Transatlantic Spring

I'm going abroad to study and what-not, and I wanted to keep a written/video log.

I'll be updating periodically. Enjoy!


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Week 3 - Left in the rain

By this time our classes where in full swing, and between that, free movie nights in the center of Florence, and almost routine weekend trips to towns nearby, I managed to keep busy. However, a rather funny, very unplanned adventure occurred on the evening of Wednesday, February 16th.

I lived pretty much in the center of Florence, and my school campus was about…a 45 minute walk up a hill away. This particular Wednesday evening I was up on campus, talking to a friend, and we decided to go grocery shopping because we didn’t have stuff to make lunch with and instead of going to the supermarket that was halfway between my house and campus, he suggested we go to one that’s “just a bit further south, but much cheaper.”

Let me preface this story by saying that not only is grocery shopping one of my favorite things to do, but I also love Italian products. They remind me of my childhood, and so Italian supermarkets, to me, feel like big-person toy-stores.

“Just a bit further south,” turns into a 1 hour walk completely out of the way. I start to feel drops falling on my face. This guy’s house just happens to be pretty close to this supermarket….which apparently meant he lives really far away. I mask my annoyance at having to walk so far, because in reality I’m really happy that this particular supermarket is really big (not much choice on what one buys in the center of town) and much more affordable - worth the walk, if not an hour and not in the rain…

When I realize I’ve probably bought too much food we finally leave the supermarket, and my friend points me in the direction of the river (which, I later find out, is not the direction in which I need to be walking). I walk that way for only 5 mins (thankfully, since I decide to look at my trusty google maps on my iPhone) only to find that I have about a minute to discern the general direction in which I do indeed need to be walking, before google maps crashes.

“Ugh,” I say, “this has been happening way too often,” so I go to restart the phone (just then I wonder if I had enough battery for such a feat, hoping but not worriedly that it wouldn’t just die) (and no, I wasn’t talking out loud to myself) meanwhile walking in the general “right” direction, waiting for my phone to turn on….it’s completely pouring now, by the way….I do have an umbrella but my grocery bags are too heavy and too voluminous to be carrying it. It’s times like these that I remember this hat I once had when I was 6 years old that was basically a band that went around my head that was attached to a personal-size umbrella.

My phone turns on, and a minute after my sigh of relief, holding it in front of me as the plastic bags cut into my arms, a message comes up saying I need my original sim card’s pin number, and that my phone has been blocked. In other words, my phone patronized me with that little rectangular pop-up bubble as if it were texting me, “You’re screwed.”

Meanwhile, I’m in the middle of nowhere, I don’t recognize anything, and most importantly I don’t know where I’m going. I follow the road I’m going down until I hit a dead end, at which point I randomly decide to keep walking left, because I’m left handed (not because of any sort of sense of direction). I’m almost completely soaked at this point, and I see in the distance a piazza that I seem to recognize. I come out onto the piazza and realize with horrible dread that not only is this not the piazza I had imagined, but that I still, after having walked for 30 minutes, had no idea where I was. I see a map on a wall - I walk over to it and realize it’s all graffitied (insult to injury). What’s worse, is I can’t recognize any of the places it was showing me. I can’t even find the Duomo (main cathedral) on it (which was near my house at the center). Needless to say I can’t find where I currently am on the map either. I could have just as easily walked into the wrong town and not known it.

Two young guys rush by mumbling to each other, just as eager as I am to get out of the rain. I stand in front of the map, exasperated, unnoticed. Another man walks by in the opposite direction, talking to himself: “che giornataccia, eh ragazzi?” (“what a bad day, huh?”). He walks away from me, hunched over and waddling away, as 65+ yr old men do. You know.

He is wearing a helmet (thankfully not as a standalone accessory), and I call out to him and ask him to please point me in the direction of the Duomo. He points down the street I’m on and tells me to walk until I get to a big street, and to follow that to the right until I get to the Duomo.

