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River Arno & Ponte Vecchio

On a pleasant afternoon, when I didn’t have any plans, I decided to go with my fellow SLC study abroaders, Natalie and Elsie, for a picnic. Our plan at first was to see some secret garden, have a few main character moments, take a few instagram worthy pictures, and call it a day, but because everything was closed due to it being Sunday, we decided instead to go to have lunch at the Piazza Vecchio, followed by us waltzing across the Ponte Vecchio on the River Arno. 

We got some food at the market on our way to the Piazza Vecchio where we had a quick picnic underneath the statues. The statues are your normal, run-of-the-mill statues of mythological figures, naked women, and lions, all of which I approve of. I ate my panini and pasta while constantly under siege by pigeons who had the audacity to fly directly at my head with so much fervor that I probably could have filed a harassment lawsuit. I felt like I was in a Hitchcock film. 

Then, onward to the bridge. The Ponte Vecchio, or the old bridge, is the oldest bridge in Florence because all of the other bridges were destroyed by the Germans during World War II. The Ponte Vecchio was specifically saved, supposedly, as a direct order from Hitler, due to its “cultural and historical significance.”

The way towards the River Arno

Now, it remains as one of the most popular tourist destinations in Florence, where people can buy expensive jewelry from street vendors and young assholes can scribble their names with sharpies. It was very important for me to know that “Dan was here” apparently. 

Defacing an ancient historical bridge aside, the bridge is a beautiful site. It offers a perfect view of the river and much of the city. 

From where I was on the bridge, the water looked warm and inviting and kayaking seemed like a good idea. Instead, I bought myself some new jewelry on the bridge, believing this to be the better option. It was.

We called it a day shortly thereafter. Surprisingly, a walk across a bridge and a quick snack was all it took to make a great day. I got some good food, a new ring, and a quick history lesson, all in one outing. 

Not bad for a singular Sunday afternoon.

The Tragic Queen,

Raquel

Il Duomo

“Gather ye rosebuds while you may,
old time is still a flying;
For this same flower that smiles today,
Tomorrow will be dying.”
–To The Virgins, To Make Much Of Time by Robert Herrick

I’m usually pretty immune to FOMO (my fear of missing out usually gets shut out by my desire to curl up in the fetal position and rot into the couch) but I let all of that Dead Poets Society, seize the day, Gather Ye Rosebuds, go-into-the-woods-to-live-deliberately stuff, infect me and I was beginning to feel like I haven’t done a very good job of gathering my rosebuds since coming to Italy, so I decided to wake up early one morning to rectify that. 

I’ve been outside the duomo almost everyday since coming here to the point where I was almost getting used to seeing it. It’s just a massive centuries old cathedral that has hundreds of tourists churning around it 24/7. How could a person not get used to that? I had, however, never once been inside it. 

The only way to see the duomo for free is to attend Sunday church service, during which time, you are not allowed to actually walk into the dome, but since every other instance requires a reservation and money, I chose not to go that route quite yet. So, gripped by FOMO, I pulled out my Sunday best and went to mass. 

I doubt Fomo has ever had this effect on anyone else, let me tell you. 

I hadn’t given any thought to what the inside of the cathedral would look like. Immaculate is the word that comes to mind, of course, but it also does not even begin to cover it. It is an all expanding cathedral with a fresco on the ceiling and whenever my mind would wander off, I would look up at the dome and suddenly notice something different in it. The skeleton was a pretty cool find when I finally noticed it. Yes, you read that right.

Tell me when you spot the skeleton

I went to church, hoping to test my Italian comprehension, only for most of the service to be in Latin. In hindsight, that should have been obvious. They played the hits: In Excelsis Deo, Dona Nobis Pacem, and Sanctus. I fit right in. 

Being raised Catholic, I knew how the church service was going to go. I might not have always known what was being said, but I always knew when to stand and kneel. Membership has its privileges. 

I sang all of the psalms. The lady next to me and I had a pretty good harmony going for a while there. 

The statue of Dante at the Piazza Di Santa Croce

I took a hit of eucharist, only for it not to be washed down with any wine, which is tragic when you consider how good the wine has been on this trip. COVID strikes again.

Me at the statue of Dante at the Pizza Di Santa Croce. Notice the raincoat?

After church, I wanted to see the statue of David. Il museo accademico, where the statue of David resides, is also free to the public on the first and third Sunday of every month. In a perfect world, the plan would be to go to the duomo for free and then walk down the street to see the statue of David, also for free. It’d be easy like Sunday morning. 

