Monthly Archives: July 2010

Venetian Masks

What lured me into Venice was the masks. I expected the ornate gondolas and charming bridges, but not the scores of masks hanging in shops and dangling from peddlers’ carts. I was unaware of their significance at first, but it was clear from viewing a couple of store windows they were important to Venice’s identity.

I glanced at as many of the masks as possible, taking in their colors, eyeless expressions and designs. Just past Venice’s famous (and packed) Rialto bridge, the masks in one window display stopped me. This was the work of artists, work on a different plane than the glitter-smeared, mass produced guises targeting tourists. The colors were deeper and more macabre than any I had seen. The expressions were understated yet beautifully haunting, and they articulated more than any of the histrionic tchotchke masks.

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The shop was La Bottega dei Mascareri, owned by brothers Sergio and Massimo Boldrin, who also happen to be the craftsmen behind a fair number of the masks appearing at the wanton ball Tom Cruise attends in Eyes Wide Shut.

While the Boldrin brothers’ shop has been open since 1984, the Venetian mask tradition dates back centuries. The baroque masks are associated with Venice’s Carnevale, but wearers also have appropriated the anonymity masks allow to let loose on other occasions (Eyes Wide Shut is a prime example).

The masks in La Bottega dei Mascareri range in size, style and price, including full face — the bauta — to the Colombina eye masks. Some are intended for decoration, while others come complete with ribbons to tie on the disguise. I couldn’t resist the intrigue and beauty of the masks, which are made in a small workshop right in the back of the store, so I picked up a Colombina for 13 Euros.

Most mask stores, including La Bottega dei Mascareri, prohibit photos, but I was lucky to get special permission to snap some from the one employee in the store at the time (who doubles as a mask maker and salesperson). Also, I highly encourage you to visit La Bottega dei Mascareri’s website, which is stocked with photo galleries and videos.

Karina for TKGO

Shot of the Week

This photo is from the Parc d’Atraccions Tibidabo in Barcelona, which I visited during one of my final weeks studying abroad. The charming retro carnival (where a scene was filmed for Vicky Cristina Barcelona) overlooks the city from atop Tibidabo mountain, Barcelona’s highest point. The Temple de Sagrat Cor looms above nearby.

Karina for TKGO

Tattoo Culture

Communities do not just exist internationally, but also within our own borders. As individuals seek a sense of belonging — or even of isolation — they create smaller circles that thrive and change as a country might. The American tattoo community has a similar dynamic. To some, tattoos are the highest form of art, and to others, simply a convenient way to apply an indelible eyeliner. Margo DeMello, Josh Howard and Nick Colella offer three perspectives from the community.


At The Chicago Tattoo and Piercing Co., by Tara for TKGO


Margo DeMello
Author of Bodies of Inscription: A Cultural History of the Modern Tattoo Community

“People mark themselves to mark themselves as individuals, rather than as part of a group—to make themselves different and stand out from the group, although ironically, or maybe not ironically, that marking makes them part of a group as well.”

“Part of what has happened in the United States in the post World War II period and much more recently is we’ve lost a sense of community, and that’s part of what I think people are still striving for these days. … I think tattoos are just another vehicle for that.”

“Everybody’s getting tattoos now. It did used to be a working class tradition in this country, limited to certain social groups, like sailors, soldiers, gang members, convicts, bikers. Now practically every social class in this country is getting tattooed.”

“Tattooing has always been stigmatized in the West because it’s typically associated with the under classes, but since the 80s the art form has also been transformed. … Part of the process of making tattooing acceptable to the middle classes is separating it from its traditional American roots and making it foreign and exotic. We see far more non-Western and non-American designs than we ever did before.”

Josh Howard
Tattoo artist at The Chicago Tattoo and Piercing Co.

“I don’t think I’ve tattooed one biker in the last few years. A lot of the people are younger kids, but you know you tattoo someone who’s 80 years old getting their first tattoo. It’s a little more acceptable now.”

Nick Colella
Tattoo artist at The Chicago Tattoo and Piercing Co. for almost 17 years

“The stigma is there, to a degree, but it’s not as heavy as it used to be. People are getting a little more curious, and they realize that their lives aren’t going to drastically change if they have a tattoo on their arms or back.”

