Saturday, February 28, 2009

Taking a Break from Studying

Oh, it's been a busy week here in Roma!

Tuesday: We walked all over Rome in my art history class--from the Colosseum to the Forum to the Pantheon to the Mausoleum of Augustus. Class got out late, which isn't normally a big deal except when you are a few miles from home and you have class in an hour...and the buses are not running their normal routes due to a service sector strike in Trastevere.

That's right, the Italian workers in the service sector (from what I read it was mostly people who clean/maintain schools, hospitals, etc) decided to go on strike on Tuesday in front of a public ministry building in Trastevere. There were mobs of people and carabinieri all around, causing a disruption in traffic down Viale di Trastevere, the main street that gets me from my apartment to everywhere else in the city. So I had to walk nearly 3 miles home and miss my next class.

I had another class later that day, at 6:45, and Marina and I figured by this time the people had to have left. We were wrong. The tram took us part of the way, but we had to get off early since the strike was still going on. It looked like it had gotten bigger actually. We started to walk through it, dodging all the people clustered in groups in front of the building, until we got to the other side...and were faced with a line of carabinieri holding their big shields out, not letting anyone through. A few people were getting through, though, by pleading their cases to the carabinieri. Marina and I approached one with our John Cabot IDs in hand. At first he shook his head no, then looked around him and shifted over just slightly. Just enough for us to squeeze through.

When we got out of class at 8, the mob was gone. The tram was running again, and things were back to normal on Viale di Trastevere, as if nothing had happened. The only proof of it was all the trash, cigarette butts, and a few extra protest signs and flags lying on the sidewalk where they had gathered.

Wednesday: Nothing too out of the ordinary today. In my social research methods class we had to explain to the class the topics we chose for our thesis papers. There are only six of us, so it didn't take long. The other girls are doing things like: the link between economic recession and conservative government, what is justice/is justice an international concept, feminism and emotional management/mechanization of the body, etc... Then when it was my turn I threw out my concepts: storytelling and healing. More specifically, using storytelling to heal or healing through narrative. I've found a few articles on the topic so I know I'll have plenty to write about. The other girls thought this was interesting, but they wanted to know what my major was. When I said English, creative writing, they were all like "Oh, that makes sense..." I guess they are all political science/international law/business majors who have to take this class for their majors. As a sociology minor I also have to take the class, though my focus is obviously a bit different than theirs!

Thursday: Today I went on another high school visit. This time it was Liceo Plinio, located more near the center of Rome. I found it without trouble. This liceo is smaller than the other one, only about 600 students, so there was only the one building and I could walk right in. As soon as I got inside, the lady in the front office pointed to me as asked "Americana?" I nodded and said "si" and she pointed me down the hall to another lady, Paula Berna, the teacher I would be shadowing.

I was only there for one class this time, a class of last years. We did something similar to what I did at Liceo Farnesia, with the class asking me questions about America and my life, but at Liceo Plinio the class was much more interested and less chaotic. They would ask where I was from, what the main source of revenue was in my state, etc. and as I would answer Ms. Berna would ask me to write certain words on the board (Rachel, Wisconsin, creative writing, deer, farm, copper/cop, heat and air conditioning, hail) that the students would copy as vocabulary. They filled the hour easily with their questions and I got to ask some of my own at the end.

I would say what surprised them most about my description of life for a teenager in America is how long the day is. I talked about some high schoolers who go into school early, have school from 8-3:30, and then have practice for sports/clubs until 5 or 6, or others who have jobs along with school. They couldn't even imagine that. In Italy, the school day generally goes from 8 until noon or at the latest 2. After that, they go home and have a big lunch with their family and maybe work on some homework or hang out with friends in the afternoon.

When I was done there it was the end of the school day, so I had to make my way out of the school in the midst of hundreds of Italian teenagers...that was a cultural experience in itself!

Friday: I don't know why, but for some reason Marina and I got up at 8 this morning. We made a quick run to the market for eggs, milk, and some vegetables and came back to make ourselves breakfast. We had omelets with peppers and onions, fried potatoes, and fruit along with our coffee and orange juice. We really couldn't have had a more American breakfast, but it was so good.

Then we headed out to see Villa Borghese. It was such a nice day so we walked most of the way, up Via del Corso to Piazza del Popolo. There we took a break for some pictures of the piazza, of the twin churches (see them in Angels and Demons!), and for a breathtaking view of Rome from above the piazza.

Then we walked into Villa Borghese, amazed at all of the grass and clean air. The villa is huge, like a giant park with cafes, open fields, a zoo, and museums. Our destination was the main art gallery. We got there at about one, but the only tickets left were for a five pm viewing. The way it works is you buy your ticket for a specific two-hour time slot, starting at 9 am and going until 7 pm. So we had four hours to spare and a beautiful day stretched out before us. We laid out in the sun for a bit and walked around some more, exploring the rest of the villa. When we got hungry we grabbed a snack at the art cafe.

Finally it was our turn to go in. Villa Borghese is full of amazing statues and paintings--some of the most famous by Bernini and Caravaggio. We saw David, Apollo and Daphne, and Pluto and Prosperpina all by Bernini. I loved having Marina there, since she is learning about all of these statues in her art history class. She is like my own personal tour guide. Our favorite Caravaggios were Madonna of the Palafrenieri and Sick Bacchus.

By the time we were done and made it back home it was almost 8. We had been gone all day, but it was such a fulfilling day. We really couldn't have asked for more!

Saturday: Okay, maybe there is something we could have asked for...some more time to start studying for midterms. Midterms are next week--I have four. Since we didn't really do any homework yesterday, Marina and I are playing catch up getting in all of our studying. Rosanna, Shannon, and Stephanie are also pretty busy with studying so today is a chill day here in the apartment. We will make dinner later since tomorrow is Ro's birthday and we've decided to celebrate today. I think what everyone is most looking forward to is dessert: cake and ice cream, Italian style. Which of course means gelato and whatever we can find in the grocery store that most resembles cake.

So there it is, my crazy week. I'm hoping midterms aren't too stressful and that things will settle down a little after they are over (at least until finals creep up). News from home has also been keeping things exciting here: my acceptance into Summer Project at North Myrtle Beach, South Carolina (more on that later) and knowing I'll have visitors at the end of my program (Mom, Donna, Grandma, and Ruth)! Lots of things going on, but my history notes are calling me!

