Saturday, April 25, 2009

Sardigna and Berlin!

Everything is going well in Italy. The last day of classes was last week and I just have a couple finals on Tuesday and Wednesday. It has been awhile since I last posted so I will recap my trips.

The weekend after Paris was great because I just stayed in Florence and was able to get some work done. Then the weekend after I went to Sardigna with some friends in my program. We stayed at this really nice bed and breakfast and the Italian owner was really funny. Our first day was very sunny and we went to the beaches, however it rained the rest of the weekend. This was kind of a downer because there was not much to do but go to the beach. However, it was Easter weekend so there were some festivities going on in the center. I went to mass on Easter Sunday and that was very interesting. The church was beautiful and it was filled mostly with nuns. Although I couldn’t understand everything, I normally knew which prayers were being said.

The week after Cagliari, the city we stayed in Sardigna, I had a big presentation for my school with my internship. It went really well and my professors were pleased. Also my boss Maurizio was impressed.

Then this past weekend I traveled to Berlin Germany with my friend from school. Berlin was amazing and it was definitely one of my favorite trips thus far. It was the first time I took part in “couch surfing” as well. CouchSurfing is a website for young people who travel or want to host people from other areas. The best thing about it though is that it is free and it is a much better cultural experience then staying in a hostel. It is mostly in Europe however, it is also in the US. Beth and I stayed with this German student named Felix and his girlfriend Steffi. They were great hosts and were very helpful with showing us around the city. It was amazing how much trust they had with us, whom they had never met before. They gave us a house key and left us alone in their apartment while they were in class. They cooked us dinner and brought us to a BBQ with their German friends on the last day.

Besides the couch surfing adventuring, Berlin is just an amazing city. We took part in two free tours which were both awesome. 90 percent of Berlin was destroyed during WWII so it is fairly modern, however the older buildings are very cool. The city itself is very young and alternative. The Berlin Wall came down in 1989 so the city is truly only 20 years old even though it has an extensive history before that. The beer was great, much better than in Italy. And the brautwursts were also tasty and a nice change from Italian cuisine. It was also funny because I looked a lot like the Germans and people kept coming up to me and asking for directions in German. Felix also taught me that “schwindt” in old German means “fast.” Overall, Berlin was one of my favorite trips thus far.

My flight home is May 30th and I am unsure what I am going to do this next month. I am staying with Stefano in Turino for a week or so, then I am going to try and go to Morocco. I also just plan to see the parts of Italy that I did not get to this semester and I need to go back to Rome cause I only spent one day there.

I apologize for the poor writing. My English has definitely gotten worst since I have been here so next semester will probably be a shock.

Friday, April 3, 2009

Marzo Pazzo

This past month has been very crazy, hence the title Marzo Pazzo, or crazy March. In fact, this is the first weekend that I am not leaving to travel and am staying in Florence. Thank God. Since my last post I have been to many places around Europe including, Amsterdam, Sicily, London, Dublin, Urbino, and Paris.

Amsterdam, so far, has been one of my favorite trips. Besides the fact that the city is beautiful, the culture in Amsterdam is unlike any other. Drugs are legal, as well as prostitution, yet the city remains clean and very functional. All of the people speak English and are extremely friends, which is surprising considering they constantly have to deal with annoying tourists. We stayed on a houseboat, which was fairly small and wet, but it was a great experience. It has been the first place I’ve traveled where I immediately wanted to go back.

