24 December 2009

any way the wind blows. . .

Well the wind is blowing
where am I going?*

Six months until. . . what? Six months until I'm gone? Or will I still be here? I've been saying for ages that I'm going to flee the country first chance I get, but the closer I get to graduation, the less sure I am about that.

Here are my options:
  1. Return to Italy, teach another summer. This would be brilliant, and I'm considering it very seriously, but I would still have to figure out something to do after September.
  2. Go back to Madrid, bartend for a bit and try and get a job teaching English.
  3. Start looking for something in Nice.
  4. Stay here and get a real job and a real place.

In all likelihood, I'll end up teaching all summer and then settle somewhere for the winter. I'm pretty certain I won't stay here- there's just so much I want to get away from. People I could do without ever seeing again for as long as I live. I need to get back to where I feel unstifled, to where I feel perfect and free and completely brilliant. But I'm not sure where exactly that is yet.

The only thing that I know for certain is that I don't want anything to be certain. I can't handle plans; I can't handle being tied down to something. Only six more months.


*The White Stripes

25 November 2009

hundredth post

"And the stains coming from my blood tell me, "Go back home."
-The White Stripes, 'Seven Nation Army'

The first thing I did when I got home for Thanksgiving break was walk our fence lines. I wanted to get reacquainted with our land.
Things looked good; the grass is still green beneath the fallen leaves, but I didn't see nearly as many animal tracks as I'd expected. I did find a cluster of violets in a grove near the corner of our property, which must look amazing in the summertime. There was a tire on the creek bank, washed up there by a recent flood. Maybe these are all trivial things, but I feel more centered when I'm all square with our property.
Later, I went running. It's just been so long since I've spent quality time with the plains. The combination of rolling prairie and gravel roads sometimes makes for a tough run, but I love pushing myself up a hill and suddenly finding myself at the top of it.
The neighbor dogs bug me pretty frequently (especially the German shepherd-chow mix who lives next to the substation), but today a couple followed me who were actually really pleasant. One was like a larger version of Sandy from Annie, and the other looked like she might have been a small black lab mix. They ran out to meet me, and chased the German shepherd-chow mix away. Then they stuck with me the rest of the way, tripping over each other in their eagerness to run with me.
We ran on flat land for a ways, and then we turned downhill. When we got to a certain creek, I knew it was time for us to turn around. As I ran back up the hill to the corner, the wind picked up. My massive hoodie was like a parachute, and I pulled my arms in as close to my body as I could. Lowering my head, I saw that the dogs had huge smiles on their faces. They were loping along just ahead of me, pacing me. I realized that I was grinning too.

24 September 2009

today's post brought to you by mick jones

Darling you've got to let me know, should I stay or should I go?
If you say that you are mine, I'll be here til the end of time.
So you've got to let me know, should I stay or should I go?
It's always tease, tease, tease; you're happy when I'm on my knees.
One day it's fine; the next it's black, so if you want me off your back,
Well come on and let me know, should I stay or should I go?

Should I stay or should I go now, should I stay or should I go now?
If I go there will be trouble, and if I stay it will be double.
So come on and let me know-

This indecision's bugging me. If you don't want me, set me free.
Exactly whom I'm supposed to be? Don't you know which clothes even fit me?
Come on and let me know: should I cool it or should I blow?

Should I stay or should I go now? Should I stay or should I go now?
If I go there will be trouble, and if I stay it will be double.
So you've got to let me know, should I cool it or should I blow?

Should I stay or should I go now? Should I stay or should I go now?
If I go there will be trouble, and if I stay it will be double.
So you've got to let me know,
should I stay or should I go?
-The Clash

04 September 2009

Aftermath of my epically European summer

". . . and then there are those other people, the ones who run as far as they can so they don't have to look at themselves."

-Gossip Girl

If I remember correctly, I was nostalgic at the beginning of the summer for Kansas and all the things that it signifies to me. I craved country music, was enthusiastic about farmwork for the first time in years, and lived in my cowboy boots. That will always be a part of me, like the bones in my body. After a steady diet of Europe for three months, however, I'm finding it difficult to convert back to my gravel road swagger and straw-chewing ways. If I were to pick up a bb gun right now, I doubt it would fit as nicely inside my arm.
My head is full of the Killers, Arctic Monkeys, and the sounds of all the musicians that I met this summer. If it weren't for my Target sandals, I'd be dressed head-to-toe in H&M almost all the time. This European style is like the tan that covers me now: I'm sure it will fade before too long, but I'll always have the ability to acquire it again.
Just as I immersed my students in English, so was I fully immersed in Europe. I drank beer and wine instead of water at dinner because that's what my host families did. Italian driving rubbed off on me (and that's all I'll say about that). When I need to make a point, I speak Italian, and when I really need to make a point, I speak Italian sign language.
I saw so much of Italy, one of the best cities in France, and my favorite place in Spain. I didn't mention this before out of fear that I would be quarantined, but I actually contracted what we believe to have been swine flu while I was probably in Nice, and I was fighting it while in Madrid (which is why I didn't seem to get very much done while I was there). It wasn't as bad as they're making it out to be here in the States- I would almost say it was milder than the flu I got a few years ago. I did, however, feel achier than I've ever felt from an illness, and flying was miserable. I can't believe I made it home- I was almost expecting to be held for a few days.
So that was how I spent my first few days back- on the couch, being served orange juice and sorbet by my mum (sorbet is the next best thing to gelato). I'm still ridiculously tired two weeks later, and now a lot of my friends are coming down with various illnesses (don't worry, I've not been contagious since I returned). Looks like I'll be acting as Mother Theresa for the next few weeks. Fortunately my time with my Italian host mothers taught me how to cook for large groups and just generally take care of (or nag, depending on how you look at it) people. I've stocked up with soup, pasta, Bomb Pops, tea, vitamin C, and grilled cheese.
Let's do this.

