All posts by lncnguyen

Rooftop in Brooklyn

Image

Fast forward and you will hear it: the sound of a million passerby who flow through New York like tiny organisms inside mother earth’s womb. They breathe in the stuffy air of the yellow, orange, and number trains with a hint of weariness as they look at their watches. They see 59th Street, Lincoln Center, Harlem, Bedford, and Flushing with each second passes — then back home again, to point A, where they leave from every morning and come back to every night.

New Yorkers, they call themselves, the bunch that acts like there is nothing in the world that can scare them but their own shadows. New Yorkers, they all believe, are not just who they are, but also who they have become. Their dreams and their goals might be realized, but who they have morphed into is inexplicable to them.

New Yorkers would stare at their own reflections when the train passes through dark tunnels and ask themselves if it is time to move on — from New York, from her tight grip, from her off-putting charm. But like other New Yorkers and the classic New Yorkers, no one can move away from New York because she has a way of sucking you back in. And sometimes, she pulls you in so deep that you forget the reasons why you have come to her in the first place.

But you — like other New Yorkers — love New York. You love her consistent smell of untreated sewage on a hot summer day, of her burnt pretzels and Nuts-for-Nuts, of her black, tar rooftops. You love her consistent scream of Bachata, Merengue, Bollywood, Chinese folk songs, jazz, rap, hip hop, and dubstep. You love her consistent image of downtown Manhattan, of fire escapes, of crowded stadiums, of the greener-on-the-other-side Central Park. You love her irresistibly. You love her indifferently.

You love her because she has given you the key, but not the door.

Endless Manifesto

Endless Manifesto 

Size: 6X6 ft.

Material: Charcoal, acrylic paint.

“Ok, I said, it is time to evaluate the difference between the things we have and the things we want. I want that — it — you — maybe. I want go, stay, inconclusiveness, and confusion. I want to write endless manifestos that declare one thing, which inevitably leads to another. I want security and reassurance to cover some of that daddy issue. Ask me if I love you and let me ask you, 10 times a day, if you love me and miss me. I want you to be a tad bit dramatic about how much you need me in your life. That’s it…”

What I Will Miss About Florence

20+ things that I will miss about Florence, after 6 months of living here.

1. Having gelato at 10:45 P.M because the gelateria closes at 11 P.M.

2. Eating lampredotto (cow stomach) and trippa (tripe) sandwiches, yet still look sexy in the eyes of Italian men.

3. Having wine in the morning, noon, afternoon, and night with breakfast, lunch, and dinner. No AA meeting required.

4. Making gourmet dinners with friends, using .40 cent pasta, € 2.40 wine, .99 cent pasta sauce, .79 cent baguette from Conad, while chuckling at how Mario Batali we all have became.

5. Fully understood why “… when the sun hits your eyes like a big pizza pie, that’s amore.” 

6. Saying when in Rome, when in Rome.

7. Having a brioche or cornetto (croissant) with a cappuccino at 9 A.M in a bar because no Italian would do that after 10.

8. Buying 10 artichokes for €1 during the season at the market.

9. Kissing on both cheeks while saying Ciao, Buongiorno, or Buonasera because I look like a local doing it.

10. Riding my bike while talking on the phone and wearing heels on cobblestone streets. Without wearing a helmet.

11. Putting prosciutto, mozzarella, and tomatoes on a freshly-baked focaccia, while thinking that people outside of Italy have no idea what a real sandwich tastes like.

12. Using the Duomo as a landmark to get home from a night of dodging creepy men on the street.

13. Hiking up the Piazza di Michelangelo without sweating, while calling it Mike’s Piazza. Like a boss.

14. Always on a constant search for the best — gelato, panino, vino, pasta, pizza, ristorante, bar, cafe’, etc…

15. Using YOLO and Cinco de Mayo as reasons to make every unjustifiable action a justifiable one.

16. Wearing Converse and Toms to the club, because — really — no one cares.

17. Starting a sentence with Allora because saying “OK” is so back in the States.

18. Having a constant fear of going back to America, because the food and wine can’t be half as good.

19. Making risotto at home because it is so easy, why would you order it at a restaurant?

20. Walking by the real gypsies while singing “I’m a gypsy…” by Shakira.

21. Buying plane tickets from Ryan Air because €7 can get you a one-way ticket to Ibiza, Paris, Barcelona, etc… and €40 can get you back to Pisa, Bologna, and other places outside of where you actually live.

22. “I’m staying in Florence this weekend because the train station is having yet another strike.”

23. “Oh, you still HAVEN’T SEEN the real David yet? He is HUGE!”

