4 Days to Try to Make Sense of it All, Palermo: Day 1

Brian and I left at 8:30 Wednesday morning for the train station. We said bye to Abby and Kim and walked out of the house essentially signaling the end of a great semester. Luckily, I think for both of us, we had 4 days together to try and break down the “joke” of our lives for the past four months. We tend to use the word joke not in the sense that the time was terrible, useless or any sort of derogatory definition of the word, but instead as a reminder that we spent the last four months of our lives on vacation after taking a summer vacation. In all considerations I have been vacationing since the first week of May when I finished my last final paper of the Spring semester of Sophomore year. What had we done with our lives? What was the point? What had we learned and what would we do with it? How did this experience affect us and how would it continue to affect us? What had we expected and what we lived? How had we lived? These questions endlessly tormented my brain, though not in the painful way; I just could not stop thinking about them. I have endlessly analyzed myself and my experience, but those musings were almost always on my own without the input of a fellow abroad member from my group. Brian and I did here and there, sometimes with Jackie, or sometimes on our own, but having four days afterwards to digest it all was quite the gift. We could have stayed in Parma and mused over it there, but leaving and separating ourselves from the city to try to analyze it seems to have been a blessing. We had four days of sightseeing and conversation. It started with Brian sleeping through the train ride and flight to Palermo…oh well I blogged.

For those who haven’t gathered it from reading my writings, Brian is certainly one of the best friends, and most likely the best, friend that I made on this trip. He is the only member of the group with whom I traveled more than once and after Palermo we had traveled together three times including Istanbul and London. Interestingly we had lived on the same floor Freshman year but on opposite sides of the hall. He associated with other guys from other floors of Hardey (our building) instead of sequestering himself with the basement kids as I chose to do. We played basketball together at the beginning of the first semester of freshman year until he “retired” and I succumbed to a crippling back injury. He loves politics and is well informed about them (even though he is a Republican). Plus, he likes to eat well. In Florence he and I ate out as often as we could manage, even becoming a somewhat joke in the group because we were too snobbish to eat the free hotel food. Our reasoning? We’re in Italy! Why the hell would we ever force ourselves to eat poorly?  To top all of our similarities off he loves to experience culture and refuses to let insignificant desires such as food or sleep or health stand in his way of living Italy. We can, and have, bantered endlessly on topics with lesser significance than our study-abroad world, such as politics or basketball, so imagine what we could do with the massive, and incredibly personal, subject of Italy, one which we had just finished? 4 days was probably not enough.

Palermo Airport

We flew into the Palermo airport without much hassle, except for the disgustingly bumpy landing (thank you Ryan Air!). The airport lies directly on the water and underneath the endless “cliffs” (or inland rocky hills) that line Palermo. Neither of us we’re expecting such a site when we descended from the plane. I had no idea that Sicily was filled with these magnificent mountains which overlook pristine water. I had imagined a beach city without hills or cliffs. The airport, though, showed us that Palermo would be nothing as we had expected. We took the train from the airport into the city which brought us along the coastline with beautiful views of the countryside in the setting sun, but unfortunately it brought us to the wrong part of Palermo. All of my research online had told me that there the shuttle train from Palermo airport brought you directly to the Central Station in Palermo from which our hostel was a five minute walk. Well, apparently not. We were dropped at the other train station in Palermo. No worries, though. I asked the conductor what to do and after some vague directions a nice old lady told us exactly what to do without us even asking. I had heard that the Southerners were much nicer than the Northerners (as can be said about America) but I had yet to fully experience it. We eventually made it to the train station and then walked to the hostel through the towering buildings and crowded streets of Palermo.

Fountain near the Hostel

The place is decidedly dirty, but in a beautiful, old city kind of way. The buildings were coated with a black sheen of smog and litter seemed omnipresent. The streets were filled with parked cars, travelling cars and cars stuck in between parking and driving. I honestly have never seen a city more crowded with cars. The traffic looked terrible and indeed was some of the worst that I have ever experienced when we actually drove through it two days later. Despite the numerous cars, though, the city felt empty and deserted. There were few people walking the sidewalks or shopping the stores. Many places were closed and nothing actually appeared to be happening. In fact when we got to the hostel (located in what looked like a sketchy alley, but which would turn out to be the normal for Palermo) we appeared to be the only ones in the entire place and I would not venture to say that the workers outnumbered us. The hostel cost us 15 euro a night, but was more like a hotel! The bed was the most comfortable on which I had slept all semester and the bathrooms were singles. We were in a 4 person room, but obviously no one else was there so we had the place to ourselves. The best part of it, however, was the location. We were within a ten minutes walk of all of the important Palermo sites and, after using the New York Times Travel Guide for Palermo (praise that establishment!) we realized that we were within 15 minutes walk of any number of supposedly fantastic restaurants in the area. We had the hostel make us a reservation at Belloterò for 8:30, but spent the hour we had before dinner wandering the streets of Palermo, without a map of course.

The city is obviously beautiful, but in a very post-apocalyptic, last city standing, barely inhabited kind of way, at least during winter. It was only 7:30, but the sun had set and most stores were closed up. We encountered few people and few cars driving around. We felt alone in the city, observing its pancultural architecture and feel. Sicily has, at one time or the other, been dominated by every major civilization in the world from the Greeks to the Romans to the Muslims and the French and the Spanish. Its architecture reflects this dynamic, most extremely in the Duomo which was influenced by all of the above cultures so much so that it looks like a hodgepodge, “best of the best”, combinatory construction. Besides the physical, the feel of the city reminded me of Granada, thrown together with a little Paris and Madrid, a lot of Istanbul and a lot of Italy. What better city in which to end my travels than one that felt as if I were experiencing them once more? When we got to the restaurant the door was security locked, which seemed odd at the time, but would make perfect sense afterwards.

We had joked on the way that the restaurant would think that we were a couple, and we were right. We walked in to strange glances (the restaurant was fancier than anticipated and we were not dressed appropriately) and then even stranger glances when we went to sit at our table which was located at the center of the dining hall, with a flower in the center, the two chairs on the same side of the circular, small table and a wine bucket on the other end. Obviously Brian and I were going on a date. I asked the couple next to us if they wanted to switch tables, but I don’t think they really understood why I was asking (they were French and didn’t speak much Italian and apparently my English got lost in translation). Well, what were Brian and I to do? We laughed it off and proceeded to enjoy our first of many great meals in Sicily. For the first course I had some stacks of ginger scented veal in between puff pastry with marinated eggplant and other vegetables and a basil sauce that was simply fantastic. Brian had shrimp risotto with buffala mozzarella. Odd to put mozzarella in risotto, especially a risotto of fish, but the dish was delicious. For our main dishes I had some sort of fish of which I had never heard prior in a clam and mussel broth and he had bluefish stacked with tomatoes and with that same basil sauce from my appetizer. My dish was significantly better so we shared. How cute! Desert, however, was a disaster. I tried to order us a cannolo, but apparently the waiter heard wrong and brought us little balls of some sweet ricotta DRENCHED in chocolate. Great.

