Tuesday, October 31, 2006

Roma II

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Reminders of Summer
















The city that taught me to love Italy...

Monday, October 30, 2006

Rockin' Roma

I got up Saturday and went to Rome. It seems so weird to say that, but Rome is only three hours away, so it’s possible. What’s even weirder to say is that I got up yesterday morning and went to Rome. Time seems to fly by so fast, tack on an extra hour and your system just can’t adjust.

So I met Chris in Rome in our typical I’ll-meet-you-at-the-ticket-office fashion because Chris just won’t get a cellphone. We proceeded to commence our wild wanderings across Rome, starting at Roma Termini and heading up towards our 2.30 appointment at the Galleria Borghese, wandering into churches and across piazzas along the way. Chris had wanted to see the Bernini-designed church of St. Andrea del Quirinal but unfortunately it was closed for lunch. I retraced my time in Rome from four years prior, finding the old apartment by the Trevi fountain and revisiting the Galleria Borghese. I even relived some of the summer heat with the thermometer creeping up to 26 degrees Celsius! The Galleria was so much more lavish than I remember it; all my memory reconstructs is a few key white marble statues in a shadowy space. Instead the villa was full of painting and sculptures covering every bit of free space.

Recovering from the artistic overload, Chris and I strolled down towards the Tevere, found a strange little shop Chris had visited two years ago, passed the modernly housed Ara Pacis and found ourselves on the Ponte S. Angelo as the sun dipped just below the horizon. Bumbling around for a bit of time, flipping our map a couple of times, wondering where the hell we were, we finally made it to sit down at a restaurant to enjoy some meaty Roman dishes and pause for a nice long dinner. After seeing the worthy nightlife in Campo di Fiori, Piazza Navona and the Fontana di Trevi, we finished the trek to our hostel (basically 5 beds in a room, that’s it folks) and checked out of consciousness with tired legs, and worn out minds from plenty of sights and conversations about existence in Italy and wonderings about the future back in the States.

Chris and I woke up on Sunday determined to meet the Milanese Marina in Piazza di Spagna at 10. We thought we would try the church of St. Andrea del Quirinal again but strangely at 9.30 it wasn’t open as it should be on a Sunday. We wandered over to the Roman ruins and started to hurry a little to Piazza di Spagna because it was 10.05. I sent a quick note to Marina to tell her of our delay only for her to call me a minute later and inform me that it was indeed only 9.05. Fall back, right. I’ve been so disconnected with the world that I had no idea that whole clock thing had happened. So Chris and I had a relaxing extra hour in the Piazza di Spagna before meeting La Marina for a coffee and plenty of conversation. It was so very nice to see Marina again, full of lively energy, humour and enthusiasm. Ah yes. We spent the whole morning together wandering about, chatting, taking our time, stepping into a church to visit some Carvaggio paintings and then splitting ways.

After a bit of lunch and stepping into the magical powerful space which is the Pantheon, Chris and I finally found the church of St. Ignazio di Loyola, a gem famous for its optical illusion of a dome and its frescoes of rowdy angels falling into the painted architecture and breaking the laws of typical posing. Poco dopo, we walked into an unexpectedly beautiful Paul Klee exhibit at the Palazzo Ruspoli where the artist’s works were lit as if to glow in otherwise black rooms. It was an artistic experience that truly let you get intimate with the work. Walking down via del Corso, Chris finally spotted a suit that seemed to satisfy his desire for Italian clothes and well, suffice to say we both satisfied a sartorial whim. Before heading home for what was truly a whirlwind of a weekend, I wanted to try the church of St. Andrea del Quirinal once more. Just as we arrived, the doors opened. An ostentatious project by an egomaniac that sure knew what he was doing, Bernini’s church seeps in gold and white marble but remains sacred and beautiful.

