Monday, September 20, 2010

Trying To Be Italian...Part I: La Bella Figura

One of the first things I learned about Italian culture is that no self respecting Italian would ever be caught in sweatpants in public. This is because Italians put a lot of stock into what they call La Bella Figura. During orientation, our teachers translated it into dressing for success all the time. But it's more than that. It's your clothes, but also they way you carry yourself and your attention to etiquette. Here, the way one walks down the street represents how he or she wants to be perceived. So, no Italian would roll out of bed and head off to run errands. From teenagers to seniors, they put time and thought into their appearances. It is not at all odd to see a little old lady in heels. And the same standard is set for men and women. The grungy, scruffy look doesn't fly here. Wearing jeans around your ass and exposing your underwear doesn't fly here -- not unless you want everyone to think you're a bum. And they will think that. An American walking down an street in Rome would notice two things. One, unlike American streets, there are no casual salutations or smiles to strangers. Two, Romans stare. They don't mean to be rude, they're just trying to figure you out. Do her shoes go with her purse? Where could she be from -- she's definitely not Italian. Oh, they must be foreign, probably from Milan...* It can get very intimidating because no one wants to make a Brutta Figura. One makes a Brutta Figura when they don't follow decorum, in dress or behavior. For instance, in the Italian language, there is the informal 'you' and the formal 'you.' To use the informal when the formal is necessary is to make a Brutta Figura. Even to say 'ciao' to someone older than yourself is to make a Brutta Figura. It's a lot to take in, especially for American students who tend to throw 'ciao' around like nobody's business.

So far, I have learned tons of little things like this about the culture. I'll probably tell you about all of the at some point. But, now, I have to get some sleep. I don't want to make a Brutta Figura in the morning....

*I do know that Milan is in Italy. But, Italy wasn't a unified country until 1861, so it is still relatively young. Before that, each region was autonomous. Today, they still have their own foods, wines, and norms, so to a Roman, someone from Milan is a foreigner. Interesting, huh? I can't wait to tell you the rest!

Sunday, September 19, 2010

What a Slacker...

To all those who have been following my adventures abroad, i'm truly sorry that i have been slacking. it was a combination of lack of internet, lack of time, and laziness. a lot has happened over the past couple weeks. i'll give you the highlights....

uno: todi
as you know, i got to my residence without incident. the pizza party on the night of our arrival officially kicked off welcome week. we had orientation, got to meet some teachers, and had a couple day trips. one was to the medieval hill village of todi. todi is in the region of umbria. it was about an hour ride from rome, through some of the most beautiful landscapes italy has to offer. the day trip had two parts -- a couple hours in todi and a extravagant four hour lunch in a castle not too far away. todi was amazing! the views were breathtaking and the town was full of adorable shops and gorgeous churches. my friends and i walked around for a couple hours and all decided that a single afternoon was not nearly enough.

although, i must admit that i was not saddened to move on to the huge lunch we had been promised. the castle was about forty minutes from todi. to get there, our skilled bus driver had to wind back and forth up a mountain. every couple minutes, we would think we'd arrived, only to be disappointed. but, trust me, it was worth the wait. when we got to the charming castle, we were given an array of pizzettas. these alone were enough to fill me up, but once we got inside, we were served course after course of amazing food. there was sliced prosciutto, a cheese pastry, risotto, venison, pasta topped with wild boar, chicken or lamb, salad, tiramisu,and biscotti,all with wine on the side of course. it was the most amazing meal i have ever experienced. many students around me were pacing themselves and eating in moderation. but i couldn't help myself -- i ate everything that was put in front of me. thank you, temple rome!

due: roomies

when i originally got to the residence, i was assigned to room 62, which i told you all about. it was great and i really liked all of my roommates, but we all soon realized that i mostly hung out with the girls downstairs. meanwhile, one of the girls downstairs mostly hung out with my roommates in 62. well, that doesn't really make we switched. i moved in with beth, laura, and jess. it's actually really perfect because the four of us are together most of the time anyway.

(my former roomie lori, me, jess, and laura)

tre: classes
this semester is the first time that i did some major schedule reconstruction after classes began. i originally had five classes, then i dropped down to four before switching out one for another. so now i'm taking italian, italian cinema, sociology, and art history. its really exciting because half of my classes are really different from what i usually take. i have never taken art history or sociology. so far, my favorite class is italian cinema. we're watching tons of awesome movies and talking about how they reflect the culture. basically, it's perfect. art history is a close second. it's fascinating! i love learning the stories behind the paintings, and how to recognize the work of different artists. at this point, we have learned about caravaggio and annibale carracci.