The weekend after was Spring Break and my friend Diana and I went on an 11 day trip. We started here in Firenze, but then traveled to a small town on the west side of Sicily called Taormina. It was very beautiful and had many ancient Greek and Roman ruins along with a great beach. Our B&B was on the water and it was sunny everyday we were there. Sicilians are known for being part of the mafia and I definitely saw a few members however the pace of life is much slower on the Island, and in southern Italy in general, compared to the northern cities. We were able to get around with my elementary Italian, although it was hard because Sicilian is a completely different dialect and at times it was hard to understand their accent, let alone the language. We then traveled to London, where Diana is studying. London was great and is truly a world city, as there are countless different cultures from all over the world in one location. I was only there for two days and the city is massive so I would really like to return and see more. It was really fun though because several of our friends from USC were also in the London at the same time. We then went to Dublin for the weekend before St. Patrick’s day. Dublin was awesome and the Guinness was amazing. I have had Guinness in the states before but it tastes nothing like the magical beer I had in Dublin. I guess it is difficult to transport Guinness and up until recently you could not even get it outside of Dublin, let alone Ireland. The Irish were also great, very drunken and friendly with a cool accent. Although there were many tourists, I met up with a friend’s sister from home who lives in the city, and her and her husband showed us around some of the more local spots. Finally, I returned back to Firenze after many days of crazy traveling.

The weekend after we went on a field trip with my art history class and followed around the works of Piero della Francesca. We went to several cities and stayed the night in Urbino. Urbino is easily one of my favorite towns outside of Firenze. The field trip was great and our class is really getting close. We had a huge drunken dinner and our professor made us promise not to tell the administration. Also our TA announced that she was pregnant during her presentation. She is really cool and everyone was excited.

The weekend after I visited my friends Henoch, Jesse, and Holly in Paris. Although I loved the city, the people were not extremely friendly, even to my friends who spoke the language. Both the French people and language, in my opinion, are completely opposite from Italian. In French, you hide the sound of the letteres and everyone is very quiet and softer spoken. In Italian you overly pronounce every thing and everyone is loud and outgoing. Granted this was my first impression of the people and language, but I noticed a clear difference. The trip went very smoothly except for the fact that I missed my flight home and had to wait 13 hours in the Paris airport. It was one of the most miserable days I have had here. I finally got home at midnight in Florence, when I had arrived at the Paris airport at 5 am that day.

I continue to love spending time with my host family. We have gotten fairly close. Nonna thinks I drink to much wine, but she also says the same for her daughter and my host mamma. I also enjoy the nightly argument of whether or not to watch “Walker Texas Ranger” Nonna’s favorite show, because Lily thinks its stupid and refuses to turn it on. Before dinner we always watch the news and the top story is always something to do with Obama. It’s really interesting how closely they follow US politics and is a reminder to how our decisions and actions truly affect the international community.

I have tons of work these next two weeks including two papers and an event to plan for my internship. I don’t know how I am going to get them all done before I leave for Sardigna next Thursday. I am really excited for that trip though as it is Easter weekend and there are supposed to be big festivities in Italy for Easter. I will soon post more pics of Paris and our class field trip and will try and post more regularly. I am also now waiting to hear back from a couple scholarships that would allow me to stay and work in Italy during the summer time. Keep your fingers crossed. Ciao.

Saturday, February 21, 2009

A Crazy Past Two Weeks In Italy

It has been awhile since I last posted, but I will try and recall most of the important things that I have seen. Two weekends ago, My friend Hannah and I went to Vienna Austria and met up with our other friend Alassandra, who has been living in Italy for the past 3 years. The 11 hour train ride to Vienna was very smelly and disgusting, Europeans have a much more potent body order. Vienna itself though was beautiful. Our hostel was very clean and the staff was helpful. The German language was difficult to understand but there were several people that spoke English that gave us directions. We went to this Mozart museum that was very interactive and fun. Then that Saturday we took an hour bus ride to Bratislava, which is the capital of Slovakia. Bratislava was also very nice and the people were friendly. It was obvious that not many Americans visit the city so everyone was anxious to help us. The train ride back was much better and less smelly.

Then the week after that I began my internship at the ARCI. The ARCI is one of Italy’s oldest political organizations. It is left leaning, although is not affiliated with any political party, however many people in the organization are former communists. Communism is slightly different in Italy then in elsewhere but the history is much too complicated to explain. My boss, Maurizio, does not speak a word of English, but several of the younger Italian interns do speak some. They made it very well known how incredible it is to have American interns as twenty years ago, because of the relationship between the US and Italy, it would not have been possible. The ARCI has several departments but its main goal is to represent the disadvantaged (immigrants, minorities, homosexuals, and the poor). The department I am in is the Welfare department and my first project has been researching the Mafia and then translating my work from English into Italian. So far I have enjoyed working in the Italian culture as it is interesting to note the differences. Italians are never on time, they are more laid back, and rather disorganized. I really like working alongside younger Italians as I also learn a lot from them.