It is strange to say that I visited Rome in only 31 hours, and it’s strange to think I only left yesterday for Rome and am already back home. But it was completely worth it. Rome radiates such a different energy than other Italian cities, it’s more open, more lively, more artistic, more alive. It was wonderful to spend time with Chris and with Marina, talk about life at length, about plans, about politics, it infused me with a little more of what I was used to and what I was lacking, some truly close friends and some highly philosophical and energetic and just plain funny conversations. I had been having some difficult moments in Italy before this weekend began, but I had a chance to get away and to just rattle off some ideas and just wander the streets. Maybe in velocity and motion I find comfort. It might have been the art, the water, my friends or the summer weather, but Rome has infused me with a bit of fresh zest for life, new energy, recharging power.

Surely I’ll have more to say about Roma domani and of course there will be photos…

Friday, October 27, 2006

Niente Namaste

I still can’t get over the yoga class I tried out this evening with Stephanie and Sarah. I feel strange, Ferrara feels even more unreal than it did before after that class. Two hours after the class I still feel sort of funny.

Finding the class wasn’t easy. Advertisements for the yoga class were basically nothing more than the name of the gym, yoga, and the gym’s phone number. This week I worked up the courage to go and try the class out. See what Italian yoga is all about.

We walked for a good 20-25 minutes just to get to the place, in the south-east end of town, only to arrive at a normal looking fa├žade, nothing yoga studio or gym-like about it. We enter and meet the teacher who explains her practice and guides us into the studio. The dimly-lit dusty-smelling room is laid down with mats that look like they could be used for camping.

The hour of yoga consists of guided breathing and meditation and yoga poses I have never before practiced in my life. I gave it a shot, tried to work into the flow, but it’s difficult to let go when you are constantly trying to figure out which side is destra (Italian for right) and place the names of the body parts so that you can fluidly execute the positions. At the end, with the final meditative position, I expected the teacher to give some words to send us off, or at least give us all a namaste, but it just ended. Strangely unfinished, and now still floating on some odd yoga planet, we’ve all decided to track down another yoga class and give it a shot again. Yoga just isn’t the same in Italy at all, I think I’ll stick to my personal practice with my OM yoga book and my yoga mat, that way I can go in peace.

Thursday, October 26, 2006

Woe is Wednesday: experiencing technical difficulties

Wednesday. It should be the high point of the week. You’ve reached the midpoint, the center, the peak. It means you’ve finished the first half. It also means you can see the second half. But I guess the downward slope isn’t an exciting thing to see (must be why turning thirty sucks so much, being over the hill and all… not that I would know… I’m going to continue now…). Wednesdays for me should be fun. Half the week is indeed over and, added bonus, there is always a party in the piazza on Wednesday nights for all the Italian young to come out, booze and chat. Wednesdays have succeeded to be the low point of my week, every week. At least next week, Wednesday will be a holiday. Thank God for Catholicism (yea, I know, it’s ironic. I’m half Jewish. I think that Catholicism is probably the worst part of Italy. But let’s just leave it at a comment and explore days of the week not world religions).

I woke this morning knowing I wanted to do my laundry and knowing I had a class. I massed my dirty clothes together and shoved them into the washer before heading out the door to initiate my morning routine. I let the clothes wash, spin and soak on there own.

The night before I had had a strange dream. I was back at Harvard and was once again a first year student, although I knew deep down that I had already done the first year thing before. This time however, I was Italian and no one understood what I was saying. It was strangely foreign, I found myself floating down Massachusetts Avenue in a boat that stopped at the Quad to pick up new students and pause for a meal service of french fries. I woke up feeling weird, foreign, and not really knowing what to think.

Class yesterday had been interesting, I had understood the lecture and left feeling quite content. I arrived this morning half-expecting the same. I sat in my chair staring at the computer start menu projected onto the screen for a good half hour as the techie tried to continually click the same cancel button to get things working again. The teacher had tried to upgrade from projecting slides to showing us a powerpoint presentation but the Fates were obviously not on her side. So back we went to slides, sitting in pitch black, trying to take notes while the professor rambled on not about the slide but about neoimpressionism and eventually winding the digression into futurism, at which point the techie came back.