Thursday, February 26, 2009


Wow...nearly five on Thursday and it feels like this is the first time I've had to sit this entire week! That's not entirely true, of course, (Marina and I did sit down to a romantic dinner of pasta with a mushroom sauce last night) but it's still been busy lately!

I may have mentioned my possible tutoring job here in Italy--on Monday that became a reality. I met Ms. Malandrino, the English teacher whose classes I joined a week ago Thursday, at Liceo Farnesia. From there, she drove us to her apartment in her daughter's SmartCar. My very first ride in a SmartCar! It was tiny, with only enough room for us, and loud, similar to what it sounds like riding the buses.

As crazy as the traffic seems when you are walking on the sidewalk, it didn't seem nearly so crazy from inside the car, and in a few minutes we were at her apartment where her daughter let us in. The apartment felt old and traditional, with lots of Persian rugs on the floor and paintings of landscapes on the walls. There was a lot of dark wood--around the windows and doors, the tables and cabinets--and this added to the atmosphere.

Francesca, her daughter, is 16 and goes to another liceo, one that focuses on the classics (meaning she has to learn Latin). Ms. Malandrino had us sit in their living room and said we could just talk for about an hour. She brought me a real, homemade Italian espresso and some sugar (wow, it was strong but tasted great!) while Francesca and I sat on their couch, like two new kids at school meeting for the first time. Francesca has been taking English classes since she was six so her English was good, but her mom wants her to just talk with a native speaker to pick up more of a conversational English. In her classes, they read literature but don't do a lot of everyday speaking.

So Francesca and I filled the hour basically getting to know each other. I asked about her classes, her dreams for the future, growing up in Rome, etc. and she asked me why I chose to study in Rome, what I want to do after graduating, and about differences between American teenagers and Italian teenagers. She has traveled a lot around Europe and to Boston and Toronto, which both became her favorite cities. She is planning on going back to the States this summer, but has to decide if she wants to go to the New York program or the Orlando program.

I found that she is very mature for a 16-yr old as she told me about how she wants to travel for her job but that because so many Italians do travel and never come back Italy has become filled with mostly the older generation, a generation set in their ways. So she wants to travel, wants to experience the world, but then she wants to bring it back to Italy. According to her (and I told her I agreed), Italians her age are going to be the ones to change Italy, to make it a better place.

After hearing her say that and thinking about our weekend in Barcelona I think I can appreciate what she means. Barcelona felt so young compared to Rome, and way more diverse. In Rome, it’s obvious when you don’t belong. Being Italian is like this exclusive club—once you’re in, you’re golden, but before that,’ve heard me talk about my experiences on the tram. Francesca shared similar thoughts but also figured out a solution.

Then Ms. Malandrino came back into the living room, saying it had been an hour. The time really went fast though. English tutors are in high demand and she said she would love to have me come back each week. I told her I thought I learned as much about Italian life and culture as Francesca did about America so it hardly felt like work. I never would have thought my path would lead to tutoring English in Italy!

Tuesday, February 24, 2009

Barcelona, Saturday

8:00: Why yes, we did just sleep over twelve hours straight. Well, Marina and I did. Ro and Shannon said they didn't sleep straight through the night. Hmmmm...I was so passed out I didn't even hear when some girls came in our room looking for a lost cell phone. Oh the joys of hostel living.

9:00: The moment of truth--breakfast. It does not disappoint with cereal, bread/toast, butter, jam, and Nutella. We miss real toast so much that between the four of us we probably eat an entire loaf.

11:30: At the Travel Bar for a free walking tour of the Gothic Center of Barcelona. Our guide is Swedish and gives these tours for tips only. She's good though. She takes us to lesser-known places as well as the big spots on the map and along the way gives suggestions for eating and what shops have good deals. [See Barcelona photo album for the pics of the tour]. We see Placa Reial, Placa George Orwell (aka Placa Trippy due to the high amount of drug usage here), Carrer Avignon and the School of Fine Arts (where Picasso studied and found inspiration for Les Demoiselles D'Avignon), the Cathedral and other shrines/places of interest in Santa Eulalia's life, the Jewish quarter(The Call neighborhood and the synagogue), the Roman columns, other churches such as Santa Maria del Pi, the first piece of wood Christopher Columbus brought back from the New World (it's huge)...we walk until about 1 PM, when we end up back at the bar where we started. Now we get a free local beer, Estrella Damm, and more tips on where to go in Barcelona.

1:30: It's back to La Boqueria. We buy cherries, strawberries, figs, nuts and chocolate to eat for lunch and enjoy it in the sun in Placa Catalunya.

3:00-8:00: We split up for the afternoon/evening. Ro and Shannon do some shopping in the many stores along Las Ramblas while Marina and I spread open our maps and hit the streets for some hardcore sightseeing. Our stops include a theatre of the arts, Casa Milà, the Sagrada Familia, Torre Agbar, Cascada (waterfall) and other parts of the Parc de la Ciutadella, the Arc de Triumf, the Teatro Nationale de Catalonia, and the Music Museum. By the time we get back to the hostel, we are hungry and tired and all we want is place to sit and enjoy dinner without being rushed.

8:30: Well, we found that place. El Portalon is a great little restaurant where the menus are bilingual but the waiters speak only Spanish. Of course we couldn't come all the way to Spain without having some genuine sangria. Tapas are another Spanish must and ours are amazing. Tapas are like appetizers, but they are meant to go with a drink and are called tapas because they "top" your drink (ie, in the south where there are flies and bugs people will put their tapa plates over their drinks...they are literally tops). We have artichokes, stuffed olives, queso and patatas bravas (spicy potatoes). And for our meals what else could we have besides paella? The four of us each get a different type and make sure to sample from everyone's plate. Dessert is tiramisu, creme caramel, and a lemon sorbet. We don't feel rushed at all and our waiter even volunteers to take a picture of the four of us. We love it so much, we are the last group to leave.

12:30 AM: More walking along Las Ramblas, this time at night. It's alive with people and street performers still and the whole place feels electric. Barcelona has such a different vibe than Rome, it's insane.

1:30: Passing out in our hostel for the night. We pretend to make plans for tomorrow but we know all we will end up doing is sleeping in as long as possible, grabbing more toast and Nutella, and schlepping off to the airport--early this time so we don't have to worry about running to changed gates.

