Thursday, December 21, 2006


It's funny how campus just empties out whenever there is a holiday near. My classes have been reduced to a fraction of their size with the official end coming tomorrow. A class of 35 students became 6 yesterday and I had my last few classes of literature as one-on-one sessions. The silence kicks in and boredom as a distraction from work is irresistible. I am trying to get my studies up to speed so that when I return home I won't have to worry as much. But that impending departure tomorrow makes the longing heighten. And then it hits me. I am going home. For Christmas. Tomorrow. Time's funny. I'm laughing.

It's strange that Christmas is 4 days away. I haven't heard a Christmas song. I don't smell pine. I don't see snow. Hezzy and I were reminiscing about the holidays and traditions over dinner last night, chatting with his Italian roommates.

But I want to digress for a moment. Hezzy is my hero. He invited me over for dinner last night where I was put to work making spinach taglietelle. Yes, we made pasta, by hand (well we had a machine) but from scratch. And dinner was lovely, a culinary delight. It's been sort of funny because between me, Hezzy and Sarah brought up in comparison to our Italian roommates, we the "Americans" are more adventurous and inventive in the kitchen. Don't believe the stereotypes, people.

So anyhoo, Christmas is coming and I am hoping on a plane tomorrow for the interminable day through time changes and various airports. I hope that the bags arrive, because I really will need the gifts and books that I cannot bring on the flight with me. So one last day of classes, packing, and home sweet home, here I come...

Monday, December 18, 2006

Ringing in Ventuno

Turning 21 in Italy kind of rocked. To start things all off, an adventurous but certifiably delicious culinary experience chez Hezzy last night was rounded off by an evening at Il Torrione, a Jazz club hosting live music in a renovated guard tower at the city walls that went until 1 am. And thus began my birthday, with sweet jazz oozing from piano, drums, bass and an Italian voice singing English tunes and charming us all with her contagious cackle and funny anecdotes.

The morning really began with gloomy skies, a nice walk, food shopping and yoga. Nothing like celebrating 21 with a little time to breathe deep and stretch. Mostly just another peaceful and busy Sunday catching up on work, chilling out, cooking.

The big event for the day had to be Lo Schiaccianoci, the ballet at the Teatro Communale to which I had bought tickets last month and was anxiously desiring to see. It seemed like a cute show, but I didn’t really know too much about it. The Ballet Biarritz was putting on this show for two days in Ferrara and it seemed like some sort of playful bit of dance. Thought I would treat myself.

The Teatro Communale di Ferrara looks like Milano’s La Scala, except less luscious and rich red and more just a subtle and opulent white (and I could take pictures this time). My seat was right on the ground level with a wonderful view of the stage, it felt so nice to treat myself to a bit of art set in a very elegant theatre.

Looking at the programme and reading the details, I realized that the show to which I had bought tickets wasn’t just some artsy French number but in fact a modern rendition of The Nutcracker, a show that was an integral part of my childhood, many times going to see the show at Place-Des-Arts with my mother for my birthday. I remember having been enchanted by the imaginative show, the wild adventures, the beautiful dancing and costumes.

In Ferrara, I saw a version that was much more modern with a changing solid coloured background and a creative twist to the Christmas classic. The nutcracker was instead a boxer in this version but the delicacy of the emotions, the magic of the season and the sentiment of the nutcracker were still the same. The set design was modern instead of Victorian but enchanted this aficionado of contemporary art delightfully. At the end my hands were left numb from clapping and I felt like I wanted to cry in the joy of surprise and rapture.

Pop went the champagne and the party was at my house with panetone. Bellinis, and torrone. It was nice to ring in the birthday with friends, roommates and good food. Hezzy even whipped together a tiramisu for the occasion. So all was good and done, having received the parental phone call of good wishes and having been sung Tanti Auguri.

And then Chris arrived, fresh from the end of exams and a trip to Venice, unexpected and unannounced. Dinner and chitchat and the evening just passed by so quickly, full of memories of years past, that’s it, another year has passed. One year in one day, I feel tired. But happy. Peace.

Friday, December 15, 2006

City of Lights

Illustrated version of Paris

Seizing End

Just as my classes began, the two hour lesson-blocks are starting to disappear. Randomly and unexpectedly. My literature class ended yesterday instead of today because there are train and bus strikes today and the teacher can’t make it in and the one-on-one lessons were getting a little bit tiresome (although nice, when you teach a class you would like to teach students, plural). My History of Theatre class will end today thanks to the negotiations between professor and students. And of course I still have class next week, right up until I leave Friday.

