Hello my loves!
Once again it’s time for a substantial update from Italia. I find myself already dissociating from living here with the knowledge that the end is coming in a matter of days - the countdown is in single digits. I mean, probably it’s sad, but I’ve accepted the inevitability of leaving, and I doubt that I will have much trouble saying goodbye, especially in light of having such an exciting summer planned. Oh, the countdown to the end of the program? Six days.
Katie, Elena and I go into the studio and have long conversations together before we even start working - it’s great quality time to spend with my future roommates, and I love it. Just the three of us, in a semester where solitude has been decidedly hard to find, in the early-morning cool in the shade of the garage. By now the stiff cloth of the gloves has molded to fit our working positions, and the chisels fit easily in the curve of our fingers, so we sit on top of our workstations fiddling with them and swinging our legs as we discuss - whatever. Yesterday we had a conversation about saying goodbye. It turns out that I am the only one who refuses to look back or wave after I’ve already said goodbye in airports. I just think it’s better that way. I’ve said goodbye, and there’s no use prolonging that goodbye a few more minutes. I’m leaving and that’s that. Odd? Or reasonable?
On Thursday, I walked back alone from San Paulo (the new convent, where sculpting class is held) to San Ludovico (the old convent, where we currently live). I had my head down, and I really walked fast. It was almost lunch-time, and the usual Spring thunderclouds were glowering over the roof of the duomo. Imagine my surprise, then, when a little old lady with short frizzed out hair (wearing the nearly universal garb of elderly Italian women. . . a black knee-length skirt, a floral shirt, and a black jacket) interrupted my charge and rattled off (in Italian, very quickly), some unintelligible paragraph involving much gesticulating towards her head and ending in the query: “c’e mercoledi o giovedi oggi?” Oh. . . I thought, she wants to know if today is Wednesday or Thursday? What? So I smiled politely and breathed a sigh of relief that I did, in fact, know what day it was (sometimes, I admit, I haven’t got a clue) and replied, “Giovedi.” “Gratzie!” she smiled very widely and toddled off down the road, eminently pleased that it was, in fact, a Thursday afternoon.
I don’t know if I am vaguely recognizable as someone who knows their way around or what, but several people have come up to me in the street lately to ask directions (I expect you’re saying: heaven help them! Mackenzie can’t find her way out of a paper bag!). In one way it makes me happy to have someone stop me and rattle off Italian and expect me to understand. What pleases me even more? When I can actually give them correct directions! I know it’s a shocking thought, but several times I’ve been able to help people find l’ascensori, or the wall, or the duomo, or just the public W.C. Entertaining, no?
There’s a huge group of Germans here this week. And by huge I mean. . . well, there are 15 or 20 of them, led by an imposing woman the nuns refer to simply as “la signora.” It’s really very much like a spy novel, actually. “La gruppa di la signora,” Therese pulled me into the corner of the refettorio and whispered to me, “dunque non metti questi su tutti i tavoli.” (“The group of the signora, so don’t put these on all of the tables.”) I nodded gravely and sprang to do Therese’s bidding (all the while wishing I had some sweet spy gear, like explosion-making devices). The most extraordinary measures have to be taken, too, so that we do not disturb the Germans during their noon meal, while still somehow managing to clean up after our own, and everything must be on time. The german signora is, in fact, at least six feet tall, has very fierce dark eyebrows and honey-colored hair (clearly dyed over grey) and wears very flowing, loose floral robes. While I could easily imagine her leading a cavalry charge (floral robes flapping in the wind like arabic costumes), it’s absurd to see her every morning leading the Germans in singing exercises, which she does with commendable regularity. Sometimes they inhabit the courtyard, sometimes they inhabit the narrow piano room, but they always begin the day by singing (and every meal is heralded by some sort of song). One morning they were holding hands in a circle and singing with great gusto. This morning, they were practicing chords. Some of the visiting Americans pulled me aside in the refettorio yesterday morning and asked me, “are the nuns having services? Is that why there’s singing?” No, I wanted to respond, There are only three nuns, and none of them are men, so that military air you’re hearing could not possibly be the nuns at their morning services. But instead I said: “The nuns do have a service at 7:30, I think, but that’s actually a group of German tourists.”
As you can see, I’ve been quite good at subduing my internal monologue lately.