This past weekend I went to Rome on Friday. Although I only spent one day there we saw a lot, including the Forum, Capital, Coliseum, Pantheon, St. Peters, and the Vatican. St. Peters was very cool and there are many famous works of art inside. It was also a very sunny day, albeit freezing, so we got a great view of the city when we climbed St. Peters. I went along with the Michelangelo art history class so we got the privilege of spending roughly 2 hours in the Sistine Chapel, when in most cases tourists are hurried through in 15 minutes. It was incredible and I learned a lot because our teacher and TAs were there instructing. Then, that Saturday morning my friend Mike and I took a 6 AM flight to Venice. We met up with Hannah and Sam, slept for about an hour, and then walked into the city. The Carnivale celebration began that weekend so there were incredible costumes and we immediately bought masks. Venice is truly unlike any other city mostly because there are no streets but rather canals. There were a bunch of people from my school there as well so we all were able to meet up at night time to go out.

Classes are going great so far. I really like all of the site visits and field trips we are going on in my art history class. Just yesterday we went to Siena, which is about an hour away from Florence. It is one of my favorite Italian cities so far and the inside fo their Duomo is incredible. It is a very Italian city and there are not as many tourists compared to Florence. Next weekend I am going to Amsterdam and meeting up with some of my close friends from USC. I am pretty excited mostly for the Van Gogh museum and for the liberal laws regarding substances. Should be fun and I’ll make sure that take pictures.


Tuesday, February 3, 2009

Assissi, Milan, Turino, and Italian swears...

Ciao Ragazzi,

I apologize for the length of time it has taken me to write another post but classes have started and most of my free time has gone to planning trips and filling out scholarships that are do within the next couple weeks.

Two weekends ago I traveled with my school to the city called Assissi, which has the patron saint of St. Francis. We visited his basilica, which has his body and numerous artwork done by Giotto, and saw many Franciscan monks with their weird haircuts that are supposed to symbolize halos. Assissi was pretty small but cool, and described by our tour guide as the Berkeley of Italy because it is fairly politically active. That Saturday I stayed in Firenze.

Classes have been going great, despite the fact that I begin class at 8:45 am everyday and am normally still drunk from the night before. However this excess alcohol in my system does improve my Italian in class.

This past weekend I took a train up to Milan to meet my friend Stefano, who I went to high school with. Stefano showed me around the city, which is the fashion capital of Italy and arguably the world. Every where we looked their were models. We climbed the Duomo, went to a castle, and several shopping centers. On my way down from the Duomo I said ciao to a military officer, which Stefano quickly advised was not proper as ciao is too informal. The officer did not look pleased. So far though, this was not my most interesting language mistakes as I accidently said the word bitch (stronza) for strong, and yelled Buon Formaggio (which means good cheese) instead of buon pomereggio. My nonna was very confused.

Later that night we took the train back to Stefano’s house and I ate with his family, a very loud and hilarious Sicilian group. His mom made great food and his dad owns a vineyard so the wine was incredible (much better than the 2 euro - 2 liter bottle that I buy daily on my way home from school). Stefano then showed me around Turino that afternoon, which is the city where the winters Olympics were held in 2006. Turino was great and I think I liked it better then Milan, still both cities do not come close though to the beauty of Firenze. Later that night we went to Stefano’s uncle’s night club which is one of the best in Turino and right on the river. I met his Italian friends who were all pretty crazy. Then on Saturday it was his dads 60 birthday party and I attended the party with his extended family. They were all nuts, and Stefano assures me most Italian families are not like his. Most of the gifts given were joke gifts, numerous sex toys and offensive items, and then only one real gift. We had great food again, and loads of wine. Then Stefano his brothers, Andrea and Davide, helped me learn every possible Italian swear word, probably the most important vocabulary I will learn during my stay hear. I took the night train home Sunday.