We had our last meeting with the program director today to receive our permesso di soggiorno (permit of stay; Merry Christmas and Happy end of stay type gift). The director proceeded to talk to us about the experience as a whole. She hit the exact points of thought I’ve been having over the last few days: it isn’t the academic experience that matters in the end but the personal growth. I definitely have had some points where I just marvel at how little motivation I have to study and at the marvels of the Italian education system.

I’ve been a bit apprehensive about returning to Harvard because, I know, that I will go through yet another period of adjustment and transition comparing my self pre-Ferrara, Ferrara to the new post-Ferrara Stefan. I wonder who that will be, and he won’t be defined until February, since exams still have to happen in January and the return to Harvard happens at the very end of the month.

The toughest part of the whole personal growth here in Ferrara has been the being independent. There is no Middlebury representative here, no physical presence, no safe space. You are really out in the middle of nowhere left to languish a little bit, a little baby left to cry when he falls down only to realize that you really aren’t hurt. The director said herself that it is that absence of a presence that makes the students in Ferrara flourish so much. I definitely feel more grown up, feel like I’ve accomplished something. But I also know that the exams are still ahead and want to stretch to impress, because so many students here just don’t care at all. But even at the end of those exams, I know there will be a whole new process of re-integration on the horizon, waiting for me when I arrive back in the land of Ivory Towers.

Wednesday, December 13, 2006

La Mamma a Venezia

Two weeks ago the mother was in Venice and in two weeks I will be back home. Life works in wonderful ways.

Tuesday, December 12, 2006


Back in Ferrara and tackling the work this week so I will need a little time to edit photos before getting them up... other than that I may be a little silent for a while. Peace, Stefan.

Saturday, December 09, 2006

Le weekend

After chilling out in the colourful Georges Pompidou library for more wandering than working, I headed back to the hostpad to grab so,e dinner and rest the weary legs before heading out for a night on the town. It is nice that clubs close really late and not at 2 (even though my body would hear nothing about staying up past 2) and that there are night buses all night long. Promotes festivity, un peu de joie de vivre.
So now for the weekend, dedicated to more catching up and hanging out than tourism, perhaps lazy walks through fun neighbourhoods. Soak up the rhythm of a different tongue, the melodics of a different city, the heartbeat of a different city. The sun is out and let's hope I won't hqve to battle with the elements any longer and, instead of charging at the wind and rain with my umbrella, just walk pensively down la rue.

Friday, December 08, 2006

Windblown in France

Another day and I find myself yet again taking a shower out on the streets of Paris. Even though it poured this morning, by afternoon the sun was shining through the most beautifully blue stained glass windows of Sainte Chappelle. I thought Chartres was beautiful, here I felt up close and personal with the windows in the intimate and hidden chapel. I did the tourist thing stopping by public gardens and major sights (eiffel, elysees...). I cant write much more because my time on this commputer in the colourful and wild Pompidou library is running out and I am having troubles typing As and Ms on this computer. Until another day...

Thursday, December 07, 2006

How Paris Broke my Umbrella

After an interminably long train ride that made a pitstop for coffee with Marina in Milano, I have arrived in a very chilly but always elegant and fashionable Paris. This morning started well with a light and deliciously flaky pastry and a visit to the Rodin museum. I love sculptures, so I loved this museum, full of very passionately sculpted works that stimulate the emotions and the eyes. Then the rain hit, and the wind. I spent a windy walk trying to get to the Orangerie in the Jardin des Tuileries and with the wind hitting off the Seine my flimsy little umbrella snapped one of its ;etal spine-like supports and slipped off the holders at the ends. It was a wet and cold wait for the Orangerie but once inside, the soft lighting and oval display rooms for Monets water lilies made me forget everything. A true artistic experience.
So of course the rain stops after my visit and I go to check out Rue des Rosiers in the Marais where I hear the best falafel ever resides, and I had a hankering for some falafel. Not only did I find falafel, but along the way I overheard a beautiful string orchestra playing in the metro, the type of music that makes your heart stop and your eyes water. The best falafel of my life was followed by a walk back through the Place des Vosges to the metro and, more metro music and mistakenly identified as a parisian, here I am, navigating through the french keyboard.
I feel the blood in my cheeks and the smile on my face, loving this city of long ago elegance and prim chic style. So now to rest my weary wind-beaten body for a little bit chez Brandon, my close friend and very kind host for my few days here. All this before going in the search of an affordable dinner and an evening visit to the once rail station Musee d'Orsay. Magic.

