Archive for January, 2007

Un Grande Giorno per Perugia… Festa di San Costanza

Saint’s days in Italy are definitely something special. Today, 29 Gennaio, is the Festa di San Costanza. San Costanza is Perugia’s patron saint, so today was a big day. I had no idea what it entailed; all I knew was that everyone in Perugia had the day off except American students at Umbra Institute. This morning, when we walked through Piazza IV Novembre, it was already starting to fill up. There was a tent set up on Corso Vanucci, but it was fairly small, so I thought, hm, okay, this is the celebration. Then I was told that a bit down the mountain on a side of Perugia that I’ve never been was a huge open air market, but I knew I wouldn’t be able to make it down there because I had classes from 8:40 this morning to 6:45 this evening. Fortunately, San Costanza was looking out for me.

The day started out quite well– even Italian class this morning was special. My professoressa, Roberta, wanted to see how our conversational Italian skills were going, so she said, “Andiamo! A caffe!” So we went downstairs and out the door to one of the many, many caffes that just happens to be next door to one of the Umbra buildings on Via Mazzini. Actually, this caffe is one of our favorites– the old man that works in there is so nice and back before we knew how to use our mocha (stove-top espresso-maker), we used to run in there every morning, with about 2 minutes to spare before class, down a shot of espresso, and trek up the stairs to class. Anyway, our entire class went in this very small caffe. We were only allowed to speak Italian to each other (and the barista of course), which was funny because I had a story to tell my roommates. I know my Italian is improving because they understood it! Anyway, so we spent a good amount of class in the caffe. After class, Corso Vanucci was getting busier and busier. We headed home, and a little while later I was on my way back to class. Corso Vanucci and Piazza IV Novembre were jam-packed with people, puppies, news crews, photographers, artists… it was insane. There was a tent with free food but I didn’t have time before my next class, photography. I couldn’t help but just grin as I walked through… there were so many children about, stuffing their faces. It was wonderful.

Photography was even great today. We had our first day in the dark room, developing our negatives of a roll of black and white film that we were assigned to take last week. It took forever, with all the people in my class (only 9 or 10 but still), but it was really great to learn the process and, at the end, take a look at the negatives. The dark room was hard to get used to, though, because it’s, well, dark. I really enjoyed it though. Next week we will be making prints of our negatives and that should be fun.

I was a bit worried last week that I wouldn’t get the black and white roll exposed because I was in bed all week and wasn’t supposed to be out shooting pictures, but fortunately (and maybe not intelligently), I did, on the snow day and then again yesterday. I went exploring a little further yesterday and found some amazing places, just off my street, behind a monastery, that had views of all of the east side of Perugia’s mountain as well as the Appenines in the distance. Gorgeous. Another thing that is interesting in Italy is the graffiti… it’s on every surface which is kind of sad in some ways but you get used to it… but a lot of it is in English, and a lot of it is very political. It’s interesting. I got some good pictures of it I think.

Anyway, so this evening, I had Perugia Practicum, the service-learning course. We sat down and our professor, Cindy, began to talk about our internship assignments. I was assigned to the Ranieri Foundation, which I am so excited about. That is the one I mentioned earlier, a family-owned archival historical library with 20,000 volumes, soon to be open to the public. I’m not exactly sure what our job is going to be, but it is just me and one other girl. I know we will get to know the Ranieri family very well, which I am so excited for, and my Italian should really improve. It is going to be so interesting– apparently this place also has ancient documents, art, tapestries, etc that need to be archived and I’m pretty sure that’s our responsibility. It’s going to involve a ton of in-depth research about Perugia… I’m so excited!!!

So, after about 15 minutes of talking to the professor, she said, okay– we’re going on an outing. So we walked and walked and walked and finally, we were at the San Costanzo market! It was an enormous open air market, and she just said to walk around and enjoy it and do a little write-up for her and she’d see us later. It’s important for us to know about San Costanza because it’s Perugia’s big thing… it’s a big, huge, ancient part of Perugian tradition. My friend Anna (my Ranieri partner) and I walked around for an hour and a half, looking at everything. Vendor after vendor, booth after booth… Some of it was really neat, but I didn’t buy anything because Anna and I decided to go to Florence this weekend and I want to do market shopping there. At the end of the market is the Cathedral di San Costanza, which I’d never seen. It was gorgeous, and so old… we were looking for the sanctuary because there is a statue of San Costanza. All the unmarried women in Perugia, on Festa di San Costanza, are supposed to go pay homage to him, and if he winks, then you will be married within the year. However, it was dark and the gothic cathedral is not well lit, and we couldn’t find an unlocked door, so… I’m pretty sure I won’t be married within the year.

