Monday, April 7, 2008

il Lago di Como


I decided to celebrate the arrival of spring in Italia by heading north towards the Switzerland border. Lake Como. I used good judgment. It was one of the best weekends I have spent here.

I traveled with two girlfriends. Another good decision. It seems George Clooney isn’t the only “giovanotto” (young man, usually handsome) that calls this place home. It’s hard not to appreciate this brand of attention.

Upon arrival, we checked in to our lovely bed and breakfast and headed toward “Il Funicolare” a rickety tram totting people up to higher elevations to capture a better lay of the land. And my, how the land lays. The lake, comprised of Swiss Alp-snowmelt, glistened even from altitude, accentuating the city’s turquoise cathedrals and crimson rooftops. The height revealed the existence of “pochi” (a few) villages, or rather tiny collections of houses, hidden in the swiss-italian hilltops.

In town, lovers lounge abundantly. Children scream delightfully and play soccer. Elderly couples fish and watch the swans. We took a paddleboat and "una bottiglia di vino" out on the lake to join such relaxation. I can truly comprehend why this is a place commonly used for fairytale settings.

And speaking of fairytale settings, it seems even George Lucas jumped on this bandwagon. He chose the charming Villa Balbianello, located in Lenno, a tiny village (with only one bank!!) on the lake, as Padmè’s palace in Naboo for his Star Wars Episode II. Given the spirit of the lake-life we witnessed, it isn’t hard to understand how even Darth Vader was able seduce her here. A highlight, indeed.

We summed up our trip with a long lunch and trolley-ride in Bellaggio, before heading back to reality. It’s not the harsh kind. The sun also shines bright in Firenze these days and “i fiori stanno fiorando” (the flowers are blooming). I love “studying” abroad. “Senz’altro” (without other).

Alla prossima!


Wednesday, March 26, 2008

La Settimana della Cultura

Auguri Amici!

And so it arrives, “La Settimana della Cultura” (The Week of the Culture) in Firenze. As if I wasn’t already swimming in Fiorentina culture. Fiorentini anxiously await this week as it signifies “free ingress” to the many eminent museums and palaces. I am definitely taking advantage, passing go and saving two hundred dollars (which seems like 3 euro these days…).

Eccola qua (here it is), an interesting side-note. Among the hundreds of Italians infiltrating i palazzi, i musei e le chiese (the palaces, museums and churches) epitomizing Firenze’s existence as a predominant tourist hotspot, there are also some seizing the day and going to the cinema, as viewings cost only 1 euro this Thursday. And so, the digital world meets the classical. The integrated circuitry of modern artwork and the preserved artistic masterpieces, which ironically are considered the foundation for the contemporary, merge to form a week of… culture?

And so I ask myself if this is a risky move, including movements of modern culture in Italy’s week of cultura. American students, flooding Firenze, appreciate this taste of home, surely. Tacky as many are, I must remember that I too am an American student. And Fiorentines like us. Without tourism, largely stemming from Japan and the States, Firenze’s economy may not be able to sustain all of these museums and their precious contents. History would be largely forgotten. But what are we supporting? Bars and cinemas? Or sculptures and palaces? My signora, having harbored nearly four generations of students studying in Firenze, clued me in on an interesting fact. As it seems to her, student interest in antique institutions is on the serious decline. My generation, digitally fascinated, frequents more often the discotecca next to “Santa Croce Church”, especially when there are specials. And so culture evolves.

This weekend I am making a trip to Assisi, Italy. Expect to hear from me soon!


Thursday, March 13, 2008

La Costiera Amalfitana


“La Costiera Amalfitana” was like magic. Rain included, the panoramas were unlike anything I had ever seen. One such vista: tiny villas sprinkled over cliffs “verde” (green), withstanding the constant battery of the waves crashing at their base. I use the term crashing, but really this is a mere connotation of waves. Waves are all different. Or at least, Italian waves. Those incoming on this coast seemed friendly, surfing towards the shore.

