Wednesday, September 27, 2006

Piccola Miss California

Last night I went to see Little Miss Sunshine dubbed in Italian. I went expecting the same hilarious, subtly ironic, delicate tragic-comedy I had seen last month with my parents in English. The truth is it didn’t translate very well. People laughed less, they seemed to take the jokes seriously. Somewhere between the failure of matching lips to dialogue, much was lost in translation.

Granted there were things like the van horn that never stops honking and Olive’s routine that are simply beyond words and garnered laughs from the whole audience. But, the movie was so entrenched in American culture that it was hard to see it in Italian. Lines that were funny in North America failed in Italy. The family dynamic didn’t seem to match up with that of Italy. I left feeling as if I should never see an American movie in Italy.

The dubbing industry in Italy is huge. It’s strange to think that foreign films never have subtitles. All these American TV programs and films get redone in Italian, tailored to fit the language and the culture just a little more. It isn’t very appealing from my point of view. Why not learn more languages to better understand foreign films, or just read in the movie theatre. In Italy, films have an intermission. They interrupt the movie smack in the middle and let you walk around. Very odd, very odd indeed. I better just embrace it, read Italian, see Italian movies, and dub my thoughts in Italian because that way people will understand me better and I’ll get more out of it in the end.

Tuesday, September 26, 2006

Good ol' Unreliable

Yesterday I was thinking back to a conversation I had with an Italian. We discussed the subject of my watching machine and how it took about 2 weeks to get the thing fixed and operational. The chase for the technician, along with the afternoon waits, had been what consumed my time for the days when the door to the washing machine just wouldn’t open. We are still waiting for the plumber who was supposed to come in August. Luckily that situation isn’t urgent. So me and this Italian (I don’t name him because I don’t really remember who it was) talked about how in Italy a student needs a tessera (membership) for just about everything, nothing is straightforward or logically and everything takes a long time to complete. That just seems to be the way things go. But the trains, this Italian marveled, the trains are always on time.

So I had wanted to write about the trains in Italy, the regionals, the intercity, the eurostars, and how on time and efficient they are. But as I had had a marvelous weekend (thus the rule of life balance would eventually screw me over) and I had planned ahead (a thing someone should never do with a thing as unruly as life in Italy, let alone life itself), there was of course going to be a strike planned for the day I wanted to travel. In Italy, they tell you about the strikes in advanced. Thus, I learned this morning from my classmate Hezzy and later from the trenitalia website, that in fact the trains would not run on time or at all on Wednesday September 27, 2006 from 9am to 5pm.

For some reason I went into a semi-crisis, trying to figure out what plan B would be, since I hadn’t had a plan B before. Would I leave the previous evening and have an additional day in Cinque Terre? Would I leave Wednesday at 5pm when the trains picked up again? After a bit of stress, I ultimately got back to my senses after talking to my mother, sweet, wise, soothing mother, and decided to just postpone the trip for one day and extend it for one day on the other side. The weather would be better anyways for later in the week. Thus I will have a few days to myself to plan out my classes, wrap up some homework, maybe even do some laundry. I’ll just have to learn that I can’t really ever rely on anything or anyone in Italy, and that I should always have a plan B.

Sunday, September 24, 2006

Impassioned Florence

I now appreciate Florence much more. This summer, I had gone with my parents and it had been hot, rushed and short. I had been inspired by the David and by the solitude of San Marco, but in all I couldn’t grasp how Firenze could be the cradle of the Renaissance. This weekend I had a chance to visit my college roommate once again and spend a good two and a half days wandering, grazing, chatting.

After walking up before sunrise in Ferrara to catch a train to Florence with the students in my program here and after wandering around Florence with a tour guide and learning much about the city, we were left to our own devices to discover the city. Chris, Hezzy, Stephanie, Chiara and I forged off to first to Trattoria Anita, a cute little trattoria near Santa Croce with a Florentine menu, an affable waiter and great company. The dishes were small but prepared with expertise, a satisfying culinary venture. Upon the recommendation of our waiter, we went to Gelateria dei Neri to feed our lust for gelato. We were satisfied beyond belief. I sampled Chocolate with hot pepper and pistachio aside Crema Giotto (coconut, almond and hazelnut). Creamy, delicate, light and satisfying. After descending back to earth, we wandered around until we finally made it to the San Miniato, a church with an expansive view of the cradle of the Renaissance. After resting for a few moments, taking much needed water and rest, we explored the strange church and its intricate mosaics, frescoes and tile work. We joked around all five of us, getting along quite nicely, always talking in Italian, appreciating each other’s company and friendship.