24. Having a picnic at a 16th-century garden because it is a lazy day.

25. Giving nicknames to Renaissance artists like Michel and Leo.

26. Giving up on the idea of working out because my weight will shed when I get back home.

27. Looking at the sunset over the Arno while contemplating La bella vita.

God Bless the Little Crayola

I was reading The New York Times yesterday, and I accidentally stumbled upon an article on children drawing the news. Out of a Facebook habit, I started to read the top comments from the readers, and one in particular stood out to me. From Manhattan, New York, Perley J. Thibodeau wrote, “God bless their little crayolas.”

And really, God bless the little Crayola, because we all have tried to launch back into our childhood — searched through it — to figure out who we are today. We look back at the scratchy lines outside of the border. We dive into the pool of Jazzberry Jam, Purple Mountain’s Majesty, and Unmellow Yellow. We ransack whatever we have left inside ourselves, so we can put the pieces together and hold on to our past, present, and future.

So this is a homage to the little Crayolas that have helped us express ourselves, in ways that words could not encompass. This is a “Thank You For Everything You Have Done” note card to — Paper, Charcoal, Markers, Color Pencils, Crayons, Walls, and Sidewalks — for giving us a fortress to come back to, in time of adulthood.

One Comma

While working on my painting for a contest under the theme of “Beyond Graffiti,” I found these lines going over and over in my head. Words and colors. Words and colors. Words and colors.

One Comma

Words – I said to him in 2 lines, one comma, and one period

Words have no meaning,

Words have no meaning.

Until the moment that he looked at me

Hands on his left hip, head tilted 20 degrees to the right

Legs slightly protruding half inward and half outward

He said to me,

In his international accent of inability to care,

You talk like your mother

 

So I keep on going through life

Using those exact 2 lines, one comma, and one period

To tell him, and the likes of him

That I,

In my hoarse, rollercoaster voice

That I got colors tattooed across my body with my signature under it

Deep, blinding yellow for 35 degrees Celsius under the Equatorial sun

Fields of never-ending greens and orange of poverty, napalm, separation, and lineal unification

Red for the bodies that are buried by the World Bank’s debts and US’s “provoked” intervention

But I had blue, for hope.

And he told me again,

That I sound like my mother

So I looked at him and whispered,

At least, I still have a motherland. 

To the Him of Yesterday

We had been walking together for the past fifteen minutes without speaking to each other. Sentences were left broken with excuses like you won’t understand and no explanation needed.  He looked at me once in a while when my cough distracted him from his own thoughts. His silence suppressed my ability to breathe, as he tried hard to make everything seemed normal.

There was nothing left to say between us. Our story is a mixture of an useless Romeo and Juliet plot, and an anti-climatic ending to “A Walk to Remember.” I wanted to apologize to him for how things had turned out, yet every bone in my body refused to give my jaw the energy to do so. From the way he looked at me, I knew that he understood what had happened. It was the natural push-and-pull theory; he tried to make the relationship work while I found reasons to run away from his protectiveness. He wanted me to be there indefinitely, while I wanted to stay temporarily without a contract.

We had talked for hours before on the possibility of spending our lives together. I have nodded and cooed back to every I love you. I had let my future plans go in his presence. For a year and a half, I wanted to make him the reason for living  — but failed to do so with every trip I took abroad.

Being there with him that day, after a thousand things had gone wrong, was my apology to him in the slightest effort. It was the unspoken and underrated sorry of how I had wasted his time with my disappearance and my selfish talks.

I am writing this now, and will again in the future, in hope that he might stumble upon this tiny letter of confession. I want to contain in this my faults, so by chance, he would understand that nothing was wrong with him… for I did love him in ways that should be flashed with warning signs of construction ahead. It is also a letter of hope — for forgiveness and for a future, in which he will someone new to spend countless hours with.

Italy Project: They Made Men Differently in Movies

I live 2 minutes away from the Leather Market of Florence — a place notorious for its genuine leather goods, fake Pradas, and an intense air of testosterone floating overhead. Walking through these cobblestone streets as a woman is a feat worth mentioning, even for a New Yorker who is used to the whistling of Jackson Heights, the pst… of Upper Manhattan, and the what’s-up-ma of Atlantic Avenue.

When I was younger, I dreamt of moving to Italy to live la dolce vita. My dream home would be on the Amalfi Coast; my dream husband would have olive skin and a voice that would sweep monotony off her feet. I dreamt of traveling through the countryside on a Vespa, while stopping at irregular intervals for a picnic. Break the bread and uncork the wine, I was ready to trade the Empire State of Mind for That’s Amore.