So, not Bologna, but Florence– two of my roommates decided to go to Dublin for the weekend, and I’ve been there already, and I am dying to go to Florence, and they’re not– so, Anna and I are going. Anna is also in my photography class so we’re going to get some great pictures in and spend a fun weekend in Florence. I can’t wait for that either!

Yes, I’m feeling much better. Still some weird stuff going on, but all in all, I’m much better and still glad to be here. I also had meat for the first time in a little under two years tonight… just made some chicken, but decided I need to find a way to eat protein since veggie burgers simply do not exist here.

I’m exhausted after such a long day, but wanted to share the goings-on of la vita Perugia… buona notte, tutti!

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La Famiglia, le familiare…

It’s interesting what embarking on big journeys can do to a person. Already in the almost-month that I’ve been here, I feel like I’ve grown up, grown down, changed in some major ways. It’s one thing to take a vacation overseas… it’s another thing entirely to move there, even for less than a year, to make a person realize what they value. It’s been intriguing to say the least, watching the other students here and how they are dealing with being in another country, far away from home, family, and familiarity. Many of them have found their niche in the bars– they think the coolest thing about Italy is that you can have alcohol in the streets. Many of them you see around school, going on every guided tour, every planned event. And many are always stuck to the same people. I think I sort of am part of this latter group… I’ve definitely not been out without at least one of my roommates except to go to class or to the cafe to study. Simply put, in spite of my independent nature, I have a need for closeness and familiarity.
I just had a long conversation with my roommate Kelley about major changes in perspective since being here. I know when I am at home, in small-town Burlington, I get so antsy, so ambitious, that I often take too much on and forget to enjoy life, and incidentally also don’t perform as well because I over-book myself, which is usually my own personal effort at avoiding day-to-day normalcy. Nor do I have boyfriends– well, sure, I date enough, but relationships have been such a major no-no to me. Upon reflection, I can definitely see why: I have my family. I don’t have a need for some guy to provide me with closeness. I live with my sister and Grant, who are as much best friends as they are siblings (well, to me, Grant is a sibling). Twenty minutes away, I have my parents and my puppies and my childhood bedroom. Down the street I have my school and the theatre building, full of people that I consider family. All in all, there is so much love and support in my life that I almost take it for granted– I have never been so far away from it to realize how incredibly important it is to me. Yes, I know that I hold my family in the highest of regards– every night since I was a little girl, they are the last thing I think of before I go to sleep and I silently wish them well and pray for them in my own way. And every morning, afternoon, and night, at home anyway, I am able to call whenever I want, chat for as long as I want (until they tell me to shut up), and at the end of every day, I see my sister and Grant and our kitties, and sometimes my parents and puppies, too. I know that my family is my backbone, I’ve always known it. It’s interesting… I’ve always considered myself extremely independent, but now, being here far away, I realize how dependent I am on the familiarity of home, the “convenience” of family.
My whole life, I’ve been a very restless girl– always looking for a window to get away from where I am, to escape the confines of a fairly small-town life, to find a uniqueness in day-to-day life that just seems nonexistent in Burlington and Greensboro. The funny thing is, being here for almost a month, as Perugia becomes familiar, it’s the same, and I realize that no matter where I am, I always seem to want to be somewhere else. I love Perugia– I really am in love with it. It’s Greensboro in Italy, and I love Greensboro. It’s about the same size, just more condensed, with just the right amount of familiarity and anonymity. Anyway, I do love it here in Italy. I really do. But it has made me also realize that what I really value is being close to my family while I have them. Then again, though, if they were here, yes it would be wonderful– but what I really love is what I call home. Being able to call a place mine, knowing it because I have lived there for 20-something years. Anyway, this is sort of disorganized babble, and I’m not really sure how to put my thoughts into words for once.
