RSS

Category Archives: Persons & Peoples

(Day 48) BREAK

Apologies due again, apparently, because it is very clearly Saturday and not Friday ūüė¶

SO, crazy week — between all that end-of-class stuff going on, my epic two-weeks-and-counting cold got way worse, and I ended up having to go to the doctor and start the dreaded antibiotics. ¬†But none of that matters now, because we’ve made it; I took my test, I went to the last on-site visit, I did the readings, I (cut it very close but I) finished my paper, and I’ve accidentally gone and gotten about 14 hours of sleep so we’re finally good to go.

Also have I mentioned that I am on ~*BREAK*~.

Think I’ll just go ahead and do a brief run-down of pretty much everything that’s been up lately, but first I’d just like to say that I realize that I have answered basically no emails since around Tuesday or Wednesday. ¬†That would be on account of me running back and forth between homework and passed-out-sleeping, so please know that I was not ignoring you and I will get back to you as soon as I can.

  • ¬†Last Friday: This would be the first real fall day we had, and a day full of drizzles to boot. ¬†Went in to work on the library for a bit, got a haircut (negotiated all in Italian, btw — and everything went just fine, but I am *so* glad it was just hair and not dental work or something), went to the ATM, and walked over to the nearby San Lorenzo market. ¬†This would be the outdoor street market famous for its leather stalls (which are set up in front of actual leather stores), but you can also find notebooks, scarves, random touristy souvenir stuff, etc. ¬†Started to downpour while I was there, and it was pretty fun to watch — shoppers scatter to the sides, stall cover extensions are pulled out and up, shoppers sidle back out, business resumes as usual with a lot more bobbing umbrellas.
  • Also Friday, another bus strike. ¬†Italian unions, I have found, like strikes very much but don’t really seem to get how they work. ¬†For example, they announce in advance that they’re going to have one, but they also announce when the strike (the ‘sciopero’)¬†is going to end and at what points during the strike they will not actually be striking. ¬†It is not terribly efficient, but at least I got to take the bus both ways.

  • Saturday: The trip to Lucca with Alex, Kari, Katie and Willi. ¬†We went to just have a nice relaxing time in a quiet country town, and that’s exactly what we did — on what turned out to be just a really perfect fall day, cool and crisp and colorful. ¬†Mainly we just walked around and looked at churches, because we are creatures of art historical habit and we couldn’t help ourselves. ¬†Saw another saint’s corpse, and the churches themselves were beautiful, but there were two highlights of our visit and they had nothing to do with that: 1) The Caffe Di Simo, a beautiful old-fashioned cafe that was once frequented by the composer Puccini and which we were drawn to on account of its jaw-dropping pastry display, plus¬† 2) The medieval city walls. ¬†The nice thing about these is that they encircle the whole city and have had wide tree-lined paths put in, so you can actually walk up there with the city on one side and fields and mountains on the other. ¬†Bellissima ^_^

  