I tried to look reassured by his directions, but the truth was that I knew I was far and I had no idea where I was, and that I probably would have taken another hour to get home. I think this showed on my face. Secretly I think “I’ll just walk down until the big road and when I see another person I’ll ask again.” I thank the man and start walking again, the bags cutting into my hands but ready to face the long, wet walk, when all of a sudden he’s caught up to me, and asks me if I need some help with my bags, a ride perhaps to where I was going - (oh, if only i had known where I was going. I was supposed to be meeting my roommates to go see a movie, and the address had been written in my phone.) So I say “Oh no, don’t worry, it’s not a big deal, really.” Meanwhile, my feet have walked over to him, giving away what my brain was saying - Oh god, please! Just get me out of the rain! Thank you! “I really, I mean, well, I’m sorry to hassle you - “

“Oh, don’t worry, I was just on my way home from city hall, I work there you know.” he says.

“Oh really?”

He points to his helmet. “See this symbol? It’s the City of Florence emblem.”

I know what you’re thinking…but he really was though. Those italian government office people, they have a particular way about them. I can’t explain it. No one else really talks and acts like they do. After I came home I realized that the point at which I met him had been right outside of city hall.

After some awkward back and forth at which point I was having a hard time expressing myself (inner turmoil between knowing not to take rides from strangers and really desperately hoping for a ride to warm, dry safety), I decide that it’s ok, and he takes my bags and we whizz off. It’s against the law to ride without a helmet, by the way, so he tells me to keep my hood on so that it “looks” like I might be protecting my cranium against impact from the wet cobblestone street.

So he’s explaining city hall to me as we drive, and gets even more fired up when I tell him I’m studying italian politics in school. He offers me a tour of the building, in better circumstances of course, (by the way, city hall in florence is one of the most politically/historically important buildings in all of Italy), and meanwhile I don’t quite know how to tell him that other than knowing that where I need to go is near the duomo, I’m not sure where it is I’m actually going. After driving for quite a bit we pass by that piazza that I had originally thought I had recognized but hadn’t, really. I made a mental note to kill my friend tomorrow, when I saw him. Anyway, we finally get to the Duomo and I don’t know where the movie showing is exactly, so he gets off his scooter (because you’re not allowed to drive around the cathedral) and walks it all around the Duomo (a full square NYC block, avenue-avenue) until we find it.

Chivalry isn’t dead, no? well, with a 65+ yr old man who works at the city hall of renaissance central, I would sure hope it isn’t! If it’s dead here, it’s dead everywhere!

Just as a recap, I left campus for the market at 7pm, got to the supermarket at 8:15pm, left the supermarket at 8:45pm and didn’t get to the movie until an hour later.

After that, my friend felt so guilty that he had left me out lost in the rain that he walked me home almost every night we were out together. It worked out well (thankfully) for me, and I got to ride on a scooter - one of my favorite things to do, probably even more so than shopping in Italian supermarkets.

Week 2 - Bologna

The second week flew by in an overwhelming blur. A blur in the shape of a soccer ball.
I learned the stubborn way that I don’t really like balls flying at me at high speeds. Or, rather, I’ve always loved dodgeball, so let me rephrase that:
I don’t like having to come into contact with balls that are flying at me from far away at high speeds.

Monday kicked off with my 1st soccer match of what would be a semester-long tournament. I, naturally, enthusiastically joined the fear-striking team called The Snails. I think we tied in that 1st game. It would unfortunately be our best game for the rest of the season. But we had fun, and that’s all that matters - I hope.

Fast forward to the end of the week, and my albeit early morning started with an inspirational cappuccino. I don’t know why I had agreed to be up at such an ungodly hour, but the wonderful day we got to spend in Bologna was worth it.

When we arrived, the first thing we saw in the center of town was a rather short, extremely leaning tower, and another one right next to it, almost identical, although the latter stood straight and was twice as high. It was as though back in 1009, when they started building the tower, they pulled a Leaning Tower of Pisa act, except this time they realized their mistake and abandoned ship, choosing instead to start over just a few feet away. We kept with the tradition started back in Siena of climbing the towers in these towns, which provided, yet again, a very rewarding 360 of the stunning views.