(left-- caravaggio...right--carracci)

quattro: la sapienza
la sapienza is the university of rome. last friday, gianni, temple rome student adviser and la sapienza alumnus, took us there and showed us around. when you arrive, the first thing you realize is that the campus is really really ugly. it was built during facism and looks like it. all the buildings look like stone boxes. in america, it might not be so bad, but in rome, were embellishment is the norm, its horrible. as we walked through the campus, gianni told us all about the italian university. there are about 250,000 students at la sapienza. because there are so many, there is not enough room in the classrooms and most students to not attend class. instead, they study the material at home. they have to learn a dozen books inside and out before they can take the oral exam to pass the class. this is why it takes many students about ten years to finish completely. it's crazy! being a university student in italy is so much more difficult than being a college student in the states. by the time we left, i was thanking God that i was not enrolled at la sapienza. we went into the classics building. in the basement, there was an awesome museum filled with replicas of ancient statues. that was definitely my favorite part.

(ugly buildings.....gianni in front of the la sapienza statue)

(awesome museum)

well thats about it for now. i'll post again soon -- i promise! until then, ciao!

Friday, September 3, 2010

Medaglie d'Oro

Today was my first day as a study abroad student. I had breakfast at the Beehive before taking a cab to the residence. The Residence Medaglie d'Oro is a four-building complex. Most of the Temple students are in building D. My room is on the fifth floor. It is an apartment with two double rooms, a living area and a kitchenette. It actually a lot bigger than I had expected. When I arrived, two of my apartment-mates were already settled in. Their names are Brittany and Lori. They both seem really nice. And just a few minutes after I started unpacking, Ali, my roommate, arrived. Both Alexandras -- weird! She seems super cool. After settling in, we met Ali's friend Anastasia and her roommate Laura. Turns out Laura and I have lived on the same floor for the past two years and never new it. Small world....The six of us decided to find something to eat. We ended up at this little cafe for a snack. I got focacce with cheese and arugula. It was so good! I think this place will become a popular spot for us.

Two of my friends from Philadelphia, Jimmy and Beth, were coming to Rome. I couldn't wait to find them, but I had no way of getting in touch. I didn't know what room they were in and American phones are useless here, so I just had to wait until I bumped into them. Fortunately, Jimmy had another idea. He went to the porter, found out what room I was in and came up. It was so good to see him again! And I was so excited to see a familiar face. We also met his roommate Gustavo. Later that day, Temple Rome had organized a pizza party for all the new students, so we met up with Anastasia and Laura to walk over. We also met their other roommate Jess and learned that their fourth was none other than my friend Beth. Che perfetto!

The walk from the residence to school is about forty minutes. It a nice walk -- just straight through a fairly residential area and over the bridge. When we got there, we met the dean and had some pizza. Afterward, Jimmy and I walked to the Spanish Steps for some gelato. From there we walked to the Vatican and back to the residence. I love the Vatican a night. During the day, not so much, but at night the statues look more profound somehow, and the lack of tourists make it quite a serene place.

Awesome first day, Temple Rome...

My First Day as an Adult, and I Spill My Sprite

This morning, Sam woke me up at 4am and we took a cab to the airport. As to be expected, it was basically dead when we arrived. The counter at which Sam could check in hadn’t even opened yet, so we waited. There was a McDonalds and Chef Express across from where we were waiting. Sam and I sat watching the women open the gate and ready the restaurant slowly. Too slowly indeed and after Sam checked in, we had to find something else. The only thing that was open was a small café, so we got some food and then went to security.

It was so difficult to say goodbye to Sam knowing I wouldn’t see her for months. Our trip was so amazing, probably one of the best thing either of us will ever do. And it was perfect because it kicked off two very important times in our lives – Sam is about to start several amazing projects and finish her master’s degree, while I would soon be living in a foreign country. I’m so glad we could share it, and I can’t believe that I would be able to see her until December. I watched Sam go through security, dried my teary eyes, and headed towards the trains back to the hotel. As I walked away, I thought that, now that I was alone, I would learn independence and finally become a real adult. I mean, look how well I maneuvered the airport…I found the trains just fine. Sadly, none left until 7am, which meant that I had to occupy myself for an hour in a nearly deserted airport. I went through the terminals and found almost nothing and the WiFi wasn’t free, so boredom came quickly. I looked through the bookstore DVD section. It was funny to see the different titles for movies.

("Love doesn't take Vacation" "Frankenstein Jr" "I hate you, I'm leaving you...")