Regardless of being able to use the computer, the professor plowed on through with her slides, talking to us in the dark. After a few minutes, what must have been the microphone started letting out polyrhythmic squeaks. After acknowledging the change in our auditory space and pausing for a few seconds, the professor decided it would just be fine to continue with the lesson for another 15 minutes before concluding with the end of her slides. All the students left a little confused, ears ringing.

I arrived home to anxiously open the washing machine (you have to wait a few minutes after shutting it off to actually open the door) to get my clothes outside to dry. To my horror, there was my underwear one pair once completely white, and another once trimmed in white, turned completely pink, and now trimmed with pink. That’s what happens when you put in a red t-shirt with your wash without thinking twice. My roommate thinks the underwear is cute, saying that I had acquired new garments without buying anything. As I cursed the red t-shirt, I strung it and the other clothes out to dry and made myself lunch. Madonna, Mamma, Porca Miseria, Dio (guess you can’t keep religion out of the swearing in Italy).

All bundled together, my frustration set me off into a bad mood. Goodbye productivity and wanting to read some literature this afternoon. I decided that, like any sane human being, I could take a break and watch some Grey’s Anatomy. Mother soon calls on cue for her 2-3 timeslot and out flows my thoughts about my dysfunctional day and my dreams telling me perhaps I am not happy in Italy. Conversation with parents leads to Stefan feeling slightly wrecked: why is he in Italy? What is this experience all about? What’s the point of doing the reading and attending the lectures if, in the end you don’t really understand?

Another episode of Grey’s Anatomy, a piece of chocolate and a sequence of yoga later and I’ve collected myself. Wednesday’s are tough because it’s a point, a discernable midway point to the week, a tiny peak on which to balance and see the entire world stretching out below. It makes you stop and think, which is always a dangerous thing. Regardless, it makes me stop and think of my purpose, my expectations, my dreams. Considering all those things, balancing on that peak of midway, it’s easy to lose your balance.

Wednesday, October 25, 2006

A rainy day in Bologna









Icky weather and hence less pictures. But that doesn't stop me from making the journey visual....

Tuesday, October 24, 2006

this simple life

My mother calls me once a day. I usually get up at 7.45, eat cereal and an apple, take a shower and start my day by checking my email and catching up on correspondence. I read whenever I am not in class. Sarah and I think about the possibilities of culinary exploration. I do yoga 6 times a week, taking the time to breathe, stretch. I try to travel on weekends. I write often.

When my mother calls there is sometimes that silence that hangs when we’ve already rushedly spilled the news of our days, usually she has more to say than I do. My life is quiet, meditative, simple. In response to the silence, as if it were a question, I say that there isn’t much else to report. And, in fact, there isn’t. I go out for an aperitif with classmates every now and then, Wednesday I usually get over hump day by breaking out in party like the rest of the student population. Otherwise, I read.

My life at Harvard would usually be burgeoning with activity, rushing to classes, completing daily reading, writing papers, going to yoga classes, chilling out at Spoken Word. Here I take the time to really pour myself into what I am reading, because really I don’t have much else to do. I might check out a yoga class in these parts, see what that is like as an experience.

I keep saying that there really isn’t much to life here, but it isn’t necessarily a bad thing. There is plenty of time to think and reflect, plenty of time to just chill out and chat, plenty of time to really absorb the words that are in front of your face. Sunday, for instance, I went for a walk to check out the usual Sunday activity in Ferrara and spent the rest of the day resting, writing and watching Grey’s Anatomy. Calm just soaks you right through, very peaceful. Reading for class thus transports you to other worlds.

So for now, for the next few months, I will have plenty of time to grow, to dream, to learn, to travel, to sit, to think, to stretch. This simple life is a contrast to city living, university insanity, urban drama. I draw inspiration from the intense life of the city, the concentration of lives interconnecting, the richness of stories and shadows. My ears and eyes will for now attune themselves to a more peaceful life. When I return, I’ll be able to take in the city with fresh eyes and rediscover what truly inspires.

