Wednesday, February 29, 2012

Prendo L'autobus Sbagliato

This afternoon I attempted to go to Acquacalda to teach English to my rowdily wonderful 4th graders, like I do every Wednesday. But it turns out that the road to Acquacalda is much more tricky than I thought, and I ended up going on an accidental adventure instead.

Ari and I arrive at Piazza del Sale a few minutes before our bus was due, with tickets in hand, and lesson plan ready - so far, so good. Our bus was running a little late, so as soon as Ari and I see a bus 5, we jump on... who cares that it was technically at the bus stop 10 yards down the street - they're really just the same bus stop, right? I mean, a 5 is a 5, right? Right?!

Approximately 2 minutes into the ride, Ari wonders out loud if we are on the right bus, since our route seems to be different. However, we quickly see familiar streets, so we go back to chatting and generally ignoring our whereabouts. 15 minutes into the bus ride, I look out the window and notice that we are most definitely not in a suburban area of Siena, nor are we 5 minutes away from Acquacalda school. Nope. We are in the country, surrounded by rolling green and brown hills. Hmm.

"Ari? Look out the window. We don't normally come this way, do we?"

Ari looks out the window, and smiles in bafflement and bemusement. "No. Did we get on the wrong bus? How are we in the country?"

We definitely got on the 5, but we most certainly did not go to Acquacalda. Instead, we took a nice little 45 minute jaunt to San Piero, 12 km away from Siena, or in other words, way out in the boonies, heading into Chianti.

Signpost at the end of the line - oh hey Siena, why so far away?

When the bus gets to the end of the line, Ari and I are the only people left on the bus, and the bus driver looks back at us, knowing fully well that we are dumb Americans. "Sbagliato, regazze?" (Wrong bus, girls?)


"Dove andate?" (Where are you going?)

"Siena!" (We had given up on getting to school at this point.)

The bus driver's shoulders visibly slump upon learning that we are so off track.

"Ahiii. No torno a Siena fino alle 3:45."

Alrighty then. We had 45 more minutes on the bus. Good to know. It was also good to know that the bus did in fact loop back to Siena, and that we wouldn't have to make a frantic call to Christina, our Resident Director, asking how to get home.

We finally arrive back in Piazza del Sale, right at 3:45 like the bus driver said, and stop by CET on the way home to ask Christina why in the world the 5 bus didn't go to Acquacalda today. As soon as she hears what happened, she asks if we had gotten on the bus at the closer bus stop or the farther bus stop. It turns out that the 10 yards of difference between the 2 stops really do make a difference. Whoops.

While I was a little bummed that we didn't get to play with our kids, especially since the next two weeks are midterms and spring break, I kind of enjoyed the unexpected adventure, as I'm never sad to see more of the gorgeous Tuscan countryside. Plus, it's not as if I was exactly surprised that I not only took the wrong bus, but didn't notice that it was wrong until 15 minutes into the trip - we are talking about the girl who once drove all the way around San Antonio under the mistaken belief that she was driving East on I-10.

Friday, February 24, 2012

Finalmente - La Primavera!

Welcome to the beach... I mean, the Campo!

It was absolutely gorgeous here today. I spent all afternoon sunbathing on the Campo with a friend, and I even got slightly burned (silly skin).

Have you ever seen sky so blue?

Monday, February 20, 2012

The Most Important Food

Guys. I have a problem. It's called Nutella. I believe that I am in serious danger of becoming Nutella soon if I don't stop eating it.

Am I going to stop eating massive quantities of Nutella? Not on your life.

Want to see a scary picture? Here are all the jars of Nutella Rachel and I have gone through in the 4 1/2 weeks we've been here:

Oh lordy, that's scary

In our defense we've only actually eaten four of those... the two flanking the generic Nutella at the bottom are still completely full.

We were going to buy the giant jar of Nutella, but then we discovered that the smaller jars are actually drinking glasses when the Nutella is gone... and these particular ones are Looney Tunes themed. Obviously we needed them.


Before y'all go around thinking that I am just a sad, sad, unusual person sitting inside the house and eating Nutella all day, you should know that everyone else is just as obsessed (I suppose that doesn't mean I'm not a sad, sad person sitting around eating Nutella, but that's beside the point).

My friend Kyle has gone through 3 enormous jars while she's been here, and has confessed that the first thing she does upon waking up is grab her spoon and dig into the Nutella. My friend Ari uses Nutella in our Italian class whenever she needs an example of food she likes/has eaten recently/would like to eat now. Stella wakes up in the middle of the night in a panic if she runs out. (I would also like to point out that this is not purely an Italian phenomenon - my friends all over Europe have a similar addiction.)

Nutella. It's addicting. And very, very important.

Saturday, February 18, 2012

Faccio Una Passegiata

Today I communed with nature.

I know. I, Faith the nature hater, communed with nature. I can understand if you're worried that you're hallucinating right now.

