Dear Ezra: Wall Street Was No Match for a Liberal Arts Degree

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This Homegrown Youth Movement is Occupying Italy

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Velvet Revolution: inside the arts protests at Rome’s Teatro Valle

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Why I Loved Irene

I stood this morning at sunrise with my feet in the ocean at Chatham’s Lighthouse Beach. The water was unusually tepid for New England. A breeze like a pleasantly damp blanket blew as I scanned the empty beach where my footprints were the only ones to be seen besides Nature’s.  My toes were happy in the lukewarm water and I realized this was the only time I’d ever felt Cape Cod’s stretch of the Atlantic Ocean warmer than the sand. Traces of yesterday’s storm were everywhere: felled garbage cans and branches in the parking lot at the top of the dunes, bits of shells and debris evenly scattered about the beach, and the magnificently defined ripples of sand where the sea had repeatedly beat upon the shore during Irene’s tempest. A seagull plucked a stranded snail out from his tiny sandbar prison while another cracked open a confused crab. The sun rose.

The much-anticipated Hurricane Irene made a devastating, but thankfully less-tragic impact than those who experienced Katrina in 2005 had feared. North Carolina, New Jersey and Vermont were some of the states shown on the national news reports last night before we lost power on Christopher Harding Lane. This morning I read that, sadly, 21 Americans lost their lives, but as a spokesman for the Massachusetts Emergency Management Agency put it, “It could have been a lot worse.” In my neck of the woods, the biggest tragedy was the destruction of a beautiful old tree, whose amputated limb blocked the back route to the beach. This left me free to revisit my childhood for a moment and enjoy the adventure of a storm.

There’s nothing like the weather to make you realize how powerless you really are on this planet. Taking my grandmother’s dog for a walk after midnight last night with my parents, I looked up to see the bright stars I’d missed living in the city these past four years. Feathers of glowing clouds swirling by overhead were the first visible signs that the storm had not yet passed. The wind hummed a haunting Om and the trees rattled their leaves as we made our way to the path leading to Oyster Pond. An eerie feeling of mortality crept over me as we stepped over a fallen branch and I thought about my parents. The night was warm from the escaped tropical winds and the dog was afraid. I stepped into the clearing where the bench our Cape Cod neighbor built had been knocked over and my flashlight glinted off the water that had snuck up to stop just feet away from mine. A loaded oyster trap had washed to the path’s mouth, but the booty was still too small to eat. I saw a star that had died millions of years ago and inhaled my hair before my father called for me to come back. For an instant, it was just me and the Universe.

The fun in a storm begins with the anticipation. For days my family was glued to The Weather Channel. I teased them about how nothing could have possibly changed in the last five minutes while I quietly sweated the nagging recollection that I had forgotten to move my convertible inside the garage back home in Amherst.                                                          “Any less than a category three and we’re staying put,” my father declared.                           “This will give us a chance to get cozy and watch movies,” my mother beamed.                     “I’m going to do a lot of catch-up work, finish writing a couple of songs, do five Italian lessons, pack and write an article,” I announced.                                                                       “You’re going to go shopping,” my grandmother quipped.                                   Instead, we all piled into my family’s SUV and headed out to confront the storm at the Armageddon point, the shore.

We drove down Main Street, which had been converted to a ghost town overnight, surveying shop windows boarded up with sheets of plywood and a record number of available parking spots. When we arrived at Lighthouse Beach, we found the diaspora and anchored into the last slot on a long stretch of cars and patrol vehicles that had gathered to witness Nature’s dance. Twenty-five cents bought us two minutes to share on the observation binoculars and I saw rows of rogue seals flopping on the North Beach sandbar, avoiding the rough surf. Not a dorsal fin in sight as I scanned the white-capped horizon before venturing down the wooden stairs to be whipped and battered by the lashing sand. The sky flashed brilliant and then rainy, changing by the minute and the wind left the whole town looking like Cousin Itt. I met two boys my age with a professional camera and asked if they were out on assignment.                                                          “We’re out on adventures,” the redhead replied.

In this age of Facebook, I felt like I shared the storm with my friends all along the Eastern coast of the United States. One of my favorite posts about the tempest read, “Even Irene’s afraid to come to Harlem!” But the best part was knowing that everyone I loved was all right. As these things go, people will probably continue to talk about the storm for a few days. Several exceptional news stories will break about damages and flooding. And then, people will forget all about Irene and enjoy their Labor Day barbeques. But what I won’t forget are those moments of collective excitement and a break from the mundane. Seeing Mother Nature’s exhibition drawn on the sand as I enjoy the clean swept sky and sunshine this afternoon. And the chance I got to feel small.