That evening there was a welcoming evening at Sesame, a swanky restaurant/lounge. We chatted the night away, enjoying the drinks and food. A very strange place with a name that strikes Asian references, a décor that wanders from Turkey with hookahs to India with its lamps, and food that was all over the map. Suffice to say we had a good time and left unwillingly after Middlebury’s block on time was over. We headed back to Chris’ and chilled out for the rest of the evening until we fell asleep.

Saturday morning we decided to make a group brunch (or as we like to call it collanzo, a cross between collazione and pranzo) before heading to the Palazzo Vecchio for our tour of the secret passageways. Hezzy made the omelets, Stephanie and Chiara took charge of fruit and dishes, and Chris and I helped in various ways with cutting, serving and drinks. We arrived for our Italian tour, looking very much like foreigners but forging ahead to learn about the secret rooms that held precious art and documents, hidden from all others. There was one room for Francesco I, where he kept his precious art and objects. At first it looks like a room full of paintings but then the paintings open to passageways and cupboards. A fun little tour, a small secret, precious places.

We bid Chiara, Hezzy and Stephanie adieu at the train station with very fond memories of our time together, joking around, snapping photos, cooking, going through security at Palazzo Vecchio, trekking to San Miniato, and enjoying each other’s company. Chris and I slowly made our way back to his place, stopping to see the neck-stretching intricate mosaics on the ceiling of the Baptistery and to see the divinely finished paintings at the Church of S. Annunziata. After relaxing and reading for quite a while and then cooking dinner to Scooby Doo dubbed in Italian, Chris and I wandered the night seeing a clown performing his act in the street, a guitarist singing on the Ponte Vecchio and finally testing the night scene at Moyo and The William. We had two drinks each, trying old favourites and discovering crazy new concoctions before walking home and passing by a Turkish kebab joint to satisfy a midnight hunger.

Sunday couldn’t have been more wonderful, waking up fulfilled and rested and heading to the Bargello Museum to discover that it is Museum Day in Florence and all the museums are free. We soaked ourselves in sculpture from Donatello to Michelangelo to many many others before heading to catch my train back to Ferrara. On the way we rounded the corner to beautiful flute music. It filled the streets before we saw the flute duo, and my heart rose at the sound. Hearing the buzzing trill of the flute made me remember my time with the instrument. I was enraptured by the duo, they were playing without music stands and were staring intensely at each other, letting the music move them in tandem. It was as if they were making love in the street. I gave them a few coins and had to turn back to go buy their CD, I was so entranced by their music. Chris and I walked through an antique market before arriving at the train station and sending me back home to Ferrara.

Florence is definitely a city compared to Ferrara. There is much more stimulation, much more activity, and so much to see. I will definitely visit Chris again, we had such a wonderful, peaceful, pensive time together. We are planning to go traveling together. I snapped tons of photos, sensing the urgency of travel to capture my visual experience. Friendships crystallized during the weekend and I realized how much I cherish Chris as a roommate and a friend, and how much I will enjoy my time with Hezzy, Chiara and Stephanie here in Ferrara. A weekend full of memories, another step in this journey of taking in my surroundings, connecting to my friends and feeding my desire to learn and grow.

Thursday, September 21, 2006

by my self

I don’t mind being alone. I don’t really long for anyone. I miss people. I love people. But I will see them again. One day. Here in the quiet space of a small town with foggy mornings and inspiring views, I have space to create, dream and think. I can close myself behind my door and just focus on pouring out a story from my imagination. In the early morning, when the door is still closed, I can transfer my dreams onto paper, recording the greatest most creative work ever thought up. My subconscious writes stories to me while I sleep, feeding me the faces of friends, intertwining disaster with beauty. Always memorable moments.