“People have been getting the same things for years. They might add their own little twists, but they’ve all been done before. That’s why people get them. They’re iconic.”

“I think people want to make it a deep representation of themselves, which is fine. People get tattooed for all kinds of reasons. But it’s not as heavy and deep as people want to make it out to be. I think people should get tattooed if they like the design. People are always asking me, What do your tattoos mean? They mean nothing! I get tattoos because I like wearing them.”

Tara for TKGO

Italian Style Tips

When I wasn’t marveling at a picturesque piazza or impressive remnants of the Roman Empire while in Italy, I spent much of my time ogling and analyzing what Italians were wearing. Everywhere I visited, Italians had it: that fashion-forward yet seemingly effortless personal style.

I know I am one of many wannabe emulators of European — especially Italian — style, so I jotted down some observations while traveling and have attempted to pare them down into doable tips for all of us back home. I include myself in the “us,” seeing as I’m still working to incorporate much of the below into my closet. And I did leave out one wistfully obvious Italian style pointer: A Vespa is the ultimate accessory.


Much of the Italian wardrobe color palette is relatively subdued, but one of my favorite trends (which I saw mostly men working)  was a strong color pop, especially below. Red jeans, sapphire pants and the green trousers in the following photo made stylishly impressive statements. All the men rocking bold pants had it totally figured out, too, and kept the outfit’s other colors low-key.


I spotted this guy in Rome and loved his pants so much I stealthily shot a photo from across the street



You don’t need to spend a ton of money — I doubt the majority of Italians do — but a stylish pair of sunglasses that fits your face and personal style goes a long way, especially for guys. In fact, being in Italy made me realize I see so few guys in the U.S. wearing non-sporty (aka Oakley-like) sunglasses. It’s a shame, because I largely credit fashionable shades for how put-together many Italian guys looked.


My non-workout sneaker collection is limited to a couple of predictable pairs, such as Converse. In Italy, however, people took sneakers to a new level. Stylish pairs were everywhere, especially on women. I loved the looks women were pulling off, like a pair of dark Pumas with a nice pair of jeans and a top they’d wear out at night. I’ve never seen sneakers look so dressy!


After my trip through Italy I’m convinced I’ll never wear pants right off the rack again. I saw too many people wearing pairs that fit them perfectly — pairs that must have been tailored — and it changed their look entirely. The truth is, clothes are made for a prototype size, and most people don’t fit that exact shape. I plan to start shopping for pant almost exclusively at stores with complimentary tailoring, such as Nordstrom and my personal favorite store, Uniqlo.

Investment Piece

Italians know their luxury style, from homegrown brands like Gucci and Salvatore Ferragamo to Prada and Furla. Even if your budget prevents you from outfitting fully in any of the aforementioned labels (I’m with you there), it pays to shell out for an investment piece. Perhaps it’s a well-crafted messenger bag or a sleek leather jacket you choose. As long as it’s versatile and classic, you’ll use it forever.

I’m still searching for my one investment piece, and I’m starting to think I might have to return to the markets of Florence for it. I’m OK with that!

Karina for TKGO

Shot of the Week

In the spirit of multimedia, today is the first of many Sundays where you’ll find a favorite TKGO photo, video or other goodie to brighten your day and inspire a little wanderlust. Feel free to click an image for a larger version (to brighten your desktop background)!

I took this photo from the ship’s deck on Christmas Eve during my trip to Antarctica in 2006 (aboard the National Geographic Endeavor with Lindblad Expeditions). The hole in the center could have almost fit the front of the ship’s hull inside.

Tara for TKGO

Double Take: Two Weekends in Bariloche

The timeless questions: Do I travel with friends or family? With natives or tourists? Finally, an answer.

While it’s summer in the Northern Hemisphere, Argentina is in the dead of winter — making Bariloche one of the hottest tourist destinations. Think of Bariloche as the Colorado of Argentina: Whether you go to ski in the winter or hike in the summer, it’s an active place loved by the Argentinean people for its natural beauty (and heavy chocolate production). I visited in the summer on two separate weekend jaunts, once with my family and once with a huge group of study abroad students. So which group offered the best trip? I wouldn’t trade one for the other.

