Thursday, February 26, 2009


So! I made it through the week, albeit just barely. I did my presentation in Opera this morning, which went really well even if I was rushed and had lots more I wanted to talk about. Then I studied for my Italian quiz until my brain reached maximum capacity and I couldn't memorize even one more vocab word and figured that even if il sopraccaglio was on the quiz I didn't fucking care because it just wasn't going to happen. But the quiz went ok, I hope, and then I just sat there and thought about how hungry I was, and how much I didn't have food at home, and how I really, really wanted something plain and fatless and (most of all) Asian, to make up for the pasta with polpo (octopus! yummmmm), bread, and two desserts (in my defense, I split both with two other people) that I had at Rishma's birthday dinner last night. And then inspiration struck!

On the way back from class, I stopped at Esselunga (the closest thing to an American grocery store around) and bought myself some brown rice, sushi ginger, smoked salmon (on sale, on sale, in case my mom is reading this), carrots, and zucchini. I then came home and made myself the most delicious, satisfying rice bowl I think I've ever had. Never have I craved brown and raw vegetables and SOY SAUCE as much as I did today. I'd go so far to say it was the best lunch I've had since I got here. I'm sorry now that I didn't take a picture, but I was too too hungry.

God, I'm so tired. I feel as if I spend the majority of my life saying that this semester, but it's true. I'm tired. My body is tired, and right now (thanks, Opera and Italian!) my mind is too. I blame it on being so busy, and having more fun than I generally do during the school year. Take for example, last weekend.

I wasn't feeling that great on Friday, so I called Lauren and asked her if she wanted to just wander around Florence for a while. We went across the Arno, and all the way up towards San Miniato, even though we never actually made it there because we got tired and I punked out and didn't want to keep searching. But the area across the Arno through which we walked was incredible. The houses were massive, and much newer than anything on my side of the river. New, I mean, as in the 1800s instead of the middle ages. New as in the Pitti Palace's "Modern Rooms." New as in, older than most everything in America. It was like being in a different city, though. Just lovely.

On Saturday, Jen and I decided last minute to meet the boys in Siena for the day. I got in touch with Lauren, and we all met at the train station. It was a nice day, even if it cemented things in my mind that make me rather sad. But anyway, Siena is absolutely beautiful. Their Duomo was spectacular. Although the facade was unimpressive compared to some I've seen, including Florence's Duomo, the inside was incredible. The walls were made of striped white and blue marble, while the ceilings were painted navy blue with gold stars. The frescoes in the library were painted by Michelangelo. I would have moved in, were it not so deathly cold (marble tends to be rather chilly) and if I didn't know that they'd kick me out. After hanging around the Duomo for a while, we went to Piazza del Campo, the large piazza in the center of the city. All the little children were dressed up for Carnivale, and ran around throwing confetti and shooting silly string. They were adorable.

Then on Sunday, I went to Viareggio for Carnivale with NYU. Viareggio is a beachside city that reminded me a lot of Coney Island. It was pretty but seedy, and you could tell that it was well past it's prime. But the parade was great, with massive floats that all seemed to be political, but that went over my head because I'm not as up on my Italian politics as I know I should be. But it was a fun day, even if I don't think I would go back to Viareggio.

This weekend I'm heading to Lake Como on Saturday, and spending the rest of the time studying. Midterms are coming up, and I'm scared. Not so much for Islam and Christianity, but I feel like I've been grasping Italian by threads, and I'm not sure how well I'm going to do.

Wednesday, February 25, 2009

Week from Hell

So I got a lovely note from my dear friend Jessica telling me to update my blog, and I will, I promise, as soon as today is over. Because this has been the first Week from Hell so far this semester. It kind of just crept up with no warning, and suddenly it was all Presentation! Quiz! Paper! Midterms! in rapid succession. And it's not even over yet, and won't be until this time next week, when I will be on my way to sunny Nice and Barcelona and I will be extraordinarily happy.