Shrimp Risotto

After dinner we strolled down the street and stopped by one of the few places we had seen in the city in which there were actually people! It was a bar and we got a couple of beers, went outside and commenced to discuss abroad. Our first topic: the group and how much things could have been different with a different set of people around us. This will sound like complaining, and it is, but both Brian and I agreed that if were to have had a more solid group, one which truly enjoyed each other’s company or one that really wanted to go out and experience the world than our own experiences would have improved. This is not to say that we had a bad time or that we allowed other people’s decisions to stay in their rooms and remain closed from the world of abroad affect our time abroad, but it inevitably changed it. Abroad throws together a small group of people that are forced to spend lots of time together. In situations like Parma, during which there was little time to meet Italians or few opportunities to do so because most of our classes were independent studies or BC only, one has to rely on the people in his group for most of his companionship. He looks to those people to experience the world with him because the world is more often more enjoyable in groups and there are simply social scenarios in which it is unacceptable to be alone. In other words, having a group that is willing to do things, regardless of what those things are, is crucial to the abroad experience. Unfortunately many of the people in our group did not want to do that much. They made little effort to integrate themselves into the world of Italy, staying home often. Brian and I were quite confused about that kind of decision. It wasn’t as if we tons of responsibilities hanging over our heads like we do at Boston College. Why not get out and see the world? And because of their unwillingness to open up from the comforts of English speaking TV shows and friends through the computer or whatever, Brian and I suffered. It would certainly have been nice and beneficial to have a more social and more together group. We joked that BC should have an interview process to decide if people are socially capable of going abroad…but seriously…can that happen?

We continued to talk despite the chilly night and moved on to discussing our reasons for going abroad and our expectations of the experience. Since this conversation evolved out of the prior one it began with a breakdown of why we thought of many of the other people on our trip made the choice to spend a semester across an ocean and we came to the answer that a lot of them needed to get away from BC. Ok, Brian and I also needed a bit of a break from the monotony of the school, as I have discussed in prior entries, but they REALLY needed to get away in the sense of a having a fresh start in life. They used abroad to reinvent themselves and to try and break from whatever habits they had had at school. Mostly, it seemed, they came for the social aspect of meeting a new set of BC, or hopefully Italian, kids. This is not to say that we knew that the girls came abroad for these purposes, but they genuinely talked about and seemed to care more about meeting Italian men and hanging out with each other than with living life in an entirely new culture. Brian and I, on the other hand, had come for the entirely opposite reason. We both came with the same philosophy that we would do as much as possible, see as much as possible and live as much as possible despite our group. We had no intentions of meeting people and even expected to not meet lasting friends. In fact, before coming abroad I made the comment several times that I could care less about becoming close with my group because I would be doing as much as possible, whether they wanted to or not. I would be traveling. I would be eating, I would be going out and I would be living. Sure there were personal roadblocks to this along the way, but for the most part I stuck to the desired effect of living my abroad experience based on what I wanted to do and not what others wanted to do. Brian did the same, and at times this made us clash with the rest of the group who preferred to stick together in a closed, BC group in Parma, instead of as BC kids actually in Parma. We wanted the latter, but were sometimes held back by the others lack of desire to do so. We expected to see a lot and travel a lot. We did not expect to spend all of our time with the same people and certainly did not expect to be limited to our group of BC friends once in Parma, but due to several reasons that is what generally happened.

Teatro Massimo

One of the biggest regrets of the semester, for the both of us, was the actual lack of interaction we had with Parma people. Yes I had two great friends in Giordano and Andrea, but I did not hang out with them with their friends enough. It was a rarity, unfortunately, when I would go out with Italian kids. I recognize that this is partially my doing because I traveled a lot and was not always around on the weekends or available weekday nights for aperitivo. Another roadblock, at least for others in my group through whom I could have met more Italians, was the language barrier. The lack of people in the group who spoke Italian surprised me from the beginning, especially since I had expected to be the worst speaker by a long shot since I have not taken a class of Italian at BC. For a program that claims to be intensive, it certainly lacked a certain amount of intensity. Brian does not speak much Italian and he bemoaned its ability to inhibit him from meeting people and from extending himself outside of our group of BC students. And, since I did genuinely enjoy hanging out with several people from the group, the fact that they could not meet Italians except for those creepy guys at clubs, meant that I would find myself limited in the Italians I met outside of a few people here or there. But, most of those were personal decisions or results of the situation abroad and I’m happy that I at least came out of Parma with a few lasting friendships.


It was still relatively early (about 12:30) but Palermo was dead outside of that bar so Brian and I called it a night and went to sleep.

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Finals? Meh.

Monday morning struck without much wrath. My Italian test gave me as few difficulties as I had imagined it would. Monday afternoon and evening, however proved to be mug more troublesome than I had wanted. My Storia di Parma final was Tuesday morning and I had barely begun to study for it, nor was there much time to actually study it. After I got home from my Italian final and snuck in some studying while eating a hurried lunch, I dashed off to the University to meet Max, my tutor for Storia Medioevale, who has been in charge of translating my paper for me. This seemingly straightforward task of the two of us working in tandem to translate my paper into Italian had quickly evolved into first Max telling me what needed to be fixed (which is fine) and then him taking the translation duties on his own because we had not been given enough time to write the papers and translate them by our professor. Max and I tried to remedy this by suggesting to our directors that he just grade my paper in English because I don’t study Italian at school and will not likely have time to do so before graduating. My directors said no, which honestly left Max to do this on his own. I can deal with that amount of lack of connection to my final paper, but then the Max’s draft came back to me and I nearly lost it. My paper had been entirely modified.

Max had taken all of the argumentative points out of it because in Italy one cannot write a paper, such as this, with any sort of original argumentative. In essence I should have regurgitated the facts I had learned from my research instead of offering my own take on the events of the past based on the facts that I learned. What’s the point of writing a paper like that? Max had, in his translation, stripped my paper of its soul and left the skeleton of a body. I don’t blame him, however, especially since he hates the system as well. Max has the job of making me succeed as well as possible. We were not left with enough time for him to monitor my paper as I was forming it to tell me that I literally am not allowed to write so freely in Italy.

In any case, I me him that afternoon and spent three hours checking my citations and making sure his paper (I hesitate to call it mine) sounded good and got across all of the facts about Italian communes that I had hoped to demonstrate in my paper. The worst part is that I feel helpless. If I get a bad grade, what can I say about it? I didn’t really write the damn thing! If I get a good one I’ll feel, well actually I’ll feel fine about it because my original paper is quite good. Still, it’s odd to be this hands off of something that literally decides my grade for one class. What can I do? It’s Italy and I’m abroad.

Cured Meats

From there I ran home and studied for about another hour before having to get ready to go to our group’s final dinner at La Filoma (the place where Courtney and I went on a double date with my tandem partner, Andrea). The reason our final dinner was on Monday night, before our final, and not on Wednesday night after finals are completed is likely my fault. I convinced Betta to change the day to Monday because I wanted to travel to Sicily with Brian for a couple of days after finals and before we went to Rome on the 19th from where he would depart on the 19th and where I would reunite with that oh-so-elusive girlfriend of mine. Still, I do not claim entire blame for the horrible placement of an abroad farewell dinner before a final because most of the other people in our group planned on vacating Parma almost immediately following finals. Apparently the schedule we received last Spring from OIP did not make it obvious that students could (and were expected to) remain in Parma for a couple of days following finals. This fact actually was the original reason I told Betta she needed to reschedule the final dinner because she had planned it for the 17th when Brian and I would be among the few left in Parma. And since everybody was leaving so quickly anyway I thought it would be a fantastic idea to take a vacation with Brian somewhere new and exciting instead of being the only ones wandering Parma’s streets. I took the opportunity to improve my experience and I did it. Besides, Betta (who teaches our Storia di Parma class and for whom we had the final the morning after our farewell dinner) assured me that the test would be fine. So we went to dinner.

