Monthly Archives: October 2008

“What a Wonderful Feeling, I’m Happy Again”

A rainbow of umbrellas were out in full force during tonight's walk home through the piazza del duomo.

Tonight was doubly blessed. Not only has it started raining here in Italy, finally, but because of the rain I saw a ghost. A ghost.

Okay, fine, maybe he wasn’t really a ghost. Maybe he was actually just a man wearing an over-sized white rain poncho that billowed behind him in the wind while he was riding his bike. However, the poncho was so huge that it covered most of his bike so he just seemed to glide along the streets. In contrast, the hood of the poncho seemed to be rather undersized compared to the rest of the thing, meaning he had a very defined head and therefore more ghost-shaped than he otherwise might have been. Add to the mix the prominent white beard and hooded eyes he had, the glittery night lights bouncing off of the slick, wet streets, and the fact that I didn’t see him coming at first while walking in the centro after dark and you can understand why I thought I’d seen a ghost. It was a close call though. No one will ever really know the truth.

Anyway, this past weekend I went to Umbria with my Italian class and the other beginning Italian class. We visited four different small towns and had a rollicking good time, at least by my account. However, the night is too short to craft a fair rendering of those few days, so I’ll have to owe you one. And, by my record, I believe I owe you stories of San Gimignano, too. San Gimignano isn’t so well explained verbally. Rather, viewing it is a better way of making its acquaintance. If you’re interested you can actually view it, which brings me to my next point: I’ve added another link to my list on this blog — you can now see all of the pictures I’ve taken so far in Italy and around Europe at my Picasa library. Go! Tell me what you think!

Time to go puddlejumping. I’ll be back soon, promise.

Leslie and I, enjoying a good rain while waiting for the bus tonight.

Leslie and I, enjoying a good rain while waiting at the bus stop. Incidentally, we're sideways.

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Autumn

Walking home tonight with Leslie was funny in that I realized I probably haven’t been outside around this hour for about a week now. And it’s noticeable. The light’s changing, it’s darker now. Not only that, but we have clouds. Clouds. And not just clouds, but weather that threatens moisture (!). When we were driving home last weekend from San Gimignano, I noticed beginning stains of crimson across the leaves in the wine vineyards, starting to spider outward and spread. This past Sunday, the day that Leslie and I found a sustainable food market (i.e. largest concentration of hippies in one place I have yet to see in Europe) and the day that we both contracted the plague (that’s a story for the next post), I kept seeing leaves twirling downward onto the sidewalk we were walking on. Mostly what I wanted to say is this: somewhere in the last week, somewhere in between going to San Gimignano and standing at the top of a tower caught between Siena and Florence and staring (and staring and staring and sighing) at the rooftops of both, somewhere between spending the better portion of three days in bed while my baby host-newphew made baby noises all around the apartment all afternoon every day, making the apartment even cosier than it was before — somewhere in between all of that a schedule clicked and the season changed officially. What a fulfilling point in time that combination can be.

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Ne’er-do-wells contribute to society, too.

Yesterday, Leslie and I broke new ground in the world of science. Broke new ground and simultaneously savored gelato and sunshine while sitting and admiring the Duomo. It was all rather professional in its spontaneity and positive results.

The likelihood that any given passing individual (be they tourist or local) will look up and notice two people casually sitting on a curb between two parked vehicles yet only slightly obscured from their line of vision is approximately 7%.

Passersby were observed over a twenty-minute period. Two samples were taken, each consisting of twenty people and spaced apart from one another by a period of five minutes.

Possible reservations for the solidity of our findings may include mental math, lazy outlooks of the conductors, and naturally-induced drowsiness from mid-afternoon sunshine. A second experiment will soon be conducted for the sake of comparison; faithful results are expected. Please watch for further reports.

Leslie and I are currently seeking any willing sponsor for publication of our findings. Leslie and I have taken up residence on the steps of chiesa di Santa Croce, deigned them as headquarters, and may be found there for the forseeable future.

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Purtroppo Bellissima

Studying abroad means a lot of really cool things, but unfortunately it also means being homesick. Truly, there are a lot of days where I miss home and my people and my mommy like crazy. What’s most disgusting about it all is there’s no specific way to just “make it all better” so as to better pay attention to what I’m seeing here, now. In that sense, homesickness is a completely frustrating ailment and, generally, it leaves me feeling rather disempowered and a little nuts.

In response to my complaints of a prevailing bout of homesickness and its subsequently resulting feelings of sluggishness and general helplessness (and their subsequent states of alarm and displeasure), K. Hannah Friedman, sage and general muse, says this:

Well. You have two arms and two legs. And there’s a sky.”

So remember that, Brenna, and stop wasting the time you have.

So. Plans for tonight include a long walk across town and back with two amici from scuola, sharing and enjoying a bottle of wine, meeting some Italians, and hopefully something unexpected.

