Have you ever seen the Infinity Mirrored Room by Yayoi Kusama?
It is a room of vertigo-inducing shimmering lights that surround you as if you were in the middle of a spiral of stars.
Sometimes, I think of how I’d like to walk through my life with the same heart-shaking astonishment as the feeling of walking through a marvelous piece of art. Like, looking at events and situations in my life as if I were walking through an exhibit.
But usually, when it comes to art and life, we are neatly divided into two categories: those who can see a flicker of inspiration in everything, and those who, sometimes innocently and some others contentiously, do not understand a thing of what lies before them.
That night, as I put on my black heels, I decided that I’d set out with the goal of finding another stunning light for the sky of my life. That night I set out thinking about a picture that could help me answer one question:
What would I do if I decided to not be afraid?
New York, May 2011
“You know”, Will told me, sitting with his feet up on the chair in front of him. “There were times when I stood talking to some huge personalities of the New York investment scene, and I swear I was scared shitless.” His round, dark asian eyes stared at mine, in that careless fashion that is so representative of people who have good reason of being a little too self confident.
he shrugged and, with a smirk, he said: “But I did it all the same.”
I had this conversation after an event I did not belong to and I did not want to go to. It was a party for VCs, and Jonathan – who is another guy who deserves my thanks, convinced me to go.
When I met Will, I asked him what a VC was. He smiled and answered, so I asked if he could maybe answer some other questions I had. he said yes. the following week, we had a conversation that lasted around 20 minutes. In those 20 minutes, I saw my life unfold before me.
Sometimes, scared as you might be, you just have to do it.
Will was a VC and had worked with big names. I shamelessly asked him what a VC was while holding a drink. I wish I was drunk.
But man, did he answer my questions.
Rimini, August 2013
My world shattered as I left the plane and set foot on the land that had given me birth and later spat me out.
You have no way of staying in New York, the lawyer told me. You have no college degree, and not enough working experience. You have to leave by September 10th.
You have to leave.
Your country, your home, your friends, your life. You have to leave the United States. All the bright lights that lit up my life blacked out and left a bleak winter of depression.
I did not understand Italy, and Italy sure would not make any effort to welcome me in its arms. I was a person who made mustard dressing and ordered pizza without cheese. I did not belong to its children.
Still, Italian food made sense. I understood Italian food. Somehow, all that I did not understand about this country I was stuck in acquired a slight, blurred meaning through food.
You know, photography is made for a 20% by the light that comes from outside, and 80% by the light that comes within you. I wanted to switch on the light again. Even though I loved those bright photos with luminous white backgrounds, I could only shoot dark, moody pictures. I did not entirely understand why, but I went with it. I realized later that it was because the light within me was still too faint.I used the little light I had left to start taking pictures of food, hoping it would help me dispel my sadness. It kind of worked.
“This is the stupidest thing you have ever wasted your time on,” said everyone around me, and I immediately believed it.
Someone else’s opinion, though, was slightly different.
“You should keep doing this, Valentina,” said Peter. “You are so talented.”
I did not believe him. He told me again. I did not believe him. He told me several times.
After all, I thought, he is a crazy talented artist himself. Maybe he has a point.
I wanted to find my light, and I wanted him to be proud of me. Maybe I’ll keep going, I told myself. If anything, just because I want to prove him right. Just because I do not want to be scared to stand up for what I love.
I’ll keep doing it. But I’m going to go big or go home.
Los Angeles, May 2014
I am kind of making it big.
But I still remember what one of my teachers told me as I got out of school:
“Valentina,” he sighed. “You only gave us maybe 15% of your actual capabilities. It feel like such a waste.”
He handed me my grades, which were still not bad for not even trying. I felt bad. I felt so bad that I am trying to make up for it ever since.
But this is what I look for, and this is what helps me thrive. I am looking for seemingly evil angels who will lift me up as they destroy my ego and my presumptuousness. I am looking for all those people who are helping me find my light again, on my quest to go back home.
After the Saveur events, remembering these people seems even more appropriate.