Monday, October 23, 2006

Wandering, Resting, Writing

I wasn’t exactly sure when Chris would arrive Friday afternoon. He had sent me an email that morning saying he would arrive that day, and, since I don’t really have Internet access, that was the last I heard from him. I had sent him my address and hoped his memory served him right to guide him down the main road of Ferrara to my apartment. Surely enough he arrived and a spontaneous meeting with Chiara and Stephanie in the hallways led to a little chitchat gathering in my apartment before dinner. Sarah and I made a simple pasta/salad dinner, for which I thought I had made a horrendous amount of pasta (around 100g per person is always about right but better safe than sorry, right?) but it all turned out alright and after chatting our way to midnight we hit the hay.

I woke up to a very toasty apartment granted we had turned the heat on so that Chris would be alright on the floor of my room. Coffee, breakfast, shower and off we went to Bologna. We wandered around Bologna in the rain that morning, checking out the Gothic/Renaissance cathedral, ample and beautiful, snaking down a street full of food and vendors, umbrellas and fish, and trekked to the top of a tower to see views of the city. Then we decided to track down the restaurant recommended by my travel guide specializing in good deals and typical cuisine. Checking out the map, we thought we were in the right part of town. It was only when we consulted with someone in a hotel that we discovered we were on the opposite side of town.

We arrived at the restaurant about a half hour later to find the tiny storefront crowded with a hoard of older Italian people. Great, we’ll never get in now. But surely but slowly the whole crowd filtered in and we were ushered to a table and a hearty meaty lunch complete with wine. It seemed like the restaurant was like a clown car fitting what must have been 50 people into all their inner rooms, none of which could be seen from the narrow front room of the restaurant. We wandered back to the main square of town to check out a museum with more statues and artifacts than ever imaginable and a church with a maesta by Cimabue. Back to the train station through crowds and vendors and thus ends this weekend of Chris and Stefan. Chris has midterm exams this week so he wanted to get home to study hard and kick academic ass.

I headed my way, promising Chris we would meet again next Saturday in Rome, and came home to have a hearty soup for dinner and talk at length with Sarah about religion, faith, love and learning. It’s really nice to have a friend with whom to just chat the night away, share an obsession for Grey’s Anatomy and just reflect on what we’ve done, what we’re doing and where we’re heading.

I went to bed with a bit of a cold and still have one this morning that I am determined to fight off with water, cough drops, and rest. I took a little walk around Ferrara today; Sundays are always strange here. The city is always burgeoning with life: vendors selling all sorts of kitschy arts and crafts, crowds of people emptying out of the main church and assembling in the square, kids and adults in medieval dress assembling in another square to hold court it seems and perform some sort of coordinated flag display, tossing them into the air, passing them, never dropping them once. I instead, am just going to close myself in my room, nap, rest, and write.

Thursday, October 19, 2006

Shaving Face, Saving Faith

This morning trimming my shade of a beard I managed to goof. My little moustache had a nice hole of clearcut hairs. It looked stupid. I decided that the moustache had to go. And with that decision the entire beard went and my skin breathed the sun’s rays once again. Thus began my day.

Nothing really happened today. I had class, I understood little, but then again even the Italians couldn’t understand the pronunciation of various French artists of the early Impressionist pronounced by an Italian woman. And today was the fateful day when I added my final class to the roster of ever-changing never-happening classes. Italian Literature I. Could have been anything. Looking over the syllabus and hearing the professor discuss the readings, I started to get a little nervous. It seemed like the entire canon of Italian classics were to be read for the class (all of Dante, Petrarch, Boccaccio, Machiavelli, Ariosto …) along with around 400 pages of additional background reading. Luckily I spoke with the professor who exclaimed that I couldn’t be expected to read that much at all and outlined certain titles.

But it got me thinking, what if my program doesn’t accept the fact that I am changing the courseload to my needs? And am I reading anything that is required by the Italian department back home? What about my art history classes; am I learning anything worthwhile in those at all? Within a year I’ll be starting to write a thesis on some facet of Italian Renaissance art and I haven’t yet concentrated in any facet of the period. So I freaked out, paced.