  • Monday: Italian class and figure drawing. ¬†The very first week of the drawing class, half of us did a drawing from a live (and nude — that seems to surprise some people) model, and then we switched with the other half and went downstairs to work on cast drawings in charcoal, and this last week we were back to figure drawing. ¬†And no pictures to show you yet, but I think I may be improving a bit : )
  • Tuesday: Italian class, a literary discussion in the Weaving the Tale class, and then straight over to an on-site visit to the San Marco religious complex. ¬†Fascinating place — but you will be spared the earful because I am tired. ¬†(However, we *are* going back in a couple weeks to talk about the crazy-intense preacher who was arrested there, so maybe later?)
  • Wednesday: A lot of work on my paper for the Medici class, Italian in the afternoon, figure drawing in the evening. ¬†And this would be the night that got my host mom really concerned, because the mutant cold was Very Not Good at this point. ¬†Early bed times all around!
  • Thursday: ¬†Had to be at the Bargello (a sculpture gallery with a pretty twisted history) by 9:00 am, and almost had a heart attack because my bus stop was ‘temporarily abolished.’ ¬†But that turned out to be alright, so just spent an hour and a half walking around the Bargello discussing Donatello, then a walk back to the school for another hour of class, a quick lunch, and our Italian class + quiz at ¬†1:00. ¬†Booked it over to the doctor to get there before the clinic closed, over to the pharmacy, over to the other side of the river for the final drawing class, dinner, and then a very sincere attempt to get my Medici paper done — which failed, because I fell asleep.
  • Friday: Up early in the morning to *finally* finish that paper, caught a bus downtown to turn it in, shared a great deal of confusion with other students over where to turn it in, figured something out, went over to the grocery store for lunch, ate lunch, back to the apartment…and at this point we get the 14-hour nap interrupted only by dinner. ¬†And it was amazing you guys ‚̧
  • Today, Saturday, is the day Gabriella’s cleaning-assistant-man comes in, so I had to actually get up and shower in order to be able to vacate the house for a couple hours. ¬†And finding a way to waste the time turned out to not be a problem, because a snafu with the buses turned what was supposed to be a quick trip to the store and ATM into a 3-hour sit-and-wait nightmare of hanging around various bus stops cursing #12 and making like a turtle to try to block the extremely bitter wind we had today.*

And I had other stuff I was hoping to say, which I will hopefully still remember tomorrow, but I have just this second gone exhausted again and I think we’re going to have to call it a night. ¬†But I can promise that, for the next week, I’ll be able to get something on the blog each and every day, so hold on to your hats because here comes postage.

Round of emails tomorrow to everyone who’s sent me one lately, and ttys anyway to everyone else : )

 

*Because Florence is in a valley, wind is pretty rare here, because it takes more than a light breeze to make it past the hills and down into the city. ¬†But this apparently means that the winds that *do* make it down are real thugs, so that’s fun.
 

Tags: , , ,

(Day 40 Again) That Bike Trip

Hello again ūüôā

Alright, so trip to Venice is behind us, the Monday immediately following started up our first blown-out crazy-busy week of classes, Wednesday night we had the concert, and now we’ve hit the weekend and the first day of October.

Which is glorious.

By this point I’ve had standing reservations for a week to meet up with Katie, Leah, Kari and Willi to go on a 13-mile bike tour through Chianti, so it’s out the door fairly early on this Saturday morning and a nice leisurely walk down to the office of Tuscany Bike Tours. ¬†Ours is one of several groups that are going, so we’re all separated into 3 clusters for the vans and off we go.

It’s a 40-minute drive out of the city to the start point of the tour, and we are reminded along the way that the Chianti area is…hilly. ¬†Very seriously swoopy, swervy, up-down etc.

(Just so you know, that’s a drop-off past those bushes. ¬†In Chianti, everything¬†is a drop-off past the bushes.)

So, driving out, first thought is that the hills make for ridiculously stunning scenery. ¬†Second thought is that I really hope I’m not in over my head here; I’ve been on a bike, yes, and I love bike riding, but I live in Iowa. ¬†The roads are, by and large, flatter than a crushed crepe, I have never really had to bother with gears at all, and I probably don’t have the right muscles in place for this.

…Oh well, excited anyway : )

After a while our attention is directed to a castle on top of a hill.  This hill, and that castle:

This would be the starting point.

It’s a 12th century castle (the Castello di Poppiano), and it’s been in the count’s family for generations. Because yes, apparently a count and countess still live there.

…Life must be magnificent for some people.

Anyway, the castle is now home to the estate’s wine and olive oil business, and we got a tour of this before heading out on the bikes. ¬†(And btw, there are several bike tour organizations that go through Chianti and include wine tastings, but this is the only one that does theirs in a castle. ¬†Just saying.)