Renilda, an Umbra Institute staff member, is an Albanian woman who came to Italy about ten years ago and now her whole family is in Perugia. She’s been the one taking me to the doctor and translating for me, because although I probably could have done it myself, I’m still lacking some important Italian vocabulary to describe how I’ve been feeling. Anyway, when we were at the hospital the first time, a nurse walked by and kissed Renilda on both cheeks, and Renilda told me it was her aunt (in Italian, “zia”… I think this is cute, “zio” for uncle, “zia” for aunt, and a word we don’t have a parallel for in English, the both of them are “zii”). I’m not sure what the aunt’s name was, but they were so loving to each other and sat on either side of me as I sat and sipped some tea. Renilda rubbed my back with one hand as she and her aunt sat and discussed my condition in Italian and kept saying “Poverina, poverina” which means “Poor thing”… it was just such a maternal gesture on both of their parts that I felt a pang of homesickness. They were so loving, and had such a familiarity between them– I realized that that is what is so important to me. I think one thing I love about theatre is how an inevitable bond is formed every time you take an acting class, do a show, etc– it’s like a new addition to your family every time. Anyway, just before we left, the aunt kissed me on both cheeks and said “Ciao, bellissima,” and it was just so touching… and, both times Renilda has walked me to the hospital, we have walked arm in arm, and she has told me about her family and her husband, and how she loves that they all live in close proximity in Perugia. She explained what an Italian thing it is to be near your family, and I thought, surely I must be Italian because without my family nearby, I feel like a large part of me is missing.
Funnily enough, as I type this, my toes have gone numb again (it’s persistently cold in my apartment) and I miss them. Haha! They’ll come back soon.
Anyway, although I am getting used to being so far away, I will never be able to get used to being far away from my family. And I don’t think there’s anything wrong with it, because what is life without closeness, what is closeness without family, and what is family without love? I’ve never wanted to settle down and get married and have babies (and don’t worry dad, I’m not planning on it any time soon)– but I’m slowly comprehending the beauty of creating a family of my own one day. It’s just an interesting realization to come to– maybe for once, I’m a little behind everyone else on this, but I know that one day, I want that, too.
I’ll admit it, I’ve become a sap, a sentimental, since being here… the last thing I expected to happen! But, here it is, and here I am… who would have thought, certainly not me– that I would come to a foreign country, excited about the uniqueness of the concept… almost here for the purpose of growing into an even more independent and “different” person than everyone else– and find myself to be more normal than I have ever wanted to be or thought myself to be. And I’m strangely okay with it. In fact, I feel more normal here, in a strange place, being normal, than I do in a normal place, being different. I’m much more okay with blending into the walls here than I’ve ever been at home. Now, when I come home, I’m not sure if I’ll revert, but for now… that’s where I am.
A lot of this might not make a ton of sense unless you know me really well, so for those of you that don’t, you can skip this one. But, for those of you that do, I know you understand…
Right now, out my window, is the most beautiful blue sky with poofy, glowing, cotton-ball clouds. Today the visibility is for miles… in fact, I can see mountain tops that are usually not visible due to valley fog. The rooftops are dry, the streets aren’t damp, and it’s cold– and you’d never know that yesterday, it snowed for hours.
Love you guys. Kisses on both cheeks, AND hugs… because that’s one thing we don’t do a ton of here in Italy. I sure miss hugs.
And my toes are back!