But anyways, I do have a lot to update you all about last weekend, so I will try to write something tonight, in between watching 4 hours of Don Carlos and crying myself to sleep.

Wednesday, February 18, 2009

How is lightning like a violist's fingers?

Today in my violin lesson there was a terrible string-breaking squawky noise from the next room, and my teacher looked up, made a disgusted face in that general direction, then smiled and said "It's a viola." So glad to know that viola jokes exist in Italy.

Tuesday, February 17, 2009

Things I Miss About New York

1) My Parents
My Mom reads my blog now! Hi Mom!

2) Asian Food
Mostly Vietnamese. I came across a recipe for summer rolls yesterday while trolling the interwebs and almost drooled on my keyboard. I've heard that the Chinese restaurants in Florence are not worth going to for any other reason than to say you've eaten terrible Chinese food in Florence, and while there's one affordable sushi place I've yet to go. I'm afraid it will be terrible and then I'll just spend the rest of the day really sad.

3) Meat in General
I'm a terrible meat cooker, and I hate having to think about dinner at breakfast. So I never defrost anything, and anyways meat is super expensive, so I've been living off beans and vegetable and carbs.

4) New York
It's my city. All of my friends here are all "I'm Never Going Back to the States" while I'm all "This Place is Pretty but I Could Never Ever Live Here." I'm realizing Florence is definitely not metropolitan enough for me. I love the imposing grandeur of New York best. I think it has something to do with the fact that it was the first city I fell in love with, and the one that I plan on living in for the rest of my life, even if that requires me to sell my soul or live without health insurance in a little studio with 48574865 roommates in Bed-Stuy.

5) My Roomies
I missed Sonia's 21st birthday. You have no idea how sad that makes me.

I'm not down with this espresso-take-one-sip-that-feels-like-acid-pouring-down-your-throat-then-leave shit. I miss getting the largest size caffe americano available from Starbucks (which I refuse to call by whatever ridiculous pretentious name they gave it and just say "large," although I realize that by refusing to play by their rules I am in my own way being super pretentious) and drinking it for hours afterwards.

7) Bookstores
Not being able to read in Italian means I can't go into a bookstore and linger for 8 hours. Miss it.

This is not to say that I'm not enjoying myself here, because that is clearly not the case. I'm having a great time. But that doesn't mean I don't miss things from home.

Saturday, February 14, 2009

Never Have I Felt So Guilty About Not Being a Jew

Yesterday my Italian Opera class took us on a tour of Teatro Pergola, the second opera house built in Florence. It was interesting, but hardly life changing. My camera refused to take good pictures so I only have a few.

But then Jennie and I figured that since we were so close and it was such a beautiful day, we should go visit the synagogue. It was probably the most beautiful building I've been in since we've gotten to Florence. It was built in the late 19th century in the Moorish style, and the walls inside were painted the most brilliant colors in the most fantastic designs. We weren't allowed to take cameras or electronic devices inside (there was a bombing pretty recently) so I only got photos of the outside.

When we entered the temple, an english speaking guide invited us to join the tour group with a few other Americans. She explained a lot about the history of the synagogue and the Jewish population in Italy. What I found fascinating was that Italian Jews were forced to live in ghettos beginning in the Renaissance and lasting until the 1860s, but during the Inquisition the de Medicis offered asylum to the Sephardic Jews, and didn't force them to live in the ghettos. So basically Italian Jews were second class citizens until the 1860s but Sephardic Jews were allowed to live and prosper as they pleased.

