Archive for January, 2007

An American in Italy: Neil and the Relics

January 30, 2007

My younger brother Neil has been studying abroad in Macerata, Italy since January 10.  This is done through a program run between his Indiana State University and a university in Macerata.  His adventures are best told in his own words, presented below in some email correspondences between him and myself:

Well, almost a week has passed.  It seems like it has flown by.  By some logic, I guess that means I’m having fun.  Haha. But, really…I am having lots of fun.  Classes are fine.  Most of my teachers who are Italian, speak English with a British accent.  Their Italian accent sometimes combines with the British so I don’t know what they’re saying.  But for the most part, I can understand them just fine.  My literature teacher is an American just like us.  He has his own regional accent, but nothing really odd.  I don’t have any classes with Filiberto, the site director.  He is somewhat difficult to understand sometimes, but he’s a nice guy and I kind of wish I could have a class with him.  This Friday, we’re going on another walking tour of Macerata.  I wonder where we’ll go.

I’m starting to wonder where I want to go for my break in early March.  I have the first full week in March off from classes.  My original idea was to go up to the Black Forest in Germany for a few days then come back.  Now, I’m starting to think I may want to just tour around Italy.  I would probably go to Turin, Venice, Pisa, Naples and a city near Naples that has lots of caves.  I don’t know.  Either way, a Eurail pass might be good just for Spring Break.

I may have said it before, but they gave us a cell phone to use as a house phone in the apartment.  Lindsay says she’s tried to call but has been unsuccessful.  If anyone can get it to work, let me know.  I’m also going to try calling it from a pay phone to see if I can tell what the recording she hears is saying.

Going back to classes, we had our first cross-cultural class today.  It was quite interesting.  Our teacher, Angelica, told us about how Italians think about food.  She went over some tips on cooking pasta and some easy sauce recipes.  Then we had a little sampling session where we got to try some sausage, cheese, and wine from the region we’re in.  We also got REAL (and I mean it) Parmesan cheese.  I say "REAL" because it originates from a region they call Parma.  The cheese we had is from that region.  Since cheese often changes with climate and grasses that the cows eat, real Parmesan cheese only comes from Parma.  She also explained how Italians view wine.  They are generally very smart about alcohol consumption.  They see getting drunk as a weakness of character/lack of control.  On average, the amount of wine they drink at lunch ranges from half a glass to one and a half.  A teacher who has to go back and teach a class, would only have half a glass.  But a construction worker who has to go work with a jackhammer would take a full glass, "because you have to keep yourself happy!"  This class was also interesting, because Angelica told us that we will be paired up with an Italian student and we are required to spend two hours a week with them.  Some of them speak some English, some of them don’t.  This should be one of the most interesting things I do in Italy.  It shall be quite enlightening.

Bureaucracy seems to be universal.  We started filling out papers Monday evening for a stay permit.  We are going to the post office soon to hand them to the mail people.  We are supposed to do this in person.  Then, the forms will be mailed to Rome where they will be mailed to the Macerata police.  Agh!  Red Tape!!!  Oh well.  What are you gonna do?

All of us American students are planning on getting together for dinners occasionally.  Each apartment will be given the task of bringing a dish with them.  This should be a great social event.  Hopefully it will happen.

Yesterday morning was the first morning without fog for four days.  But…it rained pretty much all day.  They are expecting snow by Monday.  Or as Filiberto put it, "They expect winter to arrive by Monday."

I saw an Italian version of Deal or No Deal on TV the other day.  Instead of briefcases opened by models, they had audience members open cardboard boxes.  There was much less glamor.  But it was entertaining to watch since I knew very little of what has really happening.

I almost forgot to mention something.  Starting Monday, there is an optional cooking class that will happen over five Mondays.  A full meal (pasta, main course and desert) will be made, then eaten.  I would really like to do this, but the problem is the 80 – 96 Euro cost of the course.  I will learn how to make gelato and tiramisu.  I actually had some tiramisu gelato last night.  Delicious.

(me again)  I think you should take advantage of being on the Continent and it’s trains, and get out there and see as much as you can.  Your idea of seeing Schwarzwald (the Black Forest) sounds neat!  It helps that you know some German too.  What about the little things, those little details about life that you never notice at first?  What things have surprised you?  What similarities have so noticed between Italia and the States?

mm…what little things have surprised me?  Italians apparently are allowed so many hours per day to run their heating.  Something like 8 or 10 hours per day.  Very very few real houses.  Almost everyone lives in an apartment.  No clothes dryers.  They take up too much power.  Ranges are gas, but ovens are electric.  Drivers are very selfish and will only stop if they CLEARLY see you coming.  Lots of one way streets.  Italians don’t use subtitles when watching movies.  They prefer dubbing.  The biggest movie theater only has 4 screens.  Stores are tiny, but they vary greatly.  They are open in the morning, close for lunch, then open again in the afternoon.  Lunch is the BIG meal.  They really disapprove of getting drunk.  If they can’t sit down with family/friends for a big meal at lunch or dinner, they are fine with just having a sandwich to tide them over.  Prices aren’t prominently displayed in stores, except at the supermarket.  You usually have to ask how much things are.  Internet seems to be somewhat hard to come by in this town, at least.  I really like the use of the 24 hour clock.  The US needs to adopt that and the metric system.

