First Couple of Days in Florence

Sitting here writing this post (again since the internet died in the middle of me uploading this) I can maybe bring back my rant about how frustrating this entire situation is…that situation being this hotel.  Boston College has done a wonderful job with this program; we’re in Florence for three weeks studying art!  Honestly, what could be better?  The problem, though, is that unfortunately this hotel is taking away from the experience for the sole reason that the internet does not work.  We have to pay for it, first of all, and second of all it is unbearably slow and unreliable.  It can almost be impossible to use meaning that I am having a very hard time being able to stay in contact with the world.

Generally, I would not mind being out of contact, but it is my job as an editor to be politically aware of America.  I need to read the news.  I need to know what is going on there, but I can barely check my email let alone load the new york times website.  For the amount of money we pay to attend this program, and for the amount of money that BC likely gets to pocket because of the tuition difference, one would think that they could manage to put us in a place with at minimum reliable internet.  I know the purpose of abroad is to immerse ourselves in the culture and believe me that is why I came here, but I literally have a requirement to stay in contact with America.  They promised us internet; and it barely exists.

Here is a copy of the email that I sent to the director of the Italian abroad programs for BC:

Let me preface by saying that you have done a wonderful job with the program: honestly, this will be the best experience of my life. That being said please read the following rant with a light heart and forward to the necessary people:

James Sasso

To Whom it May Concern:

I would like to personally thank you for stealing my tuition dollars. I know that it costs a lot of money to send students abroad, but the vast difference between your exorbitantly high tuition and the low price of attending university in Europe should preclude that either: a) you give our parents some money back or b) you treat us extremely well while here.  Now, first I would like to tell you that the Florence trip is spectacular. The art course is amazing and the directors Catterina and Betta are fabulous. Also, Rocky the art teacher, is bringing the city to life in a way I never imagined possible for a city. So for this I thank you. It truly is a pleasure to spend three weeks in Florence, one of the greatest cities in the world.

Unfortunately after succeeding so well with establishing the educational and cultural portion of this trip, you have failed horribly with the living arrangements. Honestly, even though I’m sure you can afford to provide 5 star quarters for the three weeks here, I never expected a swanky, luxurious place. That being said I also never expected the substandard establishment in which you have put us.

Again, I never expected to stay at the Hyatt, but I figured our hotel would AT THE LEAST have functional free Internet. This hotel has neither. We have to pay per hour, which I can deal with, but the fact the Internet barely works is unacceptable for the modern college student. By barely works I more specifically mean that it cuts in and out so that loading a page can take anywhere from 5 to 50 minutes. It makes it literally impossible to use the Internet.

I’m not one to cry about a lack of connection to the world. I don’t desire to spend my life on Facebook or Skype talking to friends or family at home, but the Internet has become a necessary component of life. 3 weeks before leaving for Italy I was hired as an associate editor for a new online political magazine focusing on under-30 politicians and issues for Generation Y, called Early Risers (earlyrisersweekly.com). This makes it necessary for me to pay attention to the American political world and to have a reliable Internet connection so that I’m able to fulfill my duties as editor.  The lack of such a connection has hampered my experience by causing stress about whether or not I can fulfill said requirements. Finally, the miserable excuse for Internet stops functioning entirely after midnight making it extremely difficult to call home when necessary.

In conclusion, this trip is magnificent, fabulous and well planned, but the choice of hotel could not have been more inconvenient. For the amount of money we are paying I at least expect a viable Internet connection. I could care less about the size of the rooms, the shower or the beds. As much as it may sound, I’m not a spoiled brat; a hostel would have been fine for me so long as there was reliable Internet.

Please consider this in future planning of the university of Parma and Dante Alighieri programs.

Thank you,

Like I said, I could care less about the quality of the room, but I would expect to be able to use the internet in the modern world.

Ok, back to the story of Florence.

Upon arrival I found my room (a triple) and took a shower before discovering the problems of the internet.  I figured I would be able to talk to Courtney, but it took until last night (Sunday night and I arrived in Italy on Tuesday) to Skype with her.  Seriously.  That’s unacceptable to me.  I miss her terribly and simply receiving emails from her was not sufficient.  Anyway…

There are 17 people in our group, 3 boys and 14 girls!  Jesus.  The guys are great, Brian and Matt.  We get along really well and have pretty much hung out the entire time together.  The girls are fun as well!  When we got here, Brian and I and a couple of the ladies walked around the city because we figured it was a good way to kill time before our meeting and dinner that night.  The meeting was short.  We met our art history teacher (who is the man) and got our syllabus.

The guys

This art class is going to be (and already is) one of the coolest experiences of my life.  We use the city as our classroom.  Instead of a traditional art history class where one is shown slides and the professor lectures from those slides, we instead pick a new classroom every day.  Florence, besides being a piece of artwork in itself, holds perhaps more pieces of valuable artwork in a small area than anywhere else in the world.  Each of us has received a museum card which allows us to skip the lines in many of the best museums in the city (the Uffizi, the Bargello, the Museo delle Opere del Duomo among many othes) and gain access to the multitude of masterpieces within the city for free!  Even better, we have one of the most intelligent, and most engaging, professors that I have ever known.  Each class runs close to three hours, but that does not lead to disengagement.  Instead, it is quite the opposite.  I find myself literally enthralled as he explains the iconic significance of each piece, the architectural history and makeup of the buildings (including the often interesting history behind the construction of the buildings), the history behind the art and finally the connection between the art and architecture to the contemporary city at the time of its completion.  Plus we only have one final exam that should only take us an hour and little reading.  This class is perfect.  Our first was Friday at the Piazza Della Repubblica.