When we went up to the museum on the third floor, and everyone began talking about where they were from (one man got his doctorate from NYU and works for the State Department currently stationed in Ethiopia, another lives in Rome but is originally from Boston), and eventually got onto the topic of Israel and how dangerous it is for Israelis to go anywhere. The tour guide looked at Jennie and me and asked, "Have you ever been to Israel?" To which we had to honestly reply, no, no we haven't. Then she asked us if we came from big Jewish communities, and once again we had to say that no, we don't. The guide looked so surprised, and I really felt like I let her down or something for not being a Jew. Then I felt like I doubly let her down because she kept telling us to ask her questions except I honestly didn't have anything in particular that I needed to ask. So I kept saying "Ok!" when she said to ask anything we wanted.

The thing is though, that I spent the majority of my childhood wishing I was a Jew, or a Catholic, or Hindu, or any kind of believer at all. I felt like they were so sure of themselves, not racked by insecurities and doubt like I was. Knowing for sure that you had The Truth had to be such a comfort. My cousins were like that. They just Knew that they were headed in the right direction, that they were Saved and therefore no matter what they did in life it was cool because God was on their side. I envied that certainty. I still do. I don't however, still feel like I can only find that certainty in religion. I'm a much more confident person in my own right, and I can find that certainty within me. It doesn't need to come from a book or knowledge of God, but just from my inner beliefs.

Tuesday, February 10, 2009

Costant April

One thing I completely, wholeheartedly love about living here is the fact that every morning, when I wake up, I can open the door to the terrace and hear birds. The weather is so temperate that even during the winter the birds don't leave.

Monday, February 9, 2009

I am My Mother

Last night I was so tired and pms-y that I accidentally set my alarm for 6:00 AM this morning and was halfway through my oatmeal before realizing that it was ridiculously early, so instead of doing something like go online and read the paper, or do homework, or study, I cleaned the entire kitchen, from top to bottom.

Sunday, February 8, 2009

Spending a lot of Money Makes Alex Want to Take Anti-Anxiety Pills

We planned out, researched, and booked our Spring Break last night. And good god, was it A Mission.

My original suggestion was to go to Barcelona via the train through the south of France, but one of my friends did research and came to the conclusion that staying in Nice, Marseilles, Aix, and Barcelona was going to be ridiculously expensive. So we settled on taking a train and then staying in Nice for four nights, and doing day trips to wherever we wanted to go from there. Then instead of taking a 112 euro train from Nice to Barcelona, we're going to take a plane from Nice to Dublin, the another from Dublin to Barcelona for 60 euro. Strange how a plane can cost less and take far less time than a train. Aren't trains supposed to be the Budget Option?

Anyways, we're staying in Barcelona for four nights as well, and taking a plane back to Pisa the Saturday before classes start up again. We booked our hostels in both Nice and Barcelona and our planes on my friend Jaimie's credit card, because she somehow either doesn't have a charge limit or an agreement that she can spend whatever she wants while here. So when the charge comes in, we need to either wire her money or send her mother a check back in the states.

So all in all, right now we're doing spring break for under 400 US dollars. I think that's pretty damn good. Granted, as we go on the trip we're going to have to spend money on things to do, day trips out of Nice, and food, but still, I like knowing that we're doing an entire week travelling for the price it would be to stay in a hotel for three nights back home.

And anyways, we're trying to make up for it by having John ask every single one of his friends in Paris if we can sleep on their floor while there next month.

I'm Getting This Done With My Hair

Saturday, February 7, 2009

Chocolate and Alleyways, or The Day On Which I Realized That Medieval Religious Iconography Really Does it For Me

Sometimes the best ideas are the most spontaneous. Like spending a week brainstorming possible day trips for the weekend until you get so frustrated that you're tempted to just forget about the prospect of traveling altogether, until, after coming home from the opera at midnight exhausted and cranky, someone simply says, "Why not Perugia?" and you respond "Alright, fine" just to get them out of your apartment so you can go to bed. So you wake up early, trusting that someone else has figured out the details and simply get on a train to Umbria. And it ends up being a completely and utterly wonderful day.