Library in the Pilotta

And the food was great, but none of us could fully enjoy ourselves as we hoped to do because of the finals afterwards. In fact the dinner had less of a farewell feeling (outside of Brian’s toast) than a mid-semester dinner where we still had other stresses, such as school, tainting our moods because we did have other concerns. Everybody seemed to be itching to leave instead of itching to make our final meal, and last time having the entire group in one place, last as long as possible. We sat at 5 separate tables, 5 to a table, with little intermingling among the groups. I guessed this about sums up the unfortunate group dynamic on our trip. Lacking to say the least.
After dinner and saying goodbye to Caterina I went straight home and studied Storia di Parma for about 3 hours before succumbing to the desire to chat with Mom (extraordinarily over due) and then eventually Courtney who returned from whatever shenanigans she is involved with in Granada (still waiting for you to enjoy those shenanigans with me!). I’m not exactly sure when I fell asleep but I woke up early, around 8, to study more before my exam at 10:30. The exam was ridiculously easy and my only problem was that I wrote too much, almost running out of time, and needed to rush through the end of the second question and the third one. Oh well, I know I did fairly well on it. After the exam I went to lunch at Anna and Aldo’s house one last time. It was meant to be a “maschi” (males) lunch because their son Andrea would be joining us, but Brian had to bow out so that he could study for his exam at 4, so Lacey took his place. Matt, Lacey and I all thought the lunch was at 2, but low and behold we were supposed to be there at 1, so we all booked it over there. I was only fifteen minutes late…whoops.

Me and Nice

Matt and Lacey had yet to arrive so I sat in the kitchen and talked to Andrea and Anna. Andrea is the exact mix of his parents and looks incredibly like Aldo. We had a wonderful conversation as I explained to him my reasons for not attending culinary school (Anna had of course told him that I like to cook). We talked about traveling and eating. He had spent nearly a year studying in Belgium when he was younger and knew all about the unique experience of being a foreigner/resident. Matt and Lacey arrived soon there afterwards and Anna began to cook her spaghetti carbonara. I was famished from lack of sleep, lack of eating, general fatness and the odors only contributed to my starvation. The food, as usual at Anna’s house, was spectacular. We had simple sausages, beans and cheeses for secondi (even though who needs any more food after the heaping pile of spaghetti that Anna serves?). We had a great time talking about skiing and all sorts of adventures, but soon it came time to leave and the sadness ensued. Aldo gave us each a bottle of his homemade vinegar to sneak back into the States (crossing my fingers about it!) before we left. And only once did I commence saying goodbye and thanking that wonderful couple for everything they have done for us and for constantly improving my semester with priceless food and conversation that the reality of departing Parma began to sink in. I had finished finals. We had eaten our farewell dinner. I was leaving for Palermo in under 24 hours. How was this happening so fast? Hadn’t it just been the first of December and I was coming back to the realization that Parma and Italy and this entire abroad experience are incredible? Where were all of those minutes and hours? I wanted more and I never wanted them to end. Anna began to cry as we walked out of the door. I felt my gut wrenching up as the sadness of leaving began to overwhelm me, but I fought it off; there would be plenty of time for sadness when I actually left Parma. And nothing is goodbye. I will see Anna and Aldo again.

Anna and Aldo

For now I had to go home and interview for a graduate school scholarship. The interview went well but I could tell from the beginning that I would not be winning this one (I didn’t) because I have very little idea of exactly how my post-graduation life will develop. This scholarship, the Beinecke scholarship, wants highly motivated and likely successful students. I fit at least one of those qualities, but my lack of a plan for graduate school at the end of the 5th college semester doomed me. Well, too bad, but I don’t think it necessary or intelligent, even, to spend my time stressing about future plans that are completely up in the air. I want to leave my paths open. I don’t want to constrain myself to one idea. I’ll make the right choice for myself eventually and I’ll know that time when it comes. Right now is not that time, but unfortunately my philosophy cost me the opportunity of winning this mammoth scholarship.

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Will I ski this time?

The last week of classes went by without incident or excitement. I wrote two papers, handed one in for grading and the other for translation. I was sick so I figured I would get healthy by taking Brian’s friend Dave (who came for a visit for his 21st birthday after his Madrid program ended) around Parma’s nightlife. Of course the lack of sleep really helped me get better. We had a Christmas party at Anna’s house which was most people’s last chance to see Anna and Aldo, but luckily she offered to cook the maschi a last lunch on the Tuesday before Brian and I left for Palermo. By the time Thursday evening came around I was not much healthier, but definitely ready for the weekend. In fact it was our group’s last weekend in Italy, and the one before finals, but Boston College had planned a weekend ski trip to Aosta in the Alps near the borders of France and Switzerland. Obviously our finals were going to be hell. I was so worried that I did not even consider studying for them until Saturday night. Good job BC. We really needed a vacation from our stressful lives right before taking finals. Even more so, we really needed even more distraction than the fact that we live in Italy to take our minds off of studying for exams. Awesome.

The city of Aosta

We left for Aosta early Friday morning and took the 3+ hour bus trip. It was pleasant. I watched High Fidelity and enjoyed the changing landscape from plain to mountains while other people pretended to study (or caught up on sleep since we had all gone out until four the night before). Our hotel was underneath the mountains, but a little bit outside of the city. We took a tour of the city for a couple of hours with Betta and Francesca. We saw some beautiful churches and one extremely disturbing crucifix that had a Jesus who was obviously anguished and spurting blood from its side. I did not understand it. Very very strange. We had a fairly good dinner at the hotel that night and I sat next to Betta, Francesca and her husband Pietro so I spent the evening doing my best to crack jokes in Italian. Sometimes my personality gets lost in translation, but that’s the difficulty in not speaking a language fluently! After dinner Brian, Abby, Katy and I forewent studying and instead went to a bar down the block from the hotel. We were immediately judged for being foreigners and then further because we were loud and obnoxious in the bar, but we couldn’t help it. I have never laughed as hard in my life as I did that night. Tears came down my face in waves. Studying, what a joke!

Brian and I about to snowshoe

The next morning the skiers woke up early to get in a full days worth of action while the rest of us who couldn’t ski or didn’t wan to ski woke up a little later to go snow-shoeing. We had to take a gondola up to the mountain(a first for me) which gave us pretty incredible views of the mountains around us. It was a lovely, clear day and we could see the mountainous peaks in all directions sticking into the sky. We had a guide for our snow-shoeing adventure who actually seemed to know a lot about nature. I learned that trees shed their leaves because the water in the leaves would freeze and kill the tree which keeps itself alive because the tree sap does not freeze. Unlike the last time I went snow-shoeing this time we did not go up a mountain. Instead we went trekking along a path covered in more than a meter of snow! We made our own paths through the woods and enjoyed the trees. I kind of wish we could have gone up the mountain but after seeing how full of skiers it was I understand why snow-shoeing is likely not allowed near the slopes.
Once snow-shoeing was over we took the chairlift (another first for me) further up the mountain to meet up with the group for lunch. The views were unbelievable. The sky spread itself out almost without a cloud which allowed us to see the mountains which created the borders if Italy with France and Switzerland. I watched the skiers below me and it looked awesome. I had never even given thought to the idea of skiing before coming to Italy. It never had any part in my life, and for some reason the thought of speeding down a mountain on two thin poles never excited me with desire, which many might see as a more than sane statement. But after observing how exhilarating and enjoyable skiing seems, I made the decision to try it. And I tried to try, but the cost of a private lesson for an hour made that thought disappear instantly. Brian and I descended from the mountain after I failed at trying to ski, and I began to lament my inability to take part in something as unique and memorable as skiing in the Alps. I felt like I missed out on an essential part of the abroad experience. In both of my times up a mountain I failed to reach the summit in turn failing to see the most spectacular views that I may ever see of the Alps in my entire life. It sucked and I was extremely peeved that my inability to ski stopped me from seeing and experiencing something so marvelous. But, I decided that I will learn how to ski one day and when that day comes I’ll make my way up those summits and see the world from above.