My camera is that mini-DVD one Dad got for me a few years ago.  It does just fine.  I kind of wish I had more megapixels, but that’s okay.

Gelato…is amazing.  Its halfway between frozen custard and ice cream.  It is less sweet than either one of them.  The flavors are much better too.  Whatever you get, there are usually bits of whatever that flavor is in the gelato.  Example:  last night, I got Kiwi/mandarin/tiramisu.  The kiwi portion had kiwi seeds in it.  Raspberry has raspberries in it.  It is to die for.

The Black Forest would be awesome, but there is so much to see in Italy.  I don’t know what to do.  Maybe I should just flip a coin.

Evelyn says the pictures of the Italian countryside remind her of her native California, sparse pine trees and rolling hills of brush.  The ‘odd trees’ in your photos might be African imports.  If you remember, Italy colonized parts of northeastern Africa in the 1920s and 1930s, and I suspect you saw trees transplanted from the savannah.

They may have very possibly been African imports, but wait until I get to take pictures in Rome.  They trim their trees so they look like umbrellas.  Odd.

I also found kiwi yogurt tonight.  How cool is that?  It seems like kiwi is a lot more popular here than at home.

(…a week or so later..)

I can receive calls without limit, but making calls costs me money.

An another note, things are going just fine.  I’m getting accustomed to the city and can even go to shops without using a single word of English.  Classes are fine.  I’ll let you all know if something exciting happens.

You can find Neil’s photos in multiple Galleries: One, Two,Three, Four, Five, Six, and Seven.  He will be staying there until early April.  I’ll post more emails and photos as I get them.

Nifty Wikipedia Thing: The post-humous trial of Pope Formosus in 897 A.D.

Music of the Moment: "Life in Mono" by Mono

What I’m Reading:
"Lost Chance in China" by John S. Service
"Mostly Harmless" by Douglas Adams
"Dave Barry Turns 40" by Dave Barry

P.S.: An neat incidental phrase was discovered while I resurrected my ironing skills, and that phrase is "maximum cactus".  That would make a great name for a band!

Welcome to 2007

January 16, 2007

Sorry it took me a month to update.  I’ve been busy with friends.  Despite my efforts to keep an online presence here, I still am living an active life in the real world, which I prefer.

Evelyn was quickly and graciously parted from her wisdom teeth, in a procedure which took all of 20 minutes.  I was surprised by how fast that was!

The 16th Annual New Year’s Eve Time Travel Movie Night featured Back to the Future, Slipstream, and Frequency.  I’d not seen Slipstream before.  While it wasn’t as dreadful as films I’ve seen in years past, Slipstream was the clunker of the bunch.  A 2005 film starring Sean Astin and Vinnie Jones, the dialogue was laughable at best, recited by flat acting, and the special effects took themselves way too seriously.  Vinnie steals the whole movie, but this pales to his work in Guy Ritchie’s films.  (On the other hand, Frequency is very underrated, in my opinion.  Everyone I show it to loves it!)

One of my goals for 2007 is bicycling 300 miles over the coming season.  Last year, despite our late September start, we managed to ride 75 miles in two months.  I think 300 is a reasonable goal.  I also want to get kayaking more often, and I want to go diving again.  I’ve been out of the water too long, and it’s time to find a local dive club, hit the local lakes.  We’re also hoping to move into a condo or duplex by year’s end, but that depends entirely on what the housing market does this spring.  We had the same goal at the start of 2006, but seeing how difficult it was to find a place to suit our needs gave us pause, and we went into extended research phase.

After six years of waiting, Evelyn finally has a sewing machine!  Finally she gets to exercise her long-dormant industrious creativity.  Tablecloths, dresses, hats, and shirts… the possibilities are endless.  She even went browsing through fabric stores.  Her machine is a EuroPro 7133, a brand that still makes their machines from enduring metal, especially the gears.  In the last thirty years, most sewing machines have switched to cheaper lightweight nylon gears, and Evelyn is horrified by the thought of stripping plastic gear teeth while working with denim.  Hopefully the new machine will give us decades of loyal service.  It sure better… EuroPro’s weakness is in customer service.  Godspeed, my lovely seamstress!

I already miss the Winter Olympics.  I always enjoy watching the winter games on TV, and last year’s Torino games were no exception.  The winter games are much more satisfying to watch than the summer games.  First of all, winter sports are much more exciting than summer games, with a generous blend of grace and speed.  By comparison the summer games are ploddingly slow and tedious.  Furthermore, the summer games feel more vulgar.  Summer athletes wear all their skin and sweat for the world to see; winter athletes wear sleek colorful suits.  Whether its the delicate artistry of figure skating or the nail-biting cliffhanger speed skating matches, the Winter Olympics are much more engaging than Yet Another Track Event.  I will admit there’s also an element within me that roots for underdogs; the Summer Games unfairly get all the attention.

Nifty Wikipedia Thing: The USS Shenandoah, the Navy’s first airship.

Music of the Moment: "Back to the Life" by Spoon

What I’m Reading:
"Lost Chance in China" by John S. Service
"So Long, and Thanks for All the Fish" by Douglas Adams

NEWS FLASH!!!  THIS JUST IN!  My brother Neil is now in Macerata, Italy.  I wish him well on all his forthcoming adventures!