Barcelona, Friday

7:00 AM: Leaving the apartment with our bags packed and ready to experience Spain...also to get away from the chilly Rome weather.

7:30: On the train that will take us to Fuimicino, the main airport in Rome.

7:56: Ooops...we were anxious and got off a stop too early.

8:30: Finally at the airport, at the right terminal, in line waiting to check in.

8:50: Checked in, heading through security. There are a lot of people at the airport today and a lot of them headed to Barcelona like us for Carnival weekend. It's a big celebration kind of like Halloween and a State Fair rolled together.

9:30: Our plane leaves in ten minutes but there is no one at the gate and the screen says the next flight is headed to Paris. Momentary panic until we hear something about Barcelona on the intercom and then "B3." We are at B7, like our tickets say. Apparently they changed gates within that half hour. We run.

9:40: On the plane, ready to go. I'm in a row all by myself and I use this to my advantage by sleeping the entire 1.5 hours.

11:30: Mini culture shock stepping out of the airport and into Barcelona. The air is clean and fresh, the sun is in the sky, the cars are all in their lanes and no one is honking...all the chaos of Italy is gone!

1:00: Found the hostel, Barcelona Mar. 32 Euro gets us two nights in children's bunk beds, bathrooms with lights on timers, maps and brochures, and breakfast. We cross our fingers that Spanish breakfast has more substance than Italian.

2:00: Walking down Las Ramblas, a main street and popular tourist stretch in Barcelona. There are street performers, human statues, t-shirt stands, artists and lots of people in all shapes and sizes meandering up and down. Finally we find a restaurant and fill ourselves with a few tapas and food.

3:45: More walking and we find the best market we have seen so far. It is clean and fresh and has anything you could ever want from a market: meat, fish (fresh from the Mediterranean), eggs, fruit, vegetables, chocolate, nuts, dried fruit, candy, spices, smoothies, cheese...this place has it all. We vow to return the next day for lunch.

4:00-7:00: Sightseeing by walking all around. We walk down by the port and the boardwalk, take plenty of pictures of all the different architecture, and soak in the culture of the streets. Barcelona is a lot younger than Rome, and way more diverse, so we don't stick out nearly as much here. The architecture is decidedly different than Rome as well, except in the parts that actually are Roman...because the Roman Empire once covered the entirety of Spain so of course the inner city is laid out like Rome (confusing, winding, cramped streets)...but as we travel out further we are reminded that streets can be straight and orderly.

7:00: Tiredness takes us back to the hostel where we meet our roommates for the weekend. Our room has six beds total so we are joined by two grad students from Germany, here for a class. The four of us decide to just rest for awhile and then maybe head out later...and then we proceed to sleep until 8 the next morning.

Sunday, February 22, 2009

Back to School

Before I blog about my weekend in Barcelona, I wanted to write about Thursday. I found the high school (in Italy they are called liceo) without any trouble thanks to new directions, maps, and a phone number in case I got lost. The school, Liceo Farnesia, is in a nice, residential area of Rome but is hard to notice since it is gated. I had to press a call button for them to open the gate for me. I guess about 1,300 students go there, so that was a huge difference from what I'm used to. When I went in the front office and asked for the teacher I was going to shadow, they didn't even know who she was. That's how many people work there!!

There is a main building at the liceo with the gym, offices, a few classrooms, and the bar (sort of like a cafeteria, but the students buy their own food there--from panini to chips and other snacks, and even cappuccino and espresso--in mugs, not Styrofoam). Then there are separate buildings with the rest of the classrooms. These buildings are kind of like trailers and even the Italians know they aren't the prettiest things to have class in. There is graffiti on the metal walls and they get cold in the winter so the students mostly kept their jackets on. Another difference here is that the teachers switch classrooms while the students stay in the same rooms all day. Their day goes from 8-2 with breaks at 10 and noon and smaller breaks between classes, but other than that the students stay in their little trailer classrooms. According to the students themselves, this is because if they had to do the moving around, they would never get to class...they would be too busy hanging with their friends and walking too slowly to make it to class on time.

The classes I sat in on were all very interested in learning more about America. There were three different ones, an advanced history class and two English classes. The teacher worked with a few students in the corner of the classroom (I think individual assessment things) while I had the rest of the class to myself. They would ask me questions and I would answer plus I got to ask my own questions about growing up in Rome. A lot of their questions had to do with the economic crisis in America and how I felt about Obama--it was impressive how many political questions they had. They also wanted to know about colleges and how to apply, how to get scholarships, how it is different from high school, etc. And then in every class there were, of course, the usual high school questions: what kind of music do I listen to, do I eat a lot of hamburgers, do I watch The O. C., and they all wanted to know how I felt about Italian boys. I even got asked out by one of the students...but unfortunately he was 16.

It was a really interesting morning and the teacher asked me back, so I was happy about that. She also asked if I would be interested in tutoring her 16-year old daughter in English. I hope we can work that out somehow--then I'd be able to see an Italian home/family and make a little extra moneta (money) while I'm at it!

Hard to tell, but this is an Italian liceo from outside the gates.

Wednesday, February 18, 2009

Roman Family and Private Life

Today in my Ancient Roman History class I am giving a presentation about Roman Family and Private life (along with another girl, but, as she told me multiple times while I worked on our project, she isn't here to do school...girls like her are the reason I hate group projects). But frustrations aside, I thought I would give you the annotated version.

We've been talking a lot in class about the public lives of Romans and Rome in general, but we haven't really gone into depth about the private lives of Romans--what they did when they were done conquering for the day and went home. Multiple sources have stated that Rome the city was merely an extension of the Roman household and the household was synonymous with the family. So just as everyone under the roof of one house was included in the family, all of the places Rome conquered and annexed were also included as part of Rome. Also, just as the Vestal Virgins had to keep the eternal flame of the public hearth lit, the women of the household had to keep the private hearth lit. Each household also included the household gods.

The houses themselves varied on how wealthy its inhabitants were. Poorer Romans might have small farms in the country or live in the city in small apartments above shops. The wealthier Romans could have a villa in the country as well as a house in the city. These houses of the well-off Romans featured a private area in the back which was windowless and included the bedrooms and other rooms for family use as well as an area in the front of the house which was used for social purposes like dining and entertaining. This front part was more luxurious than the back part. The dining room in Roman houses was located in the middle, between the private and social areas, but was arguably the most important room of the house.

