Monthly Archives: September 2011

(Day 8) Gainful Employment for the Painfully Broke

Monday, 10:00 pm

So today did not end up being quite as open as I’d planned — which means that the homestay info must be deferred just a little bit longer (once again depreciating the value of my word, I know), but which also means that I get to talk about this:

I may get paid, as in actual money, to work in a library here.


First off, I should probably admit that it’s not *really* a library in the way you’re probably thinking.  What it is is the ACM program’s accrued collection of books, which is small but actually pretty impressive in that it numbers something like 1700 volumes (not counting the way-too-many articles on file).  Students come, they buy books for class, they ditch the books when they leave for home — and ACM keeps these and adds on with lots of new materials that students can use for research and such.

Right now, the whole shebang is just crammed into the program director’s office — floor-to-ceiling texts on art history and Italian and whatever else has ever been studied here, which is awesome but does not exactly make for a neat system.  Last year’s students started cataloging all these things, so something like 1000 of the books have call numbers now, but they’re all still piled on top of themselves in that office.  So, a couple days ago, they told us that they were looking for some work-study students to both finish the cataloging process and move the books onto the shelves they have set up in the newly designated ‘library’ room.  When/if that gets done, they want all the articles combed through and either cataloged or trashed, depending on usefulness.

As you might imagine, they said ‘work’ and about 20 flat-broke college kids came running.  I doubt everyone who signed up is actually going to stick with it, especially since 3 of our 4 classes haven’t even started yet, but that’s still a lot of people…so yeah, I don’t how many hours everyone’s going to get.  But hey, any money is better than no money at all, so at this point it really doesn’t matter ❤

Really, though, the extra-kinda-cool thing about the opportunity is that, because myself and one other student (Alex) have both worked in libraries before, we’ve been put in charge of organizing everything.  …Yes.  Can’t speak to how much I’ll be able to help, but I *do* love list-making, so we’ll hope for the best ; )


I still have to do my homework and start working on schedules, so we’ll call it for today, but definitely back in tomorrow — and possibly with pictures of a Florentine lantern parade taking place tomorrow night in town and on the river.  Fingers and toes crossed that I get to go see that, especially since I’ve now told you about it and I would feel bad if I couldn’t deliver.


Oh, and this is unconnected to anything, but there’s going to be a transportation strike tomorrow from 4 pm to midnight (16.00 — 24.00).  Italy apparently has them all the time, and as I still get my bus to school in the morning, and as it’s only about a 20-30 minute walk from the school to my homestay, I don’t think it will actually hurt much — but should be interesting?

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Posted by on September 5, 2011 in Persons & Peoples, Practicalities, The City


(Day 7) L’italiano

Just a quick-ish blurb about class tonight, because I wanted to talk about the living situation but it rained all afternoon and I couldn’t get the pictures I wanted to go with that post.  *Sadness.*

So: as mentioned before, this entire first month of the program is dedicated solely to an intensive course on Italian.  Three 9-student classes, each meeting with a different teacher from 9:00 to 10:30 and 11:00 to 12:30 — in other words, a pretty lenient schedule.  Also the environment is relaxed and cosy and has a door onto a balcony, so it’s hardly an excruciating place to spend the morning.

Assisting with the non-excruiating pleasantness is our teacher, a man going by the very Italian name of Umberto.  He’s funny, encouraging…and kind of *always* cheerful.  Really: last Wednesday(?) he missed class, and we found out the next day that this was because (to paraphrase what we were told) he’d been in the hospital on account of being beaten up by a hobo at a train station.  Aside from being one of the best excuses for absenteeism I’ve ever heard, this is also a very not-happy thing to have happen — but in comes Umberto on Thursday, gesturing his way through the story (“Pow pow!” / *exaggerated shock face*), and then getting on with the lesson.  Which, as always, included a single Italian pop song playing on repeat while we did our exercises, and therefore also included our teacher’s musical accompaniment.

…No comment.  BUT, I think we do all realize how lucky we are to have the Linguaviva staff and guys like Umberto to be showing us around the language.  Just all over molto carino, and it’s making the entire stay in Florence so much less stressful than it could have been.