That night I actually started studying for my Italian final on Monday. Honestly, I’ve learned all of the Italian grammar before and had a serious review of it this summer (thank you Mrs. Rascati!), so I didn’t stress too much over the exam. I helped the other girls in my class (namely Katy) and looked over the grammar for about an hour. After another dinner at the hotel and an early night of sleep, we left Aosta the following afternoon at 1:30. I got home, had dinner with Nice and spent the rest of the night studying Italian and a little bit of Parma’s history. Damn exams.

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Writing and Living

With my renewed sense of belonging in Parma and once again feeling happy and lucky to be abroad instead of impatient to go home I started to live it up in Parma. Being almost done with my rough draft of both papers, and with little other work to do, I decided to start the weekend early, really early. Wednesday night I went out to Nero Blanco, one of the few clubs in Parma, with a sizable group. We left for it late and left the club very late so that I don’t think I got back home until four. Hey, sometimes you just have to enjoy yourself! We had a blast and I had nothing to do the next morning so why not? It felt good to leave the house and leave my desk and leave the worries behind. My brain needed a break and my body needed a change of scenery. Yes, it wasn’t the healthiest thing I’ve ever done, but sometimes you just gotta do it live!
Thursday afternoon I finished my rough draft for my political science paper and was half an hour late for my Italian tutor because we didn’t communicate the time of the lesson very well. Still, I was semi-productive enough throughout the day that I had time to finish the paper and take a walk through Parma, as I love to do. Walking, sadly, is the only real exercise I get in Parma and I’m the kind of person who uses exercise to relieve stress and to think. It’s one of my favorite ways to escape from the world and I’ve lacked it desperately in Italy (don’t be surprised when I’m fat when I get home). Walking is the only way I can at least feel like I’m doing something. I use my walks to think and enjoy the beautiful little city of Parma. I’ve pretty much traversed the entire city and, after talking these walks, I can say that I truly know my around the place. On this walk in particular, in my improved mood, I felt connected to Parma itself. I felt like a resident taking a stroll through the place. I walked to the Baptistery and the Duomo and really looked at them. I didn’t simply pass by them. I walked up to them and got to know them. I walked all the way around them and took in everything. In the back of my mind I knew that my time to enjoy these monuments of human design was evaporating before my eyes. I needed these walks to absorb every last minute of it.

Il Battistero sulla sinistra

That night Kim invited Brian and I to go out with her and her tandem partner and some of her tandem partners friends after dinner. We were picked up by Deborah (Kim’s tandem) and her friend and headed to some bar outside of town. I was excited because we were getting to see a part of Parma we would never see on our own and hang out with some people from Parma that normally with whom we would not have met. The bar looked like it was in an old elementary school and for some reason I felt as if I were entering Ridge Hill on a weekday evening for practice when I was 10. Inside the place was cool and we sat down at a long table with four other friends of Kim’s tandem. Brian and I ordered some local beer which turned out to be delicious. There was a stage set up for a band, which we were sitting directly next to, so we got in as much conversation in the hour before the band started playing as we could. Of course, as seems to be the trend when I have prolonged conversations with Italian youths, we ended up talking about American universities and the different cultures of America and Italy. We talked about jobs and music and whatever. It was nice to meet some more, new Italians and we had a wonderful time talking until the band started playing. They were pretty good and rocked out some American classics, but the problem was that we were sitting directly next to the speakers and for some reason my generation feels the need to play music at absurd volumes; our conversations were forced to end except for the intermittent screaming into the ear of the person next to you to make fun of the ridiculously stupid things the band members were doing as they played. It was quite the sight and we left before the show was over. Our new Italian friends let because it was a Thursday night and they had responsibilities in the morning (responsibilities, I’ve forgotten what those are!), but Deborah, her guy and the three of us continued in search of another place assured to be a lot of fun. We got there and it was empty. The place had the feel of a bowling alley mixed with a pool hall. There were arcade games, slot machines, pool tables and a bar with a dance area and a large area of tables. It was a bit creepy. We got a drink regardless and Brian and I ended up launching into a serious debate about the NBA and whether or not Kobe was better than Michael. I felt a bit bad because we kind of went off into our own world, but you cannot get us started about basketball and expect us to stop. From there we were dropped off at one of our favorite locale, XXL, where we reconvened with the rest of the group and once again stayed out until nearly four in the morning. Man, I really wanted to be productive the next day, didn’t I? I made the decision to live in my past couple of weeks and not let the “stress” of school get in my way. I was not about to pass up any opportunities to have fun or to experience something entirely new in Italy. I’m running our of those chances to live entirely care free. The papers would get done.
I woke up late Friday(surprise!) and set to work, once more, on those papers. My mind was not entirely in it, however, and I think I spent most of the time goofing around. Plus, I wanted to make sure that I went out on Parma for the night.One wonderful thing to do in Italy, one probably adopted from Spain’s tapas tradition, is aperitivo. Sadly such a fun and inexpensive means of socializing over a drink and some cheap food does not exist in the United States. I had wanted to experience aperitivo much more often than I managed to while in Parma but a combination of my group (people never wanted to go) and wanting to spend dinnertime with Nice prevented me from going to aperitivo more than a couple of times during the semester. Well, I forced the fun Thursday night and pretty much dragged Brian and Jackie with me. They actually were fairly willing to come with me.

Parma streets during sunset

We went to a couple of different places before finally settling in at the wine bar to which I went when I first met my tandem partner Andrea. We ordered a bottle of wine and drank it standing around a table. Classic Italy. The three of us spent the next several hours discussing the abroad experience. We broke down our group, our trip, the good and the bad parts of abroad. We talked about going home and how conflicted we felt about the all-too-soon departure from Italy. We imagined living in Parma during the Spring semester instead of the Fall. We imagined staying another semester and how amazing it would be. In the end, though, we all agreed that we were happy to be going home. We were certainly not happy to leave Italy and this marvelous four month long vacation they call school, but home was calling. Our lives were calling. Life has to go on. There are things across the ocean I need to do, people who I need to see. This semester was ending and so was the abroad experience but we agreed that our Italian experience will never end. How could it? How could we forget everything that we have learned, everything that we have seen? How could we ignore how this experience had changed us and how it has shaped our lives? Yes we were going home, but Italy would always be in our hearts and always in our minds. One day we will come back, but now it was time to go home. That doesn’t change at all, however, how terrifyingly sad and depressing it was to think about December 21, which only days ago had seemed so far and so welcoming. Now, it approached quickly and menacingly, refusing to be ignored in it’s quest to appear as time always wants to act contrary. Why couldn’t it slow down? Why couldn’t it give me a break?
After another late night and late wakeup I went with Katy, the girls and Katy’s host family to a French market occupying the new Parma marketplace for the weekend. The weather was wet and frigid, but the smells of French cheese, olives and breads lured a large crowd. I bought myself a bunch of olives (trying to speak in French), some delicious goat cheese, a couple of croissants and a baguette. The food was fabulous and the croissants almost as good as ones I actually ate in Paris.