Will, who wasted 10 minutes of his life to make mine a whole lot better. Jonathan, who made me turn into an adult. Peter, who believed in me and has been my weakness and strength in keeping up with things. My teacher, who smacked me hard in the face. Berta, who is such a cheerful spirit and has been the greatest LA host ever. And all the lovely, amazing, incredible people who were at the events and contributed to what was the best week of my life: Molly, your smile is just incredible. Steph, congrats for the victory! Raul, best dressed one, hands down. Phi and Sini, who weren’t there but inspires me constantly. Prairie, I hope we’ll hang out in Rome! Cynthia, who has the most beautiful hair I have ever seen. Cheryl and Lindsey, the best table neighbors ever. Vanessa Rees, who is just so very cool. Phil and Kim – yet another reason to visit San Francisco. And Josh, the two days we spent together are something I’ll be able to tell stories about some 50 years from now. You and all the things we did are incredible. I will never thank you enough. And now I’ll stop before I cry. I promise I’ll try the Yoo-Hoo next time!
And all the others – check them out!
These are the angels of the city. The angels are those who will kick you in the butt, slap you in the face, look you straight in the eyes and tell you that you are not a better human being than any other, but that you can achieve whatever the hell you want. The angels will yell at you, scold you, crash you and shock you, and this is why they are also the ones who will protect you. pray for your angels, look for your angels, and let their light guide you as you look for yours.
I will make my site and my dreams grow bigger, and if I’ll make it back home, it will be mostly thanks to you.
That VC named Will got into photography, and he takes some pictures I really like. I wonder if he’s looking for some lost light, too. He has photographed the infinity mirror, too. I wonder if at least one of us has arrived in heaven.
PS: I am sorry, Peter. I did not make it to Griffith Observatory. I did not get to see the lights of the city of angels. Not that I am sorry because of that love I have for places high up, or for the love I have for the night lights that both you and I miss so much.
But I would have loved to set my feet where yours were, and I would have childishly thought: ‘oh, he was standing here, too.” I would have thought of you even more fondly than I usually do and it would have been like standing next to each other, seeing the lights together. And maybe – just maybe, it would have felt like the thousands of miles that set us apart could have vanished for a split second.
Maybe next time we’ll see even brighter ones. Shall we?
This recipe is both a remembrance of the drink I had that night I met Will, and a homage to all the beautiful citrus and fruit I ate in California. Not to mention a celebration of the cocktail class we had at the Saveur events, and all the scotch that Josh managed to snatch – the man took home 3 bottles (I gifted him mine). There must be some very happy college kids out at UCLA right now.
The main ingredient is the marvelous tea we have been gifted at the Jasmine restaurant at the Bellagio. I hope this concoction will be Raul-approved, even tough it’s just tea after all. If you can think of some good booze to go with it, well, let’s get creative!
Tea of the Jasmine Lights
(Good for breakfast, good for brunch, good for life in general)
1 Cup brewed Chinese green pearl tea (or jasmine green tea)
1 Cup brewed Earl Grey green tea
1 Cup pomegranate juice
1/4 cup dried jasmine flowers
1 tbsp Elderflower honey, or lemon flower honey (but regular raw honey works too if you can find it – maybe boost with some Elderflower cordial) – use 2 if you like things on the sweeter side
1 small lemon
Plenty of ice cubes
Brew your tea. For green tea, use water that is no hotter than 80 C˚ (175 F˚). To get wwater to this temperature, wait a couple minutes after it has boiled, or, if you are heating it on the stove, you know it will have reached 80 C˚ once it starts to steam heavily. Green tea usually steeps for no longer than 2-3 minutes. Any longer than this, and it will get bitter. Melt the honey in the tea, then let cool.
Cut the lemon into half, and cut one half into slices. Combine the teas with the juice, add the dried flowers and the lemon slices. Squeeze in the juice from the half lemon.
Put the tea in the fridge for a couple hours to make the flavors mingle. Serve with ice cubes and enjoy!