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Crossing an Artist in Ostuni

“Do you know that I found her? She was there waiting for me. To give me a sign,” artist Crocifisso “Croci” Sisinni tells me as he points to a small stone angel mounted in his shop. It looks like a putto, just a winged head, peering out from the wall over Croci’s life’s work. His bottega, as he had earlier corrected me when I had erroneously labeled it a negozio (a bottega is a creative workshop whereas a negozio is a retailer of non-original items), is small, built into a cave-like space underneath an old church in Ostuni.

“We were digging out a niche for a bathroom when one of the workers yelled to me. I came over to see what all the fuss was about and there she was, trapped in the stone, right there!” Croci talks with his hands and smiles with his whole face. When he looks at you, he really looks at you, as only an artist who learns with his eyes can.  “She wouldn’t budge for anyone, but I was able to get her out. It was that day I knew I had followed the right path.”

Croci’s path is made of white limestone, Ostuni’s signature mineral that’s the base of the paint the famed White City uses to keep its buildings brilliant for travelers in southern Puglia. Using dental instruments and other delicate utensils, Croci carves intricate scenes of his hometown by hand onto select slabs of the bright white stone. He then meticulously fills in the vignettes with jet-black acrylic (the only paint stone absorbs), a simple but striking pairing that does justice to the quaint scenes rendering provincial life in rustic Italy.

When he’s not carving and painting, Croci is choosing the perfect hunk of limestone to file down to a smooth canvas or surveying the streets for new inspiration. Croci knows Ostuni down to the last window pane, and represents it so precisely that one could use his artwork as an episodic map. His sense of every nook and cranny in the Greek-style hill town is so complete, that he was able to give me flawless directions to the next attraction by pointing from piece to piece, like exquisite road signs on his grotto walls.

Signs play a large part in the artist’s life and he’s happy to share his experience with visitors to the Bottega d’Arte di Croci Sisinni. The angel is one of many omens that he believes have been sent to guide him through his life. He was once dropped-in on by a couple named Cesare and Judita, who have since become good friends.

“I’m Crocifisso (“Crucifix” in Italian) and they were Cesare (Caesar Augustus) and Judita (Judas). They completed the triptych!” Croci laughed. Usually, Italian nicknames are taken from the end of a name, e.g. “Giuseppe” becomes “Peppe” for short. He, on the other hand, goes by “Croci” because he wanted to maintain his association with the cross. His home and workshop are providentially wedged underneath a church on the Via Cattedrale.

Perhaps the biggest sign in the artist’s life came in the form of a crisis. Croci used to paint scenes on multiple surfaces, but felt disjointed and wanted to narrow his artistic focus. Then, one night, his shop was robbed of every last work and Croci was forced to start again. He had recently taken to painting on stone and interpreted the robbery as providing him with a clean slate. He hasn’t looked back since.

When I asked him if he was afraid of losing everything again, he smiled and shook his head. “You know, my daughter once asked me the same thing when she saw a group of Asian tourists taking pictures of my art. She said, ‘Daddy, aren’t you afraid they will steal your idea?’ I told her, ‘They can steal what’s here,’” he said, waving his hand across the surface of one of his stones, “‘But they can never replicate what’s in here.’”

As he stood there with his hand over his heart, I was struck as having stumbled upon the patron saint of Ostuni. A guide for the traveler who searches for a deeper understanding of a place through the eyes of one who that place has inspired. I was glad to have crossed his path.

Bottega d’Arte di Croci Sisinni ~ Via Cattedrale 5-7, 72017 Ostuni (Br), Italy

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2000s: The Lost Decade of Fashion

The other night, over negroni sbagliati (traditional Milanese cocktails) with fashion photographer Michele De Andreis in Rome’s gritty artist quarter of Pigneto, our conversation drifted from stylist friend, Manos Samartzis’s upcoming magazine launch. I began lamenting the early 2000s – a decade that, in my opinion, passed without a coherent fashion movement – and coveting the coming of a radical trend to define my generation.

Michele is from a different vintage of fashion. A generation whose coming of age occurred in the ‘80s and ‘90s, when models like Cheryl Tiegs, Naomi Campbell and Linda Evangelista held court in crop tops and penny loafers. His early career captured racy models wearing bold fashions that epitomized the excitement of a style movement. Nowadays, he says, like their contemporary fashions, the models who are the current faces of the industry lack originality.

“They cut her to be a reincarnation of Jeny Howorth,” he said, referring to British model, Agyness Deyn, who he and Manos had recently gone shopping with. “The agencies pump out models like an assembly line, to fit with this look or clone that icon.”

