Friday, April 24, 2009

Less than Four Weeks Left!

The fact that we, at this point, now have less than four week remaining in Italy is quite sad news to me. This semester has gone by so quickly that I feel that, while I have experienced so much here and done so many awesome things, I will have missed something important (although I’m not sure what that ‘something’ is). The semester’s gone by too fast, I think, although I will get three weeks longer than my Vanderbilt buddies (who are now cramming for exams, I take it – I don’t envy them).

I’ve also decided to try a new hairstyle. I figured, hey, I’ve only got a few weeks left here, so I should make the most of it. Since I don’t know the people here as well as the ones at Vandy, it’d be easier for me to change my hair. So, I’ve decided to become even more Italian and get a faux-hawk. Fun fact: in Italian, a faux-hawk is called a cresta. I like that word better – it sounds more potent, and a little less mocking. I do like this new hairstyle, and if it goes well I’ll keep it in the United States, although I have pictures now so you don’t have to wait that long. A picture of me is below (and start chortling…now).

It should not be a big surprise to everyone, but cultures do, in fact, have different words for things. Not just different words in languages, however. They have different words for sounds or concepts that we don’t even think about. For instance, an Italian rooster doesn’t go, “Cock-a-doodle-doo!”, It says “Kee-kee-ree-kee!” I know, I agree with you – it sounds nothing like a rooster. These Italians are crazy: believe me, I’ve lived with them. Also, when they hurt themselves, they don’t say “Ouch!”. They say “Ayah!”, which is sort of like the sound Miss Piggy makes when she karate kicks someone (don’t worry, I don’t think that’s how they came up with it). It goes even beyond spoken sayings, too. In email addresses, the “@” sign, for which we simply say “at”, Italians say “Chiocciola”, which is Italian for ‘snail’. It makes for interesting fun facts about different cultures, but it does tend to befuddle foreigners, not least of all me.

Monday, April 13, 2009

Holy Week

I did manage to go to the Duomo for Palm Sunday Mass. As awesome and grandiose and ostentatious as the Duomo is normally, during a mass it’s even better. Because you’re there at an event that the place was made for, it becomes a little more realistic – you realize why it’s there and you realize that the building fits well with its purpose. Some churches [cough any catholic church in the Southeast cough] unfortunately doesn’t really compare. It’s like the Taj Mahal against hobo junction, no comparison.

Also, midterms are done! Over with, finished! It felt so good just to be finished with these. Granted, our work here has been rather lesser than that I do at Vanderbilt (how are those science papers, roomies?) so having to actually study this time was so jarring, so unnerving, that most of us feared we wouldn’t make it. But we did, and it felt oh so good. And it all ended on student night at the local club, which really only compounded the elation (students free on Wednesday and a free drink…joke’s on them!).

Also, I know a lot of people were asking about this, and I just want to publically say that, after the earthquake in Abruzzo, everything’s okay in Siena. Fortunately the earthquake didn’t hit close to Siena, so there were no damages or injuries. There have been lots of news reports, fundraisers, and blood drives by the Italian Red Cross around here to aid the victims of the earthquake (terremoto in Italian). It was kind of weird, though – when you hear about something like this happening outside the US, you’re usually a bit disconnected, because it’s not close to you. But here, it was about the distance from us what Nashville is to Huntsville, so it was quite close. It’s a different feeling, and I pitched in a few euros into one of the fundraising jars.

This weekend, I went up to Hamburg to see the city. It was actually a lot prettier than I imagined – perhaps those Germans weren’t as sterilely efficient as I had once presumed. It was fun, but I did realize one thing during my weekend journey – I could not remember one word of German. I walked into restaurants and frantically asked if anyone spoke English or Italian, all too often only to be met with sad faces and headshakes. I ended up just pointing to things and saying ‘Ja’ or ‘Nein’ to indicate. Hopefully they thought I was Italian, and not another dumb American tourist (to prove I was Italian, I donned a large gold chain and gesticulated wildly. It’s what they do.)

I also saw some cities in the Northwest part of Germany, as I took a quick train to see the North Sea. I saw Stade, Hechthausen, Himmelpforten, and Cuxhaven. Fun note: Himmelpforten, meaning ‘Heaven’s Door’, is the traditional town to which all German children’s letters to Santa are sent. Considering the town only has 3,000 or so people in it, I imagine that’s a tough undertaking for the hamlet that it is.

Now that Lent is over, my fasting of American-style foods has officially ended. So today, Monday, I went to the store, my mind screaming ‘I need some potato chips and Coca-Cola, stat!” (My brain’s a doctor, just so you know). It’s Monday, I thought to myself – the stores will be open. It’s after Easter, after all! But oh, how I underestimated both the Italians’ religiosity and their ability to inconvenience. Not only was the usual grocery store closed, but the back-up grocery store at the train station was, too! Alas, I will have to wait until tomorrow to get my sugary, greasy fix.

It is sort of saddening, however, to note the fact that I only have five weeks left here. I feel that this semester has gone by quickly – too quickly – and having to leave it in less than a month and a half is incredibly disheartening. To compensate for it, though, we all are pretty sure that we’ll be packing in as much Italo-fun as we possibly can before we must leave.

Till later, Ciao!

Saturday, April 4, 2009

Daily Life in Italy and all its inner oddness

This post won't contain many life-changing events, but rather will cover the more mundane, more common, but still interesting and noteworthy points about daily life in Italy. View...and enjoy.

