Ciao i miei amici!
So the internet access thing hated me last week, but here is an extra-long post to make up for it. Lots of love from Orvieto,
Maria Louisa and Juanita have started giving salsa dancing lessons - whee! I missed the first one, unfortunately, but they assured me that I can get in on the next one and learn to salsa like a maniac. Actually, I’m not sure they know the word “maniac” in English, but that was the sense of what they said.
Schoolwork is, unfortunately, beginning to pile up on me as well. The big research paper is due in two weeks exactly, and I have a lot of Italian vocab and writing exercises to do this week, not to mention a translation due next week. I’m trying to sit down and be diligent, but it is hard when there are so many fun things to do and so many fun people to talk to. And now that we’ve started doing weekend trips, the work time I’ve got is pretty drastically reduced. But who wants to do homework over a weekend trip to Padua and Venice? Seriously.
I’m also sick now, which makes me sleep a lot and not get much done. I guess I could, actually, get more done. Theoretically. If I could keep from falling asleep all the time.
Orvieto has changed my senior honors project thesis. I hope, I desperately hope, that it is good enough to get someone to advise it... and I’m even crazy enough to hope that it’s Professor Perrin who advises it. That would be pretty much the most rocking thing ever.
We arrived in Padua on Friday afternoon, after an early start and a 4 hour train ride. Intense! I think that’s the farthest away we have to travel, though, so that’s good. Any longer would get ludicrous for a weekend trip! We stayed at the Casa dell Pellegrino, or Pilgrim’s House, which is huge and echoing and full of people making pilgrimages. It was nice not to have to worry about how much hot water I was using for once.
After we dropped our stuff off at the hotel, we went on a walking tour of Padua (walking tours are one of Skillen’s favorite activities, if you haven’t gathered that by now). We ended up in this academic square, which was flipping amazing. Not that the square was amazing, so much; it just so happened that we arrived in the middle of a Paduan graduation ceremony, which we’d heard about but never expected to see. Graduates wear a wreath or crown of laurel leaves, and then are made to run through a gauntlet of slapping hands a couple of times (and then they’re fed an olive - who knows why!). Then the friends and family of the graduate make them stand on a podium or high curb, and present them with a profane and absurd poem written in their honor on a huge piece of posterboard, complete with caricatures of the students. The graduate has to read the poem out loud, and then chug a bottle of champagne (Katie and I want to replicate the festivities for Elena’s graduation, all except the chugging a bottle of champagne bit). It was really, really hilarious. Very often the graduates are also made to put on a goofy coat or hat or something, too. Laura tells us that the posterboard with the poems on it and the laurel wreaths are kept as prized possessions for the graduate’s whole life.
Friday night Marlene initiated my first-ever bar experience. This semester, obviously, is going to be full of firsts. We spent forever trying to find a place for dinner. I mean, we must have walked at least an hour and a half. And then we had to settle for pizza again. Everything else is just really flipping expensive, and we’re most definitely on student budgets. Then we walked around for like an hour because Marlene wanted to find the best place to have a drink, and finally we all just got tired and went into this place not far from the hotel. It actually ended up being a really nice place, despite the obligatory group of sketchy Italian men standing around outside (I swear, we can’t go past a guy without him checking out someone’s bum, usually Elena’s). Our barista was totally cool, and told us all about the kind of drinks favored by the Paduan college students, and we tried some, and they were good. Not as good as this coconut-tasting thing Marlene got, but good.
I have a little rule for myself regarding drinking. It’s called a one-drink rule. It’s working pretty well for me so far. I get to go out and have fun at bars with my friends and try different drinks, but I’m still at the maximum alertness level to deal with a foreign country (and a language, which, admittedly, I butcher). I’ve also, in recognition of my status as an alcoholic light-weight, developed some personal codes about always having a full stomach, and avoiding things like vodka and whiskey.
I’m letting you all know this because I have a feeling there are going to be some funny stories this semester regarding tipsy students, and I want to be able to tell them without anyone worrying (I know I’m breaking pretty much every Protestant church code of behavior, and that someone is bound to get worried I’m turning into an alcoholic). For instance, if I had to censor myself about going into bars, I would be unable to tell you all that Jeff, apparently, gets giggly once he’s had a few drinks. Elena develops an asian glow, but she’s so ridiculous all the time, I have a feeling it would be hard to tell if she ever got tipsy. I felt like it was funny that I was the roommate who was out at a bar until one in the morning. Not the role that I ever expected to play. I feel like, though, I would be hard pressed to find a better group of people to have my first bar experience with. And there are definitely sketchier places to have it in.
The weirdest thing about the bar was the ages of the people there. I mean, there was the whole range, from fifteen year-olds to late middle-age. I was so weirded out at first, but then I thought about it a little more. And you know what? If bars in America were places frequented by people like your little siblings and your parents, the whole drinking atmosphere would get a hell of a lot more responsible.
