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(Day 28) Back!

Sunday, 10:25 pm

So, safely ensconced back in ye olde Florentine domicile, and thinking that bed is probably a good idea at this point.  But first, let me fling some pictures at you:

                                                           

I’m holding onto many of my favorite photos for later, but this is a solid sampling, so click/enlarge and (hopefully) enjoy : )

Tomorrow, first official library shift in the morning, Italian class (now shortened down to an hour and fifteen minutes) in the afternoon, and my first drawing class in the evening.  It’s a big day and I’m looking forward to it, and with any luck I’ll be able to squeeze a blog post in there to start going over Venice — because yes, Venice was amazing and it needs to be talked about.

As always, hope everyone’s having a good day, and I’ll talk to you as soon as I can.

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Posted by on September 25, 2011 in Classes, Travel and Touristing

 

(Day 25) One Two Skip a Few…

Thursday, 1:36 pm

First off, yaaaay, 40/40 on the final exam!  And we were allowed to leave as soon as we finished, so got out of class an hour early — all in all a most excellent morning : D

Have to hop back on the bus in a few minutes to go to the introduction to our drawing class at Cecil Studios, *hugely* excited for that, and this evening I’m hoping to whip out a couple emails in between prep for Venice tomorrow.  So no blog.  And then no blog tomorrow or the day after or the day after that.  Three days, and nowhere to dump the unconscionable number of photos I’m about to take : (

But, happy to say that there’ll be plenty to talk about (and probably more than plenty/complete overkill) come Sunday night — boring weather talk’s behind us and we’re on to better things.

Until then, I love you (or at least the “you’s” to whom that’s not a completely creepy thing to say), and best wishes for a wonderful weekend ❤

 

P.S. — I had these lying around and realized I’d never posted them, so here’s the Duomo from ground level:

 
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Posted by on September 22, 2011 in Classes, Family, The City

 

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(Day 23) And now a Tuesday

Milestone moment, people: this was the first day that I’ve been able to believe that it will eventually get cold here.

For weeks we’ve been asking around and trying to figure out what a Florentine winter is like, and I think the information we’ve received can be boiled down to this: in autumn (now), the mornings and evenings will get cool but any direct sun will set you straight back to August (i.e., shade = pleasant but sun = blistering heat).  Hot days will keep being a fact of life until one day everything decides to go frigid for kicks and giggles, and there will be lots of rain and bitter wind and that’s winter.

Bit bipolar.

But, like I said, it’s been hot for so long that I was seriously doubting whether ‘winter’ in Italy could be that big a deal.*  So you can imagine my surprise (and also delight, and I sincerely mean that) when I head out to wait at the bus stop this morning and it suddenly feels like mid-October.  Overcast, all the light dim and shifting, with a pretty hefty wind whipping everyone’s hair around — and a jacket very very much a necessity.  It was back into the 80’s by 10:00 AM, of course, but it was quite a nice shock to the system while it lasted.

 

…Only slightly related, but I’ve been daydreaming about Christmas for the last two weeks.  I already miss baking and I’m pre-missing snow (which Tuscany sees about as often as Texas), but the nice thing is that we will get to see the start of Florence’s Christmas preparations.  And, since Italy is dripping with Catholics and Christmas is, as I am told, a day of some importance to the Church, we’ve been promised we’ll get something of a spectacle.  Along with a whole slew of new seasonal foodstuffs, and you can perhaps imagine how I feel about that.**

So yes, very much looking forward to the Christmas season, but we’ll get there when we get there and I’m certainly still set to enjoy myself in the meantime.  Got some tentative October plans in the works with a few other students (which I will tell you about only if and when they become solid), and we’re now just three days out from Venice.  Speaking of which, orientation for that is tomorrow afternoon — so I’ll see you then, when I’ve got some actual new stuff going on?

A domani : )

(Oh, but a quick P.S. — We all took a quiz this morning, and afterwards the other two classes watched movies while our class played charades.  It was a fast-moving game, right up until Umberto tried to get everyone to guess “Paranormal Activity”; watching someone trying to act out ‘normal’ is one of the funniest things I have ever seen [especially since he just kept repeating a bunch of gestures that we weren’t making sense of], and while we did eventually guess the title, amen to the student who said “I don’t understand what just happened.”)

 

 

*Just because I find it funny: we once asked about the most extreme low temperature we could expect here, and they said ‘0.’  Not so bad, we thought — but they meant Celsius.  So there may have been some amused Midwest snorting.

**Just to say it explicitly, a large part of what makes Italian cooking so tremendously good is that they tend to use fresh ingredients and only in season.  We are just now, for example, ending the season for grapes; so, a couple nights ago, Gabriella brought out to the table a dessert called “schiacciata con l’uva”  (a sort of crisp pie/cake with grapes all over it and through it), and told us that this was the last time we’d be seeing it pretty much anywhere in town because everyone’s switching over to fall/winter produce.  Again, the only-in-season mentality makes anything you eat here amazing, but it’s also completely tragic in that it makes most of their dishes impossible to recreate at home.  Even were I armed with recipes (which I currently am not, as Gabriella is resistant to the idea of guests helping in the kitchen), we just don’t have access to the same fresh, flavorful, and very definitely non-GMO ingredients that the Italian style of cooking is meant to accentuate.

But oh well.  We still beat them at breakfast foods ; )

 
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Posted by on September 20, 2011 in Classes, Culture, Food, The City

 

(Day 22) Mondays.

Monday, 9:50 pm

Brief updates are as follows:

  • Have a quiz tomorrow that may be about the future tense (as our teacher told us) but is probably about the imperfect tense (as everyone else’s teachers told them).  Study study *sigh.*
  • Trying to come up with a schedule for library work that can please 13 people with varying personal agendas.  Dare we go for the *double sigh.*
  • We’ve been having meetings to introduce us to our classes, and I’m getting very excited for my electives.  BUT, a fit of the “get-it-over-with’s” made me sign up for the first oral presentation in my Medici class…so now I (along with my presentation partner) have pre-class homework due this upcoming Tuesday.  And we’ll be studying for our Italian final Wednesday night and gallivanting off to Venice for the entire weekend, so this may not have been a case of especially excellent forethought.
  • It not only rained today, it hailed.  And then it was dark the whole afternoon.  Storms \o/
  • In October, in a town very close to here, there is a chocolate festival.
  • We are on break during the chocolate festival.
  • Pontifical lizard:

And I’m out : )

 
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Posted by on September 19, 2011 in Classes, The City

 

(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

 

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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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