French Cheeses

I went back home where I waited for Nice who had offered to take me into the countryside for a walk, to pick some radicchi (a type of wild lettuce) and go to her favorite farm (La Collina), which produces some of the best quality ingredients I’ve ever encountered. We call the people who work there our “drogatini” because the farm takes in drug addicts to rehabilitate them, and to help them along with this rehabilitation they work on the farm. It’s actually a wonderfully kind thing and a great idea. It really helps people. Nice and I left around 2, and I had yet to start working on my papers.
This was my first one-on-one time with Nice in a while and man did we ever talk. At some point I began talking her about my pessimistic tendencies and other mental problems that for the past couple of weeks I had allowed to manipulate my life. Nice helped me a lot. She is the most upbeat and optimistic person I know. She doesn’t fret or worry. She lives and that’s basically the advice she gave me. Life, as she said, is a challenge. Attack it. Every problem that we face and every obstacle is another thing to be conquered. We cannot be afraid of the unknown or of difficulty. Life is not easy and would be boring if it were. I shouldn’t let myself be mired down in worries and fears because then I really miss out on living life, and it’s true. I had missed out on the last couple of weeks, weeks I can never regain in my life no matter how hard I try to jam them into my remaining time in Parma. Life is too beautiful to worry and driving through the countryside with Nice, I honestly began to feel it.

Nice picking Radicchi

We pulled off onto some random side street and parked beside rolling hills. Nice, an experienced walker and radicchi picker, knew exactly where to look for these delicious wild lettuces. She led me right to a mini “field” of them hidden amongst the grass that would have otherwise remained hidden unless one knows where to look. She gave me a knife and a bag and we started picking. I was picking wild lettuce in December in Italy! Seriously! Wow…it amazes me every time I think about how bountiful there earth can be. From there we walked through some muddy fields (and I was not wearing proper foot attire) to the farm store. We strolled through farms of zucca, lettuces, vegetables, melons, all sorts of vegetables and fruits that continued to grow even with winter quickly approaching. The large plain in which Parma exists, la pianura piadina in Italian, has to be one of the most fertile stretches of land in the world and could explain Parma’s rich history of food. Needless to say this farm store was amazing with the freshest of fresh fruits and vegetables and meats from animals they raise themselves in the mountains. Will somebody please explain to me why this is missing in America? Nice and I then walked back to the car, carrying our haul, and drove home.

Love the fertile land

It was a fantastic afternoon and thank God I decided to go and ignore the pressing need to write my papers. I would deal with those later, and I did. I actually finished the first draft of my history paper that night as I stayed in until 12 writing it before going with the group to some club outside of Parma. The place was fun at first, but I have never been touched more in my entire life, by guys! I have zero problem with homosexuality but I do not like being hassled and pushed and groped. It’s not my idea of a good time. Still, I didn’t get home until around 4 and would be waking up around 9 to go into the countryside with Nice once more. I’ll make up for all of this sleep when I get home to the States.
Sunday morning Nice took me, Abby and Kim for a drive to her friend’s house out in the countryside. It took us three hours to get there because Nice wanted to drive us through the windy, mountain roads so that we could see the beautiful countryside. There was snow on the ground so the surrounding hills and trees were a beautiful combination of white and green and brown. We talked a lot and stopped a lot so that I could take photos and Abby could try not to get sick. The scenery was breathtaking and even with Nice’s Italian driving skills, the trip was a lot of fun. Nice’s friend, and his family, live in a beautiful house directly under some giant rock formation. We arrived there, after some difficulty making it up the driveway, and met the group. The family has two younger children, a daughter our age, her boyfriend and the parents. They were all very, very nice (even though Nice told us that the mother is out of her mind) and we had a fantastic lunch in their beautiful house with giant windows and fabulous views of the surrounding mountain country. After the lunch we went for a walk in the snowy paths behind their house, which immediately turned into a giant snowball fight (definitely my fault) and walked up to this massive rock. It was a lot of fun. We didn’t get home until around 6, but why did I care? Losing time working on my papers was more than worth it to romp around in the snow all day. I started to feel sick before going to bed which I more than expected because after 4 days of going out and staying out late, with little sleep, I spent a day playing in the snow. How could I have not fallen ill?
But, again, I don’t care. I’ve started living again and I started enjoying Parma again. This roller coaster of emotion has not stopped and will not stop, but what should I expect? Nothing can be perfect, no matter how hard I try to force it to be. There will be problems and there will be hurdles, but in the end I need to keep reminding myself that, as Nice says, pushing through them is part of the fun. Give me life and give me abroad. My time continues to wind down, but I refuse to stop enjoying it.

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Papers and Life Discussions and the Beginning of the End

I apparently made it home just in time on Sunday because the snow started to come down pretty hard, hard enough that flights and trains were delayed. Kim and Abby had yet to come back so I was home alone with Nice, and spent the day finishing up my research for medieval history paper and for my European politics paper. Now, as much as I love learning and as much as I love Nice, leaving Bolzano to come back to Parma, though beautiful in the snow, where I would have to write two papers within the next week and continue to attend classes did not appeal to me. Sitting inside all day, scouring through poorly written articles for bits and pieces of information with which I could formulate my paper the day after seeing some of the most awe-inspiring vistas of my life did not improve my mood. I got a lot done, and actually finished, nearly, the research for both of my papers, but I couldn’t shake the funk that had been hovering around me while in Parma for the better par of the last couple of weeks. I was lonely, again, after leaving behind my family in Bolzano. Luckily I had the work to distract me somewhat, but I sat there in a dull mood all day. When Nice and I had dinner together she asked me about it, but I just shook it off as a result of exhaustion, when in reality the thoughts of home weighed heavily on my mind. Even when everyone arrived from Cairo in the evening and I sat with them I could not wipe away my gray mood. I didn’t want to do anything. I didn’t want to talk to anyone. I wanted to go to sleep and count away the days until I would board that flight home.

Love the fertile land

Maybe some of it was from the stress of writing papers. I had not done much work throughout the semester, but the sudden onslaught of doing the research, planning and writing necessary (at least in my crazy mind) to write a good paper, certainly stressed me. These papers had to be done by Monday, but this would be my last weekend in Parma and I wanted to enjoy it fully and freely. I wanted to be done with these papers early enough that I had only my two exams about which to worry. Per normal, I put a hefty amount of stress and expectations on myself without even considering it. My relentless work paid off, however, as I had finished both outlines of the papers by Wednesday evening which for me means that the rough drafts of the papers had been written. And for that I felt freed and happy.


Still, aside from the papers and also due to isolating myself for days to write the papers quickly, I continued the loneliness. I was not getting along with my roommates well because I was quite miserable and it showed. I barely talked to anyone all day and instead sat in front of my computer all day trying to finish these papers, but searching to talk to anybody from outside of my group. I needed to talk to somebody from home and it needed to happen soon. My homesickness and distress at how I had let myself come to not enjoy my time in Parma sickened me. Maybe it was just the papers. Maybe it was the underlying stress of missing Courtney or maybe it was pent up frustration with how I had approached the abroad experience, but whatever the reason the time had come for me to finally NEED to admit my unhappiness to somehow at home and look for some comfort through the magic of modern communications. I emailed Dad and asked him to talk Tuesday night.
I will not go into the details of my nearly 2 hour conversation with Dad, but needless to say it was one about life, specifically my life and how I approach it. We looked to dissect my reasoning behind the unhappiness, behind my constant anxiety towards this situation, among many other topics. I needed the talk. I needed to explore my own feelings outside of the confines of my head or my journal. I needed some outside perspective and some outside influence about how to go about life and what to expect from it. Introspection does do wonders but more often than not other peoples input will help. I won’t say that my conversation with Dad fixed my emotional state, because that would take some time yet.
By the time we had finished talking it was nearly 2 in the morning but I felt to antsy to go to bed. I tried to do some more work on my papers, but in reality I was waiting to have  another conversation with Courtney, which we did. And again, no details, but I felt slightly better the next morning (even with the lack of sleep) as I went to Storia di Parma, but by the time I got home, around 12, and once again started to work without break, alone, in front of my computer I started to lose it. I was nowhere near over my anxieties and fears and disillusions. Abroad was not working for me which made me worry. Why wasn’t I enjoying this? Why couldn’t I let go of home for a bit or throw myself in? Why was I barricaded in a room writing papers? Why couldn’t I hop out of this funk? I needed to talk to somebody and Linda, Courtney’s mom, happened to be online. I Skype-chatted her and we ended up talking for two hours as she tried to help me through my emotional state. Still, I couldn’t breakthrough and continued to feel lost until my computer rang with a surprise call from Courtney. We talked for two hours and finally, finally I began to feel better as I launched through a long over due discussion about what I had been going through. It was so needed and made me feel so good that, for the first time all semester, I was late for a Nice dinner.