However, this does not account for the two hour long line that wraps around the building at any given moment. I stuck it out for about ten minutes before deciding that this was a rosebud to gather another day. 

Instead, I had a picnic by myself in La Piazza Di Santa Croce, while reading A Room With A View. 

Never fear.

All is well in the court of the tragic queen.

The Tragic Queen,

Raquel

When in Florence

My first couple of days in Florence were surreal and dreamy. My classes hadn’t started yet, I was meeting new people almost everyday, and everything was exciting and new. I was living the dream.

Me living the dream

The dream mostly consisted of good food and shopping, the things that most people usually travel to Europe for. Sometimes, the dream came in the form of drinking a cocktail while the others smoked cigarettes out on a balcony in full view of the duomo, having their main character moment. Other times, it’s me listening to Megan Thee Stallion and Britney Spears outside of the Duomo the way God intended. Most nights are more chill than not with me making plans for a hot date alone in my room with pizza, probably Netflix, and a bottle of rosé. Other nights are considerably less chill with me throwing back drinks and having to witness a drunk girl being face-down, ass-up on the floor, as she tries to twerk and shout “I prefer Nicki Minaj.”

I don’t think I need a copy of the communist manifesto in Italian, do you?

Either way, it’s an experience.

In the early days, I stumbled upon an open air market and pranced around the park, perusing their selection of used books, clothes, paintings, and jewelry. I bought, as I can be counted on to do, a small painting of a naked lady, some jewelry, and a new jacket. 

The painting of the naked lady

After having a bad day– although clearly it wasn’t that bad because for the life of me I can’t remember what was bad about it– I decided to do some retail therapy at a nearby vintage clothing store down the street from the duomo that contains nothing but high-end designer labels. It’s called mental stability: look it up. 

It was there that I found every European designer label you could fathom. I’m talking about Hermes, Yves Saint Laurent, and Chanel. The whole store was a shrine to Moschino and Miu Miu. I’d found my happy place. It was there that I picked out a vintage Moschino blazer and mauve Barbour International raincoat and went to go check out.

My credit card declined and a piece of my soul died. 

There is something so mortifying about having a card decline. You either look like a dumb bimbo who doesn’t know how much money is on her card or you can play it off like you’re confused too and something outside of your control has gone wrong. 

This was a moment to maintain my composure and have some dignity, so naturally I cried about it in front of everyone instead. The man assured me that everything would be okay and that he would save the clothes I’d picked out for me for the next few days while I got my card sorted. 

Natalie told me that she understood my reaction and we went to get dinner where I handled the situation by inhaling some creamy ravioli with a huge glass of merlot and splitting a chocolate souffle with Natalie. It’s called self-care. Look it up. 

How could this not solve all of my problems?

It was one of my first days in the country and the card was locked. My mother had gotten a fraud alert that she’d missed. I then had to call my credit card company that night and tried not to go full-tilt Karen. (“I HAD A VINTAGE MOSCHINO BLAZER IN MY HAND WHEN MY CARD DECLINED!”) 

I went back a few days later and redeemed myself. I am vindicated. 

I have since become a reliable customer. My new Moschino mini skirt will back me up on this.

Those were how I spent the first couple of days. Trust me, the plot only thickened from there.

The Tragic Queen,

Raquel

P.S.: Some Florentine photos:

American Abroad

Ciao!

I had to open the post with that, because I am now officially in Italy, trying to use words like that in an attempt to learn a second language. 

I’ve packed my best clothes and my favorite books. I did my duolingo, watched Italian tv with Italian subtitles, and listened to Italian language podcasts in an attempt to sprinkle some last minute language skills into my repertoire before showing up. Before I left, I asked for a small photo album that could fit in my bag for my birthday. That way I can bring pictures of my family and friends with me to Italy to look at whenever I get homesick. The photo album came as a pair, so now I will be using one for my loved ones and filling the other one up with images from my time in Italy when I get back. I have my favorite pictures of my parents and friends during my favorite moments with them, peppered in with glam shots of my precious, plump cat Calypso. 

My friend and fellow Sarah Lawrence student, Natalie, traveled with me from Atlanta to Rome and then from Rome to Florence. We’ve all seen the Instagram “models” strutting down beautiful European streets, not at all hot and sweaty, with perfectly coiffed hair and no fanny packs strapped to their waist. 