It is easy to write with associations. But beware; overuse could render wrong conclusions as connotations often facilitate our perspectives and world views even if small. For example, let’s look at some things typically associated with the south of Italy. The mafia. Violence. Trash. Dialects so forte that effective communication seems impossible. I’m thinking that sometimes it takes actually seeing a place with one’s own eyes to figure out the truth. It’s true. The sunny south is shadowed by the mafia’s corruption. Yet, southerners combat this by throwing on a “paio di occhiali da sole” (pair of sunglasses) and giving smiles to everyone. Or in my case, half an orange (grown on a nearby cliff, no doubt). After diving into the icy (but friendly) waters on a pebbled beach in all of our clothes, a couple of elderly Italian men basking on the same beach, and adorned in their finest speedos (2 each, of course, one for swimming, and one for changing into after swimming, so as not to get too cold in sensitive areas), obliged to take our picture. Then later, one of them (strutting in his dry speedo) traversed all the way across the beach to the place where we were stretched out and offered us the half of an orange that he didn’t finish. With this gesture, communication never seemed so effective. This example lies among many.

On this trip, travel was lengthy, but well worth it. I saw Positano, Almalfi Town, Sorrento and my personal favorite Altrani. I even ate pizza in its alleged birthplace: Napoli. There aren’t many tourists on the coast at this time of year so many of the usual crowd-pullers were closed. My group's best company were the many dogs that lounged around the tiny cities. Carefree and friendly, like their owners. I look at this as an adequate addition to my authentic emersion into Italian culture. Che felicità.

Unfortunately, travel isn’t cheap (even with free oranges). I’m taking a “piccola pausa” (small break) from traveling until “aprile”. I’m lucky that Firenze is so cool.

Until later!


Wednesday, March 5, 2008

fra i frati ed i mosaichi


Sadly, the Perugia plans disintegrated last minute. Maltilde assures me that there are better weekends for our rain-check. I suppose she is the expert.

Providentially, we made another trip to the “Monastero della Certosa di Galluzzo”, located in a suburb of Firenze. Situated high on a scenic hill, this religious home reaps the benefits of the beauty associated with Tuscan landscape while housing some manifestations of rustic fiorentino talent. These frati (monks) share their home with an impressive art collection, including sculptures and frescoes by artists such as Jacopo da Pontormo. The tranquilità of the courtyards, the lavish trimmings of the church and other areas of worship made for a charming alternative to Perugia. So many tourists will never experience this hidden wonder of 'la cultura fiorentina'. Lucky me.

Saturday, I traveled to north. Ravenna: an illumination of relative prosperity during the Dark Ages. Gothic mosaics fabricated during this time are the city’s major claims to fame. My “travel tribe” was the same as my trip to Verona. We are a good fit, and plan to make more day trips together in the future. After goggling over the mosaics in places such as the “Basilica di San Vitale” and the “Mausoleum di Galla Placidia”, we hopped a tiny treno (joking about the "Little Engine That Could") and took the slowboat back to Florence. C'era vino. (There was wine).

Tomorrow I am heading down to the Almalfi coast. Until after!


Sunday, February 24, 2008

una conoscenza fiorentina

“È meglio conoscere bene la città a cui abiti che viaggiare a molti senza trovando qualche conoscenza.”

(It is better to know well the city in which you live than to travel to many cities without much understanding or appreciation.)

Matildè, my Florentine History teacher, hit me up with this bit of wisdom during Friday’s class. In a città such as Firenze, there are a lot of historically rich sites that demand understanding from a person striving to live by Matildè’s advice. How fortunate I am to have such a passionate woman—a native Fiorentina—give me the scoop on the development of Firenze, a city both immortally chronicled and bellamente (beautifully) captivating.