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Poccina meglio…

A little update… the past few days of “recovery” have been pretty uneventful… lots of sleeping and resting, a lot of episodes of Friends, and even more episodes of Sex and the City, and definitely my share of chick flicks (my roommates came better prepared than I did). Anyway, this morning I went back to the doctor and the pneumonia is gone, as in, no more fluid in my lungs, but I still have two more days of bedrest and then I get to go back to school! I’ve never in my life looked forward to going back to classes. I did miss the field trip to Montefalco and Deruta and that is certainly unfortunate, but! I’m almost glad because when I got back from the doctor today, I put my PJs back on, crawled into bed, and looked out the window– and– SNOW! We got a few inches that stuck for a little while but eventually turned into slush on the street. However, the rooftops and balcony railings and trees are white, smoke is coming out of chimneys… it’s really beautiful. I know I’m sick, but I couldn’t resist bundling up and walking up the street to our “secret garden,” this beautiful medieval garden up the street. It’s walled in and has a gate, and these huge, twisty, windy trees with vines and a few benches… it looks a bit neglected but in the snow, it was truly a little monochromatic wonderland– perfect for my black and white photography assignment this weekend… hope they turn out. When it gets warmer out, I will absolutely be spending afternoons up there. After that, my roommate Sarah and I walked up a bit further to this precious wine shop that seems somewhat hidden here in Perugia… it is against the city wall, meaning it is just barely inside the citta centrale (city center). So, anyway, it is called Il Tempio. We actually just ducked inside for a second because I was switching out my film and melting snow kept dripping on my camera (don’t worry dad, it’s fine) so we just ducked under the eaves. Well, the adorable little old man shuffled us inside his store– a beautiful wine store with mahogany shelves against the old stone walls, gourmet bags of pasta, beautifully packaged sauces, spices… the store was empty except for us and the little old man, and an attractive woman who spoke decent English (but tried to get us to speak Italian as much as possible). They insisted we go upstairs, and as we climbed, we discovered tables and chairs, the champagne section of the store, and some wonderful bruschetta that the little old man insisted we eat (“Mangiare! Mangiare!”). It was so good… bruschetta in Italy is a bit different than it is in the states– every time I’ve had it since being here, it is toasted chunks of bread soaked in olive oil, served room temperature, not warm. Sometimes it has been merely rubbed with fresh tomatoes, but definitely doesn’t have tomatoes on it, or cheese. This time it was just in a bowl with some basil on it. Italians keep food simple. And believe me, it’s better this way. Gosh it was good. (“Bene? Bene?” asks the little old man. “Si! Si! Perfetto!” I say, and he laughs and pats me on the head. Adorable.) Just goes to show… there’s always something new to discover here in Perugia. And everywhere in Italy, really. On the way out, we bought a bottle of rose wine (like blush wine but more rossa than bianca). There was a bowl of candy by the door and I took one and as we paid for the wine, I realized it had hot peppers in it… this is not unusual here. It was interesting. Anyway, as we paid, the old man asked if we were American, and we said yes we were, and he opened up an envelope and handed us a page from the latest National Geographic Traveler, and there it was– a picture of the lady in their shop, and a little article about overlooked, bella Umbria (“The Green Heart of Italy,” every publication always says about it… every one, so named for the Carducci Gardens in Perugia). So he gave me a copy of it, which was sweet, and asked that we return and of course we said we would be back soon. They were so darling. Anyway, now we’re back, and now I’m watching Sex and the City again. It’s too cold to go anywhere and I’m not supposed to anyway! We’re working on finishing our plans for Carnivale in Venice, and also working on sprink break plans– hopefully Nice and Monaco, or just generally the French Riviera. We are also prioritizing Capri, Pompeii, Naples, Palermo, Positano, Genoa (they have the second largest aquarium in the WORLD…), Verona, Bologna, Florence of course, Pisa, Siena, Assisi, Cortona… the list goes on and on to be honest… I don’t know how we’re going to do it all. And somehow, I still have to go to class, do photography projects, an internship, speak Italian, and concentrate on not getting fat because let me tell you, there is certainly no food shortage here. I’m looking forward to the once-a-month and not-to-be-missed organic foods market next week though. The problem is, even store-bought food is good, unless you buy American brands, and even then, they still only have really good ones. I’m a bit pasta-ed out, but how can you really get THAT sick of pasta? Anyway, I’m rambling because I have nothing better to do, so I apologize… but I miss you guys, and I miss home… being sick far away from home is not easy, but I guess that’s part of growing up. Anyway. I sure do miss home. Little things about America that we take for granted. In fact, it’s odd, we have a very different opinion of what convenience is… some things here I consider to be very convenient that we could use at home, but then I realize that their conveniences make sense for them here, whereas our conveniences are, well, convenient to us there. But just little things like speaking the same language, you know, are helpful. It makes me have a lot more sympathy for people brave enough to come live in America if English is not their first language. Anyway, I’m off… love you guys!!! Buona notte!

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I think these links should work, if you care to see my pictures without having to log in to any programs…

From the first few weeks:

From Rome:

Let me know if they’re not working.

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Homa from Roma and Italian pneumonia

Gracious a lot has happened since last Thursday… Let’s see, where to begin.