Tuesday, December 05, 2006


A little trip to Paris utilizing my handy Eurailpass is just a day away and it is hard to believe that all the time that has elapsed between the beginning and now has already flown by. I can't quite believe it. I am looking forward to revisiting the city and getting out my French, a little exercise before heading home to Montreal. My mind is bouncing around too much to write a nice reflective passage. I am excited, there are many hours on the train to go but I'll be ready. For now, I need to pay my rent, send some postcards, read for school and pack. You shall know my velocity. Au revoir.

Monday, December 04, 2006

The voice becomes a body, three days pass, the body becomes a voice again

I met my mother in Venice this weekend and thus was realized another dream of mother-son trips. It was strange and lovely to have such an important life figure walk into the Italian escapade and make my old life (pre-Ferrara back in North America) stitch itself into my current life (Ferrara and beyond). It was only this last weekend that I realized just how much I have grown up because of study abroad. Of course I was nervous before seeing my mother, thinking maybe she wouldn’t like the extremely long hair, suspecting perhaps that I lost weight or something of the like (I can rely on Bubby as the true barometer of this), or something else who knows. But the mother walked into my life as more of a friend than ever, with hints of the caring worried woman of my life long long ago (before college, before prep-school, think LCC).

My mother and I spent cold days in Venice snapping photos, catching up, glancing over Venice from San Giorgio’s tower, drinking scotch (I think I’m allergic like Dad) with a Count in his frescoes and chandeliered sitting room, getting lost, seeing glowing baby Jesus nativity representations in several churches, going to mass at San Marco’s and being floored by contemporary art.

So many lovely moments together, I can’t write them all down, it is just a feeling. A great proud I-am-related-to-you-and-care-about-you feeling. It was so nice to bring mom to Ferrara, show her where I’ve been suffering and then living, and what I see everyday, because photos, in the end, don’t really do the experience justice.

As quickly as my mother came back into my life, once just a voice on my cellphone, she was off again on the train back to Venice.

Friday, December 01, 2006

Here I am, already

It's December. Tonight I am going to meet my mother in Venice. It’s strange, we talked about this eventual meeting so very long ago and, well, here it is. Time is a pretty weird thing, it expands, shrinks, runs, limps. It has been three months since I last saw my mother. My hair is longer, I’ve been exposed in an all Italian environment for long amounts of time, maybe I’ve grown, maybe I’ve lost weight, maybe I’ve changed. Even though I have been speaking with her on an almost daily basis, it is still possible that aside from those little cell phone conversations, I’ve become a different Stefan, a Stefano if you will. But who knows…

With this meeting of the mother in Venice, there are only three more weeks before I will be on a plane headed for Montreal to celebrate the holidays with all those people I have missed so much. And it is almost over, already. What? Where did it all go? What happened in all that time? That’s the thing about time, it never stops, it just keeps going no matter what. Trekking valiantly forward, with time you should try to face life with the same attitude, always moving, always thinking. In my life of constant reflection, I like to think I am doing something right. Well, enough of sitting back, time to go with time, go with the flow and get up and go.

Wednesday, November 29, 2006

A week in the life, illustrated

Angela visits, Sarah runs a marathon...
wandering from Ferrara to Venice to Florence.

Tuesday, November 28, 2006

I'll be home for Christmas

A Christmas tree just as tall as the duomo now stands in the square in front of it. Lights canopy the streets. A huge gift market is open every day selling ornaments, gifts and food products. Where a book market used to be a carousel, strangely displaced, now stands, curtained with vertical stripes of red and white during the day. With a month until Christmas, Ferrara has transformed into a city for the season.

Smelling pine in the square, I was immediately excited to be home for the holidays. I had originally thought that I would simply stick it out in Italy. But, of course, the mother would have it no other way and I was told I would have a ticket home. So come the 22nd, I will leave Europe and land in Canada in a feat of flying back through time and will be home with family for the holidays. Yay.

Monday, November 27, 2006

I... I... I...

Having had time to catch up with my close friend Angela over this last week and with the wonderful and hard-to-nail-down Shelly for about an hour in Florence, I’ve come to realize that this whole Italy experience hasn’t just been a dream of some sort. Every waking minute is definitely real. My mother has touched down in Italy and will be within arm’s reach by the end of the week. Sarah just ran her marathon yesterday in Florence, a race she has been training for since we arrived. Thanksgiving was a feast and a fest, an evening I’ve been logistically organizing for a few weeks. The last week has made me realize the light of the now sinking sun on my Italian sojourn. Within three weeks, Chris will be finished with his semester abroad and be back at home.

