30 December 2012

orvieto part one

[june 23rd-24th]

And so I got up the next morning and just kept living my life, because kidney infections are to me what bronchitis is to Sweet Brown.
It was incredibly frustrating, though, to be so exhausted. I couldn't find a taxi driver to take me to the train station, because it would only have been a few minutes by car. Naturally, this meant I could be found standing in the street, screaming obscenities at taxis.
My good luck charm Shelly and me on our train
But of course I eventually arrived in Orvieto. It's an amazing town on the top of a cliff made of tufa, a type of volcanic stone. Tufa is a relatively soft stone, so there's a network of caves running underneath Orvieto. It's also the site of one of Italy's most spectacular cathedrals. Just tons of history.

I met other three tutors--Emma from England, Amanda from Wales, and Ed from Georgia. They'd all been working together for a bit at other camps, but were incredibly fun and welcoming. That first night, Ed and I were without host families for a little bit, so we each got our own room at a hotel in town, and got to wash up for an informal tour and outdoor party.
The dream team.
Later that night, I met my host family. They lived in an old, probably medieval, apartment home in a building which had once been an orphanage, complete with its own chapel-turned-living room. The stone walls were over a foot thick in some places. Unfortunately, this meant that the wifi signal emanating from the living room didn't reach my bedroom ten feet away. A small price to pay, however, to be living in such a beautiful and historical apartment overlooking the main street of the town, Corso Cavour.

On Sunday, my host family took me to their grandparents' home, which was a short walk through town. As always, rumors of my vegetarian ways had preceded me, and the grandmother had a special lasagna prepared for me. First of all, this was the first time I can remember eating lasagna at all in Italy, and secondly, it was made with red sauce and PEAS. And it wasn't bad. Kinda reminded me of when I was a kid and my grandmother would throw frozen peas into our mac n cheese to get us to eat our vegetables.

With Anna in front of the Palazzo del Capitano del Popolo
After that, I walked around town a bit more with Anna, my little sister for the week. I learned that not only was my temporary home right off the main street of town, but less than a minute's walk the other way from one of Orvieto's most important attractions, Il Palazzo del Capitano del Popolo, or the Palace of the Captain of the People. The Captain of the People was kind of like an emergency mayor who would take charge in the event of an invasion, I believe. He would work together with the bishop of Orvieto, and sometimes the pope, who had a residence there for a while. Oh, did I not mention that? Tons of history in Orvieto. Now, the old building is used like a convention center or town hall.

That night, my host family went to a friend's house for a World Cup watch party. I stayed in, but my host mother prepared me a feast. You can't even see everything she made me, because I left some of the tupperwares and platters covered for the photo below.

ALL OF THIS FOOD WAS MEANT FOR ONE PERSON. The Italians I meet continue to believe that I need much, much more food than they do, even when I am roughly the same size they are. There's grilled eggplant, zucchini, tomatoes, peaches, plums, apricots, a banana, salad, bread, more grilled things that I can't remember, a ball of mozzarella cheese, and a packet of cream cheese. Obviously I ate all the cream cheese, some of the eggplant and zucchini, and nothing else.

(Okay, maybe I ate a peach and some of the mozzarella. And dipped it all in balsamic vinegar and olive oil. And then had to use some bread to soak up the leftover oil and vinegar mix.)

09 August 2012


I would like to take this opportunity to formally apologize for the lack of updates on my summer. I've been in a lot of places without reliable internet, and worse, several of the keys on my keyboard have stopped working. Having to copy-paste everything is a real bitch.

It's a shame, because I've been in some beautiful places this summer, and I've got some good stories. In two weeks I'll be home and I'll try to get caught up then.

Much love.

14 July 2012

the worst transatlantic journey of my life.

...Well strip the bark right off a tree and just hand it this way
Don't even need a drink of water to make the headache go away
Give me a sugar pill and watch me just rattle down the street...
-The White Stripes, 'Girl, You Have No Faith in Medicine'

Yes, you read that title right. This was even worse than the time I was trying to get home from Europe with swine flu, or just the plain old flu last year, or the time I went to South America with what someone later speculated might be whooping cough.