This furthered my case. If even our models are imitations of fashion eras-past, how can we hope to find any novelty in the industry today? Where is my generation’s conviction in the clothes we wear to represent ourselves? If the subject seems to broach superficial, think about what anthropologists will say down the road. Will our clothing say anything about the way we lived and what we lived for?

In the past, changing times spurred a collective mentality that manifested in the fashions people wore. In the midst of material shortages, an awakened sense of modernity and liberation drove designers of the ‘20s to get creative with jersey knits and shorter hemlines as the world was engulfed in its first great war. Ingenuity and industrialism thrived in the ‘30s and ‘40s and saw the birth of man-made fibers and bold shapes. A counter-culture based on peace, love and a new sort of spirituality brought out the rainbow palate and free flowing forms of ponchos and Indian scarves during the hippie era, while new music and drugs propelled the desire to explore physicality in the form-fitting spandex of the next decades.

Whether war, industry or social change, fashion has always had a focal point in society from which to stem, a common social catalyst to drive creativity and personal expression. But if we are to believe that fashion needs a unifying constituent, shouldn’t we have found one in the great age of technology and globalization that defined the early 2000s?

Michele and others have suggested that perhaps it’s just too early for us to understand the fashion of our time, but I’m pretty sure the ‘80s knew what the ‘80s were all about when it was happening. Today, I could be at a party wearing a Clueless-style pleated skirt and knee socks, standing next to a guy with a Beatles haircut chatting up a girl in spandex and a yellow mesh tank. And we would all fit in.

As I reflect on my personal style over the years, I notice that, as my mother always scolds, there is no decisiveness behind it. Under the heading, “Demographics and Social Trends” of a 2010 Pew Research Center report on The Millennials, the analysis states that while my generation displays an openness to social change, we are not remarkably different from our predecessors. Indeed, as a member of Generation Next, I have at times felt guilty of resting on the laurels of the Baby Boomers and the generations that came before, in politics as well as in vogue.

In middle school, it was bellbottom jeans and blouses followed by hot pants and spaghetti straps. Next came a throwback to preppy Lacoste polos in high school. In college, first the ‘50s then the ‘80s were back with a vengeance, and in the end we all decided we were Mick Jagger or Sid Vicious. Post-collegiate in New York City, I was enamored of seamed stockings and belle cloche caps, before realizing I was actually a ‘70s roller vixen after I had moved to Rome.

Today, fashion bloggers and the Internet have not only made throwback trends more accessible, and accordingly, more replicable across the globe, but have propelled a sort of fashion-globalization that has exposed the styles worn by different cultures. But does this accessibility eliminate the need to be creative and authentic in our own trends and the motivations behind them? I no longer need to belong to a culture or a movement of an era to wear clothes that project that group’s mentality. If I want to model myself after Coco Chanel, all I have to do is type her name into Google Images and I’ve got my look-book.

Or is it that the very catalyst I’m searching for is, in fact, the Internet and the rapid advancements in technology that have come to define Generation Next? With the accelerated globalization brought on by the age of computers and international investing, could it be that our style is a response to a world becoming too small and too progressive too fast? Are we grasping at the past and the trends of old to slow ourselves down and bring us to a sort of equilibrium here and now?

At this point, I don’t know the answer, but perhaps ten years down the road, we’ll look back at the early 2000s and recognize a trend known as “world computer collage” or “vintage modernity.” Or maybe we’ll just make an unusually large Christmas donation to the Salvation Army of items that evoke someone else’s nostalgia in place of our own.

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Psychedelic Amazing Magical Mystery Love Fest

A review on Barcelona music festival, Primavera Sound 2011, featuring the artists Animal Collective, Caribou, Das Racist, Ducktails, The Flaming Lips, Gang Gang Dance, Girl Talk, Las Robertas, PJ Harvey, Pulp, tUnE YaRdS and Swans

By, Tess Amodeo-Vickery

Aside from the protestors flooding Barcelona’s Plaça Catalunya demanding social and civic change, this year’s Primavera Sound Festival lacked any political message but managed to hang on to the hippie vibe.

Over two hundred bands were present for the San Miguel-sponsored event that flooded the city’s Parc del Fòrum and Poble Espanyol with herds of Brits abroad and other festival scenesters for five days of international music. Though they were great in number, in variety Primavera’s bands and crowd lacked diversity.