As far as the Italian itself — it’s actually amazing how much you can learn in a week.  Still have nowhere near enough, of course, and I think we’ll get to the end of the 15 weeks having only just realized how much we don’t know, but it’s exciting anyway.  For right now, we just need WAY more vocabulary, and then we really just need to keep going to class and making progress on our grammar and usage and pronunciation.  You know, so that we can do stuff like say “faccio” (pronounced “fah-tcho”) without making it sound like “fack-you.”

…And that’s pretty much all I have to say about class, I guess. It clips along at a good pace but is completely doable, and the quiz we took on Friday morning was the next-best thing to a joke; if you studied at all, you were fine.  So hopefully that will continue, and non-stressful + very useful + fun = we may well be in for an excellent September.

And now I’ve got to go bed while I can still stay upright enough to change into pajamas, and you all have a great..afternoon?  Yeah : )

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Posted by on September 4, 2011 in Classes, Language, Persons & Peoples


(Day 6) A tower! That leans!

Saturday, 11:00 pm

I’ve got tomorrow off (for real this time, because we’ve gotten several afternoons ‘off’ that we couldn’t actually use for anything), and what I’d like to do is furiously backpedal and cover some details about the homestay situation and classes.  Because I appear to have just hopped over those, and they are possibly kind of important.

But for now, Pisa.

Actually, wait a second.  Before anything is said about the city itself, it is good to know that I have probably been biased by the following:

  • We were all a little/lot sleep deprived.  5:45 is only 15 minutes earlier than I usually get up, but I still spent the whole morning feeling like my brain was floating along 2 feet behind my skull, and I was not the only one.  As a group, definitely not in a seize-the-day mood.
  • The train we took from Florence to Pisa was soooo ssslllloooooowwww.  Stop-start-stop-start-draaaag.  And it was also only kinda-sorta air conditioned, which is a big deal because
  • It was painfully hot out today.  It’s been mid-to-upper 90s the whole time we’ve been in Florence, and humid to boot, but today was more torturous than usual; both Florence and Pisa straddle the Arno river (and thus extra humidity for both places), but Pisa is so much smaller that you can feel the mugginess absolutely everywhere.  And there was no shade, and we were on a walking tour, and…yeah, it just got nasty.  Also, we passed a group of people on the sidewalk who were all attending to a girl who’d actually fainted from the heat, so this is an Officially Hot Day, okay?

So Pisa.  Overall impression is that it’s kind of dirty and…well, the word coming to mind is ‘decrepit,’ or maybe ‘decaying,’ but perhaps we’ll be kind and say it’s just a little run-down?

What we know for a fact is that Pisa got hit hard by the bombing in WWII.  This does not explain to me why so many other towns recovered and Pisa…didn’t, but in any case there is some excuse for the general crumbly quality of all the buildings.  Hm.

Well, anyway, even if most of the city is kind of dead-ish, this is indeed made up for by the city’s central square, the Piazza del Duomo of which the Leaning Tower is a part.  The piazza actually contains four buildings that are all super-important: there’s the Pisa Cathedral, the Baptistery, the Campo Santo, and the bell tower (aka that crooked thing).  Back in the day, the idea was that one started life by getting baptised in the baptistery, spent their life with the cathedral, and then ended life by getting buried in the Campo Santo (“the holy field,” as in an indoor cemetery) — so as a class, those three were the things we were there to see.

Which means (*insert sad face*) that I did not get any touristy pictures of the leaning tower.  I got a couple as we passed —


— but like I said, we were there for other things.  Like doors.  And pulpits.  And floors with skellingtons* in them.

All of which makes me suspicious that they think I’m here to learn ; )


…But seriously, though, if anybody ever gets the opportunity, go listen to a demonstration of the acoustics in the Pisan Baptistery.  It’s a round building that was actually designed to give a perfect triple echo (which I stress only because I can’t get my head around it), and a guy comes out every so often to sing; just one voice, and it magnifies and harmonizes until the space overhead is ringing with it.  I know that as an American 20-something I’m not supposed to be easily impressed, but…yeah, that was kind of impressive.

Switching topics, guess what this is?