What has this experience taught me? Well it reiterated the importance of having some sort of conversation partners. Life cannot be spent entirely within one’s head. It’s beyond necessary to express your feelings and look for help with others regardless of how personal a problem might be. In my case I literally needed to escape myself in order for other people to help me along. But because of their talks and their advice and their ability to bear and deal with me expressing myself I came out of my hole. Parma and Italy suddenly seemed as they had weeks before. My room wasn’t a holding cell, it was my cute room overlooking a beautiful park with a beautiful homestay family in a marvelous little city filled with awesome food and people. I was in the country in which I had envisioned myself staying since my parents first told me about the existence of study abroad and since, for some reason, I decided to study Italian in middle school. I guess I just needed to talk to somebody about it.

I went up to dinner late, but with a smile on my face for the first time in weeks. I excused myself for being late, but neither Nice nor the girls minded because they could all tell some sort of change had come over me. I carried myself, once again, with the energy, happiness and amazement at being in Italy that I had in my first couple of weeks in Parma. It felt wonderful and liberating. And we began to talk over dinner when somehow the topic of departure came up, probably because it was December 1. Nice started to tell us the stories of the criers in the past who had such a hard time leaving. She shared stories of the Spring semester and explained how it was longer so more could get done and the students could come to be more integrated into Parma. She talked about how Kim would get to know this next semester and suddenly it hit me; I don’t want to leave at all. Why would I want to leave when there’s so much in front of me that I have yet to fully experience? Who would ever in his/her right mind willingly depart from Nice’s house? There was so much to do and so many people to get to know. Why was I leaving? And, yet, these sad thoughts didn’t sadden me, but instead reinforced my new energy because I knew that I once again loved Italy and loved Parma. The only sad part is that the end had begun and we were in our last two weeks of studying abroad.

Excuse that the pictures have nothing to do with this post

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Skiing in the Alps? Well, no. But I did go snow-shoeing!

I woke up to a beautiful day in Bolzano even in the face of the horrible weather the day before. The sky was literally cloudless and the air was cold, but fresh. It seemed that, for once in my life, the weather had agreed to comply with my activities of the day. I cannot imagine hiking up a mountain through the snow and cold weather if it were disgusting weather! Joe came to pick me up, made us some sandwiches for lunch and we headed off to drive the half hour or so outside of the city, up beautiful mountains lined with now dead vineyards and and dotted with small mountain villages. Betti, Mirco and another friend were meeting us at the mountain.
Joe and I spent the ride catching up as I had had the opportunity to do with his sisters (Caterina while I was in Florence) and his parents. We talked about his children, about my life plans, about school and living situations. We talked about the family and the beauty of the world around us. He explained to me how wonderful it is to live in Bolzano and how amazing it was to grow up there. Mario was never shy in gushing about the amazing life of a Bolzanian (Bolzanite, whatever a person from Bolzano). Joe told me about the summers where he can go hiking and for long walks in the mountains or drive about an hour and a half to Lake Garda where they go sailing. In the winter, and likely for most of the spring, Bolzano is the perfect place for skiing because it is so close to the mountains that it take nearly no time arrive there. People in Bolzano really do have it well. In the winter it’s cold and snowy (but in the good sense in that the skiing conditions are perfect) and in the summer it is warm and green, prefect for hiking and mountain climbing. Joe had year round sports all based on the nature surrounding him. Man was I jealous.
But again, like the other Paoluccis, the most remarkable quality of Joe is his character. He has inherited his parents sunny disposition about life despite whatever it is that could darken the day. I don’t understand it and I wish that I could learn this quality. The Paoluccis love life, everyday and they radiate that emotion around them. It instantly improves a persons mood to spend time with them, regardless of the bad events that might be occurring. Even in the face of some serious hardships Joe manages to be Joe (which means a bright, friendly, loving and warm person) which demonstrates the strong character of the my Paolucci relatives. It’s an infectious type of disposition which makes me want to spend as much time with them as possible so that maybe I can absorb some of their magnificent attributes.


After a beautiful drive that became progressively snowier with every turn, we arrived at the foot of the mountain which we were to climb. Even at the foot the panorama was beautiful, but I was promised that at the top it would be a million times as spectacular. For the entire car ride I had not   entirely understood how I would climb this thing. Joe had lent me a pair of serious snow boots (thank God) so I imagine that I would either walk up or ski up. Mario had lent me a pair of snow poles (bastoncini in Italian) so my mind had some idea of being taught how to ski while we climbed. As the rest of my four companions put on their ski equipment, I finally saw how I would climb the slope; snow shoes. Needless to say I have never show-shoed. I had no idea how they would function or how hard/easy it would be to make my way up the mountain. Joe showed me how to put them on and assured me that it was as easy as walking, and once we started the climb I realized that it was. The rest of the group went in skis which seemed to be a lot harder to do uphill than down. After the first hill I had the hang of snow-shoeing and could easily keep pace with my companions despite frequently stopping to take pictures of the breathtaking views around me which only became more marvelous as we continued up the white slope. At some point my picture taking and hips prevented me from keeping up the guys so Betti hung out with me for the walk up the hill, which was very nice of her because I am positive she could have zoomed away from me. I’ve been told she’s a fabulous skier. I could not believe the nature around me. The skyline was filled with mountain peaks that looked to be reaching the upper limits of the sky. It was as if one were walking through New York and looks up at the Empire State Building on a crystal clear day. From that perspective the building appears to almost hit the top of the sky. As we went up or mountain the mountains around us rose higher and higher threatening, it seemed, to break the ceiling of our blue house and poke into outer space.

The trees around us were evergreens, their branches covered with purely white snow. Everywhere and everything was white or at least touched with white. I could not believe the beauty of it. As we climbed I felt like I was entering an alien world to which humans rarely traveled. What were we doing in this magical place? Were we disturbing its peace by enjoying its beauty? Had this place changed in thousands of years? How many untold numbers of people climbed here in the years past to see exactly that which I was seeing at that moment? It was spiritual. It was gorgeous. The air was clear and crisp and cold, but my body was warm, happy and comfortable.

