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(Day 40) Wrap on Venice

In the midst of a rather lovely day, and I want to talk about that, so here’s the quick version of the rest of Venice:

We’re now up to day 2, Saturday morning, and after walking around a little in the cool of the morning, it’s back to the hotel for breakfast and then on to a 9:15 walking tour.  The tour’s an optional thing, so only 7 (and ultimately 6) students actually go, but it’s led by Professor Mariotti — who, like all of our professors, knows a simply staggering amount about everything.  Seriously, I think we’ve started asking questions about random doorknobs and chimney pieces just to test the limits of her stored trivia, and after a month and a half I think we’ve only stumped her twice O.O

 

So yes, out we go for about 2 hours, first to San Zaccaria for a stroll through the church (but also taking a special look at the S. Zaccaria nunnery, which was apparently packed with nuns who didn’t want to be nuns and who filled up the nearby orphanage to prove it), and then on to a little building some 15 minutes away for a series of really great narrative paintings by Carpaccio — and may I just say that I don’t think I’ve ever seen quite that combination of sweetness and horrible gore.

Walking tour takes us back to the hotel, and we now switch out Professor Mariotti for Professor Solberg and keep right on walking.  This time, we (i.e. Professor Solberg’s “Decorative Complexes” class plus any interested tag-alongs like myself) are headed all the way across Venice to the train station up in the northwest part of the city, and from there it’s a hop onto a train and then off to Padua.

 

If you’ve heard of Padua, it’s probably because Shakespeare uses it as the setting for “The Taming of the Shrew.”  But what we were there for was the Arena Chapel, this fantastic little box of a chapel which has an interior completely covered in paintings by Giotto.  And the really great thing about this was that I’d actually learned about the Arena (aka Scrovegni) Chapel in my very first class in college, but had forgotten what it was called — so as our professor is explaining to us what we’re about to see, it starts coming back to me and then I can just get excited all at once instead of having to deal with some sort of tamped-down, drawn-out anticipation.  Ignoring the horrendous hassle of actually getting in there, that chapel is incredible : D

Back on a train to return to Venice, and we’ve got about 3 hours free until dinner.  Kari and I set off to go souvenir shopping, and basically it’s just a very nice and restful time spent wandering around and poking through shops and wending our way through tangles of small streets and side alleys.

And by the way, this is as good a place as any to mention that Venice, since we were only there for 3 days, really did feel like vacation in a way that being in Florence never does anymore.  Florence is, in a certain sense, home and school and the daily grind, but Venice…Venice is pretty much hands down the most beautiful city I’ve ever seen.

But actually, more on that in a minute.

So after souvenir shopping, it’s back to the hotel for an 8:00 dinner which starts out with — wait for it — pasto al pesto, which is *the* favorite dish of many many people at this point and is indeed amazing.  And in any case, dinner this time around comes with the company of Kari, Katie, and Alex, all of whom are just incredibly nice/funny/wonderful people.  (And, if plans hold, I get to go to Lucca with all of them + Willi tomorrow, so \o/)

After dinner, back out with Kari for another walk to get a sense of the city at night.

And the city at night is, shockingly, incredibly quiet; Venice goes to bed very early in the evening, and there’s a very strong small-town feel to the dark and the stillness of all those teeny-tiny alleys and little piazzas.  Except, of course, that it’s never fully dark and never quite still; lamps up, down and overhead keep everything from water to windowsill flowers gently illuminated, you’re always within earshot of the lapping of the water, and the water + the closeness of the buildings sends the sounds of families at dinner faintly echoing everywhere.

The word I’m looking for is probably ‘pleasant.’

But never too much of a good thing, so ultimately we wandered out of the closed-for-the-day residential areas and back to the ever-busy main piazza of San Marco, where we headed over to the water’s edge and just sat for awhile.

And, as luck would have it, turns out we showed up at just the right time and sat down in exactly the right place to catch a fireworks display right across the canal.  Did not see that coming at all, but it made my night : D

Back to the hotel, and up early again the next morning because I’ve decided that I love sunrise here.  And this time, Kari accompanies, because of the seven people who said they wanted to go she was the one and only who actually managed to roll out of bed at 6:00 on a Sunday morning.

And again, gorgeous:

   

The presence of a professional photographer confirms that we’ve got the right idea —

and then we just get to sit on the edge of the canal like so and watch the magic:

   

    

So worth it ^^

Allora, back, breakfast, and then another optional tour led by Professor Mariotti, this time through the Galleria dell’Accademia (aka another fancy art museum).  I cannot adequately express how much I loved this place, but I LOVED it.  ❤

 

And after that…free for four hours.  And it’s a beautiful day, and try as I might I’ve still got zero interest in going to see the contemporary art exhibits that most students are headed out to, so I decide to just seize my Sunday and take one last super-long stroll through Venice. 