Piazza Della Repubblica

That night, Thursday, everyone, save the couple of us who had been in Italy for more than a day, were fairly jet lagged.  The guys and I brought a couple of girls out into the city where we sat on the steps of San Lorenzo for a little while until the girls decided to go home and sleep.  It turned into a bro-session fairly quickly!  We didn’t mind and spend the evening bonding, wandering the city, avoiding obnoxious American girl and striking up conversations with random Italians (well that was more my thing and I was surprised at how well I managed it!).  I held about a 20 minute long conversation with a man outside of the Fish Pub all in Italian!  Wow!  Immediately it became apparent that I would be the best at speaking Italian in the group; something for which I only have Signora Rascati to thank.  That private lesson this summer did more than give me a refresher course in Italian, it gave me a huge leg up in the confidence to hold a conversation.

And now, with that confidence, I have become a sort of de facto leader for the group for the sole purpose that as of now many of them need me to communicate with Italians.  Also, I am quite good at making decisions, even in large group situations, so people look to me for a bit of definitiveness.  I have been to Florence before, have already made friends with some club owners and can navigate the city decently well.  So for now, until the rest of the group becomes more confident in their ability to speak Italian, I guess I’m “in charge”.

We woke up Friday morning for a group meeting where we learned about cell phones and then headed out into the city.  We had our first class at 3 so Brian and I figured we would make our way to il Mercato Centrale (the Central Market) for lunch.  This place is unbelievable.  Literally it is a giant indoor farmer’s market with more butchers in a small space than may exist in all of New Haven county!  All of the produce is local, and I’m guess the cheese is as well.  There is salami, prosciutto, anitipasti, olives and any other food that one might imagine in a farmer’s market for local Florentines.  The smell of this place captures my senses as if my nose had fallen in love with an angel.  The cheeses mixed with the meats mixed with the salami all swirling together with the hint of fresh vegetables and endless piles of dried mushrooms makes for one unique perfume; one which forces me into the difficult position of trying to not spend all of my money even though this place is relatively inexpensive.

Brian and I went for the ‘make our own sandwiches’ route.  We purchased prosciutto, spicy salami (I forget the name), olives, marinated artichoke hearts, roasted peppers, mozzarella buffala (much creamier than the normal fresh mozzarella with a more distinct flavor), fresh cherry tomatoes and bread.  Satisfied with our groceries we went to the Piazza Della Repubblica to eat our lunch.  Nothing can describe to you the flavor of this lunch.  I had yet to have something like it since being in Italy this time around and it instantly brought back memories of my last time in Florence and how content I had been to wander the city alone by day literally spending hours in the museums and eating lunch under the Duomo people watching.  A similar experience spread through my body as the salty prosciutto, acidic but sweet beyond words tomatoes, creamy mozzarella, crunchy bread, sweet yet firm roasted peppers, unique artichokes and always good olives combined in my mouth for that beautiful first bite of heaven.  Neither of us could do anything but smile.  At another time I’ll get into the different food cultures of Italy and America…that rant can wait a bit.

So much Meats

Not exactly sure what to expect with our lesson, it immediately became apparent that this class would indeed be nothing like a class we had previously taken.  We spent the first 20 minutes under the column in the Piazza Della Repubblica as Rocky connected the history of the piazza (and it is quite the history) to the founding of Florence and its Roman past.  The history of the world played a major role in the construction of the square and within those twenty minutes he had used nothing but the column and the piazza to outline a brief synopses of the history of Florence.  We still had two hours and the information only continued as he explained the significance of the planning of the city (including how to tell if a city is Roman in origin).  Then we migrated to the Piazza Della Signoria where the Palazzo Della Signoria is located.  From this massive, castle looking structure, we were given the history of early Florence and how it began to become one of the most important cities in the world.  Using the many sculptures in the piazza (including a copy of David) and the architecture of the building itself, Rocky wove the tale of Florentine history and cultural significance in the world.  He even worked in political-art theory when he surmised that a rise in democracy leads to a rise in art proficiency.  Che interessante!

That night we had our welcome dinner at a nice restaurant, either Osteria dell’olio or Trattoria dell’olio.  The dinner was fairly fabulous (and on the BC tab) but most interestingly of all was the conversation struck up between me and Caroline Malizia, the girl sitting across from me.  She asked from where my Italian family came and as I began my usual description of Greci as a small town outside of Ariano Irpino which is two hours from Naples, she almost dropped her fork.  Turns out her family is also from Greci which means that we are almost invariably related at some level because Greci is tiny.  When I last visited, I was related to almost everyone in town.  Only 14 families founded the place hundreds of years ago (check it out on Wiki) and those same families still inhabit the hilltop place to this day.  What are the chances that such a thing would happen?

Oh the experiences we’re having here!  They are almost too much to contemplate, but none of us forget that we are beyond blessed for this experience.  Talking to the rest of the group not a single one denies how lucky we are.  We can only thank those who made this possible (for almost all of us, I’m assuming, our parents) and wish that more people chose to experience the world in a new light.  Nothing can be better than exploring and experiencing the world and I would just like to show my thanks to my parents for giving me this opportunity.  I love you guys.

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