But to make a long story short, I calmed down and realized I shouldn’t take this all so seriously. Italy will teach me to chill out, just go with it. Sure it would be nice to deepen my education in a worthwhile and useful direction, but hell my education doesn’t end in 2008 and it doesn’t end with the last class. So for now I just have to take it as it comes, read what I can, understand what I can and go with it. Chances are I won’t know how much I’ve learned until it is all over and I find myself surrounded by English navigating the familiar channels of Harvard University once again.

Wednesday, October 18, 2006

Becoming Stefano

Last night while watching La Pupa e il Secchione (the Italian version of Beauty and the Geek, oh the pinnacle of American culture) with Chiara, I was astounded by the stupidity of the pupe (beauties, if you will) I scoffed and shook my fist formed in an inverted pinch of salt. I seem to have picked up certain gestures, as Chiara noted (Oh you learned that?). There are modes of expression in the Italian language that have nothing to do with words at all. The praying hands that motion downwards and up again in exasperation/want/desire. The side of the right hand that slaps up to the open left hand in sign of getting rid of something. Brushing the chin with the outside of your hand to tell someone off or to rudely say you don’t care for or need something. I had noted many of these hand motions this summer while in Milan but now, surrounded by Italian, the hand motions are starting to work their way into my repertory of body language.

I am starting to get used to it all, this whole Italian way of doing things: breaking for lunch for three hours, living from one class to the next and not planning ahead too much, putting off to tomorrow what really doesn’t need to be done today. It has been the Italian university system that irked me the most. I expected a nice clean beginning but instead I got a long and retarded start. In fact, classes are still starting and stopping and changing schedules and classrooms. I was speaking to my language teacher last week in my final exam (an informal meeting) and I reflected on the Italian way of life and the university system as being more chaotic and unpredictable yet more natural, more, let’s say, organic. After all this I will certainly be more able to deal with stress and unpredictability than ever before

I’ve started reading for classes, making notes and trying to fathom how on earth I will get through the volume of material ahead of me. I have to keep reminding myself that I have 2.5 months to do all this reading and that I am indeed no longer at Harvard. But still I want to be the good student, the dedicated academic who reads all the material and goes into the final exam knowing that nothing can go wrong. And maybe there I am wrong to foresee such necessity of preparation. Perhaps when I fully adopt the Italian version of my name that the woman at the drycleaners misheard today, maybe then I’ll take it everything a little more lightly and start to exemplify the chaos. Perhaps I’ll just put on an act for a few months… become Stefano and then go back to being Stefan without having to overturn my world.

Tuesday, October 17, 2006

Monday, October 16, 2006

Death by Chocolate, Holy Sunday

This weekend Chris and I went on a pilgrimage. It involved my getting up at 5 in the morning on Saturday, it involved crowds of the devout, it involved an evening banished from the city limits and it involved simple peaceful colours. No, we were not exiled from Italy (not that we could ever be exiled from a country of which we are not citizens). Instead we headed to the Chocolate festival in Perugia and stayed the night in Arezzo and repented for our decadent sins in sacred spaces before heading home.

Somehow I hadn’t foreseen the hoards of people that would also be at the chocolate festival with me and Chris. We succeeded with our rendez-vous at the Perugia train station and headed with the masses up to the city centre. There we were accosted by the thick scent of chocolate, a smell that tickles the nose and lurches your body into shock. The streets were lined with vendors selling every type of chocolate possible: chocolate liquor, thick hot chocolate, chili chocolate, grapefruit chocolate, pear chocolate, milk chocolate, dark chocolate… It went on forever. Crowds assembled at booths where there were free samples, ravenous hoards with arms outstretched for the taste. People were on the hunt for chocolate.

At one point Chris and I found ourselves in the National Gallery waiting to see the exhibit organized by Perugia-based chocolate company Perugina. They had organized an exhibit called Nero: il nero e sempre alla moda (Black: black is always in fashion). What it turned out to be was a design exhibit, showing different pop-culture objects that have the commonality of colour: Adidas soccer shoes, black coffee pot, motorcycle, etc etc. Unfortunately it was lost, the people just wanted the sample at the end, a thin orange-flavoured slice of dark chocolate. People just wanted the chocolate.