Dinner traditions varied only slightly between rich and poor Romans; the biggest difference was the menu and mealtime entertainment. All Romans treated their houses as their retreats, a place to keep work and home distinct, and as such they respected mealtime. The actual room was set up like a theater with couches arranged on three sides of the table. The fourth side was where the slaves would serve the meal. People ate reclining on their left elbows to show just how relaxed they were. The dinner consisted of three courses or more with entertainment between each course and usually a reading after.

Weddings in ancient Rome were more of a formality than anything. Marriages were arranged to make political/economic ties and the weddings reflected this in their structure. They were basically just a public declaration of intent to live together, since that's all marriage was. Because of this divorce was easy, only a declaration not to live together had to be made in front of witnesses. The resulting marriage after the wedding continued to be the joining of two families and love was not nearly as important as harmony between man and woman. Sex between married couples was only for procreation. The men held the power and the women found value only in being mothers.

As the heads of the households, fathers made most decisions--even the decision of life and death for their children. They might teach their own children in the home or they would hire a Greek slave to tutor them. All in all, though, most men spent the majority of their time out of the household and left it to the women.

Roman women, who were encouraged to become Roman mothers, oversaw the day to day running of the household. Women could read and write but more important were their talents in weaving and spinning. A woman did not have legal status until she bore three living children, more proof that women were only valued as mothers. Sometimes wet nurses lived in the home to help raise the children, both free and slave.

Though procreation was important, Romans also practiced adoption (usually of family members). The free and slave children grew up together in the house and this caused bonds of great loyalty between them. Education in ancient Rome was diverse since most children were taught within the home. It was seen as more of an apprenticeship where the children learned to become Roman so each household decided the specific curriculum. They all learned to read and write while girls also had to learn spinning and weaving and the boys focused more on political and economical studies.

So there you have it. It took me almost an hour to type that all up so I should be good to go for my presentation. I mean, our presentation. Other things planned for today: Marina has a viewing assignment at an art gallery and I am joining her for that and I need to get to bed earlier since I am once again going to try to make it to that high school to speak to the English class there. I got modified directions and printed out some maps so I think I'll make it this time.

Tuesday, February 17, 2009

a hella good supper, y'all.

I've talked a lot about differences between Americans and Italians, but after being here over a month (!) my roommates and I are starting to see the differences between Americans, more specifically, between the five of us.

I am the only Midwest girl in our apartment. Shannon and Marina are both from California, the Bay Area (San Francisco). Stephanie is from Nashville, Tennessee. Rosanna is from Scranton, Pennsylvania (yes, like in The Office).

The first difference we noticed was Stephanie's use of "y'all" which occurs multiple times each day. Stephanie also hates time and loves to stretch out her mornings with long showers and slowly getting ready for the day. If we go out, she would rather sit and talk to someone than go crazy with the drinks.

Rosanna doesn't have any catchphrases, but she does love to talk. She comes from a traditional Italian American family, which means there is always talking at her house, and she hates when it is quiet. When she is signed in on skype, she gets multiple calls at once. Her boyfriend, parents, brothers, friends and cousins all call her at the same time so she's always putting people on hold to take another call.

Marina and Shannon's catchphrase is hella. When the rest of us first heard that, we weren't sure what to think. Apparently it's a Bay Area thing that started out as "hell of a" as in "There were a hell of a lot of people there." Then it became "helluva" and now just "hella." So they'll say something like "That pasta is hella good." It's hilarious.

At first it seemed I didn't have a catchphrase either, but the other night my roommates all laughed after I said I was going to make my zucchini for supper. Not because of the zucchini...because I said supper.

I never realized "supper" was such a Midwest concept. Everywhere else everyone eats breakfast, lunch, and dinner. In the Midwest we have breakfast, dinner, and supper. I mean, at home dinner and supper are usually interchangeable and we say lunch, but when my grandparents or the residents at work say "dinner" I know they are talking about the meal they eat at noon and "supper" is the one they eat in the evening.

So now every time I say supper they laugh at me and tell me it's cute. They also laughed when I told them about cheese curds. One night we were talking about our favorite comfort foods at home and when I said cheese curds they all got disgusted looks on their faces. They have no idea what cheese curds are...I told them I felt bad for them since they had never experienced them.

I've been continually updating my photo albums online so check back when you can...I rearranged everything this weekend so the albums make more sense. Here is the link:

Saturday, February 14, 2009

Romanticismo a Roma

Felice San Valentino!

The girls of Via Pascarella 12 had a good Valentine's Day. We're in the city that gives romance its name, how could we not? Marina, Shannon and I shared chocolate chip banana pancakes with powdered sugar and honey for breakfast this morning and Marina made me espresso. Then, being the only ones left in the apartment, Marina and I ventured out.

Our first stop was the pyramid so Marina could see it. Then we walked up to La Piazza della Bocca della Verita to see La Bocca della Verita (The Mouth of Truth). We stuck our hands in and took the touristy picture, like everyone in the line. The tradition is if you tell a lie with your hand in the carving's mouth, it will bite your hand off. While we waited in line, newlyweds pulled up to visit the carving and the church where it is located, Santa Maria in Cosmedin.

Then we walked up the Aventino to peek through the most famous keyhole in Rome. In Piazza dei Cavalieri di Malta, there is a door with two guards and a line of people waiting to peer through the keyhole. Why you ask? Because the view from the keyhole is like magic. You see a row of trees and then an opening which perfectly frames the dome of St. Peter's. It takes your breath away, and the thing is, not many people know about this keyhole. Marina's mom has been to Rome before and told her about it.

Once we got back to the apartment and Ro and Shannon got back we were getting hungry again. Luckily we went grocery shopping this morning so we started making the meal we planned: beef stroganoff and salad. It was so good, even if not traditionally Italian. We did eat our salad last, like they do here. And for dessert we had gelato sundaes with bananas, almonds, and homemade chocolate sauce.