This was not that.

I remained grimy, and oddly sticky, for much of the duration of my plane and subsequent train ride, in need of a shower, long nap, hot tea, and steamrolling. After tripping over my two behemoth suitcases, not knowing how to operate any machine I came across, and struggling to string together a coherent Italian sentence except when apologizing to whoever was around me, I managed to get to my destination. Jet-lagged and hungry, I was therefore unaware of what day, and, possibly, what year it was at any given moment.

So, you see, my friend and I were not the poised, unbothered, clearly-made-of-money ladies that have graced all of our Instagram feeds, who are conspicuously never juggling multiple cross-body bags and effortlessly getting around the suddenly uncrowded streets of Europe. We were the flushed-faced tourists, hiding our fanny packs beneath our clothes, while rolling our suitcases down the street in comfortable walking shoes and stretchy pants that are good for airplanes. 

I am not complaining. This is all part of the adventure. 

After a character-building day, I went to bed in my host family’s apartment only to wake up the next day in the middle of the day. 

The view from the terrace of the place I’m staying at

Day #1: Lost

My host family asked me if I was dead. Surprisingly, at 3:35 in the afternoon, I was not. In order to actually do something with my day, after sleeping away most of it, I decided to set out to see the city. 

There were a few problems with this task. 

Whenever I leave the house, I always get lost. Whenever I get lost, I cry. Whenever I’m crying out on the street, people aggressively try not to make eye contact with me. I therefore strived to get a grip, but I have not yet mastered the art of taking a deep breath. That will surely come in handy one day.

After a charming day of getting lost in a beautiful city, I called it quits, ready to redeem myself the next day, which, I am pleased to report, I did. Natalie lives near Il Duomo and accidentally stumbled upon it during her time lost in the city, so we set out for Il Duomo in order to get our feet wet on our second full day in Florence. 

My first full day in Florence: My First Cup of Coffee

After eating a dinner of ravioli and red wine with a dreamy view of the duomo, I ordered myself an espresso shot over a tiramisu. Since I was in the land of cappuccino and espresso, I decided that my first real cup of coffee should be here. If I was ever going to fall in love with coffee, it was going to be here, save for perhaps Rwanda or Colombia. I also thought that drinking espresso over dessert is the mature, chic way to go. 

When in Rome.

Update: I am still a tea drinker. 

I still have too much of a sweet tooth for something that bitter, which is probably why I chased it with gelato while wandering around the piazza. It was there that we watched the sun go down around the Duomo, more than making up for yesterday’s disaster.

So that was the start of a beautiful time abroad in Italy. More information to come. 

I came here for a number of reasons. 

I wish I could say that I came here for the people that I would meet or so that I’ll be changed as a person, but we all know that I’m not like that. The main reason, which should be obvious, is that I just wanted to see Florence and other parts of the world, but mostly, I wanted to get out of my comfort zone. I knew even when I signed up for this program that there would come a moment where I’d be so frustrated, so hopeless, and so out of my depth that I would come to regret it, but I decided to come anyway because I knew that I would have to push through those feelings and feel better for it. 

Now, I’m here, actually doing it. I’ll let you know how that’s going. 

The Tragic Queen,

Raquel

Summer Sendoff

My family spent the end of summer once again at Amelia Island and I’m running out of new things to say about the beach that I love. Like everybody else, I think that the beach is my happy place (aside from those adults who think that DisneyLand is their happy place). Saying, “I love it, I love it, I love it,” isn’t exactly poetic, but sums up how I feel.  

There was perfect weather and drinks on the beach. I bought things that I don’t need and my brother put on a different movie every night. It was the perfect summer sendoff.

The best part of the trip was when, on the beach one night, we got to witness a nest of sea turtles hatch and make their way into the ocean. The sea turtles crawled out of their hut and scattered into the ocean one by one. We waited several minutes to watch as the final one struggled to get into the water after being pushed back by the waves each time. 

Same little dude, same.  

Apparently, the turtle that struggles the most to get into the ocean will be the strongest of them all, and there’s an inspirational something in that. He hung around so long that we almost had to name him. In the end, there was an unheard of 100% survival rate and I got to cross something off my bucket list that I didn’t even know was on it. 

I spent the rest of my time going through consignment stores, checking out a lavender shop, and perusing a tea store, because these are the things of no importance that you should do while on vacation. It was a quick week at the beach before each of us had to return to our lives– my parents back to work, my brother and his girlfriend back to their apartments and jobs, and me back to school. 