At a certain point we couldn’t take it, and wandered down a side street to see the beautiful views of Perugia, check out Rafael’s first fresco under the tutelage of Perugino, and just get a feel for the hilltop town that is Perugia. It might be really nice to wander the city without the masses, without the insanity. We plunged back in and tried out a sentence for a new advertisement for Perugina Baci, receiving a free Baci chocolate and a possible chance at national fame. We wandered some more and soaked it all up before hitting the road and escaping the streets full of chocolate vendors. It is a shame that there wasn’t more artistry involved, more creative process behind the chocolate, a quiet sidestreet dedicated to the wonders of chocolate and not to its commercial value. All that said, Chris and I left with our fair share of the dark and tasty gold.

Since we hadn’t planned in advance, we obviously couldn’t find a hotel in Perugia but instead went to Arezzo for the night. The hotel I had found, I had found online. Upon calling to ask for directions the woman on the other end let me know that the hotel was located 10 minutes outside of Arezzo by car and she would send her husband to pick us up in a macchina fuori strada grigia (a grey off-road vehicle). We were whisked away by a chatty Tuscan man to what must have been his home and his farm beyond Arezzo and the neighbouring town of La Pace.

We arrived in the dark and were tremendously thankful for the lift (we would have never made it, being destroyed by the Perugian festival). The man simply responded that he considered us figlioli (as dear as his own children). The man’s wife asked if we were hungry and knowing we wouldn’t make it back into town alone offered to make us a meal. We ate like kings: pasta, salad, chickpeas, bread, wine, and pie. The couple wanted to know all about us and where we were studying. The woman kept insisting that Florence was the best place to study art history and introduced us to her daughter who would be choosing a university for the next year. Although we felt as if we had entered the twilight zone, Chris and I were immensely thankful for the clean comfortable room. We woke up early to get a ride back into Arezzo after a breakfast of espresso and cappuccino made by yours truly, homemade marmelade and fruit.

Arezzo proved to be a quiet town full of beautiful churches. Being Sunday we tiptoed into a couple of masses, saw a cross by Cimabue, visited Giorgio Vasari’s egotistically self-frescoed home, and witnessed Piero della Francesca’s famous Legend of the True Cross. The early Renaissance painter managed to communicate a complicated story clearly using simple colours to flesh out weighty and present people. The hill-town was definitely a hidden treasure, surpassing anything my guidebook expressed, instilling a new peace of mind and a new appreciation for Italia.

So it’s back home in Ferrara for another week. Hopefully my literature class will begin tomorrow, I am hoping so dearly that tomorrow is the tomorrow I have been waiting for. If not I will plunge whole-heartedly into academia finally and try to devour the texts I need to read for my classes. I’ve decided to dedicate myself wholeheartedly to my studies during the week (with a pause to perhaps party on Wednesday) and wander Italy on weekends. After all, who knows when I’ll have the chance to return to Italy and know her so intimately again?

Friday, October 13, 2006

One Please

Welcome to the emotional rollercoaster that is study abroad. Even though you were given a curve of your general emotions that begins in a peak, dips to a trough and then plateaus, every single day feels like a sine curve.

Today was a bit of a Godsend. Granted my Italian literature class still doesn’t have a professor and thus still didn’t begin, I went to discover two other classes that would help flesh out my schedule: Sociology of Art and History of Theatre. I was just so happy. The professors spoke clearly, the lectures were interesting, the reading was well elaborated, the schedules were either stable or well explained. Today was a good day. I found classes 2 and 3, they exist and they seem great.

Yesterday however, I was not doing so well. I had dipped right into negativity and faced another schedule change. This new schedule changed created a barrage of conflicts in my schedule and massacred a whole bunch of courses. I am a person who relishes stability, obeys deadlines, works hard to get things in on time and as planned. Italy isn’t exactly a perfect match for me. Good for vacations but a tough bet for education. But I am strapped in, I am ready to go and the ride has only just begun.