18 August 2009

Goodbye for now, Europe

I don't know what I'm doing wrong; maybe I've been here too long. The songs on the radio sound the same; everybody just looks the same. But then last night was so much fun, and now your sheets are dirty. The streets are dirty too, but you never look back over what you've done. Remember when you were young, you'd lose yourself?
-Razorlight, In the Morning

This is looking like my last post from Europe. Anything I say to try and mark the occasion will either sound anti-climatic or way over the top. So I'm just going to play it cool.
I realized last night that I've spent half of the last year in Europe. I was here for three months and three weeks last fall, and I'm getting ready to end a two month, two and a half week stint right now. That adds up to over six months (right?), and it seems like a really big deal to me.
I'm also realizing how lucky I've been. This is my third stay in Madrid, while JaNae hasn't been back since we left in December.
I'm ending the summer in a much better place than I started it (health excluded). Although I spent eight weeks teaching, I learned so much. I think maybe I say this too often, but I met some really incredible people who have already changed me. I did some silly things, and I did a few stupid things, but I've come out of it all right and I'll soon be home.
My Italian, unfortunately, is not quite at the conversational level. On my application to teach for the summer I wrote that I spoke it at a 2/10 level, which was a lie, because I actually spoke none. Now, however, I understand roughly 70% of the Italian that I overhear, and I can probably speak at a 3 or 4/10 level. Even though I didn't learn that much, I soaked up enough for it to screw up my Spanish. They're just so similar that it's easy to speak one and think you're speaking the other. While travelling by bus last weekend, for example, a little girl came up to me and spoke to me in Italian, and without hesitation, I answered her in Spanish. She ran back to her mother and said, "She's Spanish! She's Spanish!" and that was when I realized that I'd used the wrong language. But when I go into shops here, words like 'anche' and 'ma' come into my head before 'tambien' and 'pero.' Best part is, I start Elementary French in about two weeks, so I'll be adding a third Romance language to my repertoire (fourth if you count the super basic Latin I know).
I spent most of yesterday in bed, trying to feel better, and then went out to see the city a bit in the evening. This morning, I got up earlier, realizing that everyone else in my room had checked out by 9 am. I had this elaborate plan in my head to visit Parque del Oeste and the testament to my love for Kelsey that I'd carved on a tree there, then take a couple of buses up through the old neighborhood to the Prado, and then come back to the hostel to chill out all afternoon. As it turned out, the line to get into the Prado was ridiculous, so I just skipped it (I may try again later, though).
It's probably about that time. I know that there are things, stories, and facts that I've meant to mention and have forgotten, but they're just not coming to me now, and perhaps I'll remember them later.
I leave tomorrow morning at 10:35 am and should be in Kansas City around 10 pm Central time (that's 5 am Madrid, Nice, and Italy time).

That is all.

Over and in
Last call for sin
While everyone's lost, the battle is won
With all these things that I've done.

-The Killers, All These Things That I've Done

17 August 2009

Back in Spain

I've got a disease deep inside me, makes me feel uneasy baby, I can't live without you- tell me, what am I supposed to do about it? Keep your distance from me, don't pay no attention to me; I've got a disease. . .
-Matchbox 20, Disease

Oh, so much to catch you up on. Where were we last? Well, the last time I updated, I was sitting in the kitchen of my hostel, reluctant to leave because I'd already checked out and had turned in my keys. As a result, I would have to buzz up if I wanted to get back in, and I didn't really want to bug anyone. I did leave around 3 to meet up with someone for a late lunch/juice date, but I was back by around 4.
From that point, I basically held court in the Hostel Smith kitchen. I knew pretty much everyone staying there (that's right, all 17 people), so I watched American football and CNN with the Aussie boys, and then after they left, the Swiss boys showed up and made dinner. After that, a couple of American boys showed up whom I hadn't met. One of them looked like Owen Wilson and the other looked like Colin Farrell, and they were apparently renting a flat from the owner of the hostel, but their bathroom was being remodelled, so they were stopping by to pick up a key so that they could use ours. When they left I got on skype and started videochatting Jasey so that I could tell her in person all about Colin Farrell. I'm glad I did, because it ended up being extremely entertaining. German boys Robert and Flo showed up next, which Jasey was excited about because she thinks German boys are sexy by default.
[Don't get me wrong, Rob and Flo weren't bad-looking, but they were so funny and they looked out for me, so it was almost like having German brothers for a couple of days (Jasey insists that Robert had a massive crush on me though. . . which was probably true). The night before, when one of the boys in the band had walked me home after we'd watched that second band play, Robert, Flo, and two of the Aussies were just chilling in the hostel's front room, waiting up to tease me. We laughed about it for a while, but when they got a little too silly with it, I decided I'd rather just go to bed than dignify their questions with responses, so I went into the dorm and jumped under the covers. I'd just closed my eyes when I heard a sound, so I looked up. . . and there was Robert at the foot of my bed, pulling off his belt like a stripper. "Good night, Robert," was all I said. The next morning, he woke me up by saying, "Liiiiiiiiiiizzie. . . gooooood mooooooooooorning. . ."]
So. Flo and Robert were talking with Jasey, about all sorts of random things, and then these two boys from Manchester showed up. They had ridiculously strong accents, and they explained extended metaphors and the like to us. One of them proposed to Jasey. The other got a bit angry with me. Then several of the boys started stripping, and I put my hand over the camera, and the Manchester boys left. Around this point I decided that I was really hungry, but again, I didn't want to leave, so I started searching through the communal food in the fridge. I came up with a mayonnaise and mustard sandwich. This was about when Colin Farrell showed up again to take a shower. When he saw what I was eating, he was outraged.
"Helen!" he said to the woman in charge, "Do you see what this girl is eating? It's mayonnaise on bread."
"Mmmm, this is very fattening," she responded, shaking her head at me.
Basically, Colin Farrell decided that it was unacceptable for me to eat a mayo and mustard sandwich. "I'm going to take you out to eat," he told me, and before the entire sentence was out of his mouth, I'd yelled a quick goodbye to Jasey and shut my computer.
So that night, I shared pasta and life stories with Colin Farrell. People were staring at him all through dinner, especially this creepy-looking French girl. He was actually really nice, and really funny, and afterwards, he and I ran by Wayne's one last time (he knows everyone in that town so it was no problem to get in), stayed for about three minutes, then ran back to the hostel to grab my bags and make a mad dash for the bus station.
I would like to add here that, because he knows everyone in Nice (he also plays in a band), we had to stop a few times to say hi to people. There were these two older men in front of the hostel who stopped him to say hi. They chatted briefly, and he introduced me to them- their names were John and Paul. "Oh hey, where are George and Ringo?" I asked without thinking. We talked for a bit, and they kept saying how sharp I was, which was strange and new. This was how I discovered that some of the silly things that I say are actually funny to other people as well. It was nice.
We ended up arriving at the bus station around 11:50pm, roughly 9 minutes before my bus was due to leave. Boarding that bus was really, really difficult- I'd met the coolest people while in Nice, and some really nice guys (although it probably just seems that way because I spent 2 months being harrassed by the strangest men in Italy). But it all got better when I heard Spanish being spoken.
17 hours later, I was in Valencia. Yep, I chose Valencia because I knew it was a coastal city. I had intended to head to the aquarium while I was there, but in the end, I just couldn't be bothered. My hostel there didn't have quite the same camaraderie, so I went out on a pub crawl one night to try and fight the loneliness.
I was the only person from my hostel who went (apparently it's known amongst the Valencian hostel community as the 'boring hostel') so the guide had me come into the next hostel with him to try and drum up some interest. This meant that I ended up translating to some Italians for him. Now, if you recall, I've never actually learned Italian, just picked up a bit. Sooo I ended up saying to them, "Vuoi. . . andare con noi. . . per bere?!" which means "Would you like to go out with us to drink?" No wonder they all declined. Eventually, though, we picked up a couple of Brits and met up with another group consisting largely of Canadians and Germans and headed to a small bar. It was only around 11:30, so there was no one there. We played foosball for a while and I ended up just talking with most of the guys for a while. I can't help it; sometimes I just have to get away from the cattiness that girls tend to bring to the table and chill with the lads instead.
We moved on to another bar, and then to another. By that time, my lack of sleep from the bus ride was catching up to me, and I ended up walking home with one of the British boys. We were talking about the most random things, and I mentioned that I played softball, and he was like, "Wait, did you say you played softball?" and I was like, "Well, yes, I did," and he stopped, and said, "The European softball championships were played on a softball pitch about 50 meters that way," and he showed me the field where they'd been played only two weeks before! How random is that?!
The next day it was more beach, and then I headed to the train station. Somehow, the RENFE website had cancelled my ticket, which I had paid for by credit card while in Nice, so I had to pay for a new one, in first class, with cash. It was about 75 euro- and the first one would have cost me 27. At least they gave me a Cuba Libre on the train.
Now I'm in Madrid once more. What have I done since I've been here. . . not much. I've been feeling a little under the weather from so many nights out, so I'll probably take it easy. I did go to the Rastro yesterday, where I bought a few things for the house which I'm apparently moving into in about a week, as well as a gift for Katsy. Today I've got no clue what I'm doing- I'll probably take it easy so I look nice and healthy for the flight home. I'd hate to get quarantined or something. . .
I know I've left things out, but this post was ramble-y enough, so I should probably give you some time to process it.