A great facial expression

I had spent much of my summer swimming, painting, trying to review any Italian, and listening to music poolside, not to mention my two internships. 

I can’t think of a more perfect end to the summer. Now, it is onward and upward to my next semester, taking place in Florence, Italy.

The Tragic Queen,

Raquel

A Birthday Fit For A Queen

“I am born. Whether I shall turn out to be the hero of my own life, or whether that station will be held by anybody else, these pages must show.”
-David Copperfield, Charles Dickens, chapter one, page one

21 years ago, I was given the gift of life. Everyday since then, I have been giving life the gift of me. I kid, but in all honesty, I believe that is how people should feel: that they have touched lives, made an impact, and, most importantly, that they belong exactly where they are. 

Me, the morning I turned 21

I wandered around the area that I was staying in, drinking cold champagne outside of the Flatiron building while reading my book. There I was on my 21st birthday, celebrating one of those rare birthdays in which you are actually happy to be older. 

Some people don’t take their birthdays very seriously. I am not one of those people. I am the main character on my birthday. A birthday is an excuse to celebrate yourself, so you might as well roll out the red carpet in an event that is less of a birthday party and more of a coronation.   

And my coronation was not going to happen without its cake. A big cheesy cake isn’t just for kids anymore. Everyone will be having one on their birthdays from now on, up until they reach the age in which Type 2 Diabetes is a plausible threat and even then it’s still on the table. I went to Magnolia’s Bakery and got a rich tasting, sweet-but-not-too-sweet chocolate cake with a customized message. I got a cake that says “God Save The Queen.” I then invited some friends over and I let them eat cake. 

Today the cake says: God Save The Queen.

When I turn 40, the cake will say:

40

Pass the botox. 

If it can fit on a snarky birthday card, I will likely put it on a birthday cake one day. 

The outfit I wore was in reference to the fact that I was their master of ceremonies. I also thought that it was going to fit me better, having never worn it before. So please, check out my crop top costume vest with my black sparkly pants. The plan was to walk to dinner with my friends and then eat cake back at my hotel, mainlining drinks all throughout, of course. 

My gorgeous friends!

I showed up, ridiculously dressed, and had a wonderful time with my gorgeous friends. Dinner was at a French restaurant called Lou Lou, known for its craft cocktails and named after the owner’s dog, both of which I wholeheartedly approve of.

My Firebird cocktail came in the form of a bird shaped cocktail glass and my food was some rich, creamy, prettily-presented food that I scraped from my plate. 

Then, back at the hotel bar, I had a Cosmo, as I can be counted on to do, and had my cake with my friends. 

It was a pretty laid back birthday party, not the raucous-causing birthday bash where the drinks keep coming and the people in the next room tell you to keep it down. Upon learning that cocktails are expensive and that hangovers hurt like hell, I decided to keep it lowkey. Sipping alcohol responsibly and then being tucked in bed only shortly after midnight, isn’t most people’s idea of a typical 21st birthday party, but makes for a very enjoyable evening.

He crashed my photoshoot

Between the extravagant cocktails, the French bistro, and my royal cake, my namesake, Marie Antoinette, would have been proud. A few of my friends could not make it (I love you anyways, Alyssa and Julia) but I had a fantastic time with Bella, Anahat, and Valentina. Three’s a crowd, so I guess you can say that I had a crowd of people to celebrate my birthday with me. 

Finally, we bring the curtain down on my only 21st birthday. Here’s to a sensitive, dramatic, sweethearted (wickedly funny, extremely cute) fun-loving girl, who fits all of the descriptions of her beloved Cancer zodiac sign, worships her standoffish cat, and can now drink legally in her home country.

Happy birthday to me and thank you to all of the people who made it truly special. 

The Tragic Queen,

Raquel

Day #5: Chelsea art galleries, and American Buffalos

My favorite political cartoon is of a couple in an art museum. The art on the wall is little more than a circle. One person turns to the other and says, “I could have painted that.” The other person responds with, “yeah, but you didn’t.” That’s what seeing these paintings in Chelsea reminded me of. 

Technically, I could have painted the colorful Rorschach-blobs lining the walls of the Highline Nine art gallery, but I didn’t. It was hard at times to see the appeal of the artwork in front of me. They were vibrant, resplendent colors that would nicely decorate the wall of an apartment, but didn’t resemble anything real and cost about as much as a down payment on a Tesla. 