We came down and ate lots and lots of gelato, on a cone, on a brioche, with Carnival pastries, on a cone again, until we could eat gelato no more. I ran out of money, looked for a Bancomat (ATM), and took out money to buy more pastries to bring home. I dreamt of gelato that night. The end.

I apologize…

I’ve been absolutely terrible at keeping up my blog this spring.

Transatlantic Spring is going to turn into Transatlantic Summer as I continue (or rather, begin) updating everyone on my overseas adventures…. School work and weekly adventuring has kept me too busy to even put pictures on facebook, much less make movies and blog entries.

(The movies bit is really just sad, since I’ve been stuck with lots of footage and a computer that is unable to edit any of it. Next big purchase of the year is going to be a Macbook Pro…)

Maybe it’ll even be better to give this experience time to sit and mature, although I hope I don’t forget the important things! (And hey, wasn’t the Bible written a few hundred years after the events actually happened? It took them a lot longer than it’s going to take me to write a good story! :P )

Quick recap?
- I took an amazing photo class that helped me really develop as a photographer, and rather than make me reach a standstill it helped me reach a point where I really can’t wait to work and improve more.
- I realized that as much as I’m proud to be an Italian, I’m equally proud to have been also brought up in America, and be able to call myself a true New Yorker. Sometimes the mentality of Italians is so close-minded, that I’m really glad to be able to see the modern view of things. Florentines in particular…man, they’re still just basking in the glow from the Renaissance. Ok, cool, you did something awesome 600 years ago….what about now? Did you give up? Work on the future for god’s sake, or you’re going to turn into Venice. (And my opinion on Venice is that it was probably really awesome in the 1700s, but now it’s just another Disneyland.) The Italian nation is plagued by low self-esteem right now, and only a miracle can save them…but hey, in the land of the Vatican, miracles do happen, no?
(What’s with all the christian references? unusual.)
- For the first time ever I had a real (gorgeous) campus, with people roaming it that I could recognize and that were friends of mine (unlike New York, where it’s nearly impossible to run into anyone you know). It’s been a phenomenal experience, and I’m going to dearly miss it. I made some really great friends however, that I look forward to having lots of fun times with in New York, and some others which I wish I had had more time to get closer to and that I hope I’ll be able to see in New York as well.

There’s lots more of course but I need to get back to studying for my 2 finals tomorrow!
Will get on top of updating soon, I promise.

And the free years Plus account from Vimeo that I just won is going to be a great help in helping me retell my story here! (As soon as I get my hands on my bf’s Macbook Pro again….) Thanks guys! 

Week 1 - Interesting Museum Visit and Trip to Siena

Campus at dusk

Our first full week in Florence also meant our first week of classes. I started my first day of class with a quick trip to the Mercato Centrale for lunch at Nerbone (I had a typical Florentine sandwich recommended to me by my boyfriend, who conveniently forgot to mention how much fat this particular cut of meat contained.), and rounded the week off with lunch at Trattoria de Mario, a trip to the photo museum, a free school-organized aperitivo and a visit to the Fiera del Cioccolato (a Chocolate Festival that started Friday the 4th and ran until the 13th). Despite being light on the homework side, our days were full of extra curricular activities that NYU had organized for us, most of which I was very enthusiastic about. I joined the soccer team. I decided to volunteer for the La Pietra Policy Dialogues: international conferences on relevant political issues. My photography class got me really excited about visually documenting my time here. Overall, I was overcome by an unexplainable need to be super-involved in school activities, something I wouldn’t dream of doing back in New York. But the best parts of all of this were the two highlights of the week.