Here I have the space to think and be alone. Alone is not a scary adjective, it’s powerful. Here I don’t have friends that are in the same city and are impossible to reach. Here few people are just a phone call away. At this moment in time, I have the liberality to create, mix, test. It is just the right amount of disconnect. I’ve got one hour a day to write back home and let people know how I am doing and then the rest is devoted to exploration, feeling, capturing. I’m not interested in lovers in these parts, I can’t express myself well enough to achieve that. I am just looking for friends, people with whom to share parts of my day, vent in times of frustration, people who are just far enough so that I can close the door and write.

For some reason being in a foreign culture gives me the space to create and to write. It may be that it feels as if I am the only one who nurtures the English language. I’ve been entrusted to create stories of my imaginings using this language completely my own and not spoken. Day-to-day life is just different enough that it doesn’t usurp or intrude. It simply feeds me more, I am awake to all the differences that exist. In a culture not my own, I am the right kind of awake to observe, question and capture. I enjoy my time abroad, it gives me time to see again.

Wednesday, September 20, 2006


The calm has settled in quite deep. Bells chime at odd time intervals. Bike traffic escapes no small alleyway. Everything closes for three hours for lunch. Most everything closes on Thursdays (it’s the law). Local specialties include a bread that looks like a bulbous man with outstretched limbs, a pasta that encloses sweet pumpkin, a pastry that hides a meaty macaroni and a chocolate fruit and nut cake covered in chocolate. The streets here aren’t narrow but wide. Savonarola was born here. The Italian language still reigns. This is Ferrara.

I couldn’t be more content with my choice of town for study abroad. I had avoided picking big cities because I feared I wouldn’t be fully immersed in Italian. I chose well. All I hear is Italian. In the quiet before the start of university, I have plenty of time to write and reflect. So I am monopolizing on that time. Monopolizing on that time also to take small trips, planning a small escape to Florence to visit Chris this weekend and a three day sojourn in the Cinque Terre at the end of next week. I have wild dreams of making it to London, Paris, Sicily and Barcelona, but those plans may be thwarted once school kicks in and the wild optimism of summer washes away. I am in a wonderful region, close to Bologna, Modena, Padova, Venice, Ravenna. I will at least have the chance to take daytrips to these spots. Maybe friends will visit…

I’m not sure I will enjoy life when I cannot write to the world every day. I started writing great daily missives this summer and that hasn’t really stopped. But it might. I may be deprived of sleep, be burdened with reading, be struggling with classes. I have no idea what to expect. I enjoy hearing from friends so much, exchanging correspondences, hopes and thoughts. I don’t want that to stop… it just might cease a bit. I stand before a giant crevasse of unknown possibilities. I keep making up the next few months in my head.

…I will work hard during the week and accomplish all the reading I have to, continue writing my weekly emails and daily blogs, travel on weekends, do yoga every day, cook. I will not travel at all, only taking a daytrip to Bologna, my writing will fall to the wayside, people will wonder what happened to me, I’ll start eating pasta for every meal. My classes will leave me swamped and unhappy, with a pile of books I could never read in a life time, chained to my desk and to the library, hoping for a way out, Chris and I will only see each other this weekend…

There are too many possibilities; I have to keep in mind what I am here to do. I am here to learn through reading lots of Italian, going to class, hanging out with the locals, writing and reflecting, traveling when it is economical and feasible, finding time to connect with Chris. Ultimately I will leave with an appreciation for Ferrara, a few people I call good friends who accompanied me along the way, confident results from final oral exams, and a well-traveled suitcase. If I keep this in mind and live day to day, Europe will be my oyster and I will be its spinning forming pearl.

Tuesday, September 19, 2006


I went to the library today to check my email and respond to messages and found my inbox flooded with people’s lives and happenings and wishes and thoughts and greetings. I left after two hours not having finished all that I wanted and feeling as if I was developing a headache. Not only have I been swimming in Italian, now I was swimming in the messages dropped thoughtfully from across the ocean.

It’s hard to think that in two week’s time my time might be engulfed in school work and that I will not have the privileged time to respond to emails and wander around the Internet idly looking for news, facts and flights. But I came here to Italy to learn, to immerse, to disconnect, to grow and then, to go back. I anxiously await in the silence for university to begin, filling my time with writing, reading and yoga to set a rhythm over the idleness, to give myself a sense of routine.