Chelsea is known for its spectacular art galleries, so once my mother left me I decided that I would get my bearings and practice my navigational skills by skipping along from one art gallery after the other. Am I posh yet? I’m striving to be better with directions. When I was a child I got lost in my own house (and it was a one-story house with about seven rooms). 

Using my GPS, I managed to mostly find my way and ended up in a variety of fascinating art galleries, starting with the fascinatingly named High Line Nine. I chose these galleries off the internet based on how much I liked their name. That’s how the great ones do it. After none of the pieces spoke to me, I moved on to the C24. 

This art gallery had less to do with actual paintings and more to do with conceptual artwork where everywhere you looked there were videos being projected onto the walls.

The third one, The Gagosian Gallery, which I clearly wasn’t supposed to be in because they were in the process of renovating it and moving in new art pieces, was filled with even more avant garde pieces, much of which could have doubled as furniture. 

From there, I walked over to the Chelsea Highline once again, never imagining that I would love a hollowed-out railroad as much as I do, before calling it a day. I wanted to get back to my hotel, so that I could prepare for my evening at the theater (still posh). Valentina, like the fabulous friend she is, snagged us both tickets to see a Broadway show via the ticket lottery, and gave it to me as a birthday gift. In order to fulfill my unofficial New Year’s resolution of learning the subway system, so that my parents can sleep at night, I took the subway from Chelsea to Broadway to meet Valentina, and, not to brag, I didn’t get lost. 

The play was being performed in the Circle In The Square Theater, even though, and this is not to start a fight, the stage is more of a rectangle in an oval. The theater is known for kickstarting the careers of several famous actors, yet all of the actors in this play were already pretty well known. Ever heard of Laurence Fishbourne, Sam Rockwell, and Darren Criss? 

“American Buffalos” is a play about three men who are going to pull off a heist in order to improve their lives and realize the American Dream, but since it’s a play they only discuss doing a heist instead of actually doing it. It mostly asks questions about loyalty. The play was written by David Mamet, a playwright known for his witty, rapid-fire dialogue. Aaron Sorkin, eat your heart out.

So together, Valentina and I saw an Emmy-nominated play being performed by heavy hitters at an illustrious theater in New York City. Truly, it was an incredible birthday present.

As far as the play itself went, I absolutely loved it. It was witty, serious, and well-acted. All three of the actors did a phenomenal job with Sam Rockwell being one of the best things to happen to acting in a while, in my opinion. 

Valentina and I had a fun time seeing the show, an act we hope to repeat some day when I get back from Italy and am stateside again. I went to sleep that night thinking about my 21st birthday the next day.

Stay tuned for that.

The Tragic Queen,

Raquel

Day #4: The Met, Winslow Homer, American Fashion, and the Temple of Dendur

On day four of our trip, my mother and I took our regular pilgrimage to the Met, in particular to see the Temple of Dendur. A person could spend an entire day in the Met, so we did.

Not only was the Temple of Dendur still standing, but the Met had several new exhibits on display for just this occasion.

We first set out to check out the Met’s exhibition of “Winslow Homer: Crosscurrents,” a new Met exhibit that had been advertised across the city.

Winslow Homer was controversial in his time, which would have been during the Civil War, for depicting people of color in his works and for showing a woman’s bare legs in a painting on the beach. He’d been deeply influenced by the Civil War, which bled into his work, having personally followed the conflict from the North. 

His work took place throughout the Americas, living up to its name of “Crosscurrents” by containing an idyllic, yet dangerous sense of nature, through his depictions of sharks brushing up against ill-fated rafts in the middle of the ocean, choppy waves, storms brewing in the background, and doomed rescue missions across stormy seas. 

I’d never heard of him before, but fell in love with his works. Not only were these poignant, historically-relevant paintings, but they were beautiful and realistic, not chaotic and messy. Most of the artwork that I’d seen from that era featured extremely pale people sitting still with their hands neatly folded in their laps, staring blankly at the viewer, not these sensationalized images of people galavanting across beaches and trying not to drown. We stood in front of the paintings, admiring them until our feet hurt from standing.

From there, we saw the Met Gala’s exhibition. The Met was showcasing their: “In America: An Anthropology of Fashion,” as part of the Met Gala’s “American Style theme.” It feels like it was just yesterday that I was being disappointed by the outfits worn to the Met Gala… and then disappointed again a year later when they were just as bad, if not worse.