There’s a little bit of interpersonal drama going on here, but I think we’ve been handling it pretty well so far. There’s also a little medical drama going on here, what with literally half the group being sick with something right now, and Maria Louisa having a more serious doctor’s appointment on Friday that caused her and Juanita to join the group later. Maria Louisa is only 17, which I feel might be a little young for a trip like this. Juanita is 19, and very mature, so she ends up taking care of Maria Louisa a lot (and they’re the two really fluent Spanish speakers as well, so I guess it makes sense for them to team up). Alexis thinks she has bronchitis, and her parents think she has walking pneumonia, so she’s going to the doctor tomorrow. As much as Italy is full of crazy fun stuff, it still has viruses and group stress, so keep us in mind!
We also made a day trip to Venice over the weekend, since it’s just half an hour from Padua. It was interesting. I think I like Padua better, honestly, but we had fun. We ended up getting lost about five times. Thank goodness for Marlene, who has both a sense of direction and the ability to read a map! She also understands enough Italian to understand directions, not just ask for them, which is pretty rocking. Towards the end of the trip things got crazy, about when we were finally headed back to the train station to go back to Padua for the night (we left at around 9 p.m.). Somehow we fell in with these four Russians, who had probably had a few drinks. Juanita, Marlene, and Elena were being their usual crazy selves, and they started running and jumping and whooping through the streets. The Russians joined in, and whistled and chanted the directions to the train station, and it was so nuts. The streets were mostly empty at that point (Venice actually only has a stable population of maybe 60,000, when it could hold probably three times that amount. So most of the shop owners go home at night, and the crowds during the day are mostly tourists), so it was just us having a crazy race. Then, at one point, Juanita decides that she should start waving to all the people in the cafes we pass - so they start whistling and shouting “ciao,” and yelling. Oh man, it was nuts. Definitely not the kind of thing I would start, but I figure I might as well enjoy it if I’m caught up in it already. =)
We also got to visit the Guggenheim museum in Venice. I think that was my favorite part. Apparently Peggy Guggenheim (who I learned slept with about every male artist ever) had a house in Venice, and her ashes are there next to her dogs’ ashes (she had like twelve and treated them like her kids). The museum is kind of small, being in her house, but it was stuffed full of amazing stuff. We spent a very happy two hours there. It was great to just see some modern art for once. Renaissance is all very well and good - I’m perfectly aware that it’s sophisticated and symbolic and whatever, but all of the churches we’ve seen so far combined couldn’t equal the emotion in one of the Pollock pieces we saw. I guess, if nothing else, this semester is teaching me that (as much as I feel claustrophobic in modern art museums sometimes) my feet land squarely in a place of loving modern art. I’m going to have to treasure that little bit of modernity, I have a feeling, because I don’t think we’ll have the chance to see much more of it this semester. Just more tombs and frescos. = /
Sunday morning we went to mass at the church near the Casa Dell Pellegrino. It was nice. This Sunday I understood twice as much as last Sunday, even if it still only amounted to like 10 words. Then we found our way to a park market, and everyone else shopped while I sat in the park and wrote for a while. I really needed that! It was great to just sit in the sun and process things. I was approached by two Italian Jehovah’s witnesses, though, and one creepy guy. I’m not talking the typical Italian stare-at-Elena’s-bum creepy, I’m talking creepy. Good thing I have that death-stare down pat (as Mom is forever reminding me), and am great at pretending to be deaf (I do it in lectures all the time). The Jehovah’s witnesses were actually nice people, but they spoke no English whatsoever, and I only caught a few sentences of Italian. So they went away and sat down a couple yards to my right and started praying (probably for my soul. And they didn’t even know I’d been to a bar the night before). Who knew that the language barrier could work in my favor? I don’t have the heart to be rude to people who are actually sincere, so I felt relieved to escape an awkward conversation.
Also, Juanita and I discovered that we have the same birthday! Isn’t that crazy? I’m exactly, to the day, two years older than she is. That is pretty much cool.
Today, Monday, is the feste di San Giuseppe. That is, the feast of Saint Joseph (Mary’s husband, who, according to Catholic dogma, never ever had sex with her ever in the whole course of their lives, because she gave birth to God. I am learning all kinds of weird things for this Mary research paper.), who is the patron saint of Orvieto. So the schools got a holiday, and the stores all closed, and they had some kind of procession tonight of his statue from one church to another. I sort of slept through the festival mass, though, and then decided that since I’m sick and it was pouring rain I was not going to go to the party afterwards. We’ll see whether I end up regretting missing that cultural event or not, but I have a feeling I just really needed that three-hour nap to get over this cold crap.