It’s hard to be so far away from those I care about, not able to just sit and have a cup of tea with friends, to just be surrounded by spoken English, to just settle back into the familiar. I keep traveling and changing my life slightly so that I have new adventures, explore new facets of the planet and myself and ultimately grow as a person. That’s why I am here, to grow a little more before I transplant myself for good. This is a period in my life where I discover what independence is all about, dealing with the stress and worry along the way but ultimately steering confidently from the captain’s deck.

I love my friends and family very much and wish I could just pick up the phone and let spill what my fingers have to articulate. It’s fine, I’ll deal. And my head will stop spinning. Then, I’ll be able to sit down and write nice notes, breathe in and continue living here and now so that when I get back I’ll be able to tell my stories in a dormant English anxious to breathe again.

Monday, September 18, 2006

Milan Revisited

The weekend seemed a bit ominous, with forecasts of nothing but rain for Hezzy and Stephanie going to Cinque Terre and similar forecasts for my trip to Milan. Regardless, I bid adieu to sunny Ferrara to hurtle across the country on a train bound for the city I called home for a good part of the summer.

It was strange to go back. It was either the fact that I am reading Se una notte d’inverno un viaggiatore of Italo Calvino or the drastic change in climate from unbearable heat to calm cool dampness. It was nice to see Niki, Dorota, Matilde and Marina again, as if I was coming home from another day of work. The weekend consisted of plenty of chitchat with Dorota, plotting with Niki about his online downloads (downloading is huge in Italy, or so I was told), going out to grab drinks with Matilde and Marina at Tijuana and Kaputziner, and hitting downtown for a little shopping with my fashion consultant.

It’s hard to write down more of what happened, so much of it is tied up in inside jokes, abstract thoughts and old routines. My trip wasn’t about sightseeing, it was about visiting friends and catching up in a way that isn’t based on question and answer but on spending time in each other’s presence. Gin Julee, in the navy, Mary Poppins, desperate German housewives, future plans of marriage, plotting to travel the continent… in a list they just bubble together in a stew of confusion for those who weren’t there. A strange but beautiful weekend.

Returning, I left a now sunny Milan to come home to Ferrara, soaked and rainy. Finally making it to my apartment down a very quite via Garibaldi, I found Sarah sitting in front of our door, locked out and ecstatic to see her roommate home. In Ferrara it had rained all weekend but she had managed to get out to Bologna on Saturday and out to run her half-marathon on Sunday. She came home bearing prizes from her race (since the first 30 women get prizes and since there were only 6 women running) which included a bra from Pierre Cardin, cookies, frying oil, Kleenex, rigatoni, tomato paste and iced tea. So much for a gift certificate to Sport’s Experts. So we both came home with an ample and varied munition of prizes from a refreshing weekend.

Friday, September 15, 2006

Week's End

We learned earlier this week that the weekend in Italy begins officially on Wednesday (although in summer it is supposedly always the weekend). Because soccer games are traditionally on Wednesday nights and Italians love soccer, it serves as an excuse for everyone and anyone to make the focal point of the work week a time to relax until the wee hours of the morning.

Last night, Chiara and I decided to check out the scene in the main piazzas. We both live facing this one piazza/parking lot where people assemble in front of a bar that serves drinks until 2 am. I had tried to go to sleep with the windows open around 11.30 pm but the whitenoise of chitchat kept me awake until I closed the windows. So last night, we went to check out the scene. Italian cities are always so beautiful at night because their white marble duomos are light up and glow in the darkness (I’ll bring my camera one Wednesday night, promised). The piazza della Cattedrale was packed with chitchatting slightly drunk Italian young folk.

At a certain point we met up with Chiara’s Italian roommate who introduced us to all his friends, now pleasantly tipsy. Each one would chat up a storm and ask many questions so that we never felt awkward, or alone, or in silence. There is a warmth that is contagious in these people. So the chaotic jabbering and meeting continued for about an hour and a half before chill set in and whisked my classmate and I home.

It is Thursday and thus ends the class week for us ‘American’ ragazzi. With Friday off, I’ve decided to take the long weekend out to Milan where I will reunite with my family and friends of summer, chill out, hang out and then return to another place that I will call home.