What would I have done for the Met Gala, you don’t ask?

For American Style I would have dressed as an homage to Zelda Fitzgerald. She was from the south, moved to New York, enjoyed writing, painting, and swimming, and supposedly either wrote or contributed whole chunks to “The Great Gatsby” (if that’s the case, then F. Scott can go choke). She is everything I have ever wanted to be, up until she burned alive when her mental institution caught on fire. Zelda was America’s first ever flapper girl, making her synonymous with American style and feminism with her skirt at her knees and page boy hair cut. 

For the Gilded Age, I simply would have worn a deeply-ironic gilded soot-gray dress, since Mark Twain coined the phrase “The Gilded Age” to convey the fact that era looked like it was shimmering and golden as a mask for the corruption beneath. Alright, so that’s enough about my Met fantasies. 

After we perused the entire Met and saw the two new exhibits, we closed down the Met in the Temple of Dendur. My mother and I sat in the Temple of Dendur writing our novels. It was as sweet as it sounds. It had always been my dream to live in New York City full time, writing my novels in Central Park, the New York Public Library, and at the Met’s Temple of Dendur, an ancient Egyptian temple that has since been turned into a chic part of the city for parties and, at least once, a Chanel fashion show. As the story goes, the Metropolitan Museum of Art was given the temple as a gift from the Egyptian government before it could be destroyed by the creation of the Aswan Dam. 

So, The Met excavated it brick by brick and the temple has called New York City its home ever since. We wrote until the Met turned out the lights. It was a very productive day and a beautiful one to share with my mother. This was her final day with me in New York before returning to our home. 

My next few days in New York would also be filled with art and perhaps a bit of novel writing. More on that soon.

The Tragic Queen,

Raquel

Day #3: Pride, MoMA, Central Park, & Strawberry Fields

For all of America’s faults, one of my favorite things about America is the fact that Pride month started here. Now, several countries around the world celebrate it. 

I was staying in New York at the end of Pride month and since I was in Chelsea, a part of town known for being a home to a LGBTQ+ community in this country, I was eager to witness my first ever Pride parade. The streets were packed, people were sitting on top of scaffolding or out of their windows watching the parade floats go by. You had to shuffle down the sidewalk, pressed against countless other sweaty bodies which feels like a personal, post-COVID hell unless you’re into that sort of thing. For the first time in my life I was able to witness the joy, the celebration, and the protest as it unfolded around me. 

My mother and I spent the morning weaving our way through hundreds of rainbow-clad people, then weaved our way through a bunch more people that afternoon in the MoMA. We spent the afternoon looking at paintings which meant more Klimt, Van Gogh, Matisse, and Picasso. 

There were so many new things to see, as well as all of the things that I’ve seen previously. I returned to the fifth floor to see Starry Night by Van Gogh again in very much a been-there-done-that fashion. As it turns out, I still love it. Starry Night is still a blissful painting of a cool blue sky with a dizzying pattern and deep golden stars. 

After the MoMA, we went to Central Park where we laid on our backs in the grass and admired a different blue sky. There was a lot to take in, as there is on any given day at Central Park. Dog walkers were curbing their dogs, or not curbing their dogs, as it were; young girls were taking an insufferable amount of pictures of themselves, but no judgment. 

Through the park, we headed to Strawberry fields, where there is always a guy with a guitar singing either a John Lennon or Beatles song, although, strangely, never “Strawberry Fields.” If you are lucky he actually knows how to sing. There also is always droves of tourists being marshaled onto the spot so that they can stand in the circle and take turns taking pictures. That’s how I was first introduced to Strawberry Fields: a kid in a tour group, wearing matching, crawl-into-a-hole-and-die-because-I-want-no-one-to-see-me-in-this uniform with the other students, while a guy with a lightsaber ushered us through the crowd. 

The experience had left an impression on me, so I’ve always wanted to come back to the spot, preferably when no one is swarming around it. This time there were masses of students visiting from another country, shuffling in for a photo in waves, while two guys sort of sang a Beatles Duet. It was just another day at Strawberry Fields, where nothing is real. Nearby, there were anti-mask and anti-vax protests with actual tables set up. Supposedly they hadn’t gotten the memo that, when at Strawberry Fields, there is nothing to get hung about. 

By the end of the day, I’d seen Strawberry Fields and Starry Night, two pop culture forces of nature. I’d seen several things that I’d seen many times before, MoMA, Central Park, and Strawberry Fields, and one thing that I’d never seen before, a massive, unbridled Pride Parade.