Well, Thursday night was pretty atrocious actually, because I couldn’t sleep for whatever reason so I took some generic brand Simply Sleep (which is a Tylenol Brand Tylenol PM, without the pain killer… “non-habit forming and safe”…) which I have taken before, and it’s not dangerous at all, just a generic, drugstore sleep aid. Anyway, it didn’t sit so well with me for whatever reason and I ended getting sick all night until about 4 am. The bad part was that our train to Rome was to leave at 7:24 and we weren’t really sure which bus to take to the train station, how to get our tickets, etc. So we got up around 6:30 (already a bad start) and headed to the bus station.

Now, the bus station is interesting… all Italian bus systems seem complicated until you understand them, and unfortunately at this point we hadn’t taken a bus anywhere yet- just walked. But the stazione (train station) is at the bottom of the hill and the prospect of taking luggage down there is just… silly. Again, by hill, I mean paved mountain. So we get to the bus station around 6:45 and it is still very dark outside. The ticket stand wasn’t open, but we saw a bus full of some of our American friends who were also hopping on trains. However, the bus had no driver so we waited. And waited. And waited. Finally a driver showed up and we bought tickets- well, some of us- the thing is, you only have to buy a ticket in case someone asks to see it, which they usually won’t, but if they do and you don’t have one, you a) get yelled at by the Caribinieri (like.. a state trooper kind of) and b) have to pay 30 euro. Neither one is pleasant I’m sure. So we bought our tickets but didn’t get to the train station until 7:21. Well, we had bought our train tickets online (very cheap) and planned on electronic pick up but the machines for that weren’t on, so we had to try and explain to the employees, in a mix of terrible Italian and groggy English, that we couldn’t get our tickets. They didn’t understand but finally they figured it out. Well, by this time, we’d missed our train so they put us on another one. So we go outside to wait on the platform and then, in Italian, a recording came on over and over that kept repeating the time of our train, the number of our train, the destination… and at the end, an apology… but we couldn’t understand the rest. Finally our train disappeared from the boards and we realized it had been cancelled… so we had to go BACK inside to the people who hated us already, and they eventually just gave us some generic tickets that said no times or train numbers and said it was good for any train, anytime, that day. And they gave us some money back. They basically paid us to get on a train, any train, and leave them alone. So, we did. And we made it to Rome.

So, Rome. My roommate Kelley’s family friends live in Rome, they are Italian, and the daughter, Angelica, who is 19, came to pick us up at Roma Termini stazione. Huge. We took a bus to their home in central Rome (beautiful), and rode past amazing things like the Colisseum and Piazza Navona, but unfortunately the big fountain was under construction so we didn’t get to see it. Anyway, we went to the family’s house and made some pasta and relaxed for a minute. The family has a friend who owns a few apartments that he rents out, and we happened to be in Rome when he was between tenants, so they gave us a free room. Small, but good for our purposes. So we went to our apartment in central Rome, and the girls discussed going out and walking around. However, I wasn’t feeling well– dizzy, clammy, etc etc, and decided to lie down.

When they got back, we went to the family’s house for dinner– well!!! What a meal. First, we had plate after plate of breads and cheeses, and then Elisabetta, the mother, put a huge bowl of mushroom ravioli on the table. I always forget that this is just the prima piatta, or the first course. After that, she put down another huge dish of homemade meat loaf and patatine frittes (fried potatoes… always in Italian meals) and then when she found out that one of my roommates, Ren, and I are vegetarians, she put down another plate of cheese with the best ricotta, brie, and gouda I’ve ever had. So then we ate that. And salad. And dessert. And caffe. So anyway, then their kids and the girls wanted to go out but again I felt terrible so they went out to a wine bar and I went to the apartment and went to sleep.

The next morning, we got up early and I was contemplating heading back to Perugia but decided it would be best to just suck it up and stay. So we walked to Vatican City– a LONG walk– along the Tiber River, which was stunningly beautiful, especially in the morning sunlight. There is a sidewalk that runs along the river, but up above it, and you look down and see the sparkling water on your left and on your right is this beautiful row of thick, old, pale trees. I wish I knew what kind they were. Anyway, we were still quite sleepy but made it to Vatican City, and when we got to the piazza in front of San Pietro, we all just sort of stopped and took it in. They still had a huge manger scene up in the piazza… it was stunningly gorgeous, life-size– I mean, try to imagine who would do the best manger scene in the world– just a guess, but probably the Vatican. Anyway, it was just gorgeous because of the huge, white columns all around the piazza, with San Pietro in the background and this manger scene… amazing. Anyway, so we waited in line to go through security and then went into San Pietro (St. Peter’s basilica, in case you haven’t picked up on it). So, you go into St. Peter’s and follow these ropes, and you have the choice to either go to the tombs or the cupola, and we hadn’t really done our reading and didn’t know what to do, so I said, let’s do the cupola, because there will probably be a pretty view. Well, first of all, you have to pay 7 euro to take the elevator up, and then there is a sign that says NOTICE: and something about having to climb 320 stairs even after the elevator. Well, 320 stairs– not so bad, right? Heh. Heh.