However, acclimating myself with solamente (only) with the memoirs of Dante Alighieri, Cosimo Medici and clan isn’t suffice for comprehensive understanding and appreciation of this città. The second half of this quest is accomplished from actually knowing its dwellers: i fiorentini (the Florentines). Without the “hippy”, elderly, Italian man who vends dried fruit in the central market, the Ethiopian teen who sells “fakes” outside of my school or the jolly and plump barista (who not only provides me with my morning espresso, but also with personalized crumbs of care and friendship), the Firenze in which I live today would be unrecognizable.

This weekend, I am going to Perugia with my teacher, Matildè. She is such a dear old woman with whom I am developing a beautiful amicizia (friendship). It will be and unforgettable experience, senza doubt. Until then!

-Kelsey (current fiorentina!)

Sunday, February 17, 2008

Quando a Roma...

Auguri, i miei amici!

Well, the “Capo del Mondo” was surely something, to say the least. My weekend in Rome was definitely something to write home about.

I went to visit a “Roman-Student” friend. I truthfully couldn’t have chosen a better guide. Not only did he give me a personal tour of the città “gratis”, but he also happens to be studying classics. What better place to study? His lessons often take place in the Ancient Roman Forum! He tooted me all around “The Eternal City”, pointing out even the overlooked details and secrets. I saw Trajan’s Markets (and millions of other ancient Roman ruins), The Bolognese Gardens, The Spanish Steps, The Pantheon, The Vatican and oh so much more.

A funny fact: among the plethora of famous sights there are about a billion free public drinking fountains (free water??!?! It’s unheard of!). Turns out the strange birds of “The City of Fountains” follow their avian instincts straight to these locations. Per esempio, just as I was wiping my mouth after a long cold pull from one fountain in “I Giardini Palentino”, I watched a frazzled old man, muttering Italian curse words under his breath, urgently use the basin of another for personal hygienic reasons. I’ll put it this way: he didn’t treat it as a urinal. I should have guessed that there was some sort of catch to the only free thing in Italy. Mamma mia!

Sabato sera, we dined at an Enoteca called “Col De Sac”. Naturally (and solely in the spirit of learning), we tried many different types of wine native to Italy. We also experimented with food, trying tripe. (I mean Italians love it, so when in Rome….). It wasn’t that awful. But then I actually thought about it. My stomach was digesting a stomach. AND…cows have four. Basta! (enough!). At dinner, we met a couple from Naples and I spent two hours exchanging Italian with them. The wine helps my language skills, I’m certain.

All and all, it was a weekend enchanted. This silly blog could never do it justice. I hope all is well in the States!


p.s. I started a new libro (book)—“Harry Potter e La Pietra Filosofale” (Harry Potter and the Sorceror's Stone). I am pumped, but in all actuality it’s like reading two books. Harry Potter and my Italian dictionary. A presto!

Wednesday, February 6, 2008

alcune piccole gite


New roommates have arrived! Call my parents for details (non posso dirvi sul internet—I can’t disclose this info on the web). Sorry, mom and dad!

Last weekend I went to Verona, a scene for many “star-cross(eyed) lovers” attempting imitations of the great love affair of Romeo e Giulietta. Aka: Gum-chewing teenager-couples scribbling their names on the wall near the famous balcony. All in all, the city was delightful--much more charming than I had imagined. My party followed the advice of Rick Steves, a handy travel guide, the entire way. We saw the Scala family tombs, and even climbed a tower for a breathtaking panoramic of the city’s rooftops. Lovely, indeed.

Quà, a Firenze, I have not forgotten to take advantage. (Don’t let my shabby “I’m-not-a-tourist, really” alias fool you). My favorite place thus far: the Palazzo Vecchio. The reason: it is riddled with secret passageways. I guess I am just a sucker for keeping antique enigmas alive. The tour of these historic and clandestine ducts was hands down the best part of the museum.

As for this coming weekend, I am Rome-bound. I am sure I will have much to report. Until then, state bene e mi mancate tutti di voi! (Stay well, I miss you!)