Wednesday, February 29, 2012

I'm working on a project regarding the fountains throughout Siena. Not only did they connect to underground canals to provide water for the city, they're also really pretty! And they give me an excuse to leave my desk and wander outside to enjoy this beautiful day we're having :) Stella confirmed yesterday that spring is indeed on its way, due to the fact that birds have returned to chirping relentlessly outside her window.

Fonte Nuova d'Ovile
Pigeons drinking from the spigot. A note on Sienese pigeons: they are the worst. Similar to squirrels in Charlottesville, they are not afraid of getting in your personal space.
A rare sight in Siena...vegetation!

Sunday, February 26, 2012

Street Band in Bologna!

Now, Venice and Bologna coming soon! Quick summary of Bologna: it's my new favorite city. Also, I had to keep reminding myself that no, I was not back in Charlottesville, despite how very similar their atmospheres were. 4 papers due this week, hopefully I'll get to write on Thursday!

One of my favorite afternoons ever. Sunning and playing soccer in Bologna's main park. Why can't life always be like this and not filled with papers and trip planning?!
One of the many performers in Piazza Maggiore.
Food capital of Italy - stuffed pasta with radicchio and gorgonzola and deliciousness.

Thursday, February 23, 2012

Sorry I've not posted in some time. Here's some adorable shots of Cosimo and recent desserts I've encountered to tide you over :)

Fritelle, traditional fried rice and flour of Carnevale!

Homemade tiramisu! (This is for you, Mom-mom and Pop-pop)

Cosimo being cute, per usual

Not Cosimo, but an adorable Pooh Bear dressed up for Carnevale

Venice/Carnevale post coming soon! In the meantime, here's a couple of my favorite photos from the trip...

Tuesday, February 14, 2012

Today, I only had one class, it was warm enough to venture over to the fortezza for some fresh air, sun and a short run (most of it is still coated in ice, so it was difficult), I navigated Siena like a pro and had a full-fledged Italian conversation with a very nice barista. Despite the impending paper due tomorrow, sono contenta - I'm happy :) I realized that, although charming and gorgeous, the stone building are always looming and can become a bit claustrophobic as they hide the majority of the sun. Bring on the vitamin D and sundresses, it's gonna be 50 degrees next week!

View of Siena and the Duomo from the fortezza.

View of the surrounding countryside.

In other news, I had my second teaching session yesterday at the elementary school, where I was reminded of a very bizarre situation with children in the public school system here. While teaching the verb "to be," I received a very "yeah, yeah, we know this" kind of attitude from the kids. But then, when I began a speaking activity to practice the conjugations, it was like they had no idea what they had just learned (or previously learned, as it seemed to me). After telling Christina about this observation, she reminded me that no, they actually didn't have an idea about how to say "She is happy" out loud. They've never had the opportunity to say it, and they've never heard it. She explained that most of them have learned a lot of English grammar throughout elementary school, but couldn't apply it in words if they tried. I don't want to say I'm happy this is the case, but I am happy that I have the opportunity to provide them with the practice they've been missing!

I almost forgot! I attended a family birthday party on Sunday for Francesco's father, Lino. I don't have much time to describe the details of it as I have to get started on this essay, but I'll just say that I really do feel like I'm part of a family here. They couldn't make me happier.

I tried to take pictures of everyone but my camera decided to not cooperate and they all came out blurry. But, you can try to decipher this one the very least it's proof that these people exist!

The man sitting down on the very left is Lino, who's holding Cosimo of course. Stella in the red sweater; there's Marta, Natascia's 10 year old daughter, and a very blurry Natascia hugging an equally blurry 17-year old Gabriello, Lino's second son - Francesco's half-brother.

Friday, February 10, 2012

Ciao = Hello

To continue with the theme of awarding superlatives to days I spend abroad, let's call this day, "the most terrifying but thrilling day of my life." No, I didn't go skydiving. I merely taught three English phrases to a classroom full of Italian 3rd graders. Doesn't seem too difficult, right? That's what I thought until I was left alone with 20 pairs of eyes locked on me and I realized, "shit, I don't know how to teach."

I, along with the majority of the CET students, signed up to teach English once a week to various grade levels around Siena. Disappointed that all the cute kindergarten classes were full, I settled for a 3rd grade class at a school 15 minutes outside the walls of Siena called Aquacalda - translated literally to hot water.