Today I met with my internship boss, who doesn’t speak any English, and will begin working at the ARCI political organization on Thursday. I was also asked to write an article for the school newspaper, which will be my first written piece that is published.

There are more pictures I uploaded on my photobucket site so take a look.

In addition, here are some of the cultural insights I have noticed:

Gun Control: Handguns are illegal here, and you can get a rifle for hunting but it takes about 5 years. In no surprise Italy has one of the lowest gun death rates (2.27 per 100,000 people) whereas the US is 13.47 per 100,000. Link to source.

Health Care: My roommate got the flu and had a fever of between 101 and 102. We called the tourist hotline and within 45 minutes there was a doctor at our house. She stayed over an hour, wrote prescriptions, and cost only 50 Euro (about 70 dollars). Just think if foreigner phoned to get a house call in the US for a fever. According to my mamma Lily it is mandated that if someone has a fever over a certain amount a doctor has to come.

Politics: Firenze is known as being all communist whereas Rome and some of the northern cities are stereotyped as fascists. No one likes any of the politicians and believe they are all corrupt.

Transportation: The Government builds the roads but for some reason, which I still cant understand, a private individual can some how place a toll on the freeways and highways. Stefano said it costs about 40 Euro to drive road trip to Firenze from Turin, which is only a two hour drive. This money does not go to the government but to the pockets of a private citizen.

Food: Breakfast is very small, lunch is mostly just a sandwhich but dinner is huge and can last for several hours at restaurants. It is polite to keep your hands on the table at all times, which stems from the olden days when they were worried that people were trying to poison each others drinks. This is most likely why Italians talk with their hands so much. Napkins are not placed in the lap.

Words: The word for money is soldi, the word soldier is derived from this which literally means one who fights for money.

I am sure there will be many more cultural insights as my trip continues. Until then, Arriverderci (This is the more formal goodbye that I should have said to the military officer)…

Wednesday, January 21, 2009

President Obama - Cambina Le Mondo!

As a student of history and politics I could not be more shocked and ecstatic. Although I would have liked to be in DC and watch personally, the man whose life and actions I have avidly studied this past 2 years take the oath of office and become our 44th President. It was an entirely different perspective to be overseas and in a foreign countries. Many Italians, like us, are also in dismay. While they are infatuated with American music, film, and other cultural aspects they have despised our government for 8 years and can truly not believe that we have elected an African American to be our next leader. Italy, for the most part, still has embedded racism and immigration remains a main problem in the country. It will be interesting to see how the Italian electorate will change in response to America’s own evolution.

I awoke on January 20, threw on my Obama t-shirt and strolled the streets of Florence. For the first time in 8 years, I was proud to wear red, white, and blue and say that I am American. Several young Italians congratulated me and thanked me on behalf of our country.

Following President Obama’s speech (it feels so good to be able to replace President-elect with President), some friends and I went to a grocery store and bought some champagne. A police officer gestured to let us know it was okay to celebrate in the streets. Then, while we were celebrating, I woman came up to me and asked what Obama is going to do. Unable to discuss healthcare, energy independence, and other policy issues in my minimal Italian, all I managed to say was “cambina le mondo.” He will change to world. Although the woman responded with the world cannot be changed in 8 years, I could not disagree more.

In addition to the Inaugural celebrations classes started this week. I absolutely love my art history course, as it has been awesome to view such masterpieces in person instead of a textbook. The field trips included in the course will also be amazing, including a four day trip to Paris, and a two day one to Rome, including a private viewing of the Sistine Chapel and Vatican Gardens, which will be a real treat considering that they hurry thousands of tourists through those landmarks.

This weekend we are going to Assissi and Siena. Should have more pictures after that. Until then arriverderci.