But it turns out that after you live in a medieval walled city for a while, where the houses form a continuous block of stone and leave only a small rectangle at the top for the sky to peekthrough, you start to feel claustrophobic. Especially if you're from Texas, land of the big sky.

Almost every street looks something like this.

I haven't had a chance to explore Siena as much as I would like, because it's been so upsettinglycold here for the past few weeks, but this weekend it finally warmed up to about 50 F. Thus, since it was warmer, and most of my program is at Venice this weekend (alas, I'm poor), I decided to see some of Siena's sights, and find some grass.

Yesterday, I ventured out to, La Pinacoteca, Siena's art museum, where I saw 4 floors full of Byzantine art, with a little Renaissance thrown in. So many Madonnas.

Now for some wandering.

I found Contrada Tartuca! I love unexpectedly finding a new Contrada.

One of the gates to the city

Darling Italian garden (see the grass! mission accomplished)

Today I was once again crazy and in need of nature, so I went to see the Sanctuario della Santa Caterina, and find more grass.

Statue of St. Catherine inside her sanctuary

Now for grass. I made my way outside the walls again, and found myself a nifty little hike up the side of a hill.

View from the top

Why is this area enclosed? Is it a sheep pen? I really want it to be a sheep pen.
Sheep are just about the only farm animals that I don't actively despise/am not terrified of.

In fine, what's a good walk without a gorgeous sunset?

Sorry for the picture-heavy post, but the images describe everything far better than I would!

Sunday, February 12, 2012

Buon Compleanno, Lino!

Yesterday Rachel and I got to experience the happiest of events, an Italian family birthday party. It was Lino's 60th birthday; he's Francesco's dad and Stella's ex. The whole crew was there - Stella, Lino, Francesco (Stella's son), Natascia (Francesco's live-in girlfriend), Marta (Natascia's daughter), Cosimo (Francesco and Natascia's son), Gabriello (Lino's son and Francesco's brother), and us 2 American girls.

Stella bought a fantastic cake of chocolately tiramisu-like goodness shaped in a 60, and Rachel and I ate up 2 pieces each -what's that? you want to give me another piece because you accidentally bought too large of a cake? I suppose I can make that sacrifice... - and drank champagne and basked in the boisterous Italian goodness. It's possible that I only understood about a third to half of the conversation, but just hearing the lovely language and being around the family's happiness was enough for me.

Lino himself, with Cosimo and cake and champagne...

The longer I've been here, the more I love the homestay experience. I absolutely adore the way I'm able to experience the inner workings of an Italian family, especially such a wonderful family. You all already know how much I'm obsessed with Stella, but the rest of the family is equally fantastic. They've thoroughly welcomed Rachel and me into the family, and we're ecstatic about it.

Friday, February 10, 2012

Ciao regazzi! Erm, I mean, hey kids!

This past Wednesday, I embarked on a new adventure - teaching English to elementary school students!

It would seem that there is a dearth of English teachers in elementary schools in Italy, since schools are required by law to teach their children English, but most of them do not hire separate English teachers for the job. However, not every school teacher actually knows English, with the result that many elementary school children do not learn much more than their colors and numbers before they go to middle school, where they are expected to know enough English to read literature.

So, a man named Mike in Siena has created a volunteer program for American students to teach English to elementary kids weekly. I've been wanting something to fill my time more during the week, and I always want to meet more Italians and improve my Italian, so I readily agreed to sign up, and was paired up with my friend Ari to teach a classroom of 4th graders.

On Wednesday, Ari and I excitedly trudged over to meet up with Christina, our Resident Director, who was going to take us to the school so that we didn't get lost our first time. We have to take a bus, since Acquacalda, the neighborhood the school is in, is outside Siena's walls. Well, we ended up getting off the bus a stop early, so we wandered around a bit before Christina asked a construction man how to find the school.

But look at the pretty view we found!

Stop being pretty, Tuscany!

A picture of Ari taking a picture. SO META!

However, the shenanigans didn't really begin until after we were inside the school. We wandered around a labyrinth of brightly colored stairs and hallways for 5 minutes before finally finding the correct classroom, when Christina went inside to tell the teacher that we were there.

Ari and I stood awkwardly in the hallway as we heard Christina discover that the teacher had no idea that we were coming... no idea that we were volunteering in her classroom at all, in fact! Whoops. However, she was very amenable to the idea of volunteers, and she invited us into the classroom so that we could introduce ourselves to the kids.

Now, I hadn't been nervous about teaching at all until I stood in front of a bunch of (adorable) Italian children and realized that I knew almost no Italian. Crap. That's scary. But the kids were pretty star-struck by us, and were amazed that they got to talk to actual Americans. They actually knew a surprising amount of English (hooray!), and they asked us questions like, "How old are you?", "Do you have a dog?", "What is your favorite sport?" (I was nice and did not tell them of my disdain for sports, instead answering that I liked soccer, and got a big BRAVA! from the boys), and, the ever-present question from 8 year old girls, "Do you have a boyfriend?" (they are always oh so disappointed when I don't).

