Sunday, February 19, 2012

Time, Ferrara, and My Time in Ferrara

     Last week flew by in a weird whirlwind of activity, though to be honest, I'm not sure I was really doing anything different or truly that interesting at all, besides my normal casual living in Italy. But if anything, I think I can take this as a sign: up until this point, days and weeks have sluggishly drooped into each other, to the point where I felt it took severe mental concentration and effort to actually make the seconds pass. Sure, on the one hand, who doesn't want as much time as possible in Italy? But on the other, when every moment out in public is spent living in fear of misunderstandings, faux pas, and even communication, sometimes you just need time to move faster, because you know only time will make you comfortable.
     I'm therefore gonna go ahead and take my return to temporal normalcy as a victory over my own mental misgivings and a sign of assimilation to at least the ebb and flow of Italian life, if not Italy itself. So getting this far feels fabulous, yeah, but now I'm a little horrified in the other direction: I have what--three-ish more months here? That's 12 more weekends. Subtract a couple for weekends I'm too poor/busy/tired to do anything but bum around Padova or the surrounding area. So let's say 9 usable weekends, plus a five day break, in which I can visit at least two locations. Time to visit 11 places outside of the Veneto. Eleven. Hell, that's not even enough to visit every region of Italy. Whatever, now I'm sounding like Goldilocks, so obviously I'm just going to have to make the most of the time I have here, whether it's too much or too little or just right.
      Okay, so that's where I've been mentally--let's move on to more physical discussions, shall we? On Friday, I and my program peaced on out of Padova and visited the city of Ferrara in Emilia-Romagna. I did not take pictures because I suck, and for this I apologize. Whoops. You're just going to have to trust me and these pictures I jacked from Google that it was a gorgeous city (How unusual for Italy! #sarcasmfont) and a generally lovely day with my classmates.
Yeah, that castle has a moat. Awesome. It was frozen when we went, though, so I dunno how much that really helped defense during the winter months...

The cathedral in the main piazza of Ferrara. Freaking ridiculously beautiful.

     But guys. Really guys. Pay attention to this part. The food. The food was amazing. I would take the hour train ride every day just to eat that food. I mean, yeah, food in Padova is like, you know, good. I enjoy eating it. I don't enjoy paying for it, because it's not as good as its price tag, but whatever. I thought that was the way of the world. NO. INCORRECT. That is the way only of the Veneto, and Padova particularly. This food was delicious, fresh tasting, and cheap. CHEAP, guys. Food. For cheap. Good food. For cheap. It broke my brain, perhaps permanently. My pumpkin gnocchi in Gorgonzola was kind of like biting off a little bit of heaven covered in cheese.
     ANYWAYS MOVING ON (Wait, guys, did I mention I liked the food in Ferrara? Because I did), it would turn out that my Ferrarese weekend was far from over: after touring the second largest church in Italy on the most gorgeous day in Padova yet, Ariana, Mallory, and I returned to Ferrara, having been invited to the going away party of Ariana's host dad's biffle, a guy named Davide. We were promised a place to stay by Davide's fabulously exotic, breathtakingly beautiful half-Egyptian girlfriend, Elena, who I couldn't even hate for her beauty because she also might be the nicest person to ever stroll the streets of Ferrara. Throughout the night--admittedly as we continued to drink, but whatever guys, I know she meant it--she referred to us as her sisters and best American friends, and was generally hugely endearing and fun and did I mention she was pretty?
La Basilica di San Giustina. Wait, so are gorgeous churches like a theme or something here?

     We, a group of twenty that dwindled slowly throughout the night, ended up around 3:00 AM at a discotecha after casually making the rounds of some trendy bars, and stumbled back into Elena's home at 6:00 this morning. The period from 8:00 PM, when the party officially started, to the wee morning hours was perhaps the only time in my life in which I have to admit I succumbed to peer pressure repeatedly. But guys, you don't understand. This wasn't like teen peer pressuring behind the school under the bleachers in the parking lot of our sketchy high school (That's how it happens in normal high schools, right?), this was the pressuring of an experienced forty-something man. Ariana's host dad, Alberto, is perhaps the most slyly manipulative man in the world when it comes to convincing you to drink. He does it without a word, really, steamrolling over your gentle protestations with his strong Italian insisting and insinuations that you might just be a pussy if you don't drink that wine glass full of Grey Goose--and no, guys, that's not an exaggeration. Anyways, he's a great, hilarious guy who showed us a great time and, yeah, hangs out with a group of trendy twenty-somethings, but whatever. He's just a little too young at heart. All the more power to him, I guess.
      Obviously, we struggled our way back into Padova sometime this morning/afternoon/time meant nothing today, I collapsed for half the afternoon, did homework for the other half, went to eat delicious meatballs and potatoes (tres americain), Skyped with family and friends, and now need to finish my freaking homework and collapse until morning. The final week of my intensive language program awaits me bright and early tomorrow morning, and I plan to face it bright eyed and bushy tailed! (Wait, guys, did I just say that? Is that a thing? Whatever, I'm too lazy to erase it and think of something else. I'm tired; sorry I'm not sorry I suck at ending this enormous post.)