15 August 2009

Beginning to wrap up the summer. . .

As my Summer of the Perpetual Dehydration comes all too quickly to its end, I just thought I ought to share a few fun facts with you:
Days during which I was dehydrated: All of them
Number of times I applied sunscreen: 0
Amount of pizza consumed by the four of us at the Villa di Napoli: Probably enough to pay Vittorio the pizza-maker's rent for the month
Number of men named Fabio whom I encountered: 1
Cities lived in while in Italy: 8
Favorite place visited during the entire summer: Nice
Best quotes of the summer: "GREEN BUTTON GREEN BUTTON GREEN BUTTON!!!", "You've got lips like a Bratz doll", "Liz has been dying to hold a man's hand since she came to Italy", "I don't understand- Ermes!", "How do you say 'I think you look beautiful' in Italian? Yes, I just took it there!", "I want to find Donkey and rip his nose off of his face and poke out his eyes", "Nice to meet you John and Paul; where are George and Ringo?"
Number of times Wizard of Oz was referenced in my presence: Well over 40, and probably up around 50
Favorite songs for the summer: Anything by the Killers, New York, New York by Frank Sinatra, Gunpowder and Lead by Miranda Lambert, Relax by Mika

12 August 2009

Nice is nice

"Oh when I woke up tonight I said I, I'm gonna make somebody love me, I'm gonna make somebody love me. . . and now I know, now I know, I know that it's you! You're lucky, lucky! You're so lucky!"
-Do You Want To, Franz Ferdinand

"I wanna stand up! I wanna let go! You know, you know- no, you don't, you don't. I wanna shine on in the hearts of men, I wanna mean it from the back of my broken hand. Another head aches, another heart aches; I'm so much older than I can take, and my affection, well it comes and goes, I need direction to perfection no no no no. . ."
-All These Things That I've Done, Killers

How did I arrive in Nice, you ask? Well I'll tell you. Last Monday I realized that I had less than a week to make post-Italy plans, and I panicked briefly. Where would I go? What would I do? How would I get there? My life felt like a blank slate. I thought about what other people had done and where they'd gone. Everyone kept telling me to check out Cinque Terre, but I've heard it's best if you sleep on the beach, and I didn't really want to do that alone, plus it just seemed like a lot of travel research to do in a short amount of time, so I just left that alone and randomly selected Nice instead. Italy's rail system has super cheap tickets, so that was no problem.
Next step: hostel. I saw this coming, but I guess that didn't deter me from procrastinating: we're right in the middle of European vacation season, or high season, if you will. Hostels often charge a lot more because the demand is so high. I couldn't find any hostel that had a bed available for more than one night, so I booked one for Saturday night and a different one for Sunday night.
A couple of days later, I decided I needed to plan the next leg of my little adventure. I'm sad to say that the primary factor in my consideration of various European locales was their proximity to beaches and the likelihood that I would be able to tan. I also wanted to make my way back to Spain, where flights home seemed to be cheaper, so I started looking at coastal towns in Spain. I really wanted to head back north to Asturias, but it's tougher to get buses and trains to and from there, so I settled on Valencia, on the east coast.
The most convenient bus to Valencia for me didn't leave til Wednesday, but I decided not to worry abou that until I got here, to Nice. As a result, there were no free rooms in pretty much the entire town.
No worries, I told myself. Sunday I headed down to the beach for three hours, alternating swimming and tanning. When I came back to the first hostel to pick up my luggage, I asked about spare beds, and they told me there were still no cancellations, but I could come back at 8am the next morning to check again. So I marched down the main street, Avenue Jean Medecin, to my next hostel.
This one's in the Old Town. It's just one room of dorms and one kitchen/living room, but the staff are so nice and helpful. It really does have a very family atmosphere. I asked immediately if they had any extra beds for the next night, knowing how unlikely it was, but they had one person who had booked for a week and not shown up, so they gave me that bed for three nights. I felt extremely lucky.
That first night, I went out with a bunch of Canadian girls, 2 boys from Wyoming, and one British boy to Wayne's, a bar/club in the most happening area of the Old Town. We had a few drinks, watched a band play, and then stopped for gelato on the way home. All in all, a good night.
Monday I went shopping, and then it rained most of the afternoon, so I stayed in and then went running. Post-run, I hopped into the ocean (relax, I was wearing my bikini bottoms and a sports bra). That night, there was a new group of people in the hostel, and everyone else had checked out. I decided that we should go back to Wayne's and I led the way.
We had three Aussie boys and three American girls in our group. We saw the show and then somehow lost track of one of the boys. His mates were searching desperately for him, and us girls were looking sort of half-heartedly, but really we were ready to get out of there. I went outside of the club to get some air, and the other American girls were standing there, talking to some guys I didn't recognize. Apparently it was the band we'd just seen, and they were supernice. We probably talked for about fifteen minutes, until I noticed the other girls giving me looks saying it was time to go.
"You should come back here tomorrow," the bass player told me. "We're playing again, at 10:30, and I'm not going back on that stage unless you're here."
Without the bass player, I knew, the band would fall apart, and if the band fell apart, what would happen to the poor audience? They would probably start a riot, and burn the entire city of Nice to the ground, and I couldn't have that on my conscious. So after a long day split between H&M and the beach, I returned to Wayne's. After the show, the band invited me with them to another bar to see another band play, and the whole night was amazing.
Tonight, I have to leave Nice. I'm a little bummed. If my ticket to Valencia were open, or if it had cost me less, I would stay another two days here and then head straight to Madrid, where I'll be flying out of. But that doesn't seem to be an option.
So I think I've got you pretty well caught up. If you've got questions, ask them. Next time you hear from me, I'll probably be back in my beloved Spain. Au revoir!