At our teaching orientation of sorts, the organizer of the program, Mike, drew a sad face on the board. "This is how you will feel after your first day of teaching," he said. Great. Thanks for the encouragement. Next came a slightly less unhappy face, and finally, a happy face. "You can't quit before your third time," was his main rule. Apparently, the first time will scare you to death, the second will be slightly better once you realize the kids remember your name and look forward to you coming, and finally, you realize it's the most rewarding experience of your life.

My first time wasn't so intimidating that it'd scare me away, but I did feel a bit like that first smiley face. But I also felt like the third. As nervous and confused as I was about the whole situation was how much I absolutely loved it. I've always loved being around kids, and I even help out in an elementary school in Charlottesville, but feeling their excitement to talk to a real live English speaking person and their eagerness to learn just made me so so happy. Up to this point they had only learned English out of a textbook from non-English speaking teachers, and had no way to practice it.

Mike continued, after explaining his drawing, to warn us that Italian children are basically the equivalent of wild animals, and that the teacher is merely there to keep them from killing each other. That being said, I only prepared a rough outline of a lesson, expecting to have to spend half the time acting as a mediator. So, when Mike walked out the door after giving the kids instructions to come up with 10 questions to ask me, and absolute chaos didn't break out, I was shocked. And had a bit of an awkward start. Remembering to speak slowly, clearly, without contractions, and not in Italian, was actually a huge challenge.

Mike also told us that there's not much different between a 1st grader and a 5th graders level of English, that they all just know colors and numbers. This I found to be very not true, as they all started shouting at once, "What's your name? What's your favorite color/animal/sport/fruit? How old are you? Where you from?" Feeling a little encouraged knowing that they had some of the basics down, I went on introducing myself, having them repeat certain phrases and playing a game with them. I even ventured for a song, but that was a little ambitious. Maybe next week. Another moment of panic hit when I realized that what I had anticipated taking the whole hour, only took ten minutes. As I made up the remainder of the lesson on the fly it felt awkward and uncomfortable, but maybe they didn't notice...

So, I left the school frazzled, but giddy. I've got to teach myself how to teach, for sure, but I am optimistic! Hopefully by the end of the school year I will have a picture of me with them to show you guys :)

On a completely unrelated note, wine and cheese tasting this weekend was cancelled, as was our trip to Viareggio for a slightly toned down version of Carnivale due to the unrelenting snow storm that is blanketing Europe at the moment (check out the pictures!). But, not to worry, wine and cheese is being rescheduled for the spring and I'm off to Venice next weekend for REAL Carnivale! Hooray!

Monday, February 6, 2012

Florentine Fete

It only takes a little Michelangelo to make a big change in one's perception of Italian Renaissance art. Or of the subject of Art History in general. I must admit, my first two Art History classes were a bit discouraging. What with half the class being Art History majors, and having very minimal knowledge of the Italian Renaissance or the biblical characters and events the era generally depicts, I was feeling a bit unenthusiastic. You're probably thinking right now, "but you went to Italy, stupid." And you're right. I quickly recognized the error in my attitude, an enlightenment I must attribute to the amazing city of Florence, where I spent the majority of Friday with my Art History class.

It quickly became the single most interesting day of my life. Seriously. The art itself, the history, the stories, everything my professor said that day just completely captivated me. She's also one of the best professors I've had, she's SO enthusiastic about her work (and expresses it in weird, quirky ways, like stamping her foot and pulling her own hair) and seems to know just about everything about everything. She also snorts when she laughs. She's the greatest.

An illegal picture of Donatello's David, with our professor :)

As I was saying, this day was so intellectually stimulating in ways I've never experienced, and has created within me an interest to explore every detail of this amazing country. Which, realistically, would take a lifetime, considering what Beppe Severgini, an author we had to read for our Cultural History class, wrote: "They could put on five years' worth of exhibition in New York with what Florence's Uffizi has in the basement." This is incredibly true, it's overwhelming. Well, I haven't actually been to the Uffizi yet, but you get the idea.