It all started on Wednesday morning. Wait, back it on up. It started Tuesday night, all of which I spent packing rather than sleeping. By the time Wednesday morning rolled around, my eyes were blurry and my back was achy.

Cue highway traffic and a miscue from the old Garmin, resulting in an arrival at Union Station at ten past eight.

Did I mention I was trying to make an 8:15 train? Chyeah.

Did I mention I had neglected to print my ticket, or even scribble down my reservation number? Double chyeah.

Did I mention that Union Station is freaking huge??? GAHHHHHHHHHHH

Fortunately, there was no line for the ticket agent, so I breezed right up to her, hyperventilating a bit as I explained myself. She was cool as a cucumber as she printed my ticket and asked me to sign it, but when she handed it to me she said, 'Now go catch that train!'

And I just barely did, with maybe a minute to spare. 

Was that anticlimactic? Hold on, it gets better.

The reward that awaited me on that train was a lovely, functional electrical outlet, with which I could watch episodes of Mad Men on my netbook. Which fortunately drowned out, for the most part, the sounds of the Girl Scout troop around me commenting loudly on how they had never been on a train before [obvious], is this thing on the ceiling a light or a fan? or both? and is that the Arch up ahead? when we were a FULL HOUR OUTSIDE OF ST LOUIS. Some people.

I probably got two hours of sleep as well, but it was difficult because my back was hurting a bit from the train and from staying up all night.

Does everyone remember JaNae? My bestie from the time I studied abroad in Madrid? Yeah? Okay, good. Well, she was there to meet me in St Louis and take me back to her lovely apartment. I probably should have crashed then and there, but instead we went out for afternoon martinis and I then explored the nicest mall I've ever seen while she went to work for a few hours.

At this point I desperately needed a break. I was walking around non-stop, and my back was killing me, and I had to pee every five seconds, and I kinda wanted to vom just a little--and that's when I had an epiphany. Los kidneys. There was something wrong with them. Too bad I had to be up in a few hours for a flight to Chicago. 

I think I mentioned last year that whenever I'm sick in a foreign country, I just keep living my life until the illness realizes it is unable to break me and flees from my body. This practice relies upon my theory that I am strong, most other people are weak, and the majority of medications are useless. However, a brief visit to Wikipedia led me to believe that my usual method might possibly not work against a kidney infection. I would have to sort everything out in Italy.

Six am flight was cancelled. Rebooked for 7:15. Stepped off the plane in Chicago five gates from where my next one would be departing (win). Ate delicious food (also win). Boarded flight to London. Was supposed to be sitting next to a precocious-looking preteen. . . until her brother offered to switch seats with her. Enter underage, socially awkward dropout, and would-be paramour. Most awkward flirter ever. He started things off by asking me a little about myself, then guessed my age at 27. Ouch. Kept asking for my info. Ordered a beer at ten a.m. Played with the lace on the back of my shirt while he thought I was sleeping. Got his father to take sneaky pictures of me when they thought I wasn't paying attention. Long story short, the flight sucked, and the hour-long wait in line for customs at Heathrow wasn't much better.

I slept in a bus terminal that night, and on the floor near the check-in gates, before flying on to Italy. All the while I worried about whether I was even well enough to fly, how much a trip to the doctor and medication would cost in a foreign country, and whether or not I would have an adverse reaction to whatever was prescribed to me.

By the time I landed in Rome, I couldn't stand up straight. I was sweaty and weak and exhausted. The receptionist at my hostel recommended a pharmacy down the street. Where the first suggestion was that I get a shot. "You know, the type of shot you get for your period pain," the pharmacist told me. I refused, and waited 4 hours for the doctor. 

You know one of the ways for doctors to check for kidney problems? They punch you in the lower back. It hurts. The doctor and the pharmacist did this to me several times, just to be sure.  Then, based on my description of my symptoms and his assessment of me, the doctor speculated that I had kidney stones. I insisted that it was 'just' a kidney infection, and he shrugged and basically said, "Whatever, it's the same treatment either way." 

He then prescribed painkillers, antibiotics, as much water as I could drink, and a week's worth of bed rest. Yeah right. I spent the rest of the day in bed (enjoying the company of three two liter bottles of water) and got up early the next morning to prepare for my journey out to Orvieto and my first camp of the summer.