Ciao ciao, la mia Italia

I just don't know what to do with myself; I don't know what to do with myself. Planning everything for two, doing everything with you- and now that we're through, I just don't know what to do. . .
-I Just Don't Know What to Do with Myself, White Stripes cover version

On Saturday, I said my goodbye to Italy. Specifically, the Toscana (Tuscany) region. In the valleys, it's remarkably like Kansas, with little cottonwood saplings springing up at the slightest trace of water. Familiar fields rife with hay bales, rows and rows of wilting girasole now too weary to follow the sun, parched creekbeds, the tiny, hardy wildflowers which cut into your hands and come up root and all when you try to pick them- all of these things remind me of home.
As I said before, the goodbyes have taken a toll on me. I first felt it last week, leaving the generous people of Serle, and I definitely felt it on Saturday. When Paul told me it was time to go while we were sitting at the breakfast table that morning, I could barely hold back my tears. Sinead stayed an extra night, and they offered to host me another night as well, but I just felt like if I didn't get moving, I might never end up getting home.
I said goodbye to Josephine Friday night, and I cried a little for that as well. ("I just knew they were going to make me end my summer with you," she sneered in what I hope was only mock contempt.) It was also goodbye to Mike, whom I'd met at orientation, and Victoria and Brooklyn and our helpers for the week. Saturday I said goodbye to Sinead.
But my biggest and most complicated farewell (and I know this sounds disgustingly cheesy, but bear with me here) was to Italy. What did we say to each other as we parted ways? Well, that's personal- just between me and Italy. But I will say this: all the sunflowers in the fields on my way to France were wilting, their faces downturned, so I think it's safe to say that Italy will miss me at least as much as I'll miss Italy.

11 August 2009

I was a teenage vampire. . .

"I thought I was a fool for no one, but oh baby I'm a fool for you. You're the queen of the superficial; how long before you tell the truth?"

On Tuesday of Prevalle camp, Sinead and I learned of our next post. It was the earliest in the week we'd been informed all summer, and it was also the first time I'd actually heard of the place where I'd be going. To be honest, when I saw the name Volterra at the top of our information sheet, it didn't immediately jump out at me. After a second, I realized that I recognized it, and about two seconds later, I knew where I recognized it from: New Moon. That's right, the second Twilight book.
If you haven't read it and want to, I won't spoil it for you entirely. Long story short, however, a bit of the book takes place there. Obviously, vampires are involved. Supposedly, Volterra is an ancient city from which all vampire legends originate. (I'm pretty sure Stephenie Meyer made most of that up though.)
So approximately 2 and a half hours after returning home from the raucous wrap party in Serle, we were picked up and driven to the Desenzano train station. There was a bit of panic about the tickets, because we had to print them ourselves and nearly missed the train, but it was all right in the end. We boarded our train, fighting off sleep, and all was boring until I happened to look out the window at one stop and see JOSEPHINE.
She got on the next car over and was waiting in the gangway when I ambushed her. I can't remember what I said, but I'm sure it was witty (like everything I say). There was a hug, and you'd better believe there was some catching up. That's about how it went until we got to our first transfer station, Padova. That was where we met up with three more of the tutors for Volterra camp- Mike, Duncan, and Joe. They'd gotten on the train at the same station that Sinead and I had, but somehow we'd totally missed them at the station (probably because we left our flat a half hour late and were scrambling to buy our tickets until about 2 minutes before the train left).
So we all travelled on together from Padova, to Firenze (aka Florence), to Pontedera, where we met two British girls who would be coming with us. Now we were eight, and only one mysterious tutor remained for us to find. At this point, we had to rush to find the bus up to Volterra, since it is on the top of a mountain, but we just barely made it. After that, it was an hour and a half ride.
We discussed our summers so far. We found that we'd heard a lot of stories about each other and about certain random people ('Julie with the umbrella,' 'Irish Mary,' etc etc). As usual, Josephine asked everyone about their hopes and dreams (she's gotten some really sincere answers at past camps), and Mike told us what little he knew about Volterra. I chimed in with some Twilight-related info, feeling pretty authoritative as I did so.
Finally we saw the hilltop which was Volterra looming in the distance. Our bus wound its way up the sort of ineffective mountainside roads which I've travelled so often here in Italy, and finally we arrived at Piazza Martiri della Liberta', which is pretty much where all the buses stop. We met up with our camp directors, Vincenza and Elena, and sat around in a bar until our host families picked us up.
Here I got a really, really great surprise. Firstly, Sinead and I were staying together, in the same room, once again (that's really unusual, by the way, especially to have done it two weeks in a row), and secondly, our host dad was HALF-SCOTTISH! He spoke great English and had a sweet accent.
We headed back to their home and got to know the family. I was in for a few more pleasant surprises. For one, my host mum was of the OLDEST FAMILY IN VOLTERRA. Resultingly, our hosts lived in a massive country estate built sometime in the 1500s if I recall correctly. There were gold leaf and enamel ceilings in some of the rooms, and massive frescoes in others, and the whole place was full of beautiful art and artifacts from their family history- a globe from the 16th century, maps printed in the 1700s, family crests and decrees and medals and all sorts of other incredible things. Mom, if you remember Chateau Chenonceau in the Loire Valley, it was actually quite a bit like that. I mean, there was a terra cotta facade on the front of the place with their crest, there's a private chapel out back, they have a seperate servants' kitchen and I think they still have serfs living in the side houses. No big deal.
Plus, the family themselves were so amazing. There was our dad, who was so funny and helpful, and our mum was the same way. The kids, Host Sis and Host Bro, were just wonderful- so, so, so cute and funny! I knew right away that I was going to have a fantastic time with them.
We made an early night of it Saturday night, because everyone was exhausted from travelling so much. The next morning we all met to discuss the week ahead, and selected red book to end the year on. In addition, we got a brief tour of the school in which we would be working.
I had found things in Volterra surprisingly normal until this point. That school, however, is absolutely terrifying. They've got art all over the walls which is just- I mean, I just can't understand why you would put that in a children's school. There were masked men carrying bloody knives, police beating zombies, women exercising in thongs- I swear I'm not making this up. Have a look.
Like, that's what these kids have to look at every day at school. I don't get it at all.
Good times, good times. . .
Why why why why why why why why why why why why why why why why why why?!?!?!