Wednesday, Feb 2: I didn’t have class on this day (and, as I would later find out, never have class on subsequent Wednesdays, but rather “allotted picture-taking time”), and so after being abruptly woken up at 1pm by the cleaning lady who had to vacuum my bedroom, I decided to go visit the Giardino di Boboli (Boboli Gardens) and take some pictures there for my photo class. Turns out the Gardens close early in the winter, so instead, my ticket gave me access to the Palazzo Pitti museum. I was alone, and entered the Palace shortly after a small group of about 5. Admittedly, it was late in the day to be starting a trip to a museum, and so I was stopped at the door by the souvenir counter.
     “Where are you going?” Um, to see the art in the museum? “May I see your ticket?” I had gotten it for free with my student card. “May I see your student card?” Sure. “Where are you from?” I’m from Italy, but I live and study at NYU in New York. “How long are you here for?” 4 months. “Oh good, that should give us plenty of time to get to know each other.”
     Needless to say, a very interesting conversation ensued. Yes, although I did “look mature for my age,” I also did mind “getting coffee with a much older man,” if ‘much older’ meant at least 38, a full head of grey hair and divorced. “You know, I also know when to step back - I once showed this beautiful woman a great time one night, and the next day when she asked me not to ever speak to her again because it had been a one time thing, I was sensitive and understood.” At this point I asked myself how we had gone from proposing coffee to proposing a one-night stand so quickly, and I fidgeted around the souvenier counter, looking for ways to get going. I don’t think, ‘Sorry, I’m in a hurry, I’ve got to go look at that ancient art on the wall,” was going to cut it.
     I commend the guy for being so straightforward and had I been that type, free, and older, I might have been convinced by his flawlessly charming locution. You see, Italian men have a knack for hitting the right spot with their words. My translation of the conversation does no justice to the suavity with which he executed his propositions. I gave in, just a little, and gave him my number. This was my salvation: that bit of information was my key to getting away from him. I must admit I had been a bit flattered by our strange conversation, and was pleased when he later sent me a text mentioning briefly that I was “una ragazza spendida.” His attempt to call me during the middle of class, however, turned me off from the whole ordeal, and I immediately snapped back into reality. 

A warning sign on the way to the Palazzo Pitti

Saturday, Feb 5: We took a school trip to Siena on this day, which started with a very macabre tone: Our tour consisted of going into a Church to see the mummified remains of the head and finger of the Saint of Siena, and then on to talk about how Siena was divided into different ‘sections’ or contrade that could easily perform as stand-alone communities. The rest of the tour and thankfully only part of the day would be overcast by tones of depressing divisions and death. A case, as I like to say, of an Italian city burdened by its history rather than enriched by it.

Thankfully, we soon left our tour guide, and the beautiful weather and children throwing confetti in anticipation of Carnevale lifted our spirits. 

We discovered some local specialties like Ricciarelli thanks to some more recommendations from my boyfriend on where to eat, and eventually decided to climb the Torre del Mangia (Tower of the Eater). Despite the deceiving name, it not a pleasant feat to undertake right after having had a full plate of pici con sugo di cinghiale (pasta with wild boar ragu). However, over 500 steps later, we reached the top, and the views were spectacular. More pictures from that day here.

Villa La Pietra, NYU Campus in Florence, Italy

Cathartic walk to the Bus

The sun is barely skimming the rooftops, coloring them the way the cold breeze tints my cheeks. I walk briskly, noticing my footsteps resounding on the cobblestone, and I occasionally push my glasses up back onto the bridge of my nose. My nose itches just as my glasses slip yet again, causing me to produce a peculiar expression on my face, prompting a man (whom I hadn’t even seen) to accuse me as I pass him by: “che te guardi?” (“what are you looking at?”). I arrive at the bus stop, on my way to the Villa La Pietra (campus) for the first time.  I’m proud to have made it thus far without having to check my phone for directions. I’m trying my hardest to look as Italian and as at ease as possible, although it shouldn’t be something I should be exactly worried about. I am, in fact, Italian, despite how others in Italy might feel about me and the fact that I’ve spent half my life abroad, in New York. As I wait for the bus, I watch a large group of teenagers arrive with their suitcases and crowd around me. I move further down the street, so as not to miss my bus. Shortly thereafter, a group of kids of about 13 year olds pass me by, headed by a chaperone. They joke as they pass me by, and gossip about their neighbors. Tears that I can’t explain threaten to well up in my eyes. As their group passes me by, a hole fills up in me.