Monday, February 13, 2012

Italian Improvements

So these days I’m way less homesick, thanks mainly to the beautiful friends I’ve made here. I know it’s been forever since I’ve posted, but so much has happened. To be honest, I just haven’t had time to sit down and adjust to it all. There’s too much to digest—both good and bad—to really realize what my experience has wholly been. Now, though, sitting down and taking a moment to really reflect, I realize these past two weeks have been so very necessary to…like, I dunno… the whole formation of my being.
I’ve discovered so many things about myself in the past few days that I can’t even articulate them all: I know now that I love true intellectuality—I’m so freaking tired of explaining, “Oh hey, I’m American; I study here in Padova through the BU program and the Universita’ degli Studi di Padova, blah blah blah blah blah.” I know even more that I’m meant to challenge myself, day in and day out. Every day I come home tired, frustrated, stressed, and actually furious at the Italian language itself. But every day, I also come home knowing I’ve lived in Italy another day; I know I’ve talked to another Italian; I know I’ve connected with another being in a language utterly unnatural to my own self. I know so many things about myself. I know what I can do.
But to be honest, it’s wearying. Every single night, I don’t know if I can do this for another day, let alone another four months. But every single morning, I also know I’m ready to face the day that I know will end in total collapse; every morning, I’m excited to see who I’ll meet, who I’ll talk to, what I’ll realize that I really can say. The hopeful mornings utterly overwhelm the uncertain evenings. And that’s what matters.

As to practical matters: I’ve made two out-of-town trips since being here, one to Monselice, the walled medieval city, and another to Venice for Carnivale. Monselice was beautiful, overwhelming, amazing, beautiful, and cold. Venice was beautiful, confusing, and cold. Hey, guys, did you know it’s freaking cold here right now? It’s freaking cold.
Monselice was an amazing experience that showed me a “small-town” side of Italy I’ve never seen before: ancient noble families, famous rooks (What the fuck is a rook, guys, besides a chess piece? Don’t answer, I know, I just thought I’d point out the hilarity of actually using such a word), skeleton-lined churches, and hidden bus stations. It was an incredible, beautiful, frigid morning with two women and I wouldn’t trade it for the world. 
So there are gondolas here?

Casual palaces.

Dwarves chilling on the walls of defensively fortified cities. Makes sense.

Some lovely ladies strolling to antique mansions.

Oh look! A mansion.

Hi, Italy. You jelly?

Some bop struggling with stairs.

Venice, on the other hand, was another thing entirely: overwhelming in its sheer narrow bigness (I know that seems like it makes no sense, but trust me), overwhelming in its beauty, overwhelming in the number of tourists that pour in every day to get trashed during Carnevale. My trip to Venice—without a doubt—was the most American experience I’ve had abroad. Every person I spoke to was American, from Pittsburgh or New York or whatever, and I have never before in Italy felt so touristic, or hated, or stared at. In Padova, Americans are a rarity, and further a rarity widely known to be attending university—Americans, in short, who care. In Venice, however, there was no such consideration. I was disrespected as an American who was in Italy to party, to get drunk, to get laid, to get whatevered. I wasn’t expected to know Italian, and was talked to in English, and sneered at in Italian. I was degraded, really.
But this very degradation, I think, has led to me to a greater understanding of what it really means to be an American abroad: there is a prejudice, and it is fair. It is rightful. Every American I met or saw from a distance was, in fact, totally intoxicated or grinding shamelessly or eyeing trashy Italian men. We fit our stereotype so shamelessly; how can I expect Italians to respect me and my heritage if my fellow Americans won’t do the same? I was disappointed in America this weekend, and I don’t care how pretentious and fake-Euro that sounds. I really, truly was embarrassed to be an American in Venice.
All right, guys, I’m writing this after two glasses of wine, a beer, and a spritz (Campari and prosecco), so forgive me my errors. I just needed to really share a few quick bullet points:
  • Italy is wonderful—just avoid other Americans.
  • The bond I’ve made with my friends is kind of ridiculous and creepy.
  • Don’t follow random Italian men to discotechs, because they’ll abandon in you the city of Venice, which, guess what, is impossible to navigate. 
  • Every day in Italy reminds me how very stupid I really am, and how very badly I want to be smart.
My next post—I promise—will both be more coherent, sober, and timely. By the way, American friends and sisters, I can't even articulate what your support means to me. Thank you so much to all of you; I couldn't love you more.
I wrote this blog post with a cat on my chest. #getonmylevel