So yeah. On Monday we began camp. With 9 tutors, we had a lot of energy, especially during warm ups. Unfortunately, I pulled a muscle doing the splits, soooo that kind of put a damper on things for me for the rest of the week, because ever since someone told me to do them and we found out that I was able to do them, the splits have kind of been my thing.
I met my class, and they were very. . . energetic. (That's one of those nice words that we use to say that a class is too rowdy or too noisy for us.) We didn't do much of the workbook at all that week, I have to confess. It was such a big camp that we did a lot of group activities. Each day in the afternoons we would divide the kids up into random teams for Mini Olympics. My team was called the Green Hungry Vampires, and I must admit that our team cheer was probably a little dire:
"By day, we sleep, by night, we KILL! We are green, we are hungry, we are going to eat you ALL. Hahahaha."
I thought it was funny. It only got better when Gaetano, a little kid who was probably only about 8, drew a couple of dead children on the banner behind the vampire. The camp directors were not crazy about that.

The top banner was from Mike's team, the Crazy Red Devils. They actually had a pretty great cheer, to the tune of the Addams Family: "We're crazy and we're red, we're keepers of the dead, we'll tear your team to shreds, the Crazy Red Devils!" Then there were some hand motions of throat-slitting and all that good stuff. I think the kids learned some valuable lessons from this. . . but I couldn't say what exactly they were.
Tuesday we watched Camp Rock in English with the kids (shh, don't tell), and played dodgeball against them (always a good time). Wednesday was messy games day. Let me explain the messy games.
Our first game involved the Olympic participants sprinting towards a plate covered in jam, putting their face in it, and trying to extract a gummy from within using only their mouths. If we felt that they weren't getting messy enough, we would grab some jam and smear it on them. Obviously, this lead to us putting jam and flour on each other, though I resisted. (I only have the one tutor shirt now since the Trevi kids stole the other!) After that, they had to carry Nutella-covered apples in their mouth and then there was a watermelon contest. Some of those kids can really eat. At this point, I gave up my hopes of keeping my shirt clean and used the watermelon juice-covered table as a slip'n'slide. It was uneffective, and I came to a screeching halt about six inches from where I'd started, at which point the girl tutors basically poured flour all over me and gave me a flour massage. Have a look:
Thursday was water games day. This is usually my favorite day of the week. There was a lot of water buckets being poured over each other among the tutors, and it was all really good fun until I had one poured over my head, and then, as I was opening my eyes wide to try and see, a water balloon hit me in the eye so hard that it knocked my contact out. I was absolutely certain that I was going blind but. . . apparently I wasn't, since I've been fine besides a headache and this feeling that my eye was just going to swell right out of my head. That was weird.
That night, our directors took us out for dinner, and afterwards, we all went for drinks. That was an experience. It was nice to see the directors drunk for once. Needless to say we all had a good time.
Friday was the show. Although my children had been freaking out all week, it went surprisingly well. I had some real actors in this class. The story was also pretty amazing, thanks to me. Here's the rundown: Ariel (yep, the Little Mermaid) is just hanging out with her besties when Luke Skywalker calls her up and asks her on a date. She gets so excited that she starts screaming like, you know, teenage girls tend to do when their life takes a turn for the awesome. Ursula the Sea Witch hears her screaming and decides that she needs Ariel's voice for her own so that she can win Zac Efron's heart. She kidnaps Ariel just before Luke shows up. Luke calls James Bond for backup, but this plan fails when Bond realizes he can't swim. The next resort is Captain Jack Sparrow, who kicks Ursula's butt and saves the day. I think it's solid.
For our last night together, we all went out once again. We had an amazing time, and I already miss everyone sooooo much.

Right here, right now

video

10 August 2009

Serle: Lock up your husbands. . .

I'm goin' home, gonna load my shotgun, wait by the door and light a cigarette. He wants a fight, well now he's got one, and he ain't seen me crazy yet. Slapped my face and he shook me like a rag doll- don't that sound like a real man? I'm gonna show him what little girls are made of- gunpowder and lead.

I was expecting to be sent far away from Prevalle next, but in the end, they sent Sinead and I just up the mountain to a town called Serle. It was the smallest town I stayed in all summer, with only 3000 residents, but the people were extremely welcoming- maybe too welcoming. . .

The first night, our camp director, Alvaro, took us to a local pizzeria to meet everyone. That went well. There was good food, and they poured us a little wine, and everyone was super nice. Afterwards, they asked us if we'd like to stay for dinner. Neither Sinead nor I was particularly hungry, so we said we'd go home since our host mum, Francesca, wanted to eat there. However, a group of our students' fathers (and a couple of mothers) insisted that was stay. This was around 9 o'clock.
They poured us glass after glass of wine. There was dancing, there was saxophone-playing, there were not-so-discreet references to our chests, there were creepy statues- it's sort of a blur. At 12:30, however, Antonio, the owner of the restaurant, asked us if we would like to go out dancing at a club. Yep, we went with him, to a club on the shore of Lake Garda. His friend Damiano drove, and on the way back, he played country music, including the song at the top of this post, 'Gunpowder and Lead' by Miranda Lambert. That's one thing I never thought I'd hear while I was in this country. Oh, PS, two Italian men told me that they loved me that night. Be jealous.
The next day they had offered to take us out on a boat, but none of us were up for that in the end.
Camp began on Monday. It was just two classes, and we were in one big meeting room sort of place. Kind of crimped my style, I'm not gonna lie. We had some great kids, though.
By Wednesday, they were obsessed with the word bottom. I get it. It's a funny word. Every time we would sing a song, they would insert the word bottom. One of the boys, Floyd, was really, really clever about it. I think he was some sort of genius with languages, actually, because his ability to put together sentences in English really amazed me, and he was only 10. When Sinead would sing, "I am the music man, I come from far away," Floyd would sing, "I am the bottom man, I come from far a-bottom." Actually really funny. I have a video.

video

So yeah, everything went well until the show. . . and that went really well too. Probably my best show of the summer. I had some really good students in Serle.

