Category Archives: Family

(Day 21) Done dawdling!

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:
  1. 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.
  2. 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.
  3. 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.
  4. 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.

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Posted by on September 18, 2011 in Culture, Family, Food, Persons & Peoples


(Day 17) The Pseudo-Update

Wednesday, 6:50 pm

I’m a little under the weather today and this will be a pretty lean entry, but I re-found these pictures from Fiesole and wanted to get them on here before I forgot.

The town in which I am becoming more and more determined to live out my days, should I ever kill someone in a way morally but not legally justified,* has placed a public garden area (with shade, note the shade) just shy of the top of the hill.  On feel-like-dirt days like today, I get to imagine I’m sitting somewhere like this —

— with an outlook like this —


— and picnicking with a bunch of people who are not actually on this continent right now, but may as well be here since it’s just a day dream.  And probably there is an aerial stunt display and someone giving away free footlongs and I have a puppy.

…On to Thursday : )


*Just so we’re clear: if I ever kill someone in a way that is both illegal and morally disgusting, I will go live somewhere nasty like Greenland.  It would only be fair.

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Posted by on September 14, 2011 in Family, The City



Deep Breath

So here we go.  Boarding the plane tomorrow, will be in Florence the day after that, and hopefully at some point I’ll be able to plug in my laptop and find internet without blowing anything up.

There were some parts of prep that I still wanted to talk about, but as I don’t actually know how well my half-baked planning is going to pan out, I figured I might as well wait and give advice from actual experience.  This is both a practical decision and a boon to my procrastinator tendencies, so win win and it’ll keep.

In the meantime, I’m still feeling pretty alright about all this.  I’m packed, I’ve got my backups and safeguards in place, I’ve got my ticket and my boarding pass and — well, bring it on, really.  Still a little sad that none of my family could be around for my last couple days at home,* but they’re out for a very good reason, and in any case a night spent watching Batman and making chocolate cupcakes with a uniquely amazing guy is hardly a bad send-off ; )

Bottom line, ready set go and I’ll get back in here as soon as I can.

Feeling like *!* XD <3.


*My little brother’s been in basic training down in Oklahoma since mid-June, and my parents set out early Wednesday morning to be at his graduation tomorrow.  Mainly I’m just disappointed that I couldn’t go down with them, especially since this brother just had a birthday on Tuesday and especially (if I may take a moment to brag on him) because he was named the Distinguished Honor Graduate of his class, which is a big deal involving some fine fanciness that I would have loved to see in person.  Oh well, he can still have lots of **interweb hugz.**

And btw, hi Parents : )

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Posted by on August 26, 2011 in Family, Persons & Peoples


The Shiny Stuff of Scholarly Pursuits

Just a contextual sort of thing this afternoon, as I keep getting asked what I’ll be studying (often by the same people who’ve simply forgotten) and it’d be easier to just say it once in here and have done.  So my fall semester will see joyful frolicking in the following subjects:

  • Italian language.  Required course for everyone, sole focus of the entire first month.  Yeessss.
  • The Medici as Patrons of the Arts.  An art history / history class zeroed in on an intensely interesting subject, taught by a professor that everyone seems to love.
  • The Sight-Size Tradition: Drawing and Portraiture.  A figure drawing class taught in a practicing atelier.  It’s being billed as a beginner-level introduction to a certain method of taking measurements and building form, and while I’m hardly a straightforward ‘beginner,’ I have never received real formal instruction in drawing or gotten much practice with charcoal.  …So basically I am recklessly excited.
  • Weaving the Tale: Literary and Visual Art Narratives of Renaissance Florence.  A literature course, taught by one of the professors from my home college.  She’s fantastic, and students in this class are apparently meant to spend all their time reading and looking at pictures and drawing, so not exactly in agonies here either.

And that’s about all I can say for classes at the moment, but those nosy for more info can go here.