Sunday, January 18, 2009

Duomo and Chianti

The past couple days I have been adjusting to jet lag and walking around the city. The pubs and discotecs are awesome and I have been meeting more Italians. The other day we went to the top of the Duomo. Then today I went to the Chiani region with my mama and roommate and some other people from our school. It was amazing the prosciutto, cheese, and wine was so good. We then went to a castle and finally a church where my mama was married. It also had great views from the city. Here are some of the pictures I have taken so far. Tomorrow is the first day of classes I am pretty excited, I start my internship soon and am also looking forward to that. Blogger doesn't make it easy to upload photos so I made an account on photobucket. Here is the link, let me know if it doesn't work

Enjoy le fotograficas.


Thursday, January 15, 2009

Benvenuti in Italia

With this blog I have spent the majority of this past semester documenting the historic final four months of the 2008 Presidential election. However, I am now studying abroad in Firenze (Florence) Italy and am altering the purpose of this forum to document my travels and experiences. These posts will certainly be less formal then my previous ones on politics and race relations. Moreover, I would like to also thank American Airlines who gave me a scholarship for my round trip ticket to Florence.

After roughly 25 hours of traveling I arrived in the Hotel Mediterreano in Firezne for Syracuse University’s orientation. Instead of going to bed, however, my new friend Jesse and I explored the incredible city in search of wine and cigarettes. Unlike the States, few stores stay open past 8 o’clock and cigarettes are mostly purchased via a machine. Already though I love the fact there are no open container laws in Italy, and of course the drinking age is 16. Finally, no more fake IDs. Although I don’t speak perfect Italian, wine greatly improves my language skills. We met some Italian musicians on the street and they took us to a local pub known as Rex. Through their broken English and our broken Italian we were able to communicate pretty effectively and it was a great primo notte in Firenze.

The city is truly incredible. The Duomo is easily the most beautiful building I have ever scene. All of the structures are so old and have such history. The streets are mostly cobblestone and every corner has a café or bar. It has been a great place to get lost in these first few days.

The rest of these first few days were filled with tedious orientation tasks (setting up wireless on our laptops and scheduling classes). Fortunately, I do not need many credits here so I am taking the minimum amount possible. My schedule will be Italian language (2 hours a day Monday through Thursday), an Art History course on the Renaissance in which we are in class one day a week and the other we go to a museum, church, or various other on site visits, and then I will be interning with the ARCI,, which is an Italian political organization.

Just yesterday I met my roommate named Devin and so far we have gotten along great. After our introduction we then sat in a room as one by one we were introduced to our host families. It was similar to what I imagine orphans or puppies feel before being chosen by their new owners. Lilly Cantanese greeted us wearing a lavish mink coat and from the moment I met my new mama (the affectionate and more informal word for mother in Italian) I knew we would get along great. On our way to her house, roughly a 20 minute walk from our school and the city center, she swore several times in Italian at other reckless drivers, unaware that her American sons already knew the word for bitch (stronzo) and dick/fuck (cazzo). She does speak some English, however requires us to only speak Italian in her home. The house we are living in is awesome. Devin and I have our own floor and the décor is very cool. Even better though is my new nonna (grandmother) who will be turning 90 this July and is easily the cutest old woman I have every met. Our first dinner was again wonderful. Endless amounts of chianti and Lily is an amazing cook. I also knew I would like her as she smokes constantly around the house and made fun of me for buying an Italian pack of cigarettes more commonly smoked by woman. I am very excited to spend these next four months with my new mama and nonna. They are avid calico (soccer) fans and have passes to the Stadio in Firenze, which we live two blocks from. Although I am not a huge soccer fan, it is completely different in Italy and is a huge part of their culture. I can’t wait to go to some games which I here are crazy and fantastico.

Classes begin on Monday and this weekend we are required to spend with our new family. Lilly is taking us to the Chianti region with some of her friends. I am really excited to drink wine and see more of this great Tuscan region. I hope to have great stories and possibly some pictures for my next post. Until then, ciao.