Now that I am here, I wonder if this is the same dream that I was searching for. Could the unrealistic portrayal by the media, the cultural differences between the East and the West, the economic and political downfall in Italy be accounted for the sadness that I feel when I hear Tarantula songs being played from the loud speaker?

Walking down the streets of Florence now ignites a dreadful feeling inside my stomach. How many steps will I need to take before I hear the unmistakable intonation of “Cinese!” from the mouth of an Italian, Armenian, or Romanian man on the street? Can I count to ten before hearing “Ko-ni-chi-wa” or “Ni-hao” being hurled my way? Will they eventually realize that I am a different type of Asian? How many more steps can I take before a man jumps in front of me, winks at me, grabs me by the arm, spits on me, asks me on a date, undresses me with his eyes, puts his hand on my thigh, or smears his vulgar English phrases on me to get my attention?

How much further do I have to go until their voices stop to linger and their smirks stop to show?

Putting my biases aside, I know that these experiences do not mirror the Italian culture or its people, for racial slurs, chauvinism, and sexual harassment are common throughout the world. Many Italian women have repeatedly told me that “real Italian men are not like this. They must have been Armenians or Romanians.” Yet these experiences have undoubtedly changed my understanding of Italy. Now, I plan to read more on Italian border control, Italian race/gender relations, Italian employment rate, and Italian politics to have a better understanding of where I am and who I am standing up against.

If this is Amore, can I still have my Empire State back?

Italy Project: Every Road Leads to Rome

I saw a small part of Rome in 4 days and 3 nights.

With a pair of heels and 53 hours of constant walking, I saw Rome through the eyes of a devotee making her first pilgrimage to the land of ruins, art, and history. Rome was so much like Florence, and nothing like it. Rome has its own air of fierezza — its own boldness and pride — that goes beyond the “forza Roma” of football chants and Vespa.

The city is frozen in time with the juxtaposition of Gucci shops and crowded buses, among the countless tourists who snap 100 pictures per minute to document Rome in her glory. Colosseum, check. The Vatican, check. The Trevi Fountain, check. The Pantheon, check. What do you really see in Rome, uncheck.

The usual touristic sites are regurgitated in every travel guide, and all of them worth visiting. My Bed & Breakfast was 10 minutes away from the Vatican, so I was lucky enough to see the almost-empty St. Peter’s Square at sunrise, and the Basilica without waiting in line.

Give yourself at least half a day at the Vatican Museum to fully enjoy the progression of art since Antiquity, and the Sistine Chapel.

When your watch strikes 12:30AM, start making your way to the more-tranquil Trevi Fountain, where magic goes beyond coin throwing and wishes.

If your shoes are made for walking, find your way towards the Spanish Steps and take a deep breath while you are at the top. Here is where you can see the streets of Rome running far into the horizon.

The next morning, when the sun has settled down, find yourself feeling overwhelmed with the Colosseum and the Roman ruins.

Then have your lunch at the Campo dei Fiori market, or pack it to-go for your picnic at Isola Tiberina.

After your picnic, navigate your way towards the Pantheon and look up at the sky through the ocular to feel like you, too, are part of history.

Before leaving Rome, you should wait in line for the delicious, freshly baked pastries and huge slices of pizza from Dolce Maniera on Via Barletta, 27. It is a 5-minute walk from the Vatican.

Say bye to Rome in the afternoon and catch train back to Florence to experience the romantic sunset over the Tuscan land.

Now cross your fingers and hope that your wish at the Trevi Fountain comes true, because 4 days and 3 nights in Rome are not enough.

Italy Project: Venice Itinerary

3 days and 2 nights in Venice can’t be enough.

February 10 – 12, 2012. 

There is a well-known romanticism about Venice in the summer — the gondola rides, dinners on the Grand Canal, and the sunsets over the Rialto Bridge. Yet, Venice at 3 °C below 0 has an air of tranquillity and magnetism that the hot weather can’t be compared to.

I went to Venice during the second weekend of Carnevale, hoping to catch the masquerade and the countless nobilities in their costumes. On a 17 euro train ticket, I took the 4:30AM train from Florence and got to Venice at 9:10AM. “It’s freezing outside,” the man with a Russian fur hat said. Bracing myself for the cold, I stepped off the train with excitement running through every vein in my body. “Venice,” I whispered it under my tongue as I put on my gloves and headed for the Grand Canal.

My first time seeing Venice was in her white snow coat, with small blocks of ice over the Grand Canal. I took the Vaporetto (Ferry) to an apartment that I have rented for the weekend, before I started my weekend of getting lost around Venice.