The semester, which at times seemed interminable and depressing but now seems to be flying, escaping very fast, has shaped me in new ways, given me new life experiences, etched the path of my growth and existence over the past few months. I realize, spending time with Angela and Shelley, that my friendships can just pick up where they left off. The random encounter with Tascha and her boyfriend in Florence with Chris, threw me off guard, prodded me back into the shy tacit self. When I go back, I don’t want to open the closet and continue to wear the coat I used to wear… time has gone by, it is too small even though the temptation will be routine. I need to come back with the same me that is living this right now.

When I leave this bubble of Italian, I wonder what will become of my reflective writing, my daily thoughts, my daily rhythms. I tried so hard to adjust to this place, and now I have locked in, but as I realized in the beginning, it has been temporary, an experience with an expiration date from the beginning. Within a few weeks I will be home with family and friends, reevaluating the emotions, speaking about the ups and downs, trying to verbalize a ride that has been so hard to phrase. I will be back in other languages that I know. I may miss the constant challenge of self expression; being back in the states and mono-lingualism I may not be as challenged and as cultured as I would like to be. I wonder if back in Cambridge, I will just shirk out of the whole experience and go back to wearing the old me, pensively looking down the calm waters of the Charles towards Boston. Regardless of who walks in and out of my life, I am but a person, a point in constant motion, relating to those around me, continually rediscovering what it means to be me.

Friday, November 24, 2006

Giving Thanks

Lovely. In one word, that is what it was. The tension of cooking for 14, the worries of getting everything done in time, setting up the apartment, making sure that everyone is content. There was more than enough food, endless conversation, a toast to giving thanks complete with drunken participants, late arrivals, little tensions and schisms. It really was Thanksgiving.

Get a bunch of people together, add plenty of food, a little wine and away you go: socialization, merriment, and good times. A pretty simple recipe if you ask me, easier than trying to recreate your aunt’s lasagna. Having my dear Angela here with me this week has been a laugh and a half and a tender spirit warmer. The mix of Italians and Midd kids created a lovely dynamic, and a good time was had by all :P

I am thankful for being here in Italy, having Angela share a week with me, having a loving family a phone call or an email away, having a roommate on which I can depend and whom I trust completely (we even start thinking similarly at this point…), the opportunity to travel so much, the chance to dream, the chance to learn. I am happy and healthy and in Italy. Not bad at all.

Wednesday, November 22, 2006

Confusion Remixed

They took away my window and Mother Earth and Father Time conspired to leave me in the dark. All hours of the night and day are now pitch black without electrical light. The sunflower looks down at its roots in shame, the flowers in my fields never open their buds, long endless night. They will come back today to bring me back my window, give me back the rays of sunlight, give me back the rise and fall of the day.

A friend sleeps on my floor and I can’t stop smiling or laughing. She brings news of her existence, stories of the world I left still spinning. We catch up, chat about everything, rewind and play stories from long ago, remember, reminisce. We’ll have little adventures all this week and then, just as she came, she’ll go, and I will have a floor again. For now I’ll hold on to the moments trickling slowly out of my hands and smile once again.

Out of the blue they asked me to register my machine and barred me from dancing around the world wide web, in contact with the world. But I will find a way, I will reach out and touch the hands of outstretched arms, and hold their hand a little stronger even if it means I’ll have to let go more often. Even so, I found the superhighway, registered for an exam, sent out my love in quickly composed notes. Once again, I’ll figure it out, it is never impossible, just obstacled.

Tuesday, November 21, 2006

Foggy Ferrara Illustrated

Some photos to keep you occupied... Internet and time are a bit unavailable at the moment... they'll come back.

Monday, November 20, 2006

Ferrara Fog

The fog settled in, heavy, all day on Friday. So thick you feel as if you are in a murder mystery. Buildings glow in the dark. Sunlight filters down in the day. The fog is so dense you can smell it, it reminds me of my humidifier as a child.

I swatted a fly and CRACK, out came a piece of the window, and it took on a webbed pattern. I broke a window. I thought someone had to at least be drunk to break a window. Of course it happens on a Saturday morning, meaning that I won't be able to call the repairman until Monday, which means a week or so before anything actually happens, maybe.

The words may ebb in the excitement of a visiting friend, a busy week, a thanksgiving feast. But with every ebb there is a flow. Low tides inevitably mean future highs.

Friday, November 17, 2006

The Unspoken Side of Study-Abroad or, the part you just don't know how to express because you don't speak the language

Two weeks ago, I looked forward to weekends, I told myself that at the end of this experience I would be happy and I would be finished, I had zero motivation to study, I had no clue what the hell I was doing in Italy. Somehow, I came around. I can’t point to anything that really helped me get over it. Something just clicked.