I unfortunately could not make it to the summit (damn hips) so Betti and I sat ourselves down at one of the rest points (or refuges) to have lunch. We were not far from the summit and I wish I had the physical ability to make it, but the view was still unbelievable. Betti and I sipped on hot tea, which might be the greatest miracle in the world when standing on a frigid mountain, munched on delicious cheese and prosciutto sandwiches and dried apples. I took pictures looking over looking a mountain valley lined with evergreens  where I’m sure humans rarely ventured during the winter and maybe even during the summer. Every direction gave me a view of something else entirely magical and memorable. I had been up mountains before and seen the stunning view, but only in summertime. It’s an entirely different world when the mountains are frozen in their wintry wonder, their barren, still, quiet yet somehow lively slopes and peaks giving off an entirely different energy than the busy summers when animals roam their paths. The peace is invigorating.

I left Betti at the refuge and headed down solo because it would take the skiers close to half as long to descend at it would take me on my snow-shoes. I was fine with it. The snowy mountains seemed to call for introspection and I obliged. I stopped often, took pictures and smiled about my oh so lucky life, of humanity’s fortune at inhabiting such a magnificent world. We have been delivered paradise. It’s not in some clouds, whether or not I felt I could reach up and grab those very clouds at that moment, but in the simple chance that our world is inhabitable. There’s a reason that we have yet to find another planet suitable for human life and it’s because the probability of the millions of particulars, distance from the sun, our type of atmosphere, the location of the moon, coming together to support life is a mathematical improbability beyond my comprehension. And not only does this world sustain us and let us flourish in its bounty but it is flat out gorgeous. The nature that enables us also inspires us with its breathtaking beauty. How was it possible that I was surrounded by such beauty and not entirely ok with where I was in life? It wasn’t.

We stopped for a warm drink on the way down the mountain (after the skiers had of course beat me down the slope and I watched a person try to jump something and end up having his ski catch on it so that he literally did a summersault in the air. He was fine. It was hilarious). I drank hot chocolate (what?!?), well it was hot white chocolate so I guess that doesn’t count. Sorry everybody! I was exhausted and struggled to bring much to the table in terms of conversation, but I have to say that Betti and Joe’s friends are great and pleasant people. They have fun with life and always have interesting things to discuss. Is everyone in Bolzano this way? It certainly seems so. We left after a while and I fell asleep on the car ride home.
After a warm shower and some relaxing it was time for dinner. We had more of the lovely minestra soup from the day before followed by pork, sauerkraut, polenta and artichokes. It was so good! I have no idea what we talked about dinner but it didn’t have to be anything particular for me to remember the happiness I felt sitting with them at the table. We laughed and discussed politics. We talked about Americans and how my family could not understand opposition to Healthcare and how they hoped Obama would be able to succeed after the midterm elections (I’ve found that Europeans pay an incredible amount of attention to European politics). Who knows precisely what was discussed but I was transported to home and dinners with my family in Hamden or New York or North Carolina or Texas. It felt the same. It had that level of comfort that I had been missing for a while. It was wonderful and only reinforced the importance and strength of family in my life.

The Italian Family

After dinner we went into the living room where Mario lit the first candle for Advent (I think, sorry Aunt Phil at my lack of Catholic knowledge) and played Christmas music. Generally I’m not the biggest fan of the overplayed, repetitive crap broadcast during the Christmas season, but Mario, of course, had met somebody in a brass band who gave him a CD of his Christmas music which was simply delightful. I really enjoyed it and was once again transported to Hamden with Rich putting on some Christmas music about which no body else knows, but about which everybody should. After our music I took pictures of the family and showed them my blogs. I promised to write about them soon (Mi dispiace che ci sia metto tanto tempo per scrivere questo!). Then, though, it was time for bed because I had a train at 9:30 in the morning. It began to snow as I went to bed. I said sad goodbyes to Joe and Betti, who I really hope to see sooner than the three and a half years it took me to get back to Bolzano before climbing into bed and passing out.
In the morning there was a nice amount of snow and the sky promised more, but none of that concerned me. Mario and Silvana drove me to the train station and we dropped Silvana off near her church where she was selling homemade goods to benefit some African or South American peoples (I’m not joking when I say this family is a bunch of angels) and I gave her a big hug. She told me to write and told me to tell the family to send news, so hey family, send them letters! Then Mario dropped me at the station and after a goodbye, which would have been said except that Mario is too cheerful for that, I watched as he drove off. I walked into the station both amazed and happy with my weekend and distraught that I was leaving Bolzano. This was the reason I had come abroad; to see my family and connect with my Italian roots. I came to feel the comfort of home in a place thousands of miles away. I came for the joy that comes with realizing you will always be welcomed in a place. Bolzano gave me everything that I had felt was missing for the past couple of weeks. Why was I leaving?

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Bolzano: Cold and Grey, But Only in Its Weather

I woke up late Friday morning, around 11, because I had gone to bed a bit too late after talking to Courtney for a while, and honestly because I had been exhausted ever since London. I needed the sleep despite the amount of work I had to finish. I wandered out of my room to find Mario and Silvana in the kitchen and the breakfast of bread (fabulous dark peasant bread) and their homemade jams still on the table. It was exactly as it had been three and a half years ago when some of my clearest memories are sitting around that table trying to communicate my thoughts into Italian (I am significantly better at Italian now than I was then) but still loving every second of the homeyness of their kitchen. The bread and jams were just as resistible but this year, because it was winter instead of summer, I drank hot tea instead of their homemade menta (a sweet mint drink made from mint syrup). I ate and drank some tea before my brain came out of the fog of a long slumber. Silvana, who was in the kitchen making lunch (and here I was just beginning breakfast!), and I got to catch up on life as Betti and I had previously. She was proud of my decision to go to college instead of cooking school because she believed it was the right move for me, not because of a preconceived idea that cooking school would be beneath my “intelligence” but because she could understand from my explanation that I knew I had made the right choice. She asked about my studies and my friends. I told her about Courtney and updated her on family news. She told me stories about Michael as a baby in his one and only visit to Italy (Go again Mike. I’ll take you and be a translator). We laughed as I tried my best to imagine my Mom and Dad here with Michael, something I find a bit impossible. The only memory that I can “produce” is a representation of a picture I’ve seen with Michael in a backpack carried by my Dad with my Mom nearby on a beautiful green hill of Bolzano. Still, it’s an interesting scenario to consider.

Then Mario came back from one of his many “giri” (trips, walks or any number of things meaning to go around a place) despite his age. He and Silvana have lived in Bolzano for years and, at a time, were like mayors of the city. They knew everyone and everyone knew them. In fact, when Mario got home, he called up the local orchestra, which would be performing Wagner soon, to buy tickets for the show and to find a way to see the dress rehearsal. I had no idea that a person could watch rehearsals, but wrote it off as another difference between Italy and America. Later, however, I asked Silvana and she told me that no, only Mario could do that because well, he’s Mario. Mario is one of the happiest and upbeat people that I have ever met.  He chuckles after nearly everything he says and constantly tells stories of his life. After breakfast while I read for history and he read the opera which he would see the next day, he recounted to me his days in Milan and his love of opera. He would see shows all of the time and thoroughly loves opera. Bolzano, unfortunately, does not have an opera house, but that has not stopped Mario from finding ways to go see them in Florence, Milan or elsewhere. This man is so full of life because he so obviously loves life. I’ve never seen a person who finds such joy in the everyday occurrence of living. He truly appreciates the gift of life that has been bestowed upon him and will not let it go to waste. That is how I want to live, finding joy and pleasure even in the mundane instead of the pessimistic tendencies to which I gravitate. This family is amazing.