Well, let’s keep in mind here that I’m still feeling pretty crappy, I haven’t had any coffee or food yet (all of this is just a bad situation). So first, when you get off the elevator, you end up pretty high up, still inside the actual basilica, and it is gorgeous, looking down on the sanctuary part of it and up at the dome. Beautiful. Impossible to describe, really. The walls are tiled with these tiny, tiny pieces of… porcelain, I guess, into stunning art all the way around. So I’m starting to get a little woozy being so high up, and we didn’t see any stairs, so we said, hum, well, I guess this is the top and we don’t have to take any stairs. Ha. Well, we followed the traffic around and came upon a small doorway, and alas, a spiral staircase. So we start climbing. And climbing. And climbing. And climbing. And the spiral is getting smaller. And smaller. And smaller. Finally we come to a landing, and duck into a little window area and breathe for a second. We go up a few more stairs, and there’s another landing. Now we are in the actual dome. The walls are slanted. We are standing straight. So, yes, a bit disorienting. I felt completely sick and my only motivation to keep going was to get out of there! So we climb some more, and come to another spiral staircase, this time holding onto a ROPE in the center of it. Just a dangling rope. Finally, we come to the top and we are, amazingly, at the very crest of the duomo in San Pietro, overlooking all of mid-morning Rome, as modern-day Romans stretch and yawn and spill into the streets of this very ancient, very metropolitan city. After a few pictures, I felt like I might faint, so we headed back down (I know, I’m such a downer). Back on the level of the basilica, well, actually on the roof of the basilica, was a little caffe so we got some espresso and a croissant (this was the first croissant we’ve found since we’ve been here that didn’t have some sort of chocolate, cream, honey, or marmalade in it– exciting for us– and yes, we’ve had quite a few croissants). We rode the elevator back down but then realized, wait, we haven’t actually been IN the basilica yet, just above it, so we walked around and there is yet another manger scene, and it too was beautiful. And then we are about to walk out and Ren stops and stares, and we all stop and stare, and right in front of our faces is the Pieta. The Michelangelo Pieta. (This is the statue of dying Jesus in a lady’s, I think Mary Magdalene’s, lap– pieta means “lap of death”.) It was gorgeous, and to think we almost missed it. As you can see, we’ve been so overwhelmed, we didn’t do our research.

Anyway, we left St. Peter’s and walked to the rest of Vatican City (actually, quite far). We wanted to see the Sistine Chapel. So, we waited in line, only to find out that you have to go through the entire Vatican Museum to get to the Sistine Chapel. Doesn’t sound so bad though. But the museum is enormous, and there’s only one path, a TON of incredibly famous art, and thousands upon thousands of people. I wish I had been feeling better, but mostly all this art, painted ceilings, tapestries, tiled flooring, pushy people– all made me a bit nauseous. I did appreciate some of it, though. It was just so much, you could really probably spend a few hours in each room, and there were probably… I don’t know, 20 long rooms to go through before the Sistine Chapel. So you just sort of wander through, and look up, and try to appreciate what you can, and in my case, appreciate it without vomiting. So. Finally we get to the Raphael room, which is incredible and beautiful and I wish I remembered more of the three art history classes I’ve taken. And then, the Sistine Chapel. There are a lot of rules in there- no talking, no pictures, no videos. Well, everyone else was taking pictures so I decided to do the same, and of course I got caught twice, but oh well, they didn’t do anything, just told me to stop. The chapel was much smaller than I’d expected, but quite beautiful. What no one knows is that the walls were painted by Il Perugino, Perugia’s own famous painter. They were gorgeous. Finally I felt crappy and had to leave.

So we did lunch with the family, and it was wonderful again, and then we ended up falling asleep on their couch watching Blazing Saddles, believe it or not. We were just so tired. And Saturday night, they went out again and I went to bed again.