The day didn't stop there, though. Next, Ro, Marina and I decided to go see a romantic movie called Questo Piccolo Grande Amore. The literal translation is "This Small Big Love" but according to Ro, there's not really a way to explain what the title means in English. The film was inspired by a song of the same name by Claudio Baglioni and loosely follows the storyline in the song. Even though it was in Italian, I understood it. I guess I would compare it to Across the Universe, because it was set in the 70s and had a lot of music, etc. It was good, and they even had popcorn there!

And guess what (who, actually) else was there? The one and only Anahel Cimei! We talked on the phone when I got here and have wanted to get together (she's offered to pick me up on her motorino sometime) but haven't been able to see each other because she working on her finals at school. And then tonight at the movie theater we gave our tickets to the girl who I instantly recognized as Miss Anahel. We were so surprised and it was completely random--I had no idea she worked at the movie theater! We couldn't talk long since she was working, but we got to do a little catching up and share the traditional two kisses on the cheeks.

One last thing about the movie: halfway through the screen went black and then the word "intervale" flashed on. The lights came up and a guy came in selling concessions. Yes, Italians have intermissions during their movies! It was just long enough for the guy to sell a few more drinks, and for the Italians to smoke a cigarette, then the movie continued. It was weird, but at the same time I'm really not surprised. Of course they would have an intermission in a movie.

And that was our Valentine's Day. St. Valentine is apparently from Rome, but they don't really pull out all the stops like America does. We saw a few balloons and flowers around town, but other than that they keep it low key, as did we.

Thursday, February 12, 2009


It's been some time since I've been on here...can you believe I actually have to go to class and do homework? School is going pretty well, though, even if I do spend the entirety of stats thinking about what I'm going to make for supper when I get home.

I decided to blog again because I have something to confess: I got hopelessly lost in Rome today. I signed up for this community service thing through John Cabot where you speak at Italian high schools, in their English classes. Since they learn English starting young it's cool for them to hear native speakers, which they rarely (if ever) get.

I was all set to do that this morning, had bus directions and everything...and somewhere between the 271 bus and the 301 bus I got lost. I asked a few people for directions, but I've learned Italians aren't so talented in that area. Because they mostly said "up the hill and turn right" which did not help.

What upset me the most was not making it to the high school, but then I realized I didn't know at all where I was. After walking around a bunch I found a bus stop for the 301 and got on that, looking for the a connecting stop since I know the 301 doesn't go into Trastevere. At one point we went past the Stadio Olimpico so I got off there to find the 280, which we took on Sunday. So everything was fine; I really did know where I was.

And hopefully I'll try again next week to find the high school, this time with better directions.

Monday, February 9, 2009

sights and sounds of the weekend

Alright, finally got the pictures. And some videos I took at the game. I just took them with my digital camera so they aren't the best videos, but you can hear some of the singing and cheering at least.

Now it's back to studying for the Italian quiz I have tomorrow.

photos photos photos

Grazie Roma

There are a lot of things to say about yesterday's Roma-Genoa game at the Stadio Olimpico, but probably the most important is that I learned a lot about Italian culture there--maybe more than I learn just observing Italians on the street. Sports events are a great big culture bubble.

The first thing you notice is what they wear: black. Italians always wear black, and a sporting event is no different. Roma's colors are maroon and gold and the only way to tell that is by the scarves everyone wears. Guys, girls, kids--everyone has a maroon and gold scarf wrapped around their neck and tucked into their black leather jacket. It's a far cry from the sea of red at a Badger game or all the green and yellow at Lambeau.

Also, before you get inside the stadium you have to show them your ticket and if they feel like it, they can ask for ID (if you are foreign they ask to see a copy of your passport). This is because when you buy tickets, your names are printed on them to deter scalpers. Of course, they asked us for ID because we are obviously not Italian and we don't look like Roma fans at all (we are four women...Roma fans are typically 18-50 yr. old men of the working class).

Then we got inside. Stadio Olimpico is huge. It can hold 72,000 people, though yesterday it wasn't quite full. Being in the stadium is almost like being at an American sporting event, only with much less drinking and eating and way more smoking. I only saw one food stand which sold panini or hot dogs and coke and two guys randomly walked through the crowd selling cokes and things called cipsters (pronounced chipsters). Nobody really bought any food though, and besides the coke I don't think they sold anything else to drink...not alcohol anyway that I noticed. That is a huge difference from every American sporting event.

Now, Roma fans are notorious for fan riots and general rowdiness and our seats were kind of close to the crazy section. When the game started and they announced Genoa's starters the air filled with shrill whistling and boos. The whistling (which we usually associate with cheering but in Italy is like our hiss) was loud enough to hurt my ears. Then when they announced Roma's starters, the applause started. After every player announced the entire crowd would put their hands in the air and shout "Ole!" Next came the song. Before every Roma game they play their anthem, La Roma non si discute, si ama, which roughly translates to "Roma is not to be questioned, it is to be loved," and EVERYONE sings along. In pretty good voices too.

The singing doesn't stop there, though, they sing during the entire game. And after the game. And on the bus ride home. True story, we got on a bus after the game with some die hard Roma fans and they sang/cheered/chanted for about 15 minutes until their stop. That was a cultural experience in itself.

Once the game starts, they pay attention and cheer/clap when the team does something good or whistle/boo when something not so good happens. They also love to yell at the other team and they have a lot of hand motions reserved for the opposing team and the opposing team's fans. During the game some Genoa fans thought it would be smart to come near the crazy section and proceed to do their chants. This caused the crowd to totally disregard the game and instead focus all their attention on booing and cursing the opposing fans. It got so bad that the security guards had to make a human barricade between the sections to protect the fans and eventually they made the Genoa fans move.

Another big difference I noticed was the lack of a time clock/scoreboard. They would show the score after a goal was made, but that was it. There was no way to know how much time was left in each half besides having your own watch and counting down (each half is 45 minutes). This struck me because American sports tend to be time-centered (football, basketball) and we are big on knowing how much time is left in the game for strategic reasons. Not so much in soccer. This makes sense when you think about time in relation to each society as a whole.

When Roma would score a goal, the cheering lasted several minutes. There were hugs and more singing. Luckily for us, Roma won 3-0 so we didn't have to see what happens when the game doesn't go so well. At the end of victorious games they play another song, Grazie Roma (Thank you Rome) and it's actually quite catchy. Check out that video for the song and some clips of Roma games. I have my own pictures that I will post today after class. Ciao!