  More impossible homes…

  …impossibly small alleys…

       …and abrupt dead ends where you can just sit and watch the tide come in.

So ultimate verdict on Venice: again, undoubtedly beautiful, totally charming, occasionally magical, absolutely in agreement with everything that I have ever heard said about it.  But, on the other hand, it is definitely not a place that I could stay for any considerable amount of time.  The tourists (and the PIGEONS) are one thing, but to be always penned in like that?  Give it two weeks and living in the maze would get exhausting, and there’d be nothing but the same small patches of ground over and over again and not a single open field anywhere.  Not a chance.

It would appear then, that in accordance with the fine and long-standing tradition of Italian partisanship, I’ve chosen sides.  I still prefer Florence ; )

And there we go!  Venice is done, and another week’s worth of blogging activity is getting pounded out on this keyboard before dinner so help me God, so stick around and I’ll have that for you in just a (very metaphorical) sec.

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(Day 29) Bouncing Brevity

Monday, 9:50 pm

*sigh*, Venice talk is now on the back-burner, because apparently classes starting today means that I am actually (despicably!) required to do work.  It’ll be a little bit of a sprint to keep on top of everything for the next couple days, so I would say that you could expect more Venice-vacation rambles Wednesday morning, or Friday at the latest.

In the meantime, here’s the ho-hum daily updates, of interest only to my immediate family.  Everyone else can feel free to avert their eyes.

  • Like I mentioned yesterday, first library shift this morning.  And it was nice and I enjoyed it, but…well.  The students who started the cataloging ACM’s library in the spring seem to have left for us incomers all the books that don’t have call numbers, and which are therefore impossible to catalog.  So, having discovered this little setback, the ever-so-brilliant idea I came up with was to *give* them call numbers — as in actual ones, in accordance with the Library of Congress cataloging system.  And Kari and I started on that this morning, but since there are actually two parts to the LC classification system that make it a really slick system for browsing (letters for the subject + numbers for the sub-category of the subject) and because I only just now found a way to accomplish *both*, we’re probably going to have to go back to refine the work we’ve already done.  AND I still have to spend tonight typing up ridiculously detailed fail-proof instructions for the other work study students, so that they too can do the impossible and catalog an un-catalogable library.
  • TLDR: We now have absolutely guaranteed work for everyone and this whole thing is going to look awesome on a resume.
  • Following that fiasco, a really fast lunch and then on to Italian, which we now have Mondays, Tuesdays and Thursdays from 1:30 to 2:45.  Like everyone else, I walked in perfectly awake and content but stumbled out sleepy and starving — mainly because there’s just no explaining Mondays.  Oh, and we also got more homework than usual, so that’s awesome.
  • Walked down with Willi and Katie to buy art supplies, and it was a beautiful afternoon so actually a quite pleasant time out and about.
  • Drawing class at 5:00.  The ACM group has been split into two, with half the group starting on cast drawings and the other half working on studies of a live model.  I’m in the figure drawing group, and I already know I’m going to love spending my evenings here.  They’ve got things to show me and I’m ready to learn, and the only homework *they* ever give is to draw more — which I think I can handle.
  • Finally got back to the house at 8:00, waited for Ellie, then dinner 8:20 to 9:15.  Start the homework, stare mournfully at the schedule for the days to come, and here we are.

But cool thing is, I do love all my classes so far (even though we have to give that oral presentation tomorrow in the Medici class), and we’ve actually got a couple events coming up that I’m really excited for.  Wednesday night, after figure drawing, most of the ACM group is heading out for a Wayne Marshall concert (performing Gershwin), and this upcoming Saturday I’ll be heading out with Kari, Willi, Katie and Leah for a 13-mile bike tour through the Chianti region.  And that will be a healthful and ever-so-fancy activity that I will just have to make up for on Sunday by bumming around the house all day in my pajamas.  I am a firm believer in balance, you know   : )