   

Further by the way, that guy in the right-hand pic would be Andy, one of the two people (the other being Keith) who run Tuscany Bike Tours.  Andy is Scottish, Keith is Irish, both are very nice, very funny and all-around excellent tour guides that now receive the official Thumbs-Up Seal of Approval : )

Up to the top of the castle for a look at that-there view —

  

— and back down to the courtyard for a tasting of one of the Chianti wines and a sampling of olive oil on bread. ¬†The olive oil is the best I’ve tasted, and everybody praised the Chianti, but all the latter did for me was give me more confirmation that I just don’t care for wine myself. ¬†*sigh,* guess I will have to become some other type of alcoholic.

Those who wanted to buy souvenirs were taken through the shop, and then we all met at the back door of the castle (man, the things this trip makes me say), where we were introduced to our bikes.

The bikes were labeled.  I got Batman.*

A quick run-down of safety stuff, they explain gears to a simpleton in a sentence and a half, we are given helmets and water bottles, and they show us the bag/baskets on the back of the bikes. ¬†And we’re off! ¬†With a little moment of dread as we huff and puff our way up the driveway!

–But it’s all good! ¬†The first 40 minutes or so are pretty much all down-hill, flying through little towns and around bends and OMG IT’S AWESOME.

And just like that, first x-number of miles is over and it’s lunchtime.

Over the 10 years they’ve been doing this, Keith and Andy have built up a relationship with the family who runs the restaurant they take us to, just as they’ve built up a relationship with the count’s family. ¬†It’s a restaurant well out in the country, ¬†the atmosphere is very comfortable, we get lots of options for food, and everything is, as per usual, delicious.

  

On we go again, now influenced by both the wine from earlier (of which some had more than others) and very full stomachs. ¬†Which are actually not a problem — another group of American girls on this bike ride was just picking at their food, worrying aloud about the calories, but our group just got down to business, put it all away like nothing, and walked out good to go. ¬†As somebody said, we’ll need to enter some eating contests after this.**

And now we’re up against the scary uphill part — which is not bad at all. ¬†We are led around the bottom of the hill, up a gentle incline that we’ve got a half hour to do, and then there’s one very steep section of road that is, as it turns out, optional. ¬†Anyone who doesn’t want to to do it can take the van up, and we absolutely went with ‘smart’ instead of ‘brave.’ ¬†(All of us, that is, except Katie, but she’s just a badass and doesn’t count ; )

We ride for another half hour or so, and then it’s over — one of the very best days I’ve had here. ¬†The ride felt great, the weather was perfect (and seriously, if you end up in a position to do something like this, do not go¬†while it is still hot), and we give our profuse thanks to Keith as he drops us back off in Florence.

Just a note, though: if you come here and do end up able and willing to do this (and you should absolutely do this if you can budget it in), I’d suggest you go with Tuscany Bike Tours and NOT with I Bike Italy. ¬†They are not the same, no matter how much I.B.I. wants to make it seem otherwise.

And again, that’s Tuscany Bike Tours.

 

So! ¬†There’s last Saturday, and I still want to throw out a little about this past week, so we’ll see if I can get that in tonight or tomorrow. ¬†But dinner and emails first, so in case I don’t get the chance to say it later, have a good Friday : D

 

*Other bike names included Marilyn Monroe, Tarzan, and Yo Mama.  Yes, the jokes were made.

**Btw, as far as the food, just thought I’d mention that across the ACM group as a whole, any weight gain has been completely negligible. ¬†If you doubt this, please go back through these posts and add up all the times I say we’re walking. ¬†And then add in all those times I don’t bother to mention it because it’s just a fact of life.

 
1 Comment

Posted by on October 7, 2011 in Food, Persons & Peoples, Travel and Touristing

 

(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.

 
 

(Day 35) Karma

Yesterday, I made fun of my internet for being sluggish and whiny. ¬†Today, my cold came back with a vengeance and I fell asleep three times on accident and spent an hour and a half trying to slog through 30 minutes’ worth of homework. ¬†Which I haven’t actually finished yet, because Gabriella brought me sympathy tea and then I fell asleep.