Thursday, September 14, 2006

Ode to my washing machine

So the news was good. For a little while. We could wash our clothes again. The technician had come to the apartment, fixed the washing machine door and left confident that his job was done. I returned home to a seemingly finished cycle and tried to open the door, thinking that it would open effortlessly, the clothes inside would be ready to hang out to dry, and our life would move on. No sooner did I try to open the door than the plastic cover popped off and the glass window shrugged out, leaving the door still shut with an open hole between me and my rommate’s pile of soaked clothes still sitting in water.

I called Sarah to announce to bad news. Then, I called the technician again. But what happened? Asked the woman on the other side of the line. I tried to open the door, that’s what happened. In this provincial life where my greatest excitement is going out on a Wednesday night (because, according to my language class, that’s when the weekend begins in Italy), this washing machine fiasco seems to be providing all the fun, stress and excitement I need. It may be Italy, it may be me, it may be the washing machine, but something just isn’t working here.

I’ve always had bad luck with water. As a child I was petrified of learning to swim until I put on a snorkel mask in a pool and glided into the strokes fearlessly. Once I accidentally defrosted the freezer in the basement, having been lured to press the big red button in the fridge, not thinking of the consequences of big red buttons. There was also an overflowing toilet, but that was minimally damaging. There is a photo taken by my mother, early in her photographic career, of me holding a bucket looking exasperatedly up at the leaking skylight. But that wasn’t my fault. Oh, but who could forget that night when I ran a bath, and went downstairs and forgot. Thinking that my brother was keeping an eye on the water I had gone to the basement calmly. Seeing drops of water leaking from the ceiling in the kitchen below the bathroom when I came back upstairs, my heart stopped. I ran upstairs to find the bathtub overflowing and the bathroom floor thick with water. That night I felt so stupid, all that damage, neglect, water. Regardless, I still like to swim. In short, water and I have a love-hate relationship.

So Thursday the technician comes again and perhaps this time solves all of our problems, leaving me to wash my clothes as much as I want, but even in this unknown future scenario I will surely be afraid to try and open the door.

Wednesday, September 13, 2006

vita varia

Walking to class after having written whatever for half an hour this morning, I found myself philosophizing with Sarah on the way. I’ve switch a city full of bicycle thieves for city overflowing with bicycles. Here everyone is on two wheels, a traffic that is even more dangerous than cars. Being a flat city, Ferrara encourages bicycles everywhere to cascade through the alleyways and cobblestoned piazze. Bikes line the fronts of busy stores, stop in hoards at traffic lights, and crisscross in and out of crowds of people on foot. Once you get used to being alert always you can start to enjoy the city and relax.

I walked into the main cathedral the other day and remarked at how big the space was inside. Many streets in Italy are narrow and dense with population so public spaces represent a beautiful and natural stage for feeling the grandness of space. It makes the concept of space that much more sacred. In Ferrara, although the public squares are very large and open, the space within the Duomo is still very much holy, reducing your apparent size in its cavernous darkness and silence. A beautiful space for meditation and escape. Standing on the marble floor as the sunlight hits the golden details of the church’s metalwork inspires awe and shushes your frenetic heart to silence.

Taking a tour with our guardian angel student, I realized that the life of a student in Italy will be an adventure. A gym membership in Italy requires a certification of good health from a doctor (for which you have to pay if you can’t get one from your own doctor), proof of inscription at the university (which we don’t have yet) and a document (we have this! We have this!). Getting the thumbs up from Sarah that our Internet connection at the library does indeed work, the group rejoiced knowing that the end had come to our paying for Internet on a daily basis. A small success for us all. Gio (Joe) our guardian angel student, let us know that in order to photocopy materials we would have to get yet another membership, this time from the photocopy store (I joked that we would have a whole card deck full of memberships by the end of the semester). In order to do all the photocopying we had to, we would have to ask to use the photocopiers in the back so that no one broke copyright laws knowingly. We’re students, dammi un break. Hopefully I’ll be able to buy a few of my books legally. At the end of it all we had Spritz, some sort of alcoholic drink that did quite some good, and toasted to our semester. In January after our exams we’ll be so ready to buy memberships and show 8 forms of ID that we won’t know what to do when things are just too simple to complete.

Tuesday, September 12, 2006

lingua italiana

Yesterday began morning classes in Italian and it got my mind working about language. Aside from being a difficult day with early rising, an absent yet needed washing machine repairman and hearing aid problems, Monday proved to rub me in all the wrong ways. But sticking to the great motto: this too shall pass: the day is now over and I can continue on with my life and focus on the next moments.