I’m thinking of cutting my hair really short. Really really short. But I kind of feel like I would regret it later. Maybe I’ll dye part of it blue? I feel like I’ve been talking about doing that since I was graduating high school, and never got around to it. Maybe Italy is making me crazy, and that’s why I have the urge to make some drastic change to my appearance. = ) I definitely feel like I need to disassociate myself from being quite so much myself right now. How fast does one get over culture shock? (It’s interesting, the crazy stuff they get away with here in terms of style. In the bigger cities, they have half their hair chopped off, and some of it braided, and bits here and there dyed crazy colors. I love their shorts, though. Much more modest than ours.)
So this has been freaking long, but a lot of stuff is going on. Next weekend is the Florence trip, so probably there will be a lot more forthcoming. I don’t seem to be able to help it, once I get started. It must be the English major in me. Hopefully reading all that wasn’t too arduous. You can take it in stages, or something. = )
P.S. It is now Tuesday, and I am so wildly, shiningly happy to be me that I am forgetting all thoughts of cutting my hair short. I may still dye it at some point in time, but maybe not for a while yet. I think sleeping twelve hours yesterday has put me well on the way toward recovery from this cold. And I’ve got to keep this brief, because I’ve got a resounding load of homework to deal with. But you know what? It’s gonna be OK, and I’m gonna get it done and make it good and make it work. So there. = D
So, I didn’t get internet access last week to send you my e-mails and updates! Sorry! Suddenly everything exploded, and I couldn’t make it work. Hopefully this week will be better, although we have a huge image identification test on Thursday, and our big paper is due next week, so we’ll see how much free time I end up having to go in search of internet. Alexis is on a promising lead, though - there might be a coffee shop where you can get coffee and free internet for as long as you need, which would be by far the best deal in town if it’s true. If that works out, I may find it easier to keep in touch in the next couple of weeks, despite yet another time change, this time in Italy. The time difference between here and Alabama is now 7 hours again, and the time difference between here and Messiah is 6. Ah, well. The 5 hour difference was nice while it lasted.
We went to Florence (and briefly stopped in Arezzo) this past weekend. It was a good trip, although by far the most trying one as far as I’m concerned. I had to room with two people who really get on my nerves, so that was trying. And I think my personality is just not one which travels well. I find it stressful, and I really need time to sit and just be quiet for a little every day; not something that’s available on these weekend trips. But! I have cool friends, and we had picnic dinners every night on the floor of our hostel rooms, and we went to markets and walked through the rain and saw churches (Lord, the amount of churches we’ve seen!), and we climbed to the top of Brunelleschi’s dome at the Florence duomo, which was amazing. I think I’m going to develop an obsession with climbing to the tops of things after this semester! Every time there has been something to climb it has been so worth it, so beautiful... so breathtaking. Even if I don’t like to stand too close to the edge. = )
I am not sure what else to tell you - life here continues to be good, despite those minor irritations and stresses. A lot of people are undergoing relationship drama and trauma while they’re here, so I’m glad to be standing in an unworried place. I can’t believe that we have been here a month already! In one way it’s been long, and I can remember packing a lot in, but at the same time... I mean, where the heck did it go? We will be in Orvieto for only two more months and about two weeks. And then two weeks of traveling and back in the U.S. It sounds like a long time, but I have a feeling that it won’t be. There’s plenty to fill up all that space - so many possibilities! I’m trying work out if I can do weekend travel during the semester, or whether I will need to just save my money for the two weeks at the end of the semester. It sounds like we’ll be going to Bosnia, Croatia, and Greece. How fabulous does that sound? I’m so ridiculously excited that I can’t even say. I don’t even know where to start with figuring out specific things to do, but at least we have country goals! = )
This Thursday at 2 is my phone interview for the summer/school year job at Messiah, so be praying for me... I really, ridiculously, want to get that job. It’s time I got some actual writing experience. And it would solve the problem of hunting for a summer job when I get back, which is just really stressful. If I have something assured for when I get back, I just feel like the transition into the summer will be so much better overall, even though I won’t be at home, which will be bizarre, and I will have to do some serious quick packing and moving up to PA when I get back. I don’t know. Either way will probably be stressful. I just think that in the long term it would pay off to have that experience with the publications office. Particularly if I’m thinking of supporting myself with an English/editing job while pursuing a grad school degree (whether that ends up being art or english I still haven’t the faintest clue).
Whew! Life is complicated! And busy! So I’m going to go and work on my Mary paper for a while before I get brief internet access to send this collected chronicle to you. I’m feeling much better, although I still have a cough and some congestion, but I’m encouraged by the fact that after a week I’m improving. My roommate Alexis has been sick for three weeks now, and even the antibiotics the doctor gave her last week didn’t make any improvement, so she’s getting worried now, and is going back again this week. It’s just a little complicated because the doctor speaks no English, and Laura doesn’t always translate into Italian accurately from English, etc. There are literally only 5 out of 20 people who aren’t sick with something right now, so keep us in mind! It’s pretty nutty.