Jennie, Yvette, Jaimie, Lauren, and I met up with John and Adrian at their apartment and walked to the train station at 9:30 in the morning. After a lot of confusion over which train to take and where and how to buy tickets, we ended up on the correct train to Perugia. The train ride was lovely, passing through Arezzo and Cortona and Trasimeno, a city next to a beautiful lake that I plan on visiting as soon as the weather starts to clear up. We arrived in Perugia around one o'clock in the afternoon. After a quick cheap lunch at what seemed to be the equivalent of a train station diner (that amazingly had delicious stewed fava beans), we bought a map and started to explore.

Our Adventures had a rough start. After walking up the steepest hill imaginable, we came to the first museum only to find that it was closed, and had been since an earthquake a few years ago. But we continued on, and as we kept walking up hills and stairs we realized that the city was getting progressively older. The buildings became smaller and covered in moss, and the streets got narrower with more small alleyways that I kept running in until I would hear someone say "Where the hell is Alex?" There were frescoes on the walls and creches and religious icons, and I just fell more and more in love.

When we reached the city center, which was the top of the hill, the architecture changed dramatically. Whereas the city was very medieval, the main piazza was definitely Baroque, with wide streets and Napolean-esque buildings. We stopped at a chocolate store and I bought artisinal bacci (kisses) and took Album Cover pictures on the stairs leading to the museum. We finally decided to go in the museum, which has one of the best collections of medieval art is all of Italy. In the museum, I realized that while Renaissance art leaves me cold, I love medieval religious art. I find the gold leaf, the bright colors, and even the lack of perspective and realism terribly beautiful. I think it's the sense of mystery that accompanies those paintings. Life was still completely inexplicable then, and because of this completely magical. It's hard to articulate, but it really shone through in the beauty of those paintings of Jesus and the saints and angels.

After the museum, we considered getting dinner, but seeing as it was still early and starting to rain, we decided to just get the train home and eat then. As it turned out, this was a brilliant idea. Jennie had thrown the idea of doing a pizza and beer night, and I suggested Il Pizzaioulo, a pizzeria that my guidebook raved about. We made a reservation for 13 people, and got there at 10:00, like Real Italians. The restaurant was adorable, and the pizza was amazing. Lauren and I split a vegetariana pizza, and ate it so fast I think it was gone in five minutes. The crust was thick and fluffy, not gummy, and just charred enough, the sauce was perfect, and there was just the right amount of cheese. Everyone else's was delicious as well, and Lauren and I basically ate all the crusts from John's pizza as well. After pizza we went to an Irish pub that had really good beer until we got bored (there isn't much to do at a pub, and for some reason I attract guys in bars much easier in New York).

All in all, it was a really great day. Just goes to show that it's not always necessary to plan things out to a T. And that's something that I need to remember.

Thursday, February 5, 2009

Vintage Fair, Pizza, Florence in Sunlight

We went to the Vintage Fair, which was basically a flea market of wonderful vintage clothes. I bought vintage glasses frames! Which I then proceeded to wear all day, until my friend Kate came over for dinner and said, with mild disgust, "Nice hipster glasses." Yo Whatever. I love them. And they got me lots of strange looks from the hot Italian business men at the pizzeria where we went to lunch, at which I ate the best pizza on the planet, Pizza Frutti di Mare:

I was torn between this pizza and a vegetable pizza, but when this came out, I knew I had made the right choice. Perfectly cooked mussels, shrimp, cockles, and calamari lay on a paper thin crust with a simple tomato puree. Heaven.

After lunch, we took a walk to get gelato and ended up by the Arno. It was finally sunny, and I couldn't resist a few pictures.

Chocolate Fair!

Sitting in a classroom during orientation with Marielle, looking at Florence's English-language newspaper.
Me: Hm, an exhibit of works depicting Catherine di'Medici. Could be fun.
Marielle: Yeah that sounds interested.
Me: Oh, a flower market!
Marielle: Oooh.
Marielle: (gasp) WHAT WE ARE SO GOING

yes, so perhaps I took some artistic license with that conversation, but it went more or less along those lines. Nothing like the vision of stalls upon stalls of chocolately greatness to send two college girls into a tizzy.

