Sunday, March 28, 2010

Primavera Break

The tourist flood gates are slowly opening, which makes traversing in the center somewhat tricky. I’m pretty good at picking up on where various groups are from--might as well make a game out of my inconvenience. The Italians, Americans, and Japanese are easy to spot, but the Germans, Irish, Swiss, Spanish etc. are a little more difficult. Allora.
Nerina and I had a nice week together. We spent an afternoon in the Bardini Gardens, I took her to the dentist (not as traumatic for her as dentist visits were for me), we invented a hybrid of 20 questions and Pictionary, and read Alice in Wonderland together.
When I was not with Nerina I was running errands, reading (finished Lolita!) or strolling through the city with Rachel. We’re actually getting ready to visit a flower festival in Greve in Chianti. Hopefully the buses are running today. Also, Jennifer gets back from the States today. I made her a welcome home sign. I missed that blonde head of hers around here.
Back to class tomorrow.
My professor is taking me to a chitarra (guitar), voce (voice), violino (don't tell me you can't guess what that is), and bouzouki (no idea what this is) concert on Wednesday.

Friday, March 26, 2010

Nerina Skips School

Monday, March 22, 2010

A Volterra con le mie Amiche

I didn’t get to build a sandcastle. Instead I saw a real one in the ancient alabaster town of Volterra, which was hosting a tartufa (truffle: the mushroom) festival. It didn’t take much to convince Rachel and me to abandon our original plan and a rainy beach to go with Rita’s family to sample bianci e neri tartufi. Dio, those fungi are expensive! I bought a thimble-sized jar of acacia honey with white truffles for 6 euros. I’m saving it for a special occasion…no idea when that will be. On a non-truffle related note, I also bought an alabaster wine stopper. We’re all winos in this apartment and we have more open bottles that we would like to disclose, so this gift (for me) has meaning and purpose.
What else about Voltera? There is a Museum of Torture! We just visited the lobby. Rachel doesn’t have the stomach for these things. The poor girl is allergic to gluten, soy, dairy, and gore…poor thing. In accordance with our already extra-feminine weekend (we watched a chick flick the night before) we skipped in the park surrounding the castle. But joy of joys, Rita’s father challenged the Americans in a foosball match, Italy vs. the U.S. Thanks to my legendary defensive skills...America lost horribly.
I made sure my boss knows it is my Spring Break and that I am available all week, all day—not sure why I did this. Consequently, Nerina is skipping school today and we are taking Polla (her pug puppy) for a posh bath at a place near the Pitti Palace. While Polla is being pampered, Ne and I are going to the Bardini Gardens; they are right behind her house and I have still not been. Then…non lo so…whatever we want. Gelato is definitely on the agenda. We also need to pick up a soccer ball (Ginevra wouldn’t let us take the one from the country house). So now I need to get ready for my adventure. I am expected to report for duty at 9:30.


Saturday, March 20, 2010

Primavera Break

Wow, from now on I will assess how well my Italian has improved by the complexity of the conversation with my hairdresser. (I will only have one more chance to do this though.) Today I learned that Ana is afraid of planes! It was a relatively infantile conversation, but infinitely better than three months prior.
Rita is coming to Florence tonight to escort Rachel and me to her hometown near Pisa (I always forget the name of that place!) She wants to take us shopping and also wants to rent Valentine’s Day, so I am in for one girly weekend. Sunday we’re going to Viareggio, a little beach town near Pisa; rain is in the forecast, but I am determined to build a sandcastle regardless.
I booked the hotel for my mama and nonna that is only two minutes from il mio apartamento. The owners are a lovely young couple. The husband is from Florence and the wife from Japan—they met in school in San Diego.
I don’t have to work again until Monday night. Nerina is taking French until 5 pm on Mondays. I forgot last week and showed up two hours early. No big deal; I like being in elementary schools, especially when the little scholars are Italian. I think I would make a good elementary teacher, but even trilingual children don’t appreciate Shakespeare and James…and Pirandello.
Buona fine settimana ragazzi!
I miss you.

