In the past few days, I’ve made a remarkable discovery. There are many qualities about Italy and Italians that are considered funny, if slightly demeaning, stereotypes. Throughout my ambling through the town and dealings with the locals, I can say that, with a pretty decent amount of certainty, these Italian qualities and characteristics aren’t stereotypes.
Everything you hear is true. Completely true. Here, I'll list them off:
Do Italian all dress smartly every day? Yes.
Do all Italians use their hands when they talk? Yes.
Do they talk really loudly on their cell phones? Yes.
Is everything in Italy ill-organized, jumbled, or delayed? Yes.
Do Italians smoke? Like if they keep doing it, they’ll win something.
Do Italian men act really sleazy toward American women in nightclubs? Absolutely – and it’s hilarious to watch.
Are Italian drivers incredibly reckless and push the boundaries when they drive. Yes (The same actually applies to Italian pedestrians: there is no unspoken rule ‘walk on the left/right side of the road’. It’s more ‘I’ll walk where I damn well please.’ If you are on a collision course with an Italian pedestrian, it becomes a sick game of chicken. Unfortunately, because Italians don’t seem to have nearly as much personal space as Americans, they almost always win.)
In spite of all of these characteristics (or perhaps because of them), Italians are incredibly amiable and approachable. It’s very easy to get by and talk with Italians, particularly the younger ones, who tend to know slightly more English if you get stuck.
When I got to my apartment, at about 2 pm local time on Wednesday afternoon. I was tired, I hadn’t showered in a while, and all the while I was stumbling through my Italian trying to get to my address. Fortunately, my new Italian roommates, who were there when I arrived, greeted me warmly. They introduced themselves (Giorgio and Roberta) and made me a quick snack of some cheesy risotto. They introduced themselves and what they did – Giorgio just finished with his schooling and now works at one of the local banks (he also bartends occasionally at night at a nice hotel). Roberta is studying languages, and is working her way to speaking five languages (Italian, English, French, Spanish, and Arabic). They seemed to understand that I was tired and worn out, and so they allowed me to unpack while they worked in cleaning the apartment. I was afraid that they would take my general drowsiness as apathy, but fortunately they were understanding, and once I got fixed to their time schedule (aka, the next three days) I realized that they didn’t care and were just happy I was here.
Now to the apartment. It’s amazing. We’re situated on the Via del Pian d’Ovile, in the heart of the Lupa contrada (the She-Wolf). It’s far larger than the suite at Vanderbilt, with nice hardwood or tile floors, and high ceilings. My own room is about the size of the small double, but it is a single for right now (I’ll have a roommate for a few days coming tomorrow). My room has a nice view, with a bunch of houses and a church out the window. The only problem (and really, it's just a little thing) is that there's some construction going on outside on the ground, like they're building a new underground entrance piazza to the buses. They start working in the morning (apparently their version of 'work' is to do nothing but break ceramic tiles all day), so I manage to get up early.
The view from my bedroom window (there is a simplistic church to the right). Note the construction below. Fortunately, if you look up, the view is nice.
The bathroom is small but accessible, and the kitchen is not only large, but fully functional and equipped. There are all manners of pots, pans, strainers, silverware, spices, and other assorted equipment that it meant I could try out all I wanted to with cooking. Our street is located on the northern part of the city. It’s not a bad spot, but unfortunately it’s downhill, so if you want to go anywhere in the city, you have to walk a few blocks on the Via dei Valerozzi, a steep uphill climb. There is a produce store very close by, and the main shopping street and market are not far away.
The view from my kitchen window. To the right is Fonte Nuova (next picture).
The Fonte Nuova, heart of the Lupa Contrada. It's simple, but it's got a lot of importance in Siena.
Siena the city, I’ve found out, is even tinier than expected. I’d estimate the entire city as being about 1.5 times the size of the Vanderbilt campus, and certainly no bigger than twice the size, but in that size it holds 55,000 people. It’s very dense, and while it is modern enough, the architecture and aura of the area would not have you believe it. You automatically feel comfortable and charmed in Siena, which is good. It could be because, even if you get yourself hopelessly lost, as long as you keep on a road you’ll end up somewhere familiar within a half hour.
Once I can get pictures of my classmates, I’ll get you all posted on that. Two days ago we all took a hike to Monteriggioni, a picturesque castle-town on top of a hill about twenty minutes away by bus. Here's the city in its entirety:
I also took my Italian placement exam today. I don’t know why I was so stressed about it. It wasn’t for a grade (only for determining what level of class I’d be in) and it honestly wasn’t that difficult (not even because I had taken Italian before, but because the test was so goofily easy). Tomorrow’s my first class, so I’m pumped up for that.
I’ll write soon, guys, ‘till later!