Remember when I told you about how the contrada is building their local hangout under our apartments? Well, as could be said in many episodes in my life, we’re not invited. Because we are not Italian citizens, and don’t live their permanently, we can’t get in. We tried, but they said we weren’t on the list, unfortunately. We asked our resident advisor about it, who said we could meet with the contrada leaders and see if that works. We figured we didn’t feel like going through that much trouble just to get into some parties. It would’ve been fun, but we probably would be out of place anyway.

Today another ‘first step’ was accomplished because I have started buying train tickets to get to the various airports to do some traveling.

On another, perhaps sadder (or funnier, depending on how you look at it) note, you all, reading this blog by now, probably know that sometimes we go to bars or nightclubs. This happens fairly regularly, especially when we have a long weekend or are going on trips. A lot of the times they’re really fun – if you’re a girl, however, it can get tricky. In that there are scores upon scores of sketchy Italian men who get far too close to you for your comfort. This seems to happen every time we go out, and I’ll tell you something: Italian guys are relentless (although, to be fair, there are a bunch of Albanians and Croatians in there too: creepy aggression knows no ethnicity!).

Now, I wasn’t expecting throes of Italian women to throw themselves at me when I entered a club (though I wouldn’t say no…ladies…), but I and the other guy in the program have learned something very important. At nightclubs and bars, there are NO single European women to be found. Ever. They’re always with their boyfriends or fiancĂ©es or whatever. It’s quite frustrating. I’m not asking for much:

“Hi there, Alessandra, can I buy you a drink?”
“Sure! And I think you’re really handsome, too!”
“Oh yeah, big noses are such a turn-on for me!”

Why has this not happened once? Is it so much to ask for? I’ll talk to her in Italian, that’s fine! We go to the nightclubs, I search for that conversation, and I end up getting this:

“Hey, cute Austrian girl who was in my Italian class last semester!”
“Hi, how are you? I just passed an exam and I’m celebrating!”
“Wow, that’s great, you should be proud!”
“I am!” At this point she starts dancing wildly. I look at her hands, and realize she has a drink in each hand.
“Hey, you have a drink in each hand!”
“Yeah, my boyfriend’s visiting from Austria to celebrate!”

I can’t win.

(Note: this last conversation actually happened – last night.)

Ah well, I still have some time here, I just need to keep plugging away. The fight is not out of me yet!

I did another errand today which, in the USA, would hardly chance a second thought, but which here gives one pause. I got a haircut today. Really, it shouldn’t be a problem – I wasn’t looking for anything greatly out of the ordinary for my hair, I just wanted some hair cut. At the same time, when you’re learning a foreign language, none of the lessons you get prepare you for it. How do you say “I only want three inches cut off in the back?” Not only do you have weird vocabulary to figure out, but you have to do English system to Metric system conversions, and who’s got time for that?

Fortunately, the shop seemed to have gotten non-Italian customers before, and so with my only-passably-proficient skills I managed to get through the appointment without them completely shaving some part of my head (I know you’re disappointed, John). Cute hair washers, though…

Also, I’m glad I’ve been keeping up with swimming throughout this semester. There have been times when I’ve skipped, but I think more or less it’s worked out. Giorgio also takes me sometimes for when he works out at the gym (I use the word ‘gym’ loosely; it’s more like a closet with weights). I think it’s helped out:

Yes, it's goofy, but still, there is improvement, no?

Friday, April 3, 2009

Roamin' in Rome

Going to Rome, we were sad to leave Catania. Leaving the land of sunshine, warmth, and arancini certainly wasn’t a welcome sight. At the same time, we were excited to go to Rome. Our hotel was near the center of the city…if by ‘near’ you meant ‘nowhere near a metro stop’. Still, we were excited to spend a few days in a big city with great sights and a bustling nightlife. We were also to be staying in a hostel for the weekend – for many of us, it was our first time in a hostel, so we were pumped about that.

Our hostel, to me, wasn’t too bad – a bunch of bunk beds in one room, wireless, a decent (if curtain-less) bathroom. It was adequate. For me. However, the fact that it was run by a 36-year-old Romanian man named Gelu who made jokes to the girls about them possibly being lesbians probably didn’t help their perceptions of the place. Well, that and the fact that the eleven of us had to juggle bathroom/shower use. Suffice to say the other boy and I never got much shower time.

Still, Rome proved to be a fun, if tiring, city. We went to the Colosseum and the Roman Forum, which, if you are given the right information, looks truly spectacular (although, if you don’t know anything about it, it just looks like a pile of rubble, really). At the same time, there is so much to see and do in Rome that you can’t get it done in five days. We were all pretty tired by the time we’d get back to the hostel.

And now, promised to you all (and yes, it's late) -- some photos!

The Duomo in downtown Catania. Unfortunately, we weren't able to go inside.

The inside of the Colosseum. The 'floor' part was artificially built to show how it would look in ancient Rome. It's a lot bigger than it looks.

The Trevi Fountain, lit up at night.

Oh yeah, you didn't think about this, did you? We go way back, here. Like 14th century back.

A political rally that I stumbled upon in a Roman square (how fun!). In reality, it was quite boring, with some dumpy lady giving a very un-impassioned speech to about fifty people with flags. But I got a free newspaper out of it!