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Category Archives: The City

(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

 

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(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 10: The Reboot

Hey look, it’s Friday.

Fast-paced couple of days, and I want to hit the highlights of each of them, but it’s going to have to be a little brief — getting up at 5:30 so that we can get to the train station so we can get on a bus to Monteriggioni and then a bus to Sienna and then a bus to Greve in Chianti.  Dang.

So tonight, just that missed Wednesday: Fiesole and the Festa della Rificolona.

Fiesole

So if I ever needed to find my ideal retirement home / politically necessitated hideaway, this is probably it.  It’s an ancient Etruscan (as in pre-Roman) town that sits WAAAAY up on a hill overlooking Florence — and actually, if you remember the view from the San Miniato Cathedral, think of this place as being higher up and directly on the opposite side of the city.  Oh, and with a way better view.  I’ll try to show why by taking a couple pictures when I go back up, but I’m not sure pictures (or at least any pictures I take) can really capture it; it just seems far more sweeping, and includes a steeper look down onto a more pristine area dotted with villas.  The whole class was just staring out the side window as we wound our way up and up and up the hill — it’s gorgeous and serene and completely wonderful.

The town itself is still a town, and while it’s decidedly not part of Florence, a Florence city bus actually makes routine runs up the hill because it’s so incredibly close.  To a certain extent, Fiesole seems like Florence’s best-kept secret; it’s a beautiful little town with its own history, and with easy access to everything Florence has, but it’s got a cozier atmosphere and cleaner air and cooler temperatures and, again, that amazing view.  And, and! it’s so quiet, so not-overrun-by-tourists!  (Hypocrisy?  Where?)

When we went up, we were there for the Etruscan museum, which sits right next to the ruins of both an Etruscan settlement and the later Roman one that overtook it.  So what this means is that we were there for rocks.

 

An actual archaeologist showed us around and narrated in very brave English, and while the class stuff would take too long to make interesting, do you see the two sets of stairs in that right-hand pic?  There are two because when the Romans came into the area, they basically just built their temple right overtop of the Etruscan one; they thought the conquering of a culture just as important as any military victory, so whenever they came across a new people, they made everyone into ”Romans,’ and in this case that meant nomming right over the Etruscan place of worship without even bothering to clear out the old debris.

Again, it would take too long to make this as interesting as it could be, but when looking at these particular ruins, all I could think of was those fossils they find of gigantic prehistoric fish with other complete skeletons still in the stomach — and while this is not a funny comparison, I must have been pretty out of it because it made me giggle kind of a lot.

….

Not related to the educational stuff, but the Wednesday we went to Fiesole it was also the birthday of one of the girls in the group (Willi, whose blog is linked), so our professors gathered us together at the end of the trip and brought us little icy-cold cream-filled puff pastries to celebrate.  I just want it stated for the record that these were arguably the best things I have had on this trip so far; they’re called bigne, and these were from a Fiesolan pasticceria called Alcedo’s that Kate (one of the program coordinators who’s actually lived in both Fiesole and Florence) says is the best place in the entire region.

The number 7 bus that goes to Fiesole runs right by my street and only takes about 20 minutes to get there.  Yeah, I’m going back.

Festa della Rificolona (the festival of the lantern)

So this is essentially a children’s carnival.  You can read about the history online if you want, but basically it’s an excuse for kids to come out late at night with pretty little lanterns* and have TONS of candy.  Which, hey, I totally support : )

   

There was also music and dancing up on the stage, and prizes were handed out for the best home-made lantern.  But there were also plenty of store-bought ones, which I know because Disney would not otherwise allow Lightning McQueen’s face on tissue paper.**

The Festa della Rificolona is actually associated with a religious holiday (which Italy has many of and takes very seriously, being so Catholic), and there were other parts of the celebration that I would have really loved to see — there was a component down on the river, with lanterns on boats, and there was an organ concert in the Baptistery, and the Cathedral’s outer walkways were opened to the public for free.  But alas, attending any of these would have taken me away from dinner AND gotten me down to 3 hours of sleep.  I could maybe have handled one of those…but then again, dinner is sacred and sleep is divine, so maybe not.  Eh, I still got to see something pretty and ~extremely~ cute and this makes me happy.