Saturday, February 7, 2009

Buon appetito!

This weekend all of my roommates and I stayed in Rome. We've had a pretty low key weekend, but that should change tomorrow since we are going to the Roma-Genoa calcio (soccer) game and the Roma fans are known for their riots.

Thursday night, my roommates and I went out. We didn't end up leaving until 10, but it turns out that's about the right time for supper in Italy. We found a restaurant by the Pantheon (pretty romantic, really) and ate outside. The prezzo fisso (fixed price) was 10 euro for a drink, bruschetta, and pizza or pasta. I had spinach ravioli, which does not even compare to Chef Boyardee.

The way they do supper at the restaurants is each menu is usually prezzo fisso, between 14 and 30 euro (or more if you go to the really classy places) and then you get to pick one of each: drink, antipasto (appetizer), primo piatto (first course of pasta), secondo piatto (second or main course of meat/fish), contorno (sidedish), and dessert.

After supper we (of course) had to get some gelato. I don't even know what flavors I got--hazelnut creme and a creme and chocolate one I think. I just pointed to the ones that looked the best and said "Posso avere questo?" ("Can I have this?") without really reading the flavors. I'm convinced it doesn't matter what flavor it is anyway, I'll still eat it.

By this time it was probably just after midnight which in Rome means the night is still fairly young. So we decided to check out Campo dei Fiori, a square lined with bars and restaurants. We've heard this is one of the most touristy areas of Rome and that it draws a particular type of American (ie, the alcoholic type) but we wanted to see what it was like for ourselves.

It actually wasn't too bad, although it was a Thursday night. There were a few clusters of Italians at each bar, drinking wine and smoking, and there were Americans spread all about the square, drinking beer mostly. We sat out at one and had some prosecco (sparkling wine), trying our best to fit in with the Italians.

After going out on Thursday, we decided to spend the night in on Friday and make a roommate supper to eat together like one big happy Italian family. We went grocery shopping and cooked together and it was one of the best meals I've had in Italy so far.

Our menu was pan-fried rosemary chicken, rosemary and garlic potatoes, Caprese salad (I've never had this before but it was amazing. Please go make some right now.), garlic-sauteed zucchini, fresh bread, and a bottle of vino bianco. We thought we made too much, but it turns out five girls can eat a lot. Because after we ate all of that, we finished off two tubs of store-bought gelato. We had one caffe (coffee) flavored one and the other was amaretto and creme.

We stretched our supper out until nearly midnight and filled it with stories, proof that we are slowly becoming Italian. Hopefully you hear from me soon since I'm sure I'll have stories from the game tomorrow!

Friday, February 6, 2009

shoes and fur coats

Grandma's comment on my last post made me think: church does start on time. Not only the American church we found, but the Italian ones too. And when we went to the Vatican they were quite punctual. So Italians might be relaxed for the most part, but when it comes to religion, they listen to those church bells.

For my Italian class we not only learn the grammar and vocabulary, we also do cultural activities. For our quiz next week we have to go to the grocery store and observe Italians there. I've been doing some of that, not only in the grocery store but on the street as well, and you've been hearing about all the differences, but there are more.

Some other differences between American and Italian men, besides how forward they are (last night when we went out an Italian put his arm around Rosanna and proceeded to tell her she was sexy and that he loved America), is how much they care about appearances. For example: the other night in my stats class the Italian kid sitting next to me (the one who walked in late like it was nothing) took out his laptop and proceeded to use its glossy black top as a mirror to fix his hair before opening it up to take notes.

Walking along the street you will notice not only stores with women's designer clothing, but men's too. They don't generally have department stores here at all, so there is a store for men to buy ties, another one for their dress shirts, another for pants, and of course one for shoes. They are big on their shoes here--the fine Italian leather and all. It's safe to say the majority of the men I see are dressed pretty spiffy. I think I've seen one Italian wearing a hooded sweatshirt and maybe a few wearing sneakers.

Differences between Italian and American women: Italian women get dressed up to go grocery shopping. In the States, most grocery shoppers wear whatever: jeans, sweats, etc. Today I saw a woman in a fur coat doing her grocery shopping. They go all out, even just to take the garbage to the curb.

It can be kind of tough being surrounded by beautiful people all the time, but it's been good too. I think I've grown a lot more comfortable in my own skin, even just being here one month. (I'll have been here for one month on Wednesday! Wow. That calls for a glass of vino.)

Thursday, February 5, 2009

Il tempo è flessibile

I don't know if I've really talked about the concept of "time" in Italy yet. Here is what you need to know: there is no concept of time in Italy. This remains one of the biggest cultural adjustments for Americans abroad, most especially in Italy, because what we consider ineffectiveness, laziness, them is just business as usual.

If a business opens at 8 in the morning, it is perfectly acceptable for them to show up at 8:30, maybe even later. Then, when it is lunchtime, they may close from 12:30 until 2:30 or 3:00. What this actually means is they will close at noon and maybe they will be back by 4:00. And if the store closes at 7:00, you'd better get there at 6:30, which is most likely when they will start closing up for the day.

It is completely strange to all of us Americans and it can get frustrating when you want to run to the store for something only to find it will be closed for the next three hours. But the thing is, it's not just the stores and little shops--the banks, the post office, even restaurants close down for pranzo (lunch).

Today our Italian professor told us that when she went to the bank this morning she saw one of her friends who works there. When the friend saw her, he said (in Italian): "Gina, oh, let's go get some coffee!" (When our professor told us the story she included the ubiquitous Italian hand gestures.) And so they did. The guy just left work, left all of the people in line at the bank, and went for coffee with a friend. What's more important: this story is not unique in Italy. It's fairly normal actually.

It's not uncommon for my professors from Italy to come to class a few minutes late and when they end class depends mostly on if they've covered everything they wanted to--whether that means getting out 15 minutes early or staying in class late, until they finish what they want to say.

The buses are supposed to run on schedules so that every fifteen-twenty minutes a bus will be at each stop, but somehow they end up all bunching together so there are no buses for an hour and then suddenly there are three at one time.

When we called our housing service to let them know our washing machine was not hooked up, our oven did not work, our toilet wasn't flushing right, and that we had a leak in our kitchen, each time they would say they were sending someone over later that day. Two days later, the repairmen showed up. They never brought tools though. They came to check out the problem, and then they would come back again the next day to actually fix it. And we never have any idea when they are coming.