Oh, and please to be noting that at that point we’ve hit October, and one full month is officially down \o/

~~~

WELL.  That’s probably as long as I can allow for desperate procrastination rambles, so I guess it’s time to dust off that old Helmet O’ Invincibility and be off to do homework etc.  Back as soon as may be, and as always hope everyone’s hanging in there.

But just because I’d feel bad not to, one more Venice pic:

…See you tomorrow : )

 
 

(Day 16) Odds-and-Ends

Otherwise known as ‘cianfrusaglie,’ which is a great word.

Internet went a little wonky again yesterday, so here’s the ultra-fast recap of Monday:

Went to Orsanmichele, a building that is (and indeed has traditionally been) confused about whether it is a grainery or a sculpture gallery or a kinda-sorta church.  Spent about an hour and a half there listening to a lecture given by one of the professors — and since the lectures are actually interesting, we once again got random tourists stalking our group.

Not a great shot, but here’s the floor where we were spending most of our time looking at the sculptures:

Today, all we had scheduled was Italian class.  Tomorrow is our third quiz (for which I still need to study), and after that we have just seven days of class until the month of intensive Italian is over and we’re off to Venice.

Doesn’t feel *at all* like we’ve been here two weeks already.  Not to say that there haven’t been periods of stress (or hunger, hunger’s a big one) that have made everything drag, but apparently time is whipping forward in spite of that.  Also it still feels like Monday.

Change of subject, but I’ve been keeping a list of everything that being in Italy makes me miss about the American/Iowan/non-study-abroader way of life, and I think I’m just going to throw it right here:

  • FOOD:
  • Peanut butter
  • Sandwiches on soft bread (PB&J, turkey, etc.)
  • Cereal that isn’t a strange granola-ish corn flake lookalike — and people who have heard of Froot Loops and/or Captain Crunch.
  • Breakfast foods in general (toast, waffles, pancakes, eggs)
  • Decent chips
  • Tap water
  • Milk.  I don’t know what specifically is different about the milk here, but it’s…not right.
  • AMENITIES:
  • AIR CONDITIONING
  • Television/movies
  • Internet and cell plans that actually let you use your internet and cell phone
  • Water bottles
  • Ziploc bags
  • Cheap tape
  • Cheap post-its
  • Cheap paper towels
  • Cheap toiletries (shampoo, body wash, etc.)
  • Uniformly sized outlets
  • Doorknobs that turn
  • Public bathrooms you don’t have to pay for
  • Toilet paper holders that both hold onto the roll *and* let you change it
  • OTHER:
  • Sunsets (a flat horizon and a great view)
  • Clouds
  • Driving (i.e. not having to depend on an always-late bus)
  • Walks/jogs where you can safely wear headphones
  • Doing my own laundry
  • Baking — or, more generally, having access to an oven, stove, and microwave
  • Having a word for ‘pie,’ and for ‘cupcake’
  • Walking around in socks
  • Being able to criticize the Papacy without automatically offending someone
  • A closer sense of community
  • Non-polluted air and not being constantly surrounded by smokers
  • Not having to keep windows shut/covered against traffic noise and potential delinquents
  • Lack of tourist swarms
  • Cheap books (and being able to read them)
  • English

And, because fair’s fair, here’s everything I know I’m going to miss about Italy:

  • FOOD:
  • All of it.  But specifically:
  • Hard rolls
  • Uber-fresh fruits and vegetables
  • Thin pizzas
  • Pasta done right
  • Eggplant dishes
  • Apricot spread on fresh croissants
  • Tea with biscotti every morning
  • Bigne (those cream puff pastry things, and vanilla please <3)
  • Lots of other pastries I don’t know the names of
  • Gelato (obviously)
  • Excellent panini (as in big sandwiches with thick bread and meat and melty cheese)
  • Open markets daily
  • 3-course sit-down dinners with the whole ‘family’ (although I could approximate this at home)
  • AMENITIES:
  • Public fountains
  • Public trash cans
  • Public transportation
  • OTHER:
  • Hills
  • Having everything in walking distance
  • Beautiful buildings, artworks and museums absolutely everywhere
  • Being in a place with such a long (and documented) history
  • Having multiple options for places to go every day
  • Riding the bus (especially when it picks up speed in the tunnel)
  • Being surrounded by so many different kinds of people
  • Having one word for *all* of one’s aunts and uncles, and for *all* of one’s nieces and nephews
  • Every building warmly colored (red, gold, etc.)
  • Being in a country whose inhabitants seem generally conscious that different countries and peoples are interconnected
  • Being so close to to so many other countries
  • Multi-language bookstores
  • Italian music
  • Italian

So there we are, and I’ll probably add on to these lists as the semester progresses.  There won’t be a ‘winner,’ as it’s next to impossible to call one place objectively better or worse than the other…but I will admit that the lack of peanut butter has become a real sticking point ; )

Have to go start taking care of business, but should be back tomorrow.  A domani : )

 
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Posted by on September 13, 2011 in Art, Culture, Food, History, Practicalities, The City

 

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(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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