Also, just to reiterate for those who didn’t catch this, I’m a double major in studio art and philosophy with a minor in English, so these courses are hitting 2 of my 3 main areas of study.  Which is great, because obviously one can’t even consider a semester abroad unless it can keep you on track to graduate with all the necessary credits to complete your major.  Upon my return to Cornell, then, I’ll be submitting an academic petition to turn that Medici class into an art history credit, and the Sight-Size class into a studio art credit; without petitions, all courses just count as ‘Credit Received.’

Slight annoyance over the petition process aside (and that really shouldn’t be a big deal), I’m seriously in love with the ‘Credit Received’ system.  You know why?  Because it means that, while you *are* given a grade for each class, that grade does not go on your transcripts.  Which in turn means that a student only needs a ‘C’ in any class to get the credit, and their GPA will go completely unmolested.  And don’t take it the wrong way; I’m still at a 4.0, and it’s hardly as though I won’t be giving 100% effort to each class (fine, maybe 96% if I get lazy), but it’s really nice to not have to worry about grades for once.

And anything else….books.  Right.  So obviously books are kind of heavy and obnoxious when you only have so much room in your suitcase, but we were told to buy a couple of the necessary texts ahead of time because they’re simply not available over there.  And others we were told to buy because we should have them read by the time classes start.  Thankfully none of them are weapons-grade hefty, and I actually do seem to have room in my luggage to bring all of the required ones and then some, but obviously avoid going gung-ho on buying books before you know what will fit.  (And once again I’d just like to point out that that’s a very sad thing for me to say, because gung-ho book-buying is one of my specialties.  *sorrow sigh.*)

And…yes, that’s all I’ve got for now.  But (and this has nothing to do with anything), I’ve realized that I have been doing an insane amount of baking lately, and I think it’s just because I’m getting antsy.  Not nervous per se, but fidgety.  As in I’ve made literally about 14 different things in a little over a week, including cinnamon rolls all the way from scratch, a pie and a couple cakes I’d never tried before, and an embarrassing variety of cookies.  All of it’s turning out pretty great, and I actually do have plans on what to do with these things (if worse comes to worst, “throw everything in freezer / run away” is my backup), but all the same I’m sure my family must be getting sick of walking in every afternoon just to find that the pantry has spawned more baked goods : /

BUT, so be it.  If the house always smells like Christmas now, we’ll just have to live with it.

One week left.

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Posted by on August 18, 2011 in Classes, Family, Practicalities


Update in Miniature

Apparently this is the week where people start coming over for those one-on-one goodbye visits, so getting kind of busy but in a very good way.

Only thing I can throw out quick is that we have finally entered deep-phase packing.  I have taken over my absent brother’s room and am currently transferring my rat’s-nest pile of personal possessions from my floor over to his, so now I can finally go to sleep every night without having to plow a path to the bed first.  Corralling will soon be complete, and next comes the sorting, the packing, the weighing, the repacking, the itemized inventory list of everything I’m taking and everything I’ll need to buy when over there.  Then the haphazard unpacking, because those are my actual clothes and I still need to wear them for two weeks.

Speaking of which, two weeks.  Aaaaagghhh ❤

Other than that, just continuing my reading and re-listening to all my Pimsleur CDs.  Pimsleur, again, would be the language program I’m trying, just to make sure I’m on the right track with my pronunciation and to get a couple phrases under my belt.  So far, the thing I am most confident saying is this: “Mi dispiace, sono americana e non capisco l’italiano.”  To the best of my knowledge, this translates as “I’m sorry, I’m American and I don’t understand Italian.”  If it comes out garbled…well, then that really only underscores my point, doesn’t it?

Still want to talk about money and intercontinental communication and academics (because I’m reading some of our class texts and they are glorious), but people-visiting comes first so I’ll get to it as soon as I can.

(P.S. — More ACM bloggers have joined the party, and the “Other Blogs” page has been updated accordingly.  Seek page, see links, begin frenzied clicking.)

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Posted by on August 8, 2011 in Family, Meta, Persons & Peoples