But I had never felt the emotions I felt. I had never been so low, so despondent, so without motivation. If you transplant a person from everything that they know and all their routines, what type of emotions will you get? You’re going to get lows. You are going to experience that deeply inclined dip that those Study Abroad people talk about on their curve of emotions. You don’t really believe it until you feel it.

Perhaps my body was telling me to get out, yelling the question of WHAT THE HELL ARE YOU DOING? Stefan grew up in English, why now are you trying to make him grow up all over again in Italian? For the longest time I felt like there was nothing worthwhile in this study abroad thing. I wanted to quit. Quit and do what? Language acquisition I was told was the main reason to study abroad. Bah, my Italian is just as good as it ever was, I thought once. Yesterday I got up in front of my class and spoke for a couple of minutes for a mini presentation. Shit. My Italian has improved.

When I go home and people ask me how was study abroad, I am not going to opt for the monosyllabic: good. Difficult, depressing, weighty, horrible, confusing, suffocating. Constructive, learning, worthwhile, independent, new. In the end, it will be worth it, and I am not just saying that because I want to make myself feel better, I mean it. It will give me a few beads of academic knowledge, a river of Italian skills, life lessons I would never have found in the same old place with the same old routines, and friends along the way who dragged through the same stuff, felt the exact same way, but in the end came back themselves, strong and smiling.

Thursday, November 16, 2006


Yesterday's literature class was my first and last of the week. The students and professor sort of coagulate at about 20 past the hour to get the class started and the prof let us know that Thursday there would be a conference on the filology of authors (or something of the like) and that Friday there is supposed to be some sort of strike at the university so she would not be teaching class.

My roommate Chiara transferred from the University of Bologna to the University of Ferrara this year and learned yesterday that her exams won't count until she receives credit for her exams from her other university. She thought this process would be complete by now, given that she was under the impression that the classes would pass through early in the year and she would be able to continue with her life. Unfortunately, no, she basically has no reason to continue with classes except to take the exams at some time in the future when her credits go through. So she's going home for the weekend on Thursday.

The music was a bit loud, and around 11.30, the Carabinieri came knocking on the door of Interno 3, the location for Francesco's birthday party. The police officer expressed quite clearly that he didn't care what happened at the party: get drunk, smoke, have a good time, but just turn down the music and lower your voices. A police officer turning a blind eye to all activities and just caring about the public peace? Never in America.

So much of this experience in Italy is made up of moments that simply don't express the absurdity, the randomness, the difficulties of studying abroad in a small town where you are very much a foreigner. I had a tough time for the first 10 weeks, but now my mind is buzzing with positive energy, and going with the flow instead of swimming upstream. I will not become Italian, but I appreciate the language and culture and know that I have already progressed immensely in my language skills. So I try to share a few moments, crystallized beads that convey a little better the essence of the experience. Expect more.

Wednesday, November 15, 2006

When energy and possibility start to bubble...

I see roads, stretching out in every direction with signposts that demark possible experiences, possible writings of a story that is as yet unwritten. After a particularly wonderful session of yoga in which I felt completely oxygenated and as if my muscles had worked to their max, my head was milling with ideas.

I’d picked up a flyer from the Institute of Renaissance Studies of Ferrara announcing a lecture series happening next week. My area of concentration at Harvard is Italian Studies and History of Art and Architecture, so it drops me right into the Renaissance pushing me towards an obligatory senior thesis. Since I am swimming in Orlando Innamorato, a book written by Boiardo for the Estense Court in Ferrara in the late 1400s, I swam a little further into the possibility of perhaps writing a senior thesis about the Castello Estense, or the Estense court…

Being a Harvard student, I am already thinking about the summer, what I will do… Being the last summer before graduating I had thought that this coming summer would be a crucial time in career exploration. I am warming up to the idea of spending 5 weeks at the Graduate School of Design in either Architecture or Urban Design. Maybe I’ll study architecture, write a senior thesis with an architectural spin and move on to work with my Dad. I hadn’t ever really embraced the idea before, but during these weeks of thinking and experience, I’ve let go some of my stupid hang-ups.

I dream that I’ll participate in the year-long internship at the Museum of Modern Art in New York after I graduate. Maybe I’ll write for some newspaper, write books. Maybe I’ll own a gallery. Maybe I’ll become a photographer, a professor. I’ve been writing everyday, taking photos every weekend, reading loads of Italian, getting more and more immersed. The ideas start to bubble as I grasp the Italian and sink my teeth into the ideas. And when the ideas start bubbling, my mind starts wandering and squinting into the distance. I see great courses at Harvard in the spring, possible jobs, new roommates… It is just an endless road that keeps stretching on, still foggy, undefined.

Tuesday, November 14, 2006