At Parc del Fòrum, music poured from ten stages sponsored by labels like Ray-Ban, Adidas, Jägermeister, Smint, Pitchfork and San Miguel, the headline sponsors for the event. Built over the ex-prison site from the Franco regime, Camp de la Bóta, the hangar-esque atmosphere coupled with tiered construction made the Parc del Fòrum a suitable, if not paradoxical – prisoners were lined up and shot here until 1952 – host for a multi-staged festival with concurrent acts. Turning a blind eye to the death squad connotation, the main complaints about the venue from concertgoers were regarding the lines, where ticketholders queued for hours to enter, eat, drink, buy festival merchandise or use the facilities – note that Primavera Sound is not for the faint of bladder. On Wednesday and Sunday, the festival shifted gears to Poble Espanyol, an outdoor architectural museum built for the 1929 Barcelona International Exhibition, where idyllic stone buildings created a more intimate setting for groups like Caribou and Las Robertas.

Such hype surrounds Barcelona’s premier music festival that American DJ favorite, Girl Talk, flew in Thursday night to play a forty-five minute set at 5:00 AM on Friday before catching the morning’s first transatlantic flight back to the U.S. His show was fresh with new beats mixed over his selection of tunes that never fails to keep a party hopping. Girl Talk picks the songs we all know and love and layers them over tracks you couldn’t imagine working together, yet somehow manages to make them sound better than the originals.

Other notable acts were Gang Gang Dance, tUnE YaRdS – led by the mighty female lead Merrill Garbus, who left her audience in awe – and Ducktails, which guitarist Matthew Mondanile told me is named after the cartoon (spelled “DuckTales”). Having lived outside of New York City for the past two years, my irony-dar is a bit rusty, so I’m not sure whether or not he was joking. But, come to think of it, where else would you get a name like “Ducktails” from?

Speaking of joking (or not joking, just joking, we are joking, just joking, we’re not joking), New York’s favorite boys of controversy, Das Racist, graced Primavera with their prominent presence twice on Thursday night. Their evening show at the Ray-Ban Unplugged tent created buzz after a controversial interview and a short set saw the crew with spanking new Ray-Ban shades to top off their looks. Bringing much-needed diversity to the festival with both their music and their persons, Das Racist was by far the most stylish group to put on a show and for sure the most energetic act to rev up the crowd at the Pitchfork stage.

On Saturday night, Swans hit the Ray-Ban main stage and grooved to a psychedelic vibe that conjured Woodstock 1969. The group gathered en masse in the middle of the stage around two drum sets and churned hypnotic beats while long hair and black flags waved to their improvised rhythms. Crooning from the San Miguel Stage, PJ Harvey played her part in the free love fest dressed in a white feather headdress and a flowing frock to match. Singing on the side of her band, rather than playing front-and-center woman, Harvey was the ethereal focal point that didn’t steal the limelight, though fans missed her Queen Bitch vibe.

The Baltimore-borne band Animal Collective, comprised of David Portner (vocals, guitar, samples, keys, percussion), Noah Lennox (vocals, percussion, samples, guitar), Josh Dibb (synthesizer, guitar, vocals) and Brian Weitz (electronics, samples, vocals), followed suit with their horror-movie-soundtrack-meets-psychedelic-sound-music set that was much-anticipated by festivalgoers. The crowd pulsed to their progressive drones with eyes fixed on Geologist’s (Weitz) signature glowing headlamp. It was certainly a show to be enjoyed from the front, rather than the large green patches on the Forum’s slope or the VIP field, where complimentary San Miguel cerveza flowed until well after six in the morning.

The highlight of Primavera Sound was undeniably the Friday night reunion concert of Britain’s beloved ramparts of rock ’n’ roll, Pulp. Playing together again for the first time in ten years were Jarvis Cocker (vocals, guitar), Russell Senior (violin, guitar), Candida Doyle (keyboards), Mark Webber (guitar), Steve Mackey (bass) and Nick Banks (drums), who put their hearts and souls into a performance that turned the harbor into a human drum kit as fans jumped in sync and pumped their fists to the songs many had enjoyed since childhood. Better showmen than the disappointing Flaming Lips, who played the exact same concert I saw at Brown University in May 2007, Pulp filled the Parc del Fòrum with a vibrancy that was lacking across the massive venue’s multiple stages, much like they did at their farewell concert at Poble Espanyol back in 2002.

My main disappointment in Primavera Sound was the lack of connection one felt to the music and the event as a whole. With so many places to be at once and such a confusing schedule, it seemed that only the diehard fans were able to make it to more than five acts per night. For the rest of us, it was a colloquium for hipsters and indie musicians, a sea of beer, drugs and onesies in which we may have drowned had it not been for the day-glow nail polish and wristbands lighting the way back to the metro.

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