Lucca (A Little After the Fact)

So, I've been seriously slacking in the picture posting department. So, here are some pictures from the last trip we went on. We went to Lucca, which is the only Ancient Walled City (phrase courtesy of my roommate Jennie's father) with walls that are still intact in all of Tuscany. It was a truly beautiful city, with small alleyways and medieval buildings surrounding a circular piazza that followed the plan of the original Roman amphitheater that is now buried. Also, the shops were adorable.

However, the weather on the day we went couldn't have been worse. When we left Florence it was gray and drizzly, but as we went towards Lucca the drizzle turned into full-on downpour. As you can imagine, it's very, very difficult to pay attention to a guided tour when you are soaked to the bone. And then the tour ended just as siesta began, so none of the shops or museums were open during the entirety of our free time. So we got a sit-down, multi course lunch (which was fabulous and really cheap), stopped in at a bakery to buy a type of bread specific to Lucca (ring-shaped and dried fruit studded and which tasted something like pannettone except much firmer) and then spent the rest of the time hiding from the rain in the tourism information center.

So in all, Lucca was a beautiful town that I would have enjoyed so much more had it not been raining. I think I will take my mother there when she comes to visit. It's one of the only cities in Tuscany where she hasn't been, and I think that if it's a nice day we'll have a really good time.

Monday, February 2, 2009

Various Observations

1) Italians Don't Clean Up After Their Dogs
It's something that takes a bit of getting used to, having to constantly watch the sidewalk to make sure you don't step in a fresh pile of dog shit. And since it rains like, all the time here, that pile of dog shit is always wet. Which makes it even more unpleasant to step in. I'm not sure if there just aren't laws here requiring people to clean up after their pets, or if people here just don't care, but either way it's annoying. Especially since everything you see here is so beautiful, it's really terrible to have to miss it because you're staring at the ground, avoiding the obstacle course.

2) The Only Place in which I Have Experienced Serious Culture Shock is the Grocery Store
First off, everything is in Italian. Yeah, I know, obvi. But it is seriously hard to figure out if you're buying rice milk or soy milk when you don't know the word for "soy" or "rice." And there's no oatmeal. I actually considered buying this rice gruel baby food a few days ago, but it was mad expensive and it came in tiny portions. But on the bright side, everything tastes better here. The peppers were bright and sweet and happy tasting and there's barely any part of the artichokes that you can't eat and their salad mixes are so ridiculously good that I have to force myself to not eat an entire bag a day.

3) Everyone (and I mean EVERYONE) Wears Black.
I rebel by wearing bright yellow tights with a green shirt and my red coat. Yes, back in New York I would hate myself. But I feel like I have to bring some color into this city. People need to have fun with their clothes, not constantly look like they're in mourning.

4) Italians Really Like Their Political Graffiti
Back in New York, you really never see obvious political graffiti. Yes, every once in a while someone will scrawl "Fuck Bush" on the wall of the subway car or something, but most of the graffiti is just the names of the artist or crew. It's totally different here. Apparently there's a big anti-Fascist movement in Florence, and you can tell by the phrases people spray paint on the walls and buildings. My favorite is halfway up the hill on the way to campus, where someone wrote "Tu Votto Non Conto" (Your Vote Doesn't Count), mostly because it's one of the only ones I totally understand. They also like to spray paint love notes on the street and walls in front of their significant others' homes. It's kind of cute. It's even better when they combine love notes and political messages, like the one I saw that roughly translated to "My Dear Little Radical." Adorable. Someday someone will say that about me. (Or perhaps not, since I'm not at all a radical. I'm actually becoming increasingly bourgeois, but that's a story for another day.)

5) The Old Women Here Are Really Really Elegant
They make me want to buy a fur coat.