For starters, it’s actually not something we went to see as a group; since this Pisa trip was the last mandatory outing for the weekend, most students packed up and left immediately for overnight stays in beach towns, and only myself and one other student (Ellie) remained to take the train back to Florence with our two professors (Jodie and Katy).  While we were making the loop around to the station, Katy suggested that we all take a moment to stop by the white building straight ahead on the left, the building that is actually two medieval towers which were later joined together with that strip of concrete that drops into an arch.  It’s the left tower that’s important; somewhere in there, around the year 1289, a man named Ugolino was imprisoned with 2 sons and 2 grandsons for treason agains the city of Pisa.  It’s not entirely clear what happened after that, but either the lot of them were soon left to starve or Ugolino himself was decapitated (and don’t ask me how those two things are at all confusable, because I have no idea).

Anyway, my professor wanted to see it because Ugolino gets mentioned in Dante’s Divine Comedy, which she’s teaching an entire class on this semester.  I’m interested in it moreso because — well, just look at that place.  It looks like nothing.  It looks like any old half-heartedly prettied-up government office building where some poor clerk is stuck doing paperwork 10 hours a day.  (And actually, who knows, maybe some poor clerk is.)

Appearances/deceiving/etc., I guess; history is apparently messy and happens everywhere.


ALSO, although this has nothing to do with anything, the class stopped to get coffee in some Pisan cafe and got blessed with a random Blues Brothers sighting:


+10 to that cafe, definitely…but they got any white bread?


Alright, well, tomorrow I guess.  And I will also just nonchalantly remind you in passing that anyone is free to send me emails and facebook spammage and such.  Just sayin.’



*Skellingtons = I miss Hot Fuzz  T_T


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(Day 5) If I may now direct your attention to the right…

Friday, 11:50 pm

So I didn’t get to write much today, but I did add a couple extra features to the blog.  There is now a phrasebook section (where I’ll be throwing the translation of any Italian I use) and an event calendar (where I’ll keep a running list of the things we’re doing, so anyone who wants to can follow along and get a preview of upcoming outings).  I know not everyone needs or wants these things, but hopefully someone will be able to put them to use.

I’ll also round out a page of specific tips for future study-abroaders as soon as I get the time…but for now, a quick doubletake at the clock says “homg go to bed.”  The whole ACM group is actually taking a trip to Pisa in the morning, and I’ve got to get up at 5:45 to catch the bus downtown; as some of you may be able to appreciate, (early hours) = (horror) + (dismay) right now, so we’ll try to catch some solid sleep ahead of time and minimize the damage.

Oh, but another free afternoon/evening tomorrow, so I’ll be bahck 🙂

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Posted by on September 3, 2011 in The City


(Day 4) Andiamo

Thursday, 10:00 pm

Going with the ever-popular ‘dump pics and run’ today, as I’ve get a test tomorrow morning and I need to study.  However, for anyone whose life I have just devastated, I also happen to know that I have tomorrow afternoon off, so just a couple hours more and then I can start spouting off at the metaphorical mouth.  Which I want very badly to do, and actually I pre-apologize for the spoutiness as well.

What we’ve got right now is not one but TWO pictures, whoa boy.  In the first, we’re looking out from the steps of the medieval church of San Miniato, which stands on a hill just outside of Florence proper.  Today was actually my first time going over to the Oltrano (the far side of the Arno river, aka the kinda-outside-Florence part where San Miniato is), and the entire area is really hilly and gives you a great view from everywhere — so we climbed those steps, turned around, and there was the city laid out under us.  The second picture is a zoomed-in look at the heart of Florence, including the famous Duomo (that cathedral with the largest of the visible domes); the Linguaviva school where we have classes is actually just a couple blocks away from that monster.


*sigh* ❤

I think part of the reason I like Florence so much is that it’s the first place I’ve been where it’s actually easy to keep a map in my head — I can usually be relied upon to get very firmly/constantly/instantly lost, so this not getting lost is kind of a revelation.  But I guess it was almost inevitable; the city’s got so many unique things so crammed together that you’ve always got a landmark to use, plus every street and piazza is labeled…gah, it’s just so very logical that it makes me want to stand up and happy dance.

Like so: (*|o/ \o/ ~o/* tadaaaa.)

Now I’m going to slap myself on the wrist and go study, so…tomorrow.  ❤

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Posted by on September 1, 2011 in The City, Travel and Touristing


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