Aaaand yep that’s it for tonight.  Hopefully back in tomorrow evening to keep up the new additions, and in the meantime hope everything’s going well for everybody.  Also, if you’ve emailed me and I haven’t written back, it’s coming very soon, so please don’t hate me yet.

 

*The lanterns used actual candles, so some of them would in fact suddenly go up in flames.  But that was kind of cool and the kids thought so too, so no harm done.

**Also spotted: Mickey Mouse, Donald Duck, Spongebob, Hello Kitty, Spiderman, etc., because apparently even obscure city-specific harvest festivals have gone commercial.

 

(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.

~(*glee*)~

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 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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(Day 3) Mi dispiace!

Wednesday, 5:34 PM

Ok, so took a break from the blog longer than intended.  The Linguaviva school’s internet has been sputtering off and on for the last couple days, and I could no longer use our hotel’s connection as we have been moved out of the hotel, and my host family doesn’t have wireless, and it takes 24 hours to activate the wireless key I bought…so here we are and this was the fastest I could make things happen.  The joys of being dependent on the internet, I guess.

Short version of the last couple days:

  • Began Italian classes.  There are 3 classes of about 9 people each, meeting 9-10:30 and 11-12:30 every day — which is a breeze, coming from the Cornell block plan.  So far all we can really do is point at a thing and stutter out some vague approximation of the name, but we started learning verbs today, so…yeah, be amazed : )
  • Got a new cell phone.  ACM has a deal with the Wind/Maxsi store, so we all got cheap phones with cheap plans to use for the 3 months we’ll be out of the US.  The new things can only be used Wind to Wind unless you’re willing to pay (or have your parents pay) exorbitant rates to call home, but nobody uses them for much but emergencies anyway.
  • Filled out (somewhat intimidating) paperwork for the permit of stay and our bus passes, both paid for by ACM.  Also got our museum passes and event discount cards; mine are just a little bit covered in drool because I’m a nerd and that’s the kind of stuff I’m here for, but hopefully the non-nerds will be pleasantly surprised as well.
  • Met my new roommate, Anica, and we both moved in with our host parents (grandparents?) Gabriella and Nino.  All three seem like wonderful people, but more on the homestay situation when I’ve got time to go into it.
  • Took my first city bus, to and from class.  So stupidly easy to do that I may have literally lol’d at one point.
  • Bought myself the aforementioned internet key, aka my magic blue stick.  Took WAY longer than it should have to get it up and running, but considering that all the crucial settings were in obscure locations, that the Italian store clerks couldn’t help me, and that the instructions that *could* help me were all in Italian, not too shabby if I do say so myself.

Things should be settling into a routine for awhile, so I should be able to get on here more often (and hopefully with more interesting content).  Tonight I’ve got errands to run, homework to do, and a 3-course dinner to eat,* but either later tonight or tomorrow, amici miei.

*whew* : )

 

*All fresh ingredients (as in bought today, straight from the outdoor market), and prepared by a woman who clearly knows what she’s doing.  You can be jealous, but keep in mind that dinner comes with about an hour of painfully awkward conversation attempted in mostly-Italian.  This is not to say that the food’s not worth the trouble, because it totally is, but…yes, just enjoy your meal from a box/can/store happy in the knowledge that it’s not entirely sunshine and roses here ; )

(P.S. — Have a picture.

This is Piazza Santa Maria Novella, one of the many many piazzas [open squares] around the city, and that’s the S.M.N. cathedral straight ahead on the left.  I pass by here on my way to buy office supplies and to get to the restaurant at which our professors have twice bought us dinner, and aside from ‘pretty,’ all I can really say about the place is ‘birds.’  Or maybe ‘flippant birds which have no fear.’)

 

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