It’s all in a day’s work when on a trip to New York City.

The Tragic Queen,

Raquel

NYC Day #2: The Chelsea Market, The High Line, the Little Island, and John Mulaney at Madison Square Garden

“No man is an island entire of itself; every man 

is a piece of the continent, a part of the main”

–John Donne

“No man is an island,” John Donne boldly claimed. Funnily enough, I have heard it suggested that there was no way John Donne had ever been to the island of New York City when he said those words because everybody in New York City is an island, not caring about what the other little islands are doing. Writers need to remind themselves that they’re not islands, especially when they’re brooding over their own works and agonizing over a single sentence, and here I speak with some experience. 

Not being an island myself, I often get by with a little help from my friends and during my second day in New York City, I spent some time with my friend Julia, the first of many of my friends on this trip. 

Julia, one of my best and closest friends, unfortunately could not make it to my birthday party, but was able to hang out with me on one of the days leading up to it. She spent the afternoon with my mother and me at the Chelsea Market, showing us the indoor vendors and promising not to spoil John Mulaney, whom she’d seen the night before. 

The Chelsea Marketplace is an indoor market, perfectly situated in the meatpacking district, where you can buy and eat just about anything you want. We had a great time: me eating my Japanese and Mexican fusion tacos with mint, hibiscus tea, Julia eating something similar, and my mother eating jerk chicken, followed by creme brulee and donut holes. Julia let us talk about our family and social issues, while finding out what was going on in her life. 

Then, we hit the market. 

I tried on several rings and nearly bought too much pottery. Julia bought me a creme brulee as a birthday gift because I couldn’t decide on a ring to buy. I talked her through which pens and cups to buy, being that they are her addiction. I walked away with several new books. A person could spend a day going from market to market, getting inspired by what’s around every corner. 

After Julia left us, my mother and I ventured out on our own, walking aimlessly along the highline. The Chelsea Highline is a nice, peaceful bridge to walk across on a cool day, filled with street performers and people selling artwork, spanning across Chelsea.

Few people I know would go to the Chelsea Market without making a pitstop at the Highline, if for no better reason than to walk all of that off. We wandered onto the Little Island, being pipelined from the Highline onto a pier at the Hudson River. 

The Little Island is a patch of grass in the Hudson River, making it the island of New York City’s newest island, donated by a New York billionaire. An argument could be made that, for a moment, we were no longer part of the main. 

It was an incredible summer day in which the best of the city was out in full force. Everywhere you looked there were people rollerblading, couples buying soft-serve, and kids rolling down a hill. Then there were people nearly dying of heat stroke– oh wait, that was just me and my mom. It was a pleasant trip over an idyllic island, the type of thing that I picture when Jane Austen is describing how overwhelmingly beautiful Pemberly is. After experiencing and roasting on the Little Island we headed back to our hotel to reunite with my aunt and cousin and prepare for John Mulaney. 

When I’m with my Aunt Natasha and my cousin Olivia, we always pick up right where we left off. Most importantly, we’re always on the same page, so when we were on our way to see John Mulaney together, we stopped for some dinner and some drinks, talking about the things that we all care about: Roe V Wade getting overturned, the  New York City apartment search industrial complex, and the Running Up That Hill scene from Stranger Things

At Madison Square Garden we watched John Mulaney perform his newest special “From Scratch,” named for the fact that it covers his recent life-altering escapade of going to rehab and how he recently revamped his life, starting from scratch, like scorched earth. It was easily the funniest night of my life. My man John Mulaney can deliver a line like no other, to say nothing of turning tragedy into humor and laughing at himself. He had us eating out of the palm of his hand from the opening line. I’m so proud of that lanky, tall child with feminine hips, even though I’ve never met him. (If you’ve never seen his standup, I’m not sure how that sentence just sounded to you). 

The view from outside of Madison Square Garden. We were not allowed to use our phones inside since they locked them in bags

Julia was right: it was a hilarious routine and there’s nothing like being there in person. Not to spoil the ending too much, but he ended it by saying that through his journey he learned that you cannot rely on external forces for your happiness in life. Drugs, alcohol, even people, cannot be relied on for your own happiness. He now is in a better place, happier than ever, having gotten through it with a little help from his friends, because no man is an island, not even John Mulaney. 

The Tragic Queen,

Raquel