This is probably terrible to admit, but I love waking up without Alexis in the room. Today, for instance, her alarm went off only twice, and she got up very early to prepare presents for her family (she’s leaving chocolate and flowers in their rooms for when they arrive - how sweet is that?). So I stayed in bed until she’d finished showering, blow-drying her hair, and all of that jazz. Just so that I could have some time to myself in the room this morning, with the Germans’ singing coming through the windows, just looking at the clear blue sky and the swarms of swallows swooping around catching - well, whatever it is that swallows catch and eat. It put me in a heck of good mood.
There has been some interesting grading controversy lately. I can’t really join in, because, due to kitchen duty cleaning up after the mysteriously musical Germans, I didn’t get my grade for woodblock printing from Skills like everyone else. Skills is kind of hard to catch lately - he’s busy with some conference and moving the program and stuff like that - so, several days later, I still don’t know my grade. In any case, several students feel upset about their grades, for varying reasons. Some people feel that they should have gotten A’s, because they tried really hard.
Well that, my friends, strikes me as a ridiculously naive demand. I don’t even go into my major courses expecting A’s just because I work really hard - and I do work really hard! To expect to go into a class where you know nothing whatsoever about the subject matter or skills required and get an A because you tried hard is absurd. Particularly when work ethic or effort aren’t even on the grading rubric. Get over it.
Secondly, some people are upset because supposedly all the art majors in the class got A’s and all the non-art majors got B’s. Well. First of all, they can’t possibly even know that, because Alexis and I still haven’t gotten our grades. Nor did the person making the accusations have any idea what kind of grades Katie or Elena made (and we’re three of the four art majors in the class!). Secondly, Knipps was pretty generous with grades all around I feel. The primary plaintiff in this case, if I had been the professor, would have failed the class. Most of the other non art majors? They’d have gotten C’s. A few would have gotten B+’s. I hate that they’re complaining about their grades - if they had any idea, they’d take those grades, shut up and be thankful. And if he extends to the art majors the same kind of grace he extended to the non-art majors, well, that’s fair, and you’re concerned about fairness, yes? I hardly think they could look at the work involved and not admit that the work of the art majors was a cut above everyone else’s - just because we’ve had so much practice doing what we do, and we have a little more conceptual sophistication. Thirdly, three of the four art majors in the class way exceeded the requirements of the project in service of their concept. We had more images than required by the syllabus, we had more color images than required by the syllabus, we had way more double and triple-block prints than required by the syllabus, we made the effort to cut all of our text ourselves rather than pasting in computer-printed text.
But, all in all, the controversy is really just entertaining. I think we all needed something to occupy our minds beyond the fact that the semester is ending. And this controversy provides an opportunity for everyone to be righteously indignant in their own way, and discuss fervently the stupidity of everyone else with their own particular set of close friends. Welcome to convent life! Let’s give it one big last hurrah of gossip before we all leave!
Last night was a good night. We decided to do the tourist-y thing in Orvieto one last time and go see “Orvieto sotteranea,” a tour all about the Etruscan caves/cellars/dovecotes under our very feet. We’d have made Skills proud. Because of the great education he gave us about Orvieto, when the guide asked us what these rooms full of square holes in the walls were for, everyone else yelled out “wine!” and we yelled out “pigeons!” The other groups laughed at us, but we were right!
Our tour guide’s accent was atrocious, by the way. Katie couldn’t look at anyone else while she was talking, or she’d bust out laughing. I’m not sure if it was the strange places where she put the emphasis, or the fact that it sounded like she’d very carefully copied the accent of someone who spoke English in a very southern way (so that the Italian and southern accents did some totally bizarre meld of sounds) or if it was just the quick way that she repeated words over and over and over and over at the end of sentences. In any case, it was hysterical. I wish that I could duplicate it for you.
We all just chilled on the couches in the sala that night, talking and listening to Megan’s collection of Dane Cook comedy routines. Jeff gave us hand massages, because we’re all so freaking sore (Katie and I have been giving each other hand massages, but our hands are so sore that to massage someone else’s hands is kind of a conundrum). He gives good hand massages. I sort of fell asleep, though, while he was massaging my hand, and had to be woken up to go to bed. Stone carving really is just exhausting, and not only physically. The effort of focusing on something so tedious all day is pretty sucky. I can’t wait until it’s done - only five more days! Whee!
Speaking of countdowns: Greg is coming in two days.
The latest topic of speculation and drama, besides grading, is the difficulties of packing our suitcases. Hmm. It’s a difficulty indeed. More pressing, however, to my mind, is the question: what to do about the last two souvenirs I need to buy? And how am I going to live out of a backpack for two weeks? How frugal do I need to be in those last two weeks? What happened to my calculator?
Tune in next time, at this same time, at this same place, for the answers to these pressing questions and more.