Half German/Half Italian architecture

After a marvelous lunch of minestra con cecci (chickpea soup with some pasta) and speck (a FANTASTIC cured ham similar to prosciutto) with even more wonderful conversation with Silvana and Mario who still bicker, flirt and love each other like youngsters, I left to take my own giro around the city. I had no direct intentions of going anywhere specific or seeing anything specific but I wanted the walk and wanted to see the city. The weather, though, was frigid and grey. It didn’t stop the city, however, from continuing to be stunning. I crossed over the river and saw the mountains, their peaks covered in clouds, in the not-so-distant distance. I entered the city and passed by a fabulous outdoor market that still sold vibrantly colored and delicious looking fruits and vegetables. Alongside the greens and fruits were meats, cheeses, wines, olive oil and any other delicious item one could desire. Why can’t ever American city have these!!!! I can never stop myself from imagining the glorious creations I could eat with a rich resource such as the Italian markets and farms. There is absolutely no denying that Italian products, including raw fruits, vegetables, dairy and meats, flat out taste better than their American counterparts. Not fair.

I walked through the city for a while admiring the beautiful buildings with their not quite Italian, not quite German feel. In fact, Bolzano is such a mix of cultures that people are naturally bilingual there. Signs are in German and Italian. The mix of cultures is quite something and explains the unique beauty of the actual city of Bolzano. It doesn’t feel like any other Italian city. It feels like Bolzano and I loved wandering its streets listening first to HiDefiniton and then to Lady Gaga. Walks are a fantastic time to think and introspect. Abroad these qualities are undeniably needed. There are constantly far too many thoughts, worries and joys swarming my head. I need these walks (generally after a meal) to clear my head and organize myself. They calm me and allow me to investigate my feelings and experiences in a way that can only come from designated, undistracted thinking time. The desire, and need, for such time is why I keep this blog. It’s why I write. I need the organization and stability that comes from unconditional “me” time where I’m able to dissect my complicated mind.
I made it home around 5 after losing myself a bit near their apartment. Luckily I have this iPhone, which somehow can know where I am even without service or Internet, because I was mapless. I was able to relax for a little bit and finish reading that damn history book before Betti arrived to pick me up for dinner a little after 6. The plan for the night was to head to the museums because it happened to be the only night of the year in Bolzano where the museums were free. Not only were they free, but they were open until one. I forget the name of the city-wide ‘event’, but it still was cool that I managed to come to Bolzano for this popular night.
After a delicious pizza dinner with Betti at which the waiter somehow guessed I was from Connecticut (seriously?), Betti, Joe and I walked to the downtown. I asked a bit about the history of Bolzano and found out that Silvana had lived here during the war. Her family escaped to the mountains for two years to remain safe but came back to the city every so often to make sure the house still survived, which I think it did. Bolzano was heavily bombed, however, and it’s still possible to come across undetonated bombs when reconstructing buildings. I cannot imagine escaping the threat of war and I continue to have problems connecting the devastation of WWII to reality because I grew up in an American generation far removed from both the temporal period of the war and from the actual destruction that occurred in the country. I did not grow up with constant reminders of the worst manmade calamity in history. The fear, worry and impossibility to live day by day normally in Europe for years escapes me. It’s hard for me to put myself into that time and into that situation. What would war feel like? Would Silvana sit in the mountains and feel safe or was she scared that bombs were exploding in the valley? How could life even pretend to go on normally during times of war? I’m glad I’ve never experienced it and I hope I never will, but the thought of that complete devastation of society escapes me.
The first museum at which we stopped was the archaeological museum of Bolzano which houses the Ice-Man. The Ice-Man was found frozen, mummified from the cold, in a mountain pass on the border of Austria and Italy. He lived during the Bronze Age (about 5,000, maybe more) years ago. He was found with a pretty complete (considering his age) collection of tools (including an axe), clothing, boots, weapons (including a bow and arrows) and other tools including a basket in which he would carry coals to start fires wherever he stopped for the night. The man was killed by being hit on the back of the head with something, but that mystery will never be solved. His discovery was incredibly important for scientists and archaeologists who have used his preserved things and body to come to learn much more of how peoples lived before civilization really took off. The museum is quite cool and very interesting. I learned a lot about early man even though we didn’t finish seeing everything in the place!

Bolzano's River

From there we walked down the road to the Bolzano modern art museum housed in a really cool glass building stuck between a house and an apartment complex that honestly reminded me of New Haven. This building (and the surrounding couple of buildings) could have been transplanted to Yale and nobody would have thought it too out of place. Maybe it was the lighting or the trees that gave me such an impression, who knows? We met one of Betti and Joe’s friends (his name escapes me and I feel terrible because I’m so bad with names) and then waited close to half an hour for their other friend, Mirco, to show. Apparently he’s habitually late so we gave him some time before finally deciding to go on without him and take a tour. The first exhibit, which everybody saw upon entrance to the museum, involved a bunch of suitcases strewn or standing across the floor with cut out animal pictures hanging off the luggage and three spaceman hanging from the ceiling. Joe, his friend and I laughed because we could understand nothing about it. A quick question, can something be considered art if it requires an explanation to be understood, let alone appreciated in ascetic value?

The Cousins and Mirco

Our tour guide, speaking in Italian of course, led us to the fourth story of the building for an exhibit by some German artist (again her name escapes me and I hate how terrible I am with names) who spent most of the 70’s in New York. I’m fairly sure she actually still lives and works there. Well, what do I see when we get to the fourth floor? “Pillars” made of plywood and painted strange colors with random tapes and artistic papers attached. Some had reflective qualities and behind the pillars, on the wall, where three “mirrors” which distorted reality. Our tour guide asked if anyone knew what this represented. Somebody answered a city (it might have been Betti or Joe) and in fact he/she was correct; we were looking at this artist’s representation of New York city and what it meant to her. Each pillar represented a particular person in her life and how that person affected her. Therefore no one, except the artist, could fully appreciate it. The mirrors were meant to show how in a city it becomes hard to recognize oneself and the varying degrees of distortion were meant to show the swing of emotions that comes with living in one of the biggest cities in the world where I guess one could feel lost among the sea of people. I admit, I laughed a bit, and turned to our friend and told him that I didn’t remember New York city looked like that! We had good fun poking at this modern spectacle, but I respect the fact that it is an introspective work meant for the artist.

Museum of Modern Art

Our tour guide took us around and showed us some of the artists other works including what looked like (and were) blocks of cement. There were also 9/11 “memorials” and some long blue stick along the ground not to mention the tribute to Michael Jackson. Regardless of how dumb all of this sounds I found the tour quite interesting. Our guide was great and lively. It was a lot of fun to be involved in the conversation, even though I only made comments to the people around me even explaining the 9/11 memorial to Italians. And, in fact, once a guide talks to you about the meaning of the piece and invites you to understand it modern art can be quite interesting! I loved the tour and had a blast learning about the art around me (she wasn’t as good as Rocky in Florence, but that would be impossible). After we finished the tour of this artist we were released to look at the rest of the collection. There was an entire room, crowded with paintings. Some of them were fantastic and intriguing while others left much to be desired. But that’s the way with all art. It can’t all be good! I left with a new found sense of appreciation for modern art, something at which I have chided my entire life. I never did find out what the spacemen and luggage mean…
Once we had finished we saw Mirco in the lobby. At that point it was close to 11:30, I think, so we decided we had had enough of museums and chose, instead to go to a bar. We had a lot of fun talking, of course, about American life versus Italian life, about the completely different university systems, about sports and just talking. I can follow conversations in Italian much better than I could a month ago, most noticeably when I’m not directly involved in a conversation. Still, when I get tired my Italian suffers and by the end of the bar my brain was finished. We went home and to bed in anticipation of our big day in the morning.

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