We go back next week for our actual first lesson, and the teacher gave us a theme of animals to work with, since they'll be working on action verbs and animals then. I'm very excited - I plan to play lots of games and sing Old MacDonald. Ari wants to teach them some Kanye...

p.s. Proof that I'm a fantastic American and watched the Superbowl at midnight!

Sunday, February 5, 2012

La Vita Italiano, Numero Due

Some more observations about life in Italia...

1. Italian toilets are weird! Or at least they don't flush like American toilets. The water closet is often up on the wall, with a little button on the bottom that you push to flush. Like so:

Also, not only are the toilets strange, the faucets can sometimes be difficult. During my first week of classes, some of us went to a bar between classes for a cappuccino, and I decided to go wash my hands. I go into the bathroom, and don't see any water handles. No biggie, it's probably automatic. I wave my hands around the faucet. Nothing.

Maybe it's a touch faucet! I hit the faucet all over, hoping water will come out.


Ok, now I'm getting desperate. I really want to wash my hands. I decide that maybe I have to unscrew the top of the faucet a little bit to get the water to come out - that's logical, right?

All I succeed in doing is screwing the top all the way off the faucet.

I guiltily screw it back on, and realize that I might have to go ask someone how to wash my hands. No, that feels too stupid. I will figure out how to wash my hands, dangit!

I scan the bathroom in a panic, looking for something, anything that seems conducive to water, and I realize that there are two pedals on the floor beneath the sink - one red, one blue. I step on the blue one, and, sweet moses alive, blessed water pours out of the faucet.

Hallelujah. Never mind that I spent 10 minutes trying to wash my hands, I figured it out, darnit.

2. Water costs money. Every time you go to a restaurant, you have to pay 1-2 euro if you want to drink water - tap water is not an option. I think this has been one of the hardest things for my roommate Rachel to adjust to: she's still shocked and appalled that we have to pay money if we want something to drink.

3. ART! All I have to do to see Siena's gorgeous Duomo is walk 10 minutes. I find that incredible.

Moreover, there's this little place called Florence that's just an hour's bus ride from Siena, where one can see such jaw-dropping things as Donatello's Mary Magdalen:

Yup. I stood in front of Donatello's Mary Magdalen. No biggie. It's only my favorite piece by him. I was in Florence on a field trip when I saw this, and my notes at this point basically consist of a bunch of scribbles surrounded by awe-struck expletives.

We also saw a couple of pieces by Michelangelo while we were in Florence - only my favorite artist of all time. What. Is this real life? I didn't realize that we would be seeing any Michelangelo, so I was quite shocked when my professor said, "And now we're going to pop down and see some Michelangelo." WHAT? We're going to "pop down" to see Michelangelo? One does not "pop down" to see Michelangelo.

I was pretty much in a state of shock and awe during the entire field trip - I find it incredible that I was able to see so much unbelievable art so easily. It's the sort of thing that almost doesn't seem real... how is it possible that I actually stood in front of so many enormously important works of art? These are pieces of art of such magnitude that when I read about them in America, they don't seem real. Surely such wonderful things can't exist in the real world... they only exist in books, right? But it would seem that I was wrong, and that they are entirely real.

Excuse me while my head explodes from amazement.

Thursday, February 2, 2012

A Snow Day, Siena Style

At the moment, Siena is a place of magic and delight - or in other words, SNOW! It snowed for about 24 hours starting on Wednesday afternoon, and when the storm cleared, six inches of snow were on the ground. Rachel and I woke up to this on Wednesday morning:

Our immediate response was, "Aaaaah look how pretty! DO WE HAVE SCHOOL?!" We checked our email. Nothing. Eternal sadness. But then my phone rang and I answered to hear the dulcet tones of my Resident Director's voice telling me that the buses to Siena were out and class was cancelled. Glory hallelujah - snow day! Apparently this kind of snow is extremely rare in Siena and in Tuscany in general, so the area isn't prepared to deal with it, and shuts down. It reminds me of a certain school in Texas... :)

After we learned that we didn't have class, Rachel and I raced to tell Stella (who immediately went back to bed) and promptly bundled up to go out to the Campo to play in the snow! The street was quite treacherous, what with the cobblestones and the slush.

When we got to the Campo, we found it metamorphosed into a winter wonderland.

We marveled at the beauty of it all for a few minutes, but our inner children soon took over, and we built a snowman.

Soon after we finished the snowman, our friend Evan showed up and we did all of the stereotypical snow activities - snow angels, a snowball fight, and we even built a snow fort! We also decided that Italian snow is prettier than American snow. :)

After we tired ourselves out and were walking home, wet, cold, and happy, with beautifully fat snowflakes still falling from the sky, I began to reflect on the fact that I was currently in a snowstorm in Europe, and in Italy, no less. How wonderful and magical can life get? I still can't quite wrap my head around the idea that I am living in Italy for the next 4 months, and this snowstorm served to make my life seem even more like a fairy-tale.