I'm slowly becoming accustomed to this nebulous idea of time, but I am a little worried about the danger of becoming too accustomed to it. I already don't wear a watch. If I'm always late when I get back to America at least you'll know why...

Tuesday, February 3, 2009

As the Romans Do: Eye Contact

Tuesdays are my long days, which is strange because they are usually boring as well. I think it's because I'm too busy rushing from one place to another...or not rushing and instead waiting for the tram and getting held up behind slow-moving Italians. I had three of my classes today, but my schedule is all spread out so I started at 9:30 this morning with my on-site art history class and didn't end until 8:00 tonight with stats. I think I rode the tram six different times today because I have such long breaks in between classes.

This morning the tram was packed full and I barely made it on. Once I was on, there was nothing to hang on to so I had to rely on the people around me to hold me up when the tram took off or slammed to a stop. I've been in that situation before, (and really, everyone on the tram at that time is in that situation, unless you are the lucky ones to have seats or be near the handrails) but I've been standing next to other students and it wasn't awkward at all. This morning I had the wonderful luck to be standing next to an elderly Italian woman.

Here is what I have learned about Italian women: they don't like American women. Or men, really, but mostly women. This is a generalization, because I have met a few nice Italian women, but as a rule Italian women avoid American women. I don't know if this is just a cultural thing and not personal, or if they generalize all American women, but whatever it is they are not afraid to show their disapproval.

This morning the Italian woman showed her disapproval of me by first looking me up and down (and this was quite obvious due to our close proximity to each other), then shaking her head, turning to her husband, mumbling something in Italian, and finally turning back to look at me with those piercing Italian eyes. Now, I wasn't wearing anything outrageous (especially not compared to what some girls here wear) nor did I have my music on loud (I don't think I even had my iPod on) but previous experience has led me to believe she just didn't like that I was American.

All of my roommates and other girls I've talked to have had similar things happen to them--on the tram, walking down the street, in stores--so we are pretty sure the women (especially those of the 40 and up age set) just don't like us.

Now if only we could get the men to feel that way. Because if there is anything more awkward than an Italian woman giving you the once-over in disgust on the tram, it's an Italian man (we're talking ANY age here, middle school on up) giving you the once-over in extreme approval on the tram (and on the street and at the grocery store...). Maybe that's why the women disapprove? Because the men so obviously approve and even feel compelled to voice their approval with shouts of "ciao, bella" and long-lingering uncomfortable looks.

Either way--approval or disgust, man or woman--it's safest to do as the Romans do and just don't make eye contact or smile. It feels super weird at first, especially coming from a town where you know everyone you pass on the street, but that's the culture here.

Oh, and I read that the groundhog saw his shadow yesterday meaning more winter in the States...I'd just like to say that it is usually 50 degrees during the day here and the worst weather we've had is some rainstorms. The locals (and everyone from not the Midwest) complain about it though, saying this is the worst "winter" they've had in years. Oh Italians, always so dramatic.

Monday, February 2, 2009

Murphy's Law Applies Even in Rome and ESPECIALLY at The Vatican

I ALWAYS bring my camera with me. Except for these three times...and of course, these three times it would have been nice to be able to capture the moment. Because in these technological days, do things really happen if we don't record them? (I'll save that discussion for later.)

1) I was walking from campus to campus one day (JCU is split into two separate "campuses" and by "campus" they mean "building") when I realized I wasn't just walking past locals or parked cars. Approximately 100 men in tuxedos were walking town a Trastevere side street. To this day I have absolutely no idea where they were headed or where they were coming from, but they all looked good whatever they were doing. And I think they were speaking English, which is even stranger.

2) Today as I was walking to class, I stumbled upon a film crew rehearsing a scene outside of a Trastevere bar (In Italy a bar is just a cafe). I think it was Italian, but it was still a real film crew with a director and several cameras set up and guys holding big furry mics over the actors.

3) Here is where the "ESPECIALLY in The Vatican" part of the title comes from. I won't beat around the bush: I saw the Pope today. And not only that, he was only about 50 feet from me. It's the strangest story, too, and I wish I brought my camera with me to class today so I could show you. Ah well, my storytelling will have to be enough.

Right before my afternoon class Shannon called me from the Vatican. "I think the Pope is going to be here at 4" she said. I told her I had class until 3:30 but I would call her after and come up to see. I wasn't sure why the Pope would be out today, a Monday, Groundhog's Day in the States, but who knows.

After class I hiked up to The Vatican and found Shannon in a massive line in St. Peter's Square. We were crammed in the line between groups of nuns, priests, random tourists, and school kids and we had no idea what for...but then this lady handed us each a bright green piece of paper which we realized was our free ticket inside. The writing on it was Italian but we made out that this was a mass presided over by a cardinal and that the Pope would make an appearance at the end. We still didn't know what the special occasion was, though.

They filed us all in the basilica, which was all set up and looked different than it did when we came as tourists. The middle area was pretty much full so we were led to each side. (St. Peter's Basilica looks like a giant cross with the high altar in the middle where each section meets.) Our spot was seven rows back on the left side of the altar, which is closer than tourists can get on normal days. We waited as the church filled and I looked around at all of the nuns and priests and monks (there were random tourists/lay people too, but mostly it was religious). I don't know how many people were there, but it had to be a couple hundred.

The service started with the ringing of bells and we stood as the choir began singing. The entire thing was in Italian, but we had booklets to follow along and I found myself understanding most of it thanks to what little Italian I do know plus knowing how the mass goes in general.

After the mass finished, it got really quiet in the basilica. Then, people started clapping from the other side of the altar. Soon, we saw why: Pope Benedict XVI was making his way to the front. As he walked up to the altar he waved in every direction and the congregation all waved back. He looked so happy, all smiles and waving to everyone.

Then, from what Shannon and I could gather, he gave a blessing. Cameramen panned the congregation as the Papal Swiss Guard stood at attention all around the church. After his blessing, we clapped again and he walked out, through crowds of people cheering and snapping pictures.

It was quite possibly the weirdest experience of my life, considering how random it was. Shannon just wanted to check out confession at the Vatican and maybe get some more pictures and we ended up staying at the Vatican for mass in Italian and a blessing from the Pope--and of course neither of us had our cameras with us!