Weekend #1: American family vacation

With my two parents and grandmother, I expected a touristy trip. Private tour guides are a dime a dozen, and they’ll haul you to chocolate shops galore and all the spots off the highway with the great views. This highway pit stop provided a great vantage point of our posh hotel: the Llau Llau.

The Llau Llau is the creme de la creme of Argentine hotels. When I told my co-workers at Radio Jai (where I translated articles for the web site) that I was going, their jaws dropped. I had to promise to post photos to Facebook so they could see after I’d left Buenos Aires. Lucky for Americans, the exchange rate makes it affordable. As a consequence, only very wealthy Argentineans vacation there, and most of the guests are European. Our suite had three rooms (living room, bedroom, bath) and a porch. Gran and I had a little too much fun with this photo shoot of the room…

We took a chairlift to the summit of a nearby mountain for a spectacular view of the city of Bariloche and the surrounding area…

…and stopped in the city of Bariloche, far from the Llau Llau, where we toured a chocolate shop that made fudge and candies through a clear window for observers. For these two activities, we found four was the perfect number, and 3:1 (of English speakers to Spanish speakers in our group) was the perfect ratio.

Weekend #2: Group travel on an Argentine itinerary

Because it was built for tourism, Bariloche is surprisingly accessible to large groups, assuming you do some planning ahead of time. Still, I had doubts about how much you can get from a place when the entire study abroad program crashes for a weekend, even during the summer low season. When this group ended up touring the same chocolate shop and mounting the same chairlifts, I wished I was with my English-only family again. But no fear — when the director of our COPA study abroad program and Buenos Aires native Mario Cantarini plans the trip with his Argentine co-workers, he does it the way any other Argentinean tourist might. Unlike the luxurious Llau Llau weekend, we spent our days hiking up waterfalls…

…swimming between huge rock formations near the highway…

…and traveling in huge coach buses. While unusually upscale compared to buses in the rest of South America, coach buses are common in Bariloche because of its heavy European and American visitor traffic. Unfortunately, these luxurious things also get stuck easily when landslides block the only road (below). Our porteño city slicker guides laughed and (tried to) help the Bariloche-native bus driver tow the bus out of the mud.

The work was worth the pain. On the other side of the “construction” (read: landslide debris) was Cerro Lopez, a steep hill with terrain that varies from soil to boulders to snow. The hike is between two and three hours, but offers rewarding views every step of the way.

After reaching the little pink house — our rest stop — we paused for lunch and watched the hawks soar overhead as we shared a mate, a traditional Argentine tea-like beverage.

Sometimes you want to vacation like a local, and sometimes you just want to be a tourist with your family. Regardless of your mood, good company — in a group of any size — will guarantee a great trip.

Tara for TKGO

La Grotta Azzurra

I am back from a 12-day, post-graduation vacation to Italy with my family! While I could entertain you with missives about how delectable the food was or how stylish Italian men were — that will come — I have instead decided to start with a video from one of my favorite outings during our self guided tour through the boot-shaped peninsula.

While staying in Sorrento, we took a day trip to the enchanting island of Capri (pronounced CAH-pree). We spent the morning on a boat excursion that circled the island and eventually brought us to Capri’s crown jewel: La Grotta Azzurra. La Grotta Azzurra is about 60 meters long and 25 wide, and sunlight caught in the grotto interacts with the white sand to produce a deep, incandescent and otherworldly blue.  In other words, it’s breathtaking.

This is one of those times where my written description will do no justice, so I have made a video of our Grotta Azzurra experience, from waiting to enter to exiting. Tide was high that day, so you’ll see the narrow opening rowboats had to enter (by rowboat is the only way to enter the cave), as well hear a brief explanation from our guide. I tried to keep my camera steady, but we were on the ocean in a tiny boat, so it was sometimes difficult. If only we were living in the heyday of the Roman Empire! We maybe could have gone for a dip.

For more information on La Grotta Azzurra, visit the official site.

Karina for TKGO