Sunday morning we got our things together and headed out to see a few more things, but it was raining. We didn’t have time to do the colisseum but we walked and drove by it so many times, it wasn’t a big deal, plus I’m sure I’ll be back. We did, however, see the Trevi Fountain and the Spanish steps, as well as the Pantheon. All, of course, are beautiful. We threw two coins each in the Trevi (one is to wish to return to Rome, two is to fall in love while in Italy, three is to hear wedding bells of your own while in Italy– I avoided that one, obviously).

Finally it was time to go, and I will admit I was a bit relieved. We got on the train and headed back, and that was that.

The weather while in Rome was beautiful, and of course now the forecast for this week in Perugia is snow and ice. Well, unfortunately, this morning, I woke up and wasn’t feeling well yet again. I guess I’ve neglected to mention in this blog that since being here I’ve had a persistent dizziness, chills, night sweats, feelings of detachment, and now a chest cold… I sort of put it all on the back burner because I was so excited to be here. Well, I went to Italian class this morning and felt like I might faint so I stumbled down to the main building and a lady there took me to the hospital (which is basically just the doctor’s office) and helped me translate how I was feeling to the doctor there. They were so nice, and so helpful, and I didn’t even have to wait– I literally got off the elevator and walked right into the examination room. Anyway, I have early pneumonia and now I have to stay in bed for a week. So, I won’t get to go to Deruta and Montefalco on Friday probably. This, of course, is no good, but I guess you don’t mess with pneumonia. So, here I am, in bed. The doctor said I need to try to eat some meat, even though I’m a vegetarian. So, that’ll be interesting. Anyway, I’m going to lie down now for awhile, but I thought I’d update everyone on the ups and downs of Italy these days.

Love you all! Ciao Ciao… pray or meditate or whatever for me so I get better and don’t have to sit in my apartment! Grazie, baci baci.

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La Vita Umbra… and beyond

Last night I received a text message from Michele, the pianist from Caffe Morlacchi, to meet him and his friends for a “birra”– beer– after their calcio– soccer– game. This, of course is in Italian time, so that meant to meet them at 11 at a place called Merlin’s… a very typical Perugian underground pub. So we go out around 11, and he is there with one friend at this huge table. And then about 7 more of them showed up. So imagine 4 American girls and 9 Italian guys. Italian men are hilarious! They are all in their 20s and fun and sweet, and really tried hard to help us with our Italian. They definitely taught us some slang, too. It was fun and wonderful, but of course we got in late. One thing I can’t get used to in Europe is co-ed bathrooms. It’s odd to stand and chat with an Italian man in a restroom while you wait in line.

Tomorrow morning we are hopping on a train to Rome! We are staying for free at a bed and breakfast owned by a friend of a friend and also in someone’s home. We are coming back Sunday. I’m packing light, just taking a book bag. I am really looking forward to the train ride, actually. As much as I love Perugia, I’m excited to get out of town for the weekend and see more of Italy! Also very exciting– we get to go to Venezia for Carnivale the second or third weekend in February!!! We have already made our hostel reservations. I feel like this is a once in a lifetime opportunity… (see mom, I did have a need for some dresses). We are definitely going to buy masks and of course, get lost in Venizia. Apparently that’s just how it works there.

My Practicum class is very interesting… we had some great reading assignments due yesterday and it was really neat to know an overview of the ancient, ancient history of Umbria. In fact, Umbria is 94% hills and mountains and apparently gets its reputation of “mistica”– magical– from the plethora of hermits that live atop sheer mountains and even in caves. Yes, really. My professor actually knows one of these hermits… she lives on top of a tall mountain near Norcia and used to be a nun but was kicked out of her convent for heresy. She believes in reincarnation and the divine feminine, and after being kicked out, was given a piece of land on top of this almost uninhabitable mountain. Apparently she chipped stone on her own and built her very own home with her own two hands, which is solar powered 9 of the 12 months of the year ever since sometime in the 1970s. However, it is almost impossible to get to some of these places so getting a cab driver to take my professor to see her is almost unfathomable. In addition, artifacts have been found in numerous Umbrian caves that provide evidence of human existence from 35,000 years ago. 35,000 years!!! That is incredible to me, and here I am, walking the same ground as they, living off the distant relatives of their crops.