Wednesday, March 17, 2010

Foreigners and Florentines

For those interested in reading a travel book on Florence not sated with endearments, euphemisms, and clichés, and prefer an honest portrayal of the city from the perspective of an outsider, then please pick up a copy of Mary McCarthy’s The Stones of Florence. Though the book was first published in 1956, it still offers relevant information and insight on the city. One notable issue, which temporary residents of the city should consider, is the Florentines’ treatment of tourists. Likely, most of you have had more than one negative experience with the Florentine population, whether in a store, on the streets, when asking for assistance, or in a restaurant—perhaps you were ignored, run over, or treated as a nuisance. You have then experienced firsthand a typical foreigner’s encounter with a Florentine. McCarthy explains that this attitude is not “a sign of indifference, but of a peculiar pride and dignity.” Florentines are proud of their city but they do not exhibit it like a theme park. Their attitude is: “the monuments are there—let the foreigners find them.” McCarthy inform us that “this lack of cooperative spirit, this absence, this preoccupation, comes after a time and if you are not in a hurry, to seem one of the blessings of Florence, to make it, even, a hallowed place.” Instead of taking offence, we foreigners should understand that this strange behavior is a present-day continuation of an attitude that was labeled “Florentine” long before our arrival. Their aloofness should not intimidate us, but encourage us to take the discovery of this city and its inhabitants into our own hands, though we may have to euphemize our own negative experiences on occasion.

Monday, March 15, 2010


As you can see from the photos, Nerina's country house in not too shabby. All we were missing was a pony. We were also missing a soccer ball, but Ginevra resolved that problem on day 2. Nerina has a little foosball table (a.k.a calcetto) and we got bored with that pretty quickly, so I asked Ginevra to pick us up a real ball: best idea ever. When Ginevra’s friend arrived with her three children we played soccer until the sun went down. Children are such cheatersr: using their hands, kicking it out of bounds and counting is as a goal, discounting my points if I kicked it too hard….I had so much fun. And I finally got to show off my coaching skills and polish up on that endorsement I had almost forgotten about. I still need to take 2 classes for that when I get back...
The county house is not actually in Todi. Todi is a 10 minute drive over the Umbrian hillside. You actually have to take an escalator to get into the town. We only spent an hour there. It was getting dark and the children’s sugar rush from the gelato was wearing off. It was a quaint little town though, with a nice view of the countryside; very Italian, as Ginevra described it.
The children were great. The three extras reminded me of my old family unit: me, C.J., and Morgan. They even looked like us, a little. The oldest is brown haired and big cheeked (I still am), the boy is thin with big grey eyes like C.J. (and a lisp that made him extra cute), and aide from her curls and pleasant nature, the blonde one was Morgan all over. : ) I didn’t watch Camilla (the blonde) much because she is very attached to her mother. I couldn’t understand her baby Italian anyway. Martina didn’t speak much, but we played together. Pietro and I hit it off though. Their father died a few years ago from an unexpected heart attack and I don’t think the boy gets to play sports very often. Anyway, he was the most enthusiastic. We babbled in Italian and kicked the ball back and forth while the girls played with their Barbies. I’m sorry, Nerina, but I can’t even pretend to enjoy playing with those mini mannequins.
I’m back in my apartment in Florence and it’s midterm week. I take my second test today and then I think I will wander over to the Odeon to watch another film at the Florence Korean Film Festival. My professoressa Simonetta invited me and Austin to one last night. It was pretty good, almost pornographic though, so it was not a little bit awkward with my professor on one side and my guy friend on the other….oh dio! I hope this next film won’t be so…free.

Thursday, March 11, 2010

Paradiso e Inferno: Un barzelleta (Heaven and Hell: A Joke)

Il Paradiso e` il posto dove l'inglese fa il poliziotto, il tedesco il meccanico, il francese il cuoco, l'italiano l'amante, e lo svizzero amministra tutto. All'inferno, invece, gli inglesi fanno i cuochi, i tedeschi sono poliziotti, i francesi meccanici, gli svizzeri amatori, e gli italiani...amministrano!

Heaven is a place where the Enligsh are the policemen, the Germans are the mechanics, the French are the cooks, the Italians are the lovers, and the Swiss are the administrators. In Hell, instead, the English are the cooks, the Germans are the policemen, the French are the mechanics, the Swiss are the lovers, and the Italians...the administrators!

Wednesday, March 10, 2010

From the Sidewalk--Dal Marciapiede

For students and most permanent residents, Florence is a walking city. I am sure you have experienced the battle of willpower when encountering a fellow pedestrian on the treacherously thin sidewalks. Merely walking to class becomes a competition of physical presence and impending domination, in which the loser is either plowed by the victorious pedestrian or forced to chance the equally dangerous streets buzzing with motorists. The Italians usually win.
However, once you have learned to maneuver hips, glare down the opposition, or even cling to the wall for dear life, the view from the sidewalk can prove to be quite entertaining; in fact some of my most dear Florentine memories took place while suspended on the curb. The bicyclists in particular prove to be a daily fascination for me. At any given moment you are likely to see Florentine men and women astride their bikes conducting parade worthy feats of dexterity and balance. Watch these pedalers navigate their mounts with no hands while they chat or text on their cellphones, walk their dogs, smoke a cigarette, and hold an umbrella, with groceries in their metal baskets and children perched on the back seat.
No matter the occasion, the Florentine sidewalk is definitely a place to be alert.