After the show, we went to a different restaurant where Antonio cooked for us once again. We got there around 10 and left at 5 or so, and most of that is a blur. The dads were at it again, pouring us wine, grappa, and limoncello, and we sang 'Take Me Home Country Road,' 'Yesterday,' and 'Hotel California' karaoke-style. Sinead said Floyd's dad groped us but I do not recall that at all. Actually, there's sort of a window from around 2 to 4 where I think I was asleep, so that's nice. It was a wild night.

video

End of Prevalle

Kids! I don't know what's wrong with these kids today. Kids! Who can understand anything they say? Kids! They are disobedient, disrespectful oafs- noisy, crazy, sloppy, lazy loafers! And while we're on the subject: Kids! You can talk and talk til your face is blue- kids!- but they still do just what they want to do! Why can't they be like we were, perfect in every way? What's the matter with kids today?!

Prevalle seems like years ago. Here's what I remember:
1) The show was a disaster. Easily my worst show of the summer. The kids told me they weren't going to do it, and then they nearly didn't, but thankfully they did. Except they carried their scripts ONSTAGE with them. Disgusting and embarrassing. The audience laughed though. . . out of pity I think.
2) My host family was great. I lived on a didactic farm with some amazing people who ate outside every night. All the food was their own, as well.
Okay that's about it.

Katsy's Birthday Prezzie

video

Katsy, here's the video I promised you a month ago in Trevi.

Enjoy.

Catching Up

The goodbyes have taken a toll on me; I think that's the simplest way to say it. My shoulders have been feeling pretty heaving the last few days and I think that's why. Excuse my lack of internet for the past few weeks; I'll try to catch you up now.
Essentials: I'm currently in Nice, I have a place to stay for the rest of my time in Europe, and I have my tickets home.
Now I'll try to give you a recap of these last weeks. . .

23 July 2009

Prevalle

We don’t need no education, we don’t need no thought control, no dark sarcasm in the classroom. . . Hey! Teacher! Leave those kids alone!

It was sad, but my time in Naples eventually had to come to a close, and the Fantastic Four (Kelsey, Kristen, Josephine, and myself) were split up. To tell you the truth, I was probably sadder to leave our cottage, which we named something like the Villa St. Taverna (among other things), than I was to leave Josephine after 6 weeks with her (just kidding just kidding!!!).
So we left Napoli the way we'd arrived: by train on a dreary day. Although we would all be going to different camps (except for Josephine and Kelsey), we would be going as far as Milan together. I personally had more than 7 hours of travel in store for me (thank goodness for season one of Gossip Girl).
The train to Milan was about 30 minutes late. . . which was ironic, because I had almost exactly 30 minutes to catch my second train. This gave me no time to say goodbye to any of the other girls- I just jumped off the train and tried to run with my luggage. It's rather more difficult than I'd anticipated, so I was pretty much just doing this awkward waddling thing. Long story short, I caught my train, even though the travel information I'd been given had included info on the next train to catch if I missed the first. Unfortunately, I don't think my camp director had been given info on the first train, because she sent someone to pick me up at the station an hour after I arrived. Oh well, that's Italy for you.
So now I'm in Prevalle, with two tutors I've never worked with. I ended up with a red/blue class, mostly 11-year-olds, which I really like. They're a lot less stressful than my last group, and so far we get along really well. The show for this week looks like it's going to be called 'Tarzan Goes to English Camp'- I took a page out of Josephine's book there with the English tie-in because her shows were all called things like 'Under the English Sea,' 'English in Space,' and 'English Farm.' It's Thursday already, so I should probably get going on a script.
We got our info on our next camp yesterday. It looks like one of the other tutors and I will be headed up the mountain 10 minutes to a town called Serle or something? Not sure. I'm excited about the lack of travel stress this weekend.
My time in Italy is slowly coming to a close, in case you hadn't realized it. If there's anything that anyone wants from here (or all of Europe, really), you need to let me know asap! Miss you all!
Liz

16 July 2009

"Anybody want a peanut?"

Oh let the sun beat down upon my face, stars to fill my dream, I am a traveller of both time and space, to be where I have been. . .

We arrived in Naples on Saturday afternoon, and were promptly greeted by our host Umberto and cloudy skies (ominous? you decide). I have no idea how we packed everything into his tiny car, but we did, and fit all five of us in as well (in case I haven't mentioned it, I'm here with the three female tutors from my last camp- our boys went home last weekend). If the car ride itself weren't enough to thoroughly terrify us all, the things we saw on the way there certainly were.
Long story short, Naples is a massive ghetto. And our tiny guest house/villa/Snow White's cottage is located in the ghetto of this ghetto. I've been fortunate enough to have spent virtually my entire life in really safe neighborhoods, so I don't have much to compare our area of Naples to, but if I had to compare it to something familiar to me, I might say west KC. I mean, on our bus home we drive through a humongous water treatment facility and some stockyards (that's your West Bottoms right there) we have to drive over a sketch bridge (12th Street, anyone?), and the nicest way to describe the neighborhoods is 'vibrant.'
Don't get me wrong- I love the West Side. That's why I would have to say that Naples is far worse than it. I mean, the city is almost constantly in a state of garbage crisis due to Mafia control (I'm not sure quite how that works out but I'm pretty sure it's because of the Mafia), it's overrun with pigeons and street vendors selling counterfeit goods, and there's more graffiti than you can shake a stick at. On the bus ride home yesterday I noticed that some of the businesses have not only brick walls set up to deter thieves, and not only barbed wire at the top of said walls, but shards of glass stuck into daubs of concrete at the base of the barbed wire as well. That's old school.
There is one shining star in this black hole of a neighborhood, however, and that is the pizza place next to our bus stop. The proprietor, Vittorio, is an amico of Umberto, and he gives us a discount on our pizza. . . plus it is very good, so it's actually super worth it. Josephine and Kelsey have each been eating a box each night and leaving the boxes up above our cabinets. Now they wonder why the villa is infested with flies.
Sunday we wandered. Monday we took the train up to Herculaneum (awesome!) and Sorrento. Tuesday we travelled four hours to Amalfi (I found so much sea glass that I pretty much decided that I need to incorporate it into my senior exhibit. Wednesday we saw Pompeii (soooo hot) and Sorrento again. Today we took the overpriced ferry out to Capri. Basically, my upper body is super tan/burnt- for me, at least. Tomorrow we're going to take it easy, and I'll probably lay out to get a little more tan on my stomach. It has been ridiculously hot each and every day, though, and probably will be tomorrow as well. Seriously, multiple Neapolitans have remarked on how much I glisten in the heat. I wish I knew how to say in Italian, "I can't help it, I'm Swedish."
I'll keep you updated. Pics asap so you can know I'm alive.
Much love!
PS: I hear gunshots right now.