Venice, 11:30AM on 2/10/2012

*Get a Museum Pass for 20 euro for 11 museums.

Visit the Piazza San Marco and you will see the flowing fountain of wine, the Correr Museum, the Doge’s Palace, the National Archeological Museum, the Grand Chambers of the Marciana National Library, and the St. Marco’s Basilica. Stand in line, if necessary, to see the golden mosaic dome inside St. Marco’s church.

Walk to the Grand Canal

-End the night with a hot chocolate and/or a Vin Brule (spiced hot wine) at Caffe’ dei Frari in San Polo 2564 

Venice, 9:00AM on 2/11/2012

-Visit the Rialto open market for fresh vegetable, meat, and seafood 

-Check out the Peggy Guggenheim. The museum was, at one point, Peggy’s actual home.

-Ride the #1 ferry for a tour of the Grand Canal

-Visit Ca’ Rezzonico off the S. Toma’s ferry stop for an amazing collection of Renaissance paintings. Go to the top floor and look out the windows for a beautiful view of Venice.

Go to Piazza San Marco to watch the masquerade and people dancing in masks

Venice, 10:52AM on 2/11/2012

-Train departure from Venice to Florence.

*Due to the excessive snow all over Europe that weekend, my friends and I had to leave Venice early in the morning since many trains were cancelled. On our way from Bologna to Prato, our train was hit by falling rocks inside a tunnel. Many windows were cracked and one shattered. We had to wait for 2 hours and a half before the train was fit to move again. An Italian guy in his mid-twenties scoffed and said to me, “It’s an Italian problem. We are not just pasta and wine, are we?”

Ciao Venice, until we meet again.

Nutella & Oishi

I was introduced to Nutella as a kid when I lived in Ha Noi, Viet Nam. It was a commodity then, in the late 1990′s, when Vietnam opened up its market to foreign investments and products. I remember walking through the supermarket aisles — with my mouth wide open — wishing that I could try every foreign product on the shelves. With my mother’s inability to say no to her children when it came to food, I got my hands on Pringles chips and pretzel sticks before they were sold at corner deli’s. Without tasting them all, I made up my mind that nothing could come close to Nutella!

Sometimes, my mother would spread this smooth substance onto a Vietnamese baguette for an occasional breakfast, lunch or dinner. When she wasn’t at home, though, I would take a spoonful of Nutella and slowly savor it until the time called for another one. Its sweet chocolate with skim milk and its addictiveness had solidified my Coke-bottle body shape well into my teenage years.

Being in Italy now, I have surprisingly eaten Nutella only twice: once over a hot, freshly made waffle and another with my roommates over out-of-the-fridge whole grains bread. Both experiences were undoubtedly amazing, yet my childhood addiction is reduced to a fragment of what it used to be. Being so far away from home now, my taste buds yearn for the semi-salty taste of cá kho tộ, the sweet broth of phở with medium-rare meat, and the crunch of rau muống xào tỏi with rice.

Last night, walking home from the art studio, I stumbled upon an Asian market with udon noodles and Oishi shrimp chips, among dried seaweed and cous cous. Tasting Oishi for the first time since I left New York was at once refreshing, after four weeks of everything italiano. With an indescribable excitement, I made myself a bowl of udon soup with mushrooms, cauliflower, and carrots, using my roommate’s chopsticks from Taiwan. For a brief moment, this was home away from home.

Sixteen

I asked her what she wanted to be eight years from now

Breathing, she said

She, a girl of sixteen years old,

Recently moved to the city in search of a better life

A life that doesn’t force her to look at her feet

More than she looks at the sky

A life that doesn’t make her feel ashamed of carrying her own name

So she moved, to the city, at the age of sixteen

To find something better than what she was given

I met her not too long ago while I walked by the market near my house

We were buying pineapples from the same stall

I asked her if it was possible for me to paint her

She laughed

Walking away as if I have insulted her

For she turned around and said she has stopped doing things for free

So I can label her if I want

With words that society has taught me to call her

I looked at her and blinked,

Sixteen-year-old girl, all I wanted was possibly a photograph of her

Straight view, no side angle

I will pay for it, not much, but I will pay for it

After a long silence, she asked if I work for the government

If I’m just walking around picking on girls like her

Because they have no mechanism to fight back

She – a girl of sixteen – has long lost the desire to look into the mirror

Fix herself to make her own mind feels better

She – a girl of sixteen – told me, she has done it all

Leaving the country side to finally look up and look elsewhere

Just to get to a city where she, oh of course can look up,

But from positions she wishes she doesn’t see with her own eyes

She – a girl of sixteen – told me, she is used to it

People making demands on her knowing she has to say yes

The only way for her to live is yes

But she – a beautiful girl of sixteen – for the first time in a long while

Is too shocked to hear someone asking to look at her

To see her

To paint her

And to do no harm to her

She, a beautiful girl of sixteen asked me again if breathing was the right answer

Malbec

251 days of silence. He said it was the end of his speaking to me after what has happened between us. A few drinks under the fluorescent lights and here we are – unable to even look at each other – let alone speak to one another.