Tomorrow my Italian history class is voyaging to San Gimignano to see some sweet medieval architecture and I plan to (what else but) take a walk and find something wonderful in Florence that I’ve never seen before.

Allora. Vi amo, ragazzi.

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Tainted Love?

Leslie and I are sitting in a bar in San Spirito, a less touristy neighborhood located on the south side of the Arno. We’re sitting in the bar that the Italian kids took us to for our first Apertivo. We’re sitting at a tiny round table located squarely in the door frame where two large french doors have been thrown open. Leslie is working filling in a stack of postcards, writing notes and sweet nothings to loved ones back home. I’m reading dry accounts of early medieval music and its function in Florence’s early societies. The most beautiful part about this moment is not the flawlessly relaxed setting, the kind you’d find in most any American traveler’s favorite fantasy — rather, it’s the bar’s choice of music. Italian’s have the best (read: worst) taste in soft rock and 80s pop, and they’re quite proud of it. Incidentally, we’re singing along over our whiskey, though still staring at the table and its collection of papers and pens and responsibilities. I’m certainly pretending as though I’m not chuckling at the bartender who knows every word to every song, but will only sing to himself when he has the chance to duck his head below the bar to grab something. It’s okay. Leslie and I have him covered as we slyly dance along to the macarena while still sitting in our chairs.

I’m pretty sure life can’t get much better than this.

And, well, that’s what I like about you.

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Abstract

Hello everyone. I guess if you’re here and reading this blog, then you must’ve heard about it through me or someone related to me. And I guess if you’re here, you might have some interest in what I’m doing out in Italy. I’ve decided that I should then provide you with some sketch of this blog, its probable future, and what you can expect from it.

First of all, it’s hard to keep a steady account of such an overwhelming experience, an existence so different from the one I’m accustomed to leading back home. Perhaps this is all best illustrated by admitting to the fact that I’m still not used to the rhythm of a normal day here in Florence, not even after being here for 38 days now. It’s a western country, that much is true, so, yes, being here in this new sphere is not completely foreign or so different from living in Portland. However, it’s an old, old city, its streets are tiny and winding, the people … the people — they speak a different language, therefore fundamentals like basic communication and ways of thinking, things governed by language to some degree, are different. The culture has the benefit of history and origin — art starts here in Florence. There are several different well-known operas playing at the Theatre Comunale every week. I’ve had the opportunity to hear local orchestras, even some of those affiliated with my conservatory here, conducted by the likes of Jeffrey Tate. Even things as basic as the colors, the quality of natural light, and the texture of the air are different here. The countryside can be stark in comparison to Oregon’s. Tuscany holds a completely different palette of colors in its fields, vineyards and coastlines than the lush family of greens and ochres that are found at home in the Willamette Valley. I’m overwhelmed and more than a little off balance because of it. Needless to say, I spend a lot of my free time napping, trying to pick up as much of the language as I can, and looking around starry-eyed — rather than doing my reading for class and writing you all your long-promised postcards. Still, I’ve hit the ground running, I love my professors, I’m eating up every single free (FREE!), mind-blowing musical performance we get to see, I’m traveling and seeing places I never dreamed I would, and I’ve made some great friends.

Anyway, what I can predict and promise is that this blog will probably mostly be retellings of a lot of captured moments, moments that I found striking for some reason while wandering these tiny streets, moments that stuck with me through all the other little moments, then somehow had the luck (or ill-fortune, depending) to be recorded here. Anyone that’s received an email from me can tell I’m not usually one for long, detailed, terribly organized accounts. Frankly, I get bored and antsy while I’m writing them. I also not convinced that a lot of extra words can really help to convey what I’m feeling and seeing here. On top of that, it’s difficult to tell the same story several times over to several different loved ones and still feel as though its original integrity is intact. I hope that having one simple, central record will help me bottle some of the magic, basically.

However, if you’re still reading, I’ll consider it safe to assume that all of this is okay. Read the moments. Tell me what you think. Ask me questions. I’ll tell you more.

The gist of this semester, kids, is that Reed College is letting me go to school in the land of fairy tales, drink wines with counts, meet Spike Lee, take midnight flights to other European countries, learn a brand new language by ordering coffee and talking art with world-renowned academic authorities — and they’re still somehow granting me academic credit for it. I feel like I’ve found out that Reed College has a secret love child and that I’ve blackmailed the institution into giving me delicious credit in exchange for not telling anyone else about the child’s thus-far successfully protected identity. Well. The secret’s out, I guess.

I hope you like the moments.

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Moment 1

I saw a woman on the bus today sporting an Obama pin. She was tall and carried herself proudly and reminded me quite a lot of my mother. In that moment I felt homesick, but at the same time I felt an overwhelming sense of courage. The whole world’s rooting for you, sir.

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