Enough complaining and whiny digression, back to Italian. For the first time I thought about my relationship with my roommate Sarah from the point of view of language. We have shared nothing but words in Italian since the day I arrived, no English conversations whatsoever. It is so strange seeing that English is both of our mother tongues and Italian just this other language we are trying to pick up. The other day a man walked into the Internet café where Sarah and I go to check our email until that glorious day when we will have free wireless access at the university library. He started talking to us in English and I stumbled a bit for words. Sarah and I still spoke to each other in Italian.

Whenever my mother calls, the switchover is pretty automatic, although lately I’ve noticed that trying to speak in English to my mother is even becoming a bit belabored. I guess I picked right when it came to cities for Italian language integration. I had wanted to avoid the big metropolis cities of Italy, hoping to avoid the hoards of English students. Chris tells me that in Florence 90% of the students studying abroad do not speak a word of Italian, it’s a point of pride for all of us. Chris walked into a gelateria the other day and ordered in Italian to a woman, shocked, who responded How do you know Italian? And gave him a discount.

I’ve picked up some books in Italian in an attempt to get up to speed with my reading before university starts. I’ve always taken pleasure in reading Italian, it just seems so tied up in real life that every phrase gives me a new appreciation for my existence or a new point of view on interpreting life. At least that’s how I felt with Pirandello and Fo. Hopefully my romp through Italian literature and the Italian university system will give me a similar view on life. In any case, I’ll always have my writing for that.

Monday, September 11, 2006

primo weekend

The first weekend is over and what a lovely weekend it was. With the end of appointments and tests on Friday, Sarah and I had dinner and went to a concert out in the open air of the Castello’s courtyard. I sat there listening to an hour and a half of classical music, imagining that 300 years ago there was a ball happening in the very courtyard I was sitting in to the very same music. Regal and grand. At one moment, as the small Orchestra Citta di Ferrara concluded their first piece, I shut my eyes and had that full body shiver with the resolution of the final chord. And opened my eyes to applause.

Saturday morning meant that the students from the Middlebury program in Florence were coming to visit Ferrara for the day, thus it also meant that my roommate from college, Chris, was coming to visit me in Ferrara for Saturday and Sunday. It was so nice to spend time with someone who knows me quite well and someone who I appreciate and who appreciates me too. We wandered the city at first as a tour group, learning of the city’s dual history as Medieval and Renaissance town, noting the changes in architecture in the buildings we saw, understanding the details and their meanings (a fresco inspired by the Sistine chapel, a solitary arch designed by Alberti, an unfinished campanile, a town with a revolutionary Jewish population). I continue to appreciate this city and pick up bits and pieces as I wander its streets.

Now my mission is to find a few books written by Giorgio Bassani, the famous Jewish author from Ferrara. For some reason, I strike a chord with the author, simply hearing of his work, hearing of the reality he had to live through. The Jews in the town had to identify themselves and attend Church, a symbol of their difference but of their eventual conversion. I imagine Jewish women wearing yellow scarves around their heads, walking in to the Church through the women’s entrance on the right, bowing their faces to the ground and sitting through the service pursed lips, not knowing the words to repeat, refusing to play along.

I visited two Museums this weekend: il Museo del Cattedrale which, among other treasures, showcase Jacopo della Quercia’s Madonna della Melagrana (Mary of the Pomegranate), a very femininely rotund Madonna with a baby Jesus holding a scroll that looks like the bread of Ferrara, and I also visited the Museo dell’Ottocento, a refreshing change from Renaissance art, showcasing Italian painters near the Impressionist period. It was wonderful to see paintings in suitable frames that exhibited such elegance, such liberty and such passion as the paintings of Boldini.

For the first time since I arrived, I went out to dinner with Chris, Chiara, and Sarah to a little restaurant that claims to have been in existence since the mid 1400s and have served such people as Copernicus and Titian. Sarah and I shared a delightful pasta called cappelacci, a Ferrarese specialty, a pasta filled with what seemed to be sweet potato, in a word, wow. Another Ferrarese specialty which Sarah and I discovered still edible and unexpired in our fridge at home was a pampepato, a chocolate covered chocolate cake with almonds and candied fruit. Piano piano (slowly) I will try the specialties of this city, find its wonderful markets selling fresh wares and hear the secrets whispered from its palazzi.

