were travelling, as well as a wine crate to place in our staircase with a potted plant and our unit number. A nice little late Sunday evening project 🙂
Here are some photos from this morning in Fort Canning Park, the natural ice sculptures formed last night on the beach in front of my parents house in Juelsminde, Denmark, our Friday cocktails at Bar Stories and the Monkey God Temple on the last day of celebrating Chinese New Year (Friday).