He understood what I meant every time I talked about his ex-lovers and his mother, but this time, he refused to understand. He called me on the phone at 5:16PM on Thursday, asking me if I was free because he needed to talk it out. I checked my clock on the bottom right of my PC at work and said, Yes, would 6:30 be good?

So we met, one hour and fourteen minutes later, at our same favorite restaurant on 9th Street and 3rd Ave. He was already there when I walked in with his sport jacket leaning on the side of his chair. He smiled his usual smile – a mixture of contentment and tiredness. He, of course, being the man he is, stood up and pulled out my chair for me while asking me how my day was. I tried to keep it brief with the “Oh everything is just OK,” because I know that night was his night to rant, to quietly scream to me what he was feeling. So we ordered a bottle of Punto Final 2009, our favorite Malbec, and a few appetizers and one main dish.

He didn’t say much until two glasses of wine later. Half a bottle, gone. $35, gone. He spoke. I cut in. He cut back in, stating it was his time now. So I pulled back, then cut in again. His face grew red. My face grew redder. I told him it was the same old problem that goes with the same old solution. Time and space. He asked me if I could listen for once. I asked him the same, looking into his eyes with the expression of a five-year-old – wondering why her candy was taken away from her. I apologized. 2 weeks later. Over voice mails, e-mails, and text messages. He didn’t answer. Still hasn’t answered. One huge fight and 251 days later, all I wanted to tell him was that I would never turn into his mother.

Next to Her

Next to Her 

Materials: Acrylic paint, charcoal, broomstick

First non-objective painting, aiming at the objectification of women.

Good Morning, Florence

I woke up this morning at 6:50AM feeling like I could finally call this place home. A spacious apartment with three bedrooms and a kitchen furnished by everything IKEA on Via Conti had slowly made itself a greater part of my life. The blue tea set, the orange earth tone walls, the two-level coffee maker, the Chianti wine bottle and dried pasta on the kitchen counter are now home. The analog television set from the 1980′s, the yellow canvas flowers, the Florentine windows and the fragile dinning chairs are also now home.

Moving to Florence from the snowy winters of New York, I had underestimated the draft of Italy. With a hot cup of tea in my hand, I slowly opened the window on this brutally cold January morning. The wind seeped through my hair and ran its fingers down the side of my neck, into the small openings of my sweater and undershirt. I shivered and chuckled at the thought that the winter should be the official cuddling season of Florence. One should embrace and kiss another for the sake of warmth.

The church bells from the Duomo started to sing its lullaby as the clock struck 7:00AM. Seven times, I had expected it to go off. Seven times for 7 hours into a new day. Seven times for the thousands of songs that were written about Florence, its beauty and its art. Seven times for all of the keys and love stories thrown into the Ponte Vecchio. Seven times for the repetitions of “I miss you” at the airport and over Skype. Seven times for the remainder of a brand new life. Seven times — long enough for me to whisper your name, and for you to whisper mine.

Se fossi

Se fossi fuoco, ti scalderei il tuo cuore quando fa freddo fuori

Se fossi vento, userei la mia forza per alzarti

Se fossi acqua, soddisferei la tua sete quando cammini per la Sahara

Se fossi Dio, inciderei il tuo nome sul tutto che creo con i miei mani

Se fossi papa, rimuoverei i tuoi peccati

ma ancora ti amerei senza pensare ai tuoi errori

Se fossi imperatore, ti darei la mia corona e mia autorità

Se fossi morte, non vorrei mai visitarti

Se fossi vita, vorrei abituarmi all’interno della tua mente

Se fossi Chi, come sono e fui

ti tengo lontano da me perchè ho paura di che puoi fare

e perchè io sono io

ti amerei in modo freddo, ma non è vero

e perchè io sono io

non potrei essere onesta del mio sentimento per te.

Inspired by Cecco Angiolieri

Postcard Series


             

          

Dear _________,

Materials: Black & white films and 50+ hours in the darkroom

First postcard series developed from black and white negatives, then printed into postcards. The actual postcards have stamps and writing in the back.