Finally, I got on the train to go back to the hotel. I showered and went to the café for some breakfast. After breakfast, I watched some TV, then decided it wasn’t good to stay in all day – that’s not was an adult would do. So, I went shopping. One big department store in Rome is Upim. Hoping it was something like Macy’s, I headed towards their Trevi Fountain location. It was supposed to be on Via Tritone. Well, I walked up, down, and sideways on Via Tritone and no Upim. But no worries, I ended up sitting on the Spanish Steps and getting some ananas (Pineapple) gelato before going back to the hotel.

Then, I napped, blogged, and had a cheese plate and a glass of wine. Then, I again thought I should go out, so I decided to give shopping a try again. I wanted to go to this mall we’d found on Via del Corso, so I walked there by way of Piazza Venezia. On my way there, I stopped and bought a poster of a scnene from La Dolce Vita. It’s a picture of the Trevi Fountain scene. It’s Rome, specifically the Trevi Fountain, and a movie. Perfetto! Then I went to Piazza Venezia to go to the mall. Except that it wasn’t there. Crap. I changed my plans and instead decided to see the Coliseum at night.

It was great. It changed from the day time. Obviously, it’s always amazing. In the daytime, It’s epic and historical and you can imagine people thousands of years ago walking on the same cobblestones you walk on today. At night, the Coliseum is majestic and timeless. With a fraction of the people, it was serene. Thank God I don’t have to leave this…

I have an extreme prejudice against going to restaurants and eating alone. So, I decided to get McDonalds on the way back to the hotel. I know what you’re thinking – in Rome and eating McDonalds? But there are McDonalds everywhere here, so real Romans must eating it fairly often. When in Rome! So I went to Mickey D’s. I was going to bring it back to the Beehive, but then I realized I’d be bring my McNuggets into the all-vegetarian, all-organic hippie hotel. Half of me thought it disrespectful and tactless. Half of me was afraid they’d make me wear a red C on my shirt for carnivore. So I ate in. As I was sitting down, I misjudged the height of the table. I saw my sprite teetering and then SPLOOSH!

Fantastic! My first day as a full-fledged adult, and I failed to find the store, took a nap and spilled my sprite. Maybe this would be harder than I thought. Tomorrow I move into my dorms, which will be an ordeal in itself. Hopefully, I’ll be more adult about it….

I Just Want to be the Goblin King from Labyrinth

Today, Sam and I again decided to take it easy. So, we had breakfast at the café and then went back to the room and watched a couple of episodes of The OC, mimicking SoapNet’s “Breakfast in Bed.” Then, we decided to have lunch real Rome style, meaning at a small café. I had read in my Italy guidebook that there was a cute, La Dolce Vita bar near the hotel, so I excitedly suggested it. I looked it up on Google Maps and found that it was only four minutes away. Perfect! So we were off…

About ten minutes into our journey, I realized that I had neglected to change the direction setting from driving to walking, so the bar was actually four minutes away by car. To add to it, we were entering a dodgy neighborhood. Nonetheless, I kept my mouth shut and continued because Fromer’s had told me this was a great place, and when it comes to travel information, I trust Fromer’s. So we continued to get lost (because the directions led to where the metaphorical car was supposed to park, not the restaurant) and the neighborhood grew increasingly lacking. Finally we found the place – or the shell of the place. The neon sign remained, but that was it – no tables, no counter, and certainly no food. The buildings around it were covered in graffiti. Why, Fromer? Why?

So we switched plans and went to a café closer to the hotel. After that, we relaxed and watched some TV before going out for the night. For our last dinner in Rome, we went to the place we had had our first dinner in Rome five years ago – Piazza Navona. After comparing the prices of several different restaurants, we ended up at the Café Neptune. Sam got lasagna and tortellini, while I chose the ravioli with ricotta and spinach in butter. It was perfect! The food was great and as we ate, people milled around outside and several street musicians played in front of the restaurant. We finished the meal with chocolate cake and tiramisu. It was the perfect way to end our vacation.

After we were done, Sam and I walked around the piazza. One side of the fountain, dozens of artists displayed their landscapes and portraits. On the other side, there were people spray-painting pictures with an audience of on-lookers. Several of these crowds gathered around different artists throughout the piazza. There were also a few living statues. In addition, Sam and I watched a little bit of an Israeli glass orb dancer’s (I’m not sure that’s his official title) show. What he did was a type of interpretive dance as he twirled a glass orb around. Sam and I wondered if he had seen David Bowie in Labyrinth as a child and resolved not to quit until he had skills like the Goblin King.

Sam and I wondered a bit, fitting in ample sit and soak-in time. Then, we went back to the Beehive, arranged for a 4am taxi and packed Sam up. I can’t believe this is over tomorrow…