I am quite excited about riding the train past Lago Trasimeno, the biggest lake of the region. The ladies there still believe in the ancient art of lace-making by hand, and sit by the lake chatting and, well, making lace, while their husbands stand on the shore and fish for their food.

If you’re curious about Umbria, apparently a good movie is My House in Umbria, and also a movie from the 70s I think called Brother Sun, Sister Moon which was filmed here as well. The latter is more about the many saints associated with the region… perhaps primarily St Francis, but it should be good. I have heard of that one, but wasn’t around for it.

Anyway, I’m doing laundry for the first time today after class and it should be interesting. For now, and until I get back from Roma, ciao-ciao!!!

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Ha. Well, our quest for Etruschetta pizza last night came to a halt when we found out it was closed on Tuesdays. Just one more little thing that makes life interesting here in Perugia!!! Store hours are so strange, and really they open and close when they want to. Tuesday?!!?! We found another pizzeria (no problem) and I ordered peperoni pizza– “but you’re a vegetarian!” you say– peperoni here is not in fact salami but peppers, and I was aware of this when I ordered it, but the waitress, whose English was quite good, came and double-checked to make sure I knew that it was, indeed, peppers, and not salame.

There are a lot of interesting goings-on here that Italians just consider life.

Also, we have a gas stove. I know this isn’t so unusual… but at my lovely townhouse, we have a nice, flat-top stove that you just have to wipe clean after you use it. There’s just a lot more to remember… primarily, remembering to turn off the gas knob which is inside a cabinet… haha.

One of my favorite things about Italy is waking up every morning and opening my inside windows and then pushing open the shutters. It feels very… Disney, or something… waking up, bursting through the window and looking up and down the street, across the hills, waving at our neighbors who are doing the same thing– seeing what the day may have in store. This morning, though, I got a bit wet because it was (is) raining. And cold. I still enjoyed it.

In addition, there is perpetual noise from the surrounding apartments… we cannot seem to identify which apartments they are though… and sometimes, there’s banging above us which I really do not understand because our bedroom ceiling–well, criss-crossing enormous wooden beams and brick– is very clearly the underside of the roof.

We’ve all heard horror stories about European bathrooms. We are a bit fortunate in that we got two very tiny bathrooms, and of course the shower head is right in the middle of the bathroom with a drain in the floor. We have to mop (yes, MOP) every time we take a shower, but it doesn’t do much good. We are also fortunate in that we have toilets with seats on them… many toilets here just have a rim but no seat. My thighs have gotten quite strong… haha. Yes, lots of squatting. Apparently there are a few places here that are just holes in the ground but I haven’t seen those yet. In general, toilet flushing is consistently confusing. The flush is either above you, on the wall, or on the toilet, but it’s usually a strange, white button that often blends in with the toilet itself. I know, I sound like such an American– but come ON!!! And actually, there is usually a set of buttons. You have to choose which to flush. And if you can find some toilet paper, you’re lucky.

Doors here are different as well. All of our school buildings require a code or a buzzer to enter, and the doors themselves are enormous… about two stories high– it takes my entire body weight to open the ones of two different buildings. Haha, also, because of the energy conservation laws, you will oftentimes walk into a public place or a school building and the lights will be off, because they are all on timers, causing you to then have to feel your way around a strange place until you find the switch. Not to mention, we don’t do door knobs here in Italy. We just do locks. And we give our tenants about 20 keys, 18 of which are mystery keys to absolutely nothing… and half the time, the right keys don’t even fit, much to our dismay… and to the humor of the constant lingering Italian men in tight pants who follow you home and then lean against the wall outside your apartment and say broken English phrases and laugh when you glare at them for laughing in the first place at you, trying to just get inside. And don’t forget the Italians that hang out of their windows from up above, who also laugh, and say things like “Hi Everybody!” in English when you pass. Or, “Ciao, bella ragazza!!! Ragazza!!!! CIAO BELLA!!!” And of course… you keep walking.

Haha. Believe it or not, the male attention does indeed get old.

Remember the mysterious nozzle on the wall in Under the Tuscan Sun? We have one, too, right outside our apartment door (still indoors, in our hallway).

Overall, I find Italian ways to be mostly hilarious, and only a tad frustrating until you laugh it off. And now, I am going to go sink into one of my new Italian ways… spending hours in a lovely caffe in a piazza not at all far away…

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