Friday, September 08, 2006

Orient Yourself Take 2

Life is taking a peaceful rhythm with orientations and tours and exams. This morning we were lectured a bit on transportation before handing in our documents and money for our permesso di soggiorno. Then we took a tour of the faculty where we would be studying. Although the University of Ferrara has all its course information online, the best way to figure things out is to consult the boards in the department building, that gives schedules, room changes, office hours and locations, and more complete course information (complete with an actual person to help you). The ordering of the classrooms doesn’t really make sense, omitting classrooms 1 and 17 (17 is unlucky in Italy whereas 13 is actually fortunate) and having classroom 16 in a building found through a parking lot and classroom 18 resemble a bomb shelter more than an actual classroom.

This afternoon we took a multiple choice Italian test along with an oral interview to test our general level of Italian to better teach us for the next three weeks. I left my interview feeling a bit tongue-tied, blech. And it was raining. I need to get the whole oral expression thing under my belt because my whole academic life, ie my grade, will depend on my oral performance at the end of the semester, being asked questions by the professor. But for now, all is good, I have some time to sharpen my skills, arguably plenty of time, so I walked home in the rain and called the technician for the washing machine that is now firmly shut, the handle having come off. Bene. Let’s hope that the appointment for Monday afternoon will actually be followed, boh.

Speaking of broken, taking a shower is an experience here in my apartment. The stream of water from the showerhead is absolutely fine, it is only that the drain well, doesn’t really do its job to, you know, drain. It does but it takes a long time. So you can’t just take a shower, you have to take a shath or a bower (amalgam of bath and shower, yeah, I know, bad). Hopefully the Italian Drain-O stuff I bought today will clear up whatever beast of a hairball or whatnot is stuck in our drain. We can only hope.

And so now the weekend and future visits from both Chris and Marina. I’m so excited. This place, which I am growing to love more and more everyday, will feel even more my own with some apparitions of familiar faces. This whole sensation of home is a strange thing, it has to do with getting a full night’s sleep, discovering your surroundings and breathing more easily. I was just walking around and discovering great little shops for food, gelato, and drink. Places where I could really hang out. In the end, when you breathe easily and drift off to sleep, it’s hard not to call the bed your own or the city your home.

Thursday, September 07, 2006

ferrarese fog

Today I woke up to a fog that obscured the view from my window, a cool mist descended from above to cool off the city. It made the sunlight white and thick. This will be a sight I will wake to often, since fog seems to be common in Ferrara, as is rain. But so far, none of that. Today was the first day of orientation and we learned all about the Italian university system and its laxaties and unpredictabilities, and other details of our next few weeks. Entering the classroom for the orientation center I felt at ease, somehow knowing that this place of learning would be once again my place only in a different city. Here the grades of everyone are posted publicly, teachers lecture and give out bibliographies, there is only one grade, the final oral exam, and it's up to you to learn whatever you want.

After all the orientation, I wandered around snapping photos in the light of the setting sun, walked into the cathedral and felt its voluminous space, and started to see the city differently. With my camera I start to seek details that I wouldn't see otherwise. I'm starting to sink into a routine that I enjoy, filled with writing, yoga, Italiano, sunlight and independence. Who could ask for more?

Wednesday, September 06, 2006

A bicycle built for a city

One afternoon complaining to myself and to others about feeling uneasy and an evening of chitchat and cooking later and I am starting to feel at home. I arrived in Ferrara not feeling terribly enthusiastic, what an ugly city, the same words my mother spoke when she arrived in Milan. Once I infiltrated the ugly outskirts and found the charming center of twon, monuments interwoven with everyday shops, and sprnkled with palazzi, there is something about this twon that I can grow to enjoy. The colours and architecture are reminiscent of Venice. I can befriend the woman in the cafe, the man at the hardware store. People are friendly, the make small talk without caring about much else. And bikes, they're everywhere, watch out. They come streaming from all directions.

In the bank today the woman asked me if I was going to stay in Italy. Funnily enough, Sarah got the same question earlier this week. It seems like having come to this little town, removed from the tourist path, and absolutely filled with bicycle traffic, that we stranieri might be serious about the whole Italy deal. But as both Sarah and I say, vedremo, we shall see.