Prevalle?!

As much as I love Naples, with its sweet aroma produced by the accumulation of rubbish (thank you, Mafia), and the charming glances from the natives (and the accompanying rude mutterings in Italian), I was very much relieved last night to learn that on Saturday, I will be travelling seven hours by train to Prevalle, up in the knee of Italy. I don't know much about it, but I do know that there will be two other tutors, and I have not been informed of the identity of either of them.
As always, more later. Now: Capri.
Love!

14 July 2009

In addtion. . .

PS: I just heard a gunshot. And not like the 'Oh hey, there's a varmint in my front yard, go get my gun' kind of way, but more in the 'B****, this is Detroit, we will straight up bust a cap in yo' a**' way.
Welcome to Naples.

Continuation of Rome+Trevi+Napoli

Oh so I forgot the best part of the end of the Rome story. You know how I said my host mom told me to find my own way home? Well, Liam said he couldn't, because his whole host family was going to a festival in a nearby town that was supposed to be really awesome. (Josephine ended up driving me home.) Well, guess who Liam saw at the festival? That's right. My entire host family. Without me.
Anyway, I need to fill you in on what happened during week two in Trevi. Well, the most evil of all the evil children was asked to stay home on Monday, and when he returned on Tuesday, he was moved to a different class. It actually helped quite a bit, but the two boys left in my class were still pretty awful. It turned out that the girls in the class were all really, really awesome though. Three of the girls were more or less geniuses, two of the girls were so sweet and helpful, and the other was a little crazy, but really funny.
On Monday or Tuesday we started planning for our show. I'd decided that I wanted to do another Michael Jackson tribute, and no one could deter me from that plan. It was called 'The King of Pop: A Tribute,' and it starred Riccardo as MJ. I held tryouts and everything. I would do a dance move, and then have them replicate it one by one. We also did vocal tryouts, with me yelling 'Ow!' and seeing who could imitate it best. In the end, there were several girls who were better than Riccardo, but I wanted it to be a guy, even though Giulia actually looked quite a bit like Michael Jackson in his later years, and it couldn't be Lorenzo, because the poor boy had absolutely no coordination.
Here's the plot: MJ is out on a date with his girl and asks her to be his girlfriend. Then a couple of gangstas (Giulia and Sharon) come up to them and rob them. MJ's gf asks 'What just happened?!' and he says 'You've been hit by a smooth criminal' aaaaaaaaaand cue music!
Giulia, Sharon, and Riccardo then proceed to do this sweet little dance featuring MJ moves, a little something I learned from America's Best Dance Crew, and a ten second breakdancing solo from Riccardo (no, he can't breakdance to save his life, and when he did the worm he looked like a dying orca, but that's what made it hilarious). At the end, the girls laid down on the floor and each of them grabbed one of Riccardo's ankles so that he could do the famous lean from the Smooth Criminal video.
After that, MJ's gf insists that he hunt down the robbers and get her purse back. Just at that moment, the robbers conveniently return, ready for a showdown. Cue 'Beat It,' and a dance-fight inspired by West Side Story and Zoolander.
Then MJ's gf is all like 'Michael, you are my perfect man. You have no flaws.' The moment is ruined, however, by the appearance of Billie Jean, who informs Michael that they have a son together. MJ's all like, 'The kid is NOT my son,' but then when he sees the picture that Billie Jean holds up, he says, 'His eyes. . . they are like mine!' and they do a tango together, finished off by a brief and comically horrendous moonwalk.
Obviously, this turn of events displeases MJ's gf, and she tells him, 'There's something weird about you. . .' just as a teen wolf and a couple of zombies show up. They say things like 'Holla at a playa' and 'Word, g-money' (yep, we taught the kids urban slang). When Michael's gf gets even more suspicious, one of the zombies says, 'He's not like other guys. . . he's different,' Thriller plays, and that's basically the grand finale. (Yep, I recycled the dance I used at the Modena camp).
Anyway, our days were spent rehearsing heavily for the final show on Friday. In the end, the dances went really well, but we weren't able to run lines as much as we needed to, and the kids giggled through the whole thing. Everyone still loved it, though.
What else happened. . . we went out with our camp director and host families on Sunday to an island, and then we hit up Assisi. It was so lovely. If my internet connection were stronger I would totally post video and pics. . . you know I want to.
We went to the pool one day. . . best quote from that day- Liam: "Liz, the lifeguard just punched one of our kids in the chest." (Should give you an idea of how awful these kids were.)
One of the nights we visited Perugia, and on another night, I finally got to see that festival that everyone had been going to all week. It was basically a county fair with a roller skating show, I kid you not. They had farm equipment out on display (I find that highly comforting in a totally unsarcastic way) and a big flat area where children skated to Dancing Queen, Mamma Mia, the Mickey Mouse Club theme, and then heavy metal (not joking). A heavy metal band literally took the stage and started playing while three girls were skating around to the music. Then the skaters left and the band kept playing. They even played Iron Man, and we all fake-moshed to it.
I saw a billion species of bugs in my room. There were the long, gangly wall spiders that generally just hung out in the corners of the wall, the tiny black ones with fur, the creepy brown ones, and the other black ones. Oh and then there was the massive garden spider that got inside. Then there were the centipedes, which are like massive mutated versions of the ones I was previously familiar with. I also saw a few beetles and quite a few flies. Not to complain, just informing you. It was nice to have all that space to myself, though, and be able to play music at night and shower when I wanted to and watch dvd's after camp.
On Friday, some of the really sweet girls in my class gave me a gift that they'd bought me- a mini backpack with rhinestones and Winnie the Pooh on it. It's the sort of thing an Italian girl their age would wear, which is why I love it. I feel as though I've now been initiated into their club. I was so, so touched by that.
Remember how I said that my kids would steal anything not nailed down? Well, on Friday, after the show, my tutor shirt was not nailed down (one of the younger girls had been wearing it because she was playing me in her class's show). Basically, I haven't seen the shirt since, and I'm pretty sure I know which of the kids took it, but there's nothing I can do about it now. I will just have to keep wearing the same shirt every day for the rest of the summer and hope I don't go to a camp in a Catholic school, because then the nuns will apparently make me cover my shoulders and my one remaining shirt is a tank top (or a singlet, depending on which part of the world you're from.
Anyway, on Tuesday or Wednesday one of the directors of the entire program called to ask us how we were holding up and where we would prefer to go for a weeklong break. He gave us the option of Rome or Naples, and I had no preference. There's a lot I still need to see in Rome, but then again, I'd seen none of Naples.
So now I am in Naples. More on that later. However, I will give you a rough rundown: Herculaneum and Sorrento yesterday, Amalfi today, Pompeii and Sorrento tomorrow, Capri Thursday, et cetera, et cetera, et cetera. My back got burned today out on the beach, and I'm totally pumped. Anyway. Good night!