A few minutes later and a loud group of 9-10 year olds follow the same sidewalk up the hill. They’re all over the place - laughing or talking intensely, pointing and yelling or looking down at their feet.

And in a single moment, I stopped feeling like an observer. I was as much creating this moment as they were - and I felt at peace. It felt ok that I didn’t experience much of school in Italy, because in the few seconds it took for these kids to pass by, the voids left in me for not having had their experiences disappeared. In fact, I had had their experiences, and even the added advantage of not having to take oral exams!

Later in the day I met a girl from Brazil. We spoke Portuguese the whole way back from campus to downtown Florence (a feat I didn’t know I was capable of). I felt lucky in a way I can’t explain, to be able to do that.
Orientation was over and I found myself talking to an American girl who spoke such perfect (Roman) Italian she could have fooled anyone. She wanted to forget the US, much like many Italians would like to forget Italy and make the seemingly impossible jump to life in the States, and for the first time I found myself defending my status as half-American. I couldn’t forget it, and I never will want to. Finally being allowed to live here without having to leave, I realize that my leaving Italy and discovering a reality in Miami, and then New York, hard as it may have been - I wouldn’t have had it any other way.
They say the grass is greener on the other side, but I belong to both gardens, and I plant seeds on both sides.

I work for Wind

Day 2, our first NYU orientation: after a 2 hour power-point presentation during which I couldn’t wait to get out and about, we grabbed some lunch and set out for a group walk with all the other homestay people. At 30, it was a bit of a big group, although everyone seemed interesting and fun. We finally finished at around 3-4pm, at which point I turned to two of my fellow homestay-ers. We decided to get them cellphones.

Helping 2 people get cellphones and calling plans by translating soon turned into helping 20 people get cellphones and plans. I half joked with the people at the store and asked them to give me commission on the 980€ they made from our sales, and they laughed. Maybe, I thought, I should work at the Wind store. They don’t seem to have English speakers there and seem to be in dire need of them.

Needless to say, this wore me out immensely. Hoping tomorrow will be easier - right, with my 9:30am class and all.

Welcome…to rainy Florence

After leaving a sun-bathed New York City, I was optimistic about the weather for my arrival in Florence. After all, it had been partially sunny on the way to Florence today. And last time I had been to Florence, last year, it had been beautifully bright. However, I got to Florence and the weather was pretty gloomy - but that didn’t put any sort of damper on the exciting day!

I had lots of wonderful conversations with lots of interesting people today - from the taxi driver to my homestay family! Looking forward to what’s next!

And the verdict is…

Today, the much-awaited email (the one I bit my nails about and wrote a plea letter for) from the Housing office in Florence came: Homestay with la famiglia Patrussi!

Back in November, we all (us NYUers studying abroad in Spring 2011) applied for housing in Florence. At first I wondered if they’d let me get my own apartment, since staying in a dorm sounded like the last thing I wanted to do. (One floor with one kitchen and 20 bedrooms. And ancient catholic rules.) After all, my family had friends in Florence and I could have arranged something with them. 

But then I realized I didn’t want to be the outsider, going to Florence to do her own thing, not sticking to the rules because I’m Italian (I was already exempt from the culture-shock experience, the language barrier, and process of applying for a visa). I’d already isolated myself enough at NYU in NY, and I was ready to bring on the school spirit. Well, maybe not so intensely, but being a ‘loner’ or ‘know-it-all’ was not the sort of NYU in Florence experience I want to have.

So I decided that I really wanted to do a homestay. Badly. I even wrote the housing people a really nice, long letter after handing in my housing application. So I’m super excited about the good news!

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