Tuesday, March 9, 2010

Roundabout the Gulf of Naples

For a ridiculously reasonable price I booked a trip to Napoli, Sorrento, Capri, and Pompeii through my school. It included a roundtrip private bus ride, two nights in a 3-star hotel, buffet breakfast, two dinners, a ferry ride to Capri, a guided tour of Napoli, entrance ticket and tour of Pompeii, and insurance. Can anyone guess how much?
Aside from the pizza, I was not at all impressed with Napoli. I know I am not giving it a fair chance. My friend Lucy was there at the same time with her program and she fell in love with the small streets, local charm, and renowned museums. I saw none of this. Our tour was rushed, it was raining, cold, and we only saw a few churches and piazzas in between the filth and the same political posters plastered in succession and surrounded by half naked women advertising underwear. Not at all like Dean’s “That’s Amore” made it out to be. But I am willing to go back…with a bodyguard.
I did not get to see much of Sorrento aside from the streets between our hotel and the ristorante we dined in both nights. Sorrento is known for its inlaid wood craftwork and softball sized lemons. Though I was tempted, I did not purchase either. I don’t need a music box and I don’t like limoncello.
We spent the entire day in Capri, once a haven for poets and intellectuals, now a tourist trap for people like…well me. This time of the year, however, it is not that crowded. Our tour leader Francesca (she was our guide in Perugia when I went to the chocolate festival) took us to her favorite beach, which turned out to be a steep rock pile overlooking the town, bordered by the clearest and most blue water I have ever seen. The whole day was surreal. I spent the next six hours walking around the town, exploring villas, and eating. Our waiter was very charming (the two girls and I were the only people in the restaurant); he smooth talked us into buying a seafood aperitif and the house special. The price was not right, but the food made up for it. I still don’t know what types of fish I ate, and maybe I don’t want to know. The waiter insisted he join us on the rest of our tour, and though he was good at his job, I did not want him following us around all day. Besides, the man must have been at least 35, and it is always a little troubling when a man shows so much interest in women he knows will not be sticking around for long. We hid in a café` until we were sure the coast was clear. I watched the sun set from the back of the ferry boat on the ride back to Sorrento.
What can I say about Pompeii? Wow! I must go back. The tour was over two hours long, but we only saw a portion of the archeological area. I learned a lot on this tour; I was at full attention for once. Pompeii is also another reason I should go back to Napoli, because most of the precious artifacts (and bodies) have been relocated to a museum there.
It’s snowing in Florence.
I can finally sing this song.

Wednesday, March 3, 2010

Other Regions

With Nerina gone all last week, I really thought I would have accomplished more. I am not a very productive traveler it seems. I can only read on a bus for so long, and not at all while on tour. Somehow everything gets done on time.
Assisi was an optional, pay-as-you-go trip, so I invited my intercambio partner, Rita, to join us. It was borderline snowing when we arrived, but the sun came out soon enough and we spent most of our time church hopping anyway. Padre Bruno gave us a tour of the life of Saint Francis, who was actually a pretty interesting guy. My knowledge of Franciscan friars ended with Eco’s Il Nome Della Rosa, so I am glad that is no longer true. Rita, Rachel, and I separated ourselves from the group a few hours before departure and walked around on our own. We strolled down Pax et Bonum street and then down the hill Assisi is settled into. This part of Umbria (the region) looks much like Nebraska, if Nebraska had olive groves, cottages, and old Italian men with straw hats…
Orvieto, also in Umbria, sits on a flat summit of volcanic rock called tuff. Once the center of Etruscan civilization, Orvieto is now a quiet little town known for its white wine and underground city tours. Beneath the town, there is another town carved into the rock, which we were only able to see a small portion of, as it is still being excavated for ancient Etruscan artifacts. Above ground, in the Duomo, there is a bloodstained cloth on display, Brought from Bolsena, Italy in 1263, it is believed to be the blood of Jesus. I took a picture.
As fascinating as Orvieto is, the best part of the day was the picnic Rachel and I had on the wall overlooking the countryside. We bought insalata, eggplant parmigiano, salmone, vino bianco, and a 7 euro chocolate bar. I’m not a good judge of distance, but I would say we were perched on a wall about 20 stories high. There is nothing like picnicking on a precipice with locals strolling by and wishing you “Buon appetito!"
Bologna was much nicer than my visits to the train station had led me to believe. I would like to go back when it's not cold and rainy--if only for the tiramisu.

This weekend I'm going to Napoli, Sorrento, Capri, and Pompei with a large group of FUA students.