*headdesk*

I’m so sorry, but give me a little while to get back on top of this?

 
1 Comment

Posted by on October 2, 2011 in Meta, Persons & Peoples

 

(Day 33) Backlogging

Relying on sprint-speak tonight, because I’ve got to get up in the morning to go on that bike tour:

Referring back to that Wednesday night concert: this was an opportunity ACM made available to us, and they paid for the ticket of anyone who wanted to go. ¬†The evening’s entertainment was a selection of music by Gershwin and Bernstein, performed/orchestrated by this guy, Wayne Marshall.

To set the stage a little, the concert was set for 8:30 pm; this followed a work study session in the morning, Italian from 1:30 to 2:45, an on-site Medici class visit from 3:00 to 4:45, figure drawing class from 5:00 to 7:00, and a trek back to the station to meet Kari at 7:30.  So a very long day, especially since I was just starting to come down with that cold I now have.  Achoo.

So Kari and I set out once again, and we finally get to the Teatro Communale around 8:15. ¬†And there’s a moment of perplexity, because the crowd standing around outside looks rather fancified, as in little black dresses every which way. ¬†We ourselves looked respectable, of course, but we hadn’t been told to dress up — but eh, who cares.

We go inside —

— and find that we’re pretty much dead center in the orchestra seats. ¬†Fantastic : D

Clock turns over to 8:30, and the concert-goers (relying on that very Italian idea of being “fashionably late”) wait until the official start time to start coming in — which is actually perfectly alright, because the ‘orchestra’ at the time is composed of one lone woman tuning a harp.

Twenty minutes later we finally get going…and bottom line is that it’s magnificent. ¬†And fast. ¬†Violinists flip their instruments onto their shoulders, horns are darting up and down behind the stands, all we can see of Marshall is the back of his tux knotting up and an occasional hand shooting off down the side of the piano, and the entire bottom section of the stage is just a throbbing sea of bows; aside from the way it sounds, it just¬†looks¬†incredible. ¬†And the whole time I’m sitting there I’m just so very very glad I decided to come — yes, early bedtime would have been nice too, but this was pretty much perfect as a way to end a Wednesday. ¬†Just sit there and listen and no worries at all.

So that’s that, and then we’re on to the intermission, which gets a late start on account of the encore procedure is kind of played out like a mind game. ¬†First he’s gone! ¬†–but now he’s back! ¬†he’s shaking that dude’s hand! ¬†again! ¬†bow! ¬†handshake! ¬†gone! ¬†back! ¬†Too much clapping and I can’t feel my fingers anymore!

*sigh,* performers.  What can you do.

Second half of the¬†concert nixes the piano but adds the choir, and now we’re on to Bernstein (and, as Kari told me several times with great enthusiasm, this means we get to hear “Chichester’s Psalms”). ¬† And while the first half had been wonderful, this was the part that made me *really* wish that they sold CDs of this thing, because it was completely weird and fantastic and I would have been all over that. ¬†iTunes, maybe?

…So yes, concert ends, there’s another round of exasperating encores, we’re out at 10:40, 20 minute walk back to bus stop, half hour wait for the bus, bed by midnight and up at 6:00. ¬†And ultimately here we are.

 

Alrighty,¬†then — my roommate’s on skype and I’m having a hard enough time forming coherent sentences even without distraction, so I think that’s about all we can do for tonight. ¬†Back in tomorrow evening to keep on keeping on.

 

But first, a quick P.S. — While we were reading over the Teatro’s upcoming events [for one thing, it’s where we’ll be attending the opera], Kari and I found a concert on October 29th featuring music by Vivaldi, Mozart and Schubert. ¬†\o/ ‚̧ etc., but the great thing is that we get guaranteed student rates and should be able to get tickets for about 10 Euro. ¬†Nifty, no? : )

 
Leave a comment

Posted by on September 30, 2011 in Culture, Persons & Peoples, Practicalities, The City

 

(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 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 ūüėÄ — 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.

 
Leave a comment

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