Back at the apartment, I translated the ticket to see what the mass was for: Feast of the Presentation of the Lord--World Day of Consecrated Life, Cardinal Franc Rode presiding. This feast, which always falls on February 2, 40 days after we celebrate Jesus' birth, is commonly called Candlemas because of the candlelight procession. So even though I have no pictures to document the day, I do have my votive candle from the procession as a souvenir, along with the free ticket and the program from the service.

Now I just have to start hanging out at the Vatican with my camera, waiting around for the next big feast day...

Sunday, February 1, 2009

Finally made it to the Vatican!

After our trek on Friday and then all of the walking we did yesterday, I actually crashed shortly before 11 last night. And when I woke up, it was to sore legs and a sore back. I guess that's to be expected after yesterday.

First, Shannon and I headed out fairly early to get to the Vatican before most of the tourists would get there. St. Peter's Square was as impressive as it was the day before, but yesterday we actually made it past the Papal Swiss Guard inside St. Peter's Basilica.

And wow. It's massive inside, with something on every surface, in every nook, around every corner. Michaelangelo and Bernini were the main architects but inside there is art from Michaelangelo, Raphael, Bernini, and lots of other artists. The first thing I noticed was La Pieta by Michaelangelo. The statue shows a young Mary holding the body of the crucified Jesus. There were other pietas (or lamentations as they are commonly called in English) before Michaelangelo's, but his is the only one showing such a youthful Mary. One of the theories (my favorite) is that we are seeing the young Mary holding the baby Jesus, and at the same time seeing the future and what the baby Jesus will become.

We continued around the basilica taking in the many paintings and side altars. Everything about the inside of the basilica is meant to take the visitor's breath away. Each dome has a mural painted or mosaic laid out and there are windows placed strategically so sunlight hits the marble floors at the right places. It was funny to see all the different tour groups walking through and snapping pictures. I wondered how many of the people came for the beauty of the place or just to say they've been there versus people who actually know what St. Peter's Basilica is and the history of it.

When we were there, there was actually a mass going on at one of the side altars. It looked like a pre-Vatican II mass as the priests and the congregation were both facing the same direction, but I couldn't tell if it was in Latin or Italian. Either way, it felt strange that these people were at mass and behind them were hundreds of tourists, some passing by and ignoring them and others gawking. There was also a part of the church sectioned off for confession and another side altar was strictly reserved for prayer--this one had a guard posted to remind people that no cameras were allowed.

The inside of St. Peter's Basilica was amazing, of course, but we weren't finished there. Next we paid 5 euro for the privilege to climb what seemed like a bajillion steps (okay, maybe it was only 550--but the last 320 are up a narrow, winding where if you stop, everyone stops so you have to keep climbing). We were rewarded, though, with one of the most amazing sites in Rome: the view from the cupola, on top of the dome. We saw the square below us, with all the little tourists rushing around taking pictures and on the other side we saw the Vatican Gardens, which are closed to the public so up on the dome is the only way possible for tourists to see them.

Our final stop on our Vatican tour was the Vatican Post Office, which I already love more than the Italian Post. Once I did try to buy stamps at a tabacchi and they were out. What kind of post office runs out of stamps? Turns out that was lucky because then I waited to buy stamps at the Vatican (because it's its own city-state you have to buy special Vatican stamps to send stuff from the Vatican). So I bought some stamps, put them on postcards, and dropped them in the cheery yellow box. And then I realized I never told the man I needed stamps for America...which means I had stuck European stamps on my postcards. I felt like an idiot, but I figured I would ask the man to see if there was anyway to fix it.

I told him my predicament and he sold me six more stamps to make up the difference, but there was still the problem of the postcards already being in the box. He asked me if I remembered the addresses and, because I'm turning into my father, I did. He was pretty amazed that I could recall nearly all of them (with the exception of a random zip code) and said that even just the names would suffice. So I wrote down everything I could remember, plus USA, and he set aside my list plus the extra stamps and said it would be fixed. I was speechless. This guy was really going to find my postcards and add the extra postage? That would NEVER happen in regular Italian post offices. I've only been here for three weeks, but that's long enough to know "customer service" means something different here than it does in America.

Tangent about customer service: our Italian professor has taught us a lot about daily living in Italy. Some of her best advice: do not tip Italians. She said to never tip them at supper or at the bar, which is one of the ways they know to con Americans. Apparently they get paid well enough and sometimes a gratuity is included in the bill. She also said that when you go into a store you need to ask permission to just look around. And when you want to see something, instead of picking it up like we do in America, we are supposed to ask a salesperson to open it for us (say it's a folded shirt, we should not touch it--the salesperson will unfold it for us). In the few stores I've stepped in I've felt very unwelcome. I don't know why, but I guess they consider it a privilege for you to be there? There's a huge cultural difference and I definitely felt culture shock then.

Okay, so back to the Vatican: it really is a blessed place if my postcards make it to America. Now I want to go back and mail more things just so I can see the man and thank him again!

Last night, after recuperating from the Vatican, Shannon and I decided to set out again in the opposite direction, this time to find Santa Susana. Santa Susana is an American church in Rome, but to get there took us about an hour, even with a tram ride. Of course, we did get a little turned around in the Piazza della Repubblica but after putting my simple Italian to use (dov'e Santa Susana?), a lady pointed us in the right direction.

Santa Susana felt like an oasis of English in the desert of Italian. Don't get me wrong, I love learning Italian especially in Italy and I think it's a beautiful language, but after a while my ears get tired and even hearing English with an Italian accent can be tiring. To hear American English for the better part of an hour was refreshing.

The sermon was great, too. Because the gospel was about Jesus getting rid of spirits I wondered what the priest would talk about. Luckily he said just what I needed to hear. Just because we don't talk about "demons" or "spirits" today doesn't mean we don't have them--we all have our own fears and things that are keeping us from living our life to the fullest. And his take was Christianity, by its very nature, is freedom from those fears.

All in all it was a successful day--we started with the birthplace of Christianity, the mecca of Roman Catholicism and ended with a modern American service. Here are my pictures of the Vatican. And what's in store for next week? So far the only thing I know is a trip to Circo Massimo for art history and boring boring stats. C'est la vie....oops, that's French. Cha la vita then.