Sunday, 10:35 pm
Going to write a bit about the homestay, because I kept saying I was going to do it and I either need to do it or stop promising.
I live with an elderly couple named Gabriella and Nino, who have three grown children (two daughters, one son) and one granddaughter (the adorable and almost-two Beatrice*). They live in a large first-floor apartment on the northeastern fringe of the city, out in the thick of a residential area that only sees English speakers when they’re students like myself, and they are collectively some of the nicest people I have ever met.
Also living here are another ACM student (my roommate) and a student from an upper level in the Linguaviva language school, a Brazilian girl named Alessandra who has a single room down the hall. Also, while Gabriella and Nino technically live alone, all three kids have been regular visitors both during the day and at dinners, so it often feels (comfortably) like a pretty full house.
When we were first informed about the homestays, we were told that it was common in Italy to give a gift when one visited — and, since we were not so much ‘visiting’ as ‘moving in’, it would be a nice gesture to get our host parents something. My initial roommate, Anica, brought some Taiwanese tea, and I ended up just popping into a store in the neighborhood and picking up a bouquet of flowers. (By the way, I say ‘a store in the neighborhood,’ but there is really only the one store here, waaay at the other end of the road. This one, the big white building that says ‘supermarket’:
Like I said, it’s a residential area, and one that has pretty much decided to not be anything else : )
The first one we met was Gabriella, who thankfully speaks English (and French, though that doesn’t help me) fairly well. Right off the bat, it was a relationship full of politeness and courtesy; I wouldn’t go so far as ‘formal,’ but even now there are still a lot of little formalities that get observed over the course of the day. We are basically just to be to meals on time, to keep our bathroom neat, to not stray into the family’s own rooms, to say goodbye when we leave and hello when we come back, basic stuff; Gabriella herself, though, still seems to think it discourteous to enter our room unless we open the door for her ourselves, and at dinner especially she insists on maintaining the guest/hostess status quo. It’s a somewhat strange mix of family-casual and houseguest civility that, after three weeks, maintains its strangeness because of the frequent little missteps we’re still making in communication; that is, we’ve made ourselves mostly at home here, but it’s still sometimes hard to tell whether someone is telling you to loosen up or (nicely) to straighten up, so it does keep you on your toes a bit.
And now, to condense a lot of information into those bullet lists I love, here’s a daily routine:
- Wake up at six to take a shower. The bathroom (which is more or less directly across from our room) is strictly for the three students, and has a button-flush toilet, a large basin sink, a shower stall with a drain you have to be really careful not to back up, and a window looking out onto Gabriella’s enclosed flower garden (small but very well maintained). I’m the only one who showers in the morning, so it’s a nice slow start to the day with most of the house still asleep.
- The bathroom is right next to the kitchen, and at 6:30 Gabriella comes out to start making coffee. I mention it only because the aroma is fantastic.
- Breakfast at 7:30. Italians don’t really *do* breakfast, so Gabriella just spreads out some foods for us to pick from (fruit, yogurt, granola, biscuit/cookie things, less fun storebought pastry things) and brings her coffee to the table to keep us company while we eat. Nino goes to work at about this time, so we really only seem him long enough to say bye. Breakfast looks like this:
Aww, so nice : )
- 8:00, head to the bus stop. Enjoy the cool mornings and the warm light and the faraway sight of the hills, and also the more prosaic spectacle of Via Masaccio clogging with cars for morning rush hour.
But not in this pic. This is just a zoomed-in shot of normal.
- And at the other end of our street (the end we’re actually much closer to), a church. Not one of the historically-significant old churches, but a recklessly contemporary new one, just in case you’d forgotten that most of this country is still Catholic.
- So, go to classes and whatever else you’ve got going on, then come back to the house. And just as an aside, it takes you four keys to get you all the way through the gate and into the building and then into the actual apartment. Using them involves a lot of pulling and twisting and pushing at the right time (and also remembering to use the right key), and since the instructions were initially delivered in a heavy Italian accent I couldn’t understand yet, it took me at least four days to really figure it out. Have I mentioned that I’m halfway through a college degree?
- Dinner at 8:00, although you can usually smell it coming by 6:30. We meet at the dining table (places are set with nice glasses and several pairs of silverware for everyone), and so begins the hour-long process of the evening meal. As per a typical Italian meal, there are several courses:
- Pasta. As with everything on the table, usually homemade with fresh ingredients bought within the week (or day) at one of the large Florentine markets. As far as I’m aware, it’s been a new type of pasta dish every single night since we got here.
- Meat and vegetables. Again, homemade/fresh and seemingly never repeated. And while one or the other sometimes tastes a little ‘off’ when sampled alone (the meat a little too dry, the vegetables a little too mushy, etc.), any problems go away if you eat them as they’re meant to be eaten, together. This course also comes with dry bread, good for sopping up the juices.
- Dessert. Sometimes just sugared fruit (which I’ll admit is my favorite), but we’ve also had tarts and storebought cakes and little ice cream sandwiches.
- Drinks. Not a course, but just thought I’d mention that Italians don’t really do tap water either (although it’s perfectly safe), and they think drinking milk is weird. (We asked about drinking milk just out of curiosity, and everyone seemed really confused. “In coffee?” “No, just milk.” “Well some people like a lot of milk in their coffee.”) Wine and beer are both fairly typical dinner drinks, as are these huge bottled waters that everyone passes around (see breakfast pic). Nino can’t drink wine anymore because of a health problem, so we stick to water, and there are usually two ‘normal’ bottles and one fizzy one. We go through at least one full bottle a night, and they just keeping buying brand new huge bottles every day like this is a perfectly reasonable thing to be doing.
Dinner wraps up around 9:00, and then we say goodnight and go to bed and begin it all over again.
And almost done here, but I should mention the roommate thing quick:
As I said, my initial roommate was Anica, a Taiwanese girl from South Africa who was going to college in Illinois. Yup. And I didn’t know her at all when we moved in, but it turned out to be a pretty good fit.
About a week in, we each get contacted by the program director; another pair of roommates has been having difficulties, and would we be willing to switch? So…to make a very long story short, new roommate is Ellie.
Want to go get in some grammar review before I go to bed — and also it’s kind of sounding like we’ve got the makings of our very first real thunderstorm outside, homg so excited 😀 — so have a good afternoon/evening and I’ll hopefully be back in tomorrow. (I know I skipped an atypical number of days recently, but this weekend was a special case of do-nothing.)
Class tomorrow, and then we’re on the countdown for four days left of intensive Italian. Partay : )
*Having Beatrice over to visit is, to be honest, a pretty big ego boost. Gabriella and Nino both slow down their speech to talk to her, so we understand more of what they say, and while we actually haven’t picked up all the vocab Beatrice has, Bea also keeps her phrases nice and simple (often just falling back to the Italian equivalent of “Again! Again! *happy gurgle-laugh*). Probably I shouldn’t be celebrating the fact that I am slightly better at Italian than an infant, but I’m going to anyway.