I am back in Italia, the heat is back, the sweat is back, the constant Italian is back. I find myself swimming in the language, watching Grey's Anatomy in Italian, starting to think and dream in the foreign tongue, so much I am removed from any English whatsoever. The onlyEnglish I possibly have is on the phone with my parents and writing on the Internet and for myself. I've started putting together writings for this writing mentorship I have signed up for. 4 installments of around 30 pages or less (less please!) of writing, which means 4 installments of comments and suggestions to guide me on the path to more serious writing. It may be enough for me just to let the words flow from mind to fingers, ma vedremo.

Although my walls are still white, my little apartment has these gorgeous terrazzo floors that make everything better, just look down. Plus, if I climb out my window onto my quasi-balcony, an outdoor corridor of sorts, I have a nice clothesline, but moreso a space outdoors where to hang out. From that space I also face the bell tower of Santo Stefano, perhaps a sign that I'll be okay here, wandering these streets of jumbled architecture, medieval towers, renaissance palazzi, eastern-influenced arches. I think it might be time to start taking photos.

Tuesday, September 05, 2006

finding home

My body hasn't adjusted to sleep here, waking up at 1am to plan the photos I want to print for my room and watch an episode of Grey's Anatomy in Italian. A day spent wandering around, buying little things and straightening out other things has just made me feel slightly better. Once orientation hits, I will feel intinitely better. I think I may also be experiencing Internet relapse. My walls are still very white, but with phone calls from my mother and from my friend Marina who might visit this weekend I can only feel loved even though I ache for just a hug from someone familiar. Henderson the teddy bear isn't sufficing for now. I will go home and write, unconnected to the Internet and perhaps feel better.

There are things that I love about this city and about my apartment... The rich deep red curtains that cover the windows on the outside of certain buildings, the bell tower that chimes in the evening rising from the chiesa santo stefano outside my window, the heat that is back in my life, the yoga that is constant in my life. Perhaps a little music and I'll be set. I can't really figure out this whole settling down into a city again. Routine and habits need to work their way back into my life. Perhaps daily visits to Ferrara Frutta for fruit and veggies, morning writing, evening wine, a constant eye for photos. Although life itself is not constant in the very least, having those steady elements makes you feel safe, and right now, I don't know what it is, but I feel a bit exhausted and unpositive internally about things. Perhaps a full night sleep and I'll be alright.

Monday, September 04, 2006

Impending sleep

A 5pm flight was not such a fabulous idea, no of course it was, it meant coming to Italy one more time, finding a new city, an apartment and new adventures. But right now, having had very little sleep, and traipsing through what feels like semi consciousness, I am trying very hard to get through the first day, or afternoon, or thing, whatever this is. I am sitting in a little free Internet cafe (for which I need to get tea or juice or something to be able to wander the net forever (within reason) for FREE). I am a bit bummed that I don't have an Internet connection I can rely on more regularly, but who am I kidding, I just got here!

Writing blogs every day this summer was nice, and convenient. I had a job with lots of time to fill and plenty of time to daydream and write. Unfortunately this may be the first of only a few interspersed blog entries for this new adventure. I will still write, undoubtedly, but a lot more for myself and a lot less online-distracted. Will I be reduced to quick notes to friends? And large impersonal updates? What will life be without a constant Internet? I fear.

I arrived in Ferrara slightly disgusted. The train station was under construction, all I saw were high rise buildings towering up with what seemed like acne break out regions of sattelite dishes. I immediately thought I couldn't spend 5 months here. This was the boy who had been awake for 24 hours pretty non stop and was a bit cranky. But meeting my first two of a total three roomates brightened up may day and kick started the italian once more. I wonder what school will be like here, how busy I will be, what my new routine will be. Many more uncertains on this path. I'm glad I spilled some thoughts, even if I am floating in adrenaline levtating away from earth. Glad the roomies have coazed me into helping with a communal dinner. That I can do.

And tomorrow, a day of discoveries of the city, perhaps some writing, buying more essentials, finding new hotspots, being free of the Internet, seeing if the sheets and towels that are around feel right to me, doing Yoga, hugging my Canadian teddy Henderson and breathing in the hot hot Italian air. Summer sure is back. I'll sleep well tonight. Jet lag? No thank you.