Let me just say, before I get into the details of the day, that it was FRIGID. There are few times in my life when I've been as cold as I was on Friday. And there was wind. Lots of it. Thank goodness for my red leather gloves I treated myself to in one of Florence's many bustling markets :D

Our first stop after a croissant and cappuccino with the class was the Palazzo Davanzati, the 14th century home of the wealthy Davizzi family, almost perfectly preserved with its original style. I would like to say it was like stepping thousands of years into the past, but it was so elegant and foreign it was almost surreal. Trying to picture a family actually living there was an impossible task. Nevertheless, it was amazing. We entered into a foyer-like area in which trap doors are hidden in the ceiling to launch attacks on rival families who are trying to storm the palace. Then through the doors that are locked into the cement, another defense mechanism, is an open courtyard for sunlight and fresh rainwater to reach the family. How they lived in a house with the roof missing from the center of it in the winter, I have no idea. Then, there's just floors upon floors of incredible bedrooms, dining rooms and meeting rooms, with a kitchen on the top floor to control possible fires. Plus plenty of others whose uses are unknown. I could go on and on about all the other little details we learned about this palace but I shan't bore you with an absurdly long post, which is what it's turning out to be anyway. Also, pictures weren't allowed.

A brisk walk later, (and much contemplation over how our professor manages to successfully ride her bike with a puffy jacket down to her knees on) we were at our next destination, the Bargello, an old prison turned art museum. Here, we stood witness to Donatello's David, his androgynous and ironic Bronze David, and his statue of St. George. Then, we "popped down" to see Michelangelo's Bacchus, a sculpture of a realistically drunken god of wine he created at the old age of 21 (oh wait, how old am I?).

What really invoked in me a sense of wonder for this subject was when we saw the two bronze panel submissions by Lorenzo Ghiberti and Filippo Brunelleschi for the competition to create the doors of the Florence baptistery.

I couldn't take a picture of the competition panels, but these are the doors Ghiberti and Brunelleschi were competing to create.

Our class had read all about and looked at pictures of these famous works the week prior to the trip, but to see them in person a foot away from my face was an experience like none other. That was actually like looking back into time.

The courtyard of the Bargello.

Side Note: Just took a two hour long break in writing this post to have dinner with the entire family, Stella, Leno, Francesco, Natasha and Cosimo. It was the epitome of classic Italian family dinner...loud and chaotic, and Faith and I were along for the ride. We loved it.

Back to Florence. Final stop landed us at the Museo Dell'Opera del Duomo, where we viewed such famous works as Michelangelo's The Deposition, a pietà originally intended to decorate his tomb before he almost completely destroyed it in a fit of depression. Finally, Donatello's famously creepy wooden Mary Magdalene. And that's a wrap for Florence field trip #1 (you can look forward to 4 more...)

Donatello's Magdalene Penitent.

Once we were freed from our professor, it was time to see the rest that Florence had to offer, a.k.a. nightlife. Oh and delicious food and shopping and the Duomo. Me, Faith, Evan, Ari and Kyle ended up at a cute, delicious restaurant after wandering around while half following a map, half just exploring. The food was great, wine plentiful, and the waiter fixed our mistakes when we tried out our Italian on him and called me "blue eyes." It was just the break we needed from the arctic tundra outside.

Pasta with asparagus and shrimp.

Prosciutto and melon. (Photo cred: Ari)

After thawing out a bit, we decided to look around a nearby market. Before we knew it, our carnival masks were bought! Because yes, we are going to Viareggio, basically the next best thing to Venice, on Sunday for Carnivale. This is of course after our wine and cheese tasting field trip through the hills of Tuscany on Friday. I don't remember school in the states being this fun...

(Photo cred: Ari)

Then came a quick tour of the Duomo, which is sufficiently prettier on the outside than in, and the faint idea of gelato before a huge gust of icy wind quickly killed that plan.

Just pretend the scaffolding isn't there :)

This person wasn't the greatest picture taker, but I promise the Duomo is behind us...

The night consisted of some bar hopping with friends from UVa who are studying in Florence, our tourguides of the Florentine nightlife if you will. Although it was fun, I couldn't help but feel like I was right back at UVa, especially with the little opportunity we had for speaking Italian. Don't get me wrong, there's absolutely nothing wrong with that, but when you're in Italy... I preferred being the "country bumpkins," the kids from the hills of Siena, and have our night in the big city be more of a treat than the norm. But that's just me.

Wednesday, February 1, 2012


Just as soon as I thought Siena/Tuscany couldn't get any prettier, this happened...

Snow day in Siena! For most people, at least. Myself and the five other people in my Italian love poetry class only get half a snow day :/

When Faith and I found out morning classes were cancelled, playtime in the Campo commenced. We met up with Evan and threw snowballs and built stuff till my toes and fingers felt like they had frostbite. Who knew snowdays are still this fun in college? :)