13 July 2009

Roman Holiday

I know it's been a week and a half, but there are people out there who would like to know about my trip to Rome, so I'm going to talk about it.

Yes. So. I spent the Fourth of July in Rome with three of the other tutors working the Trevi camp. We left Trevi at about 6 am that morning, with my host mom dropping me off and telling me that if I wanted to make it home from the train station that night, I would have to ask one of the other tutors to get their host family to drive me there. So that was nice.

We talked the entire two hours to Rome. When we arrived, we hopped on the Metro and rode that to the stop nearest to the Vatican. A few minutes were spent loitering around the Piazza San Pietro, until we decided to head on into the Vatican. I just want to backtrack here for a moment and mention that, during our planning time for Rome, I told everyone that I thought we would need to cover not only our shoulders, but our knees as well to enter the Vatican. I got laughed at. "Uh, Liz, this isn't a Buddhist country. I'm Catholic, and we don't do that anymore," was what they told me.

Guess who had to buy pashminas to wrap around their waists to get past the security guards at the Vatican? That's right. All of us. Including Liam, our redheaded Aussie friend.

It was pretty cool inside, though. All the hours I've spent trying to stay awake in Art History classes has paid off here in Italy, and I definitely show off a little bit. "Oh hey, it's Michelangelo's Pieta, no big deal," I would say, and then I would digress into a dialogue on the contrast between Michelangelo's more classical-looking sculpture (like David, or the Pieta) and Donatello's late sculptures. . . I'm not going to pretend I wasn't annoying. Art is kind of a big deal to me. . . that might be why I decided to major in it.

After that, we climbed to the top of the cupola of St. Peter's (552 steps!), and then we walked a kilometer or so to the entrance of the Vatican Museum, which took us eventually to the Sistine Chapel. The ceiling there is the big thing to see, in case you didn't know. It's pretty amazing. Somehow I missed Raphael's School of Athens, so I'm probably going to have to go back to see it.

What was after that. . . let's see, there was some wandering, the Spanish steps (represent!), a Pinocchio store, et cetera, et cetera. Oh! And then there was the Pantheon, which I requested. I really went wild there, explaining all the ways that the builders of the Pantheon kept the massive ceiling from falling in (coffered ceiling, giant oculus, and hollow stuff in the lightweight concrete used to build it). We also took quite a few pictures.

Next up was a journey to the Colisseum. That was really, really cool. It was probably the highlight of the entire journey, because Liam and I engaged in a gladiator fight. And it was captured on film. Enjoy.



I had fully intended to spend that last couple of hours before our train in a karaoke bar, singing God Bless the USA, Redneck Woman, and a Whitney Houston-esque version of the national anthem, but alas, it was not to be. Instead, we bought some beer and lambrusco, and imbibed on the train. Despite the lack of explosives and karaoke, it was a pretty great day.

12 July 2009

Napoli

I'm in Naples for the week on a break, but that's all I've got time to say for now because it's 1 am and I'm exhausted. There's a lot to tell about the last two weeks though!

01 July 2009

Trevi

'Some people look down on me, but I don't give a rip/ I stand barefooted in my own front yard with a baby on my hip'
Thought I'd throw that in there because it pretty well describes my host mom here in Trevi. When she picked me up from the camp director's office (I'm not lying when I say it was at a dj academy) she seemed a little standoffish, but nice. She drove me to the family home, and I'm staying in a little guestroom off the garage, so it's not connected to the rest of the house. It's pretty nice, but there's no internet in there, and I've killed 4 bugs (plus I've got my eye on a couple of spiders up on the ceiling).
My host sisters are super nice, but they fight like, well, my sisters and me. Dalila's the oldest (18 I think?), then there's Alba (13), and little Asia (7).
Saturday night, we went out to a medieval festival thing in Bevagna (ren fests here are way more legit, I think, because the renaissance actually happened here) because my host dad is a chef and he was cooking there.
Sunday I met with the five other tutors and our director at the dj academy to plan the camp. I learned that I was assigned to a group of 11-16 year olds. Wonderful. We stuck around, learning how to use the turntables, until our host parents showed up.
Did I mention I'm living on a farm?! I look out my window, and I see a chicken coop, a few rows of vegetables, a couple fields of sunflowers (represent!), some hay bales, and, you know, A MOUNTAIN RANGE. If you're not jealous of me, you simply haven't been paying attention.
So Sunday we just sat around outside, tanning our shoulders and whatnot. The setup of this place sort of reminds me of a lot of homes where I come from. You've got a little garage, big gravel driveway, some farm equipment sitting around in the yard, the neighbor's tractor is there, and there's a Bobcat across the street to do some heavy lifting.
They've also got a lot of random stuff just sitting around outside. There are dismembered Barbies, a baby doll with eyes that open and close, a whole bunch of soccer balls- that kind of thing. It's mildly creepy. Basically, what I've decided is that if this were the States, I'd be living with rednecks (thus the song choice at the top). But because it's Italy, and everything's automatically classier, they've got a guesthouse, and satellite, and whatnot. I mean, the mom has had a beer with pretty much every non-breakfast meal I've eaten with her. Wait, that's not weird? Oh yeah, I forgot to mention, she's pregnant again. Overall, though, I like the family. We just have some difficulty communicating (Josephine calls the parents antisocial), and I don't agree with all of their lifestyle choices.
The students have been hellions thus far. When I heard we'd be out in the country, I was expecting Modigliana again. Instead, I got Dangerous Minds. These kids will steal anything not nailed down, and I know they swear at me in Italian. To say that working with them has been a challenge would qualify as an understatement. I know I can do it though- I just have to keep them interested and somehow convince them that what they're doing isn't work.
I went running before school the other day all the way up into the mountains. I actually ended up missing my turn back, and nearly had to ask for directions before successfully backtracking. Probably going to try that again tomorrow (minus the getting lost part).
Katsy, I know your birthday is coming up. I have a video to post that I think you'll laugh at, and I have things to send home, but I seriously doubt they'll make it on time. Just know that I love you and I'm thinking about you.
I love and miss all of you. Hopefully I'll get to post pictures soon. I've got some really brilliant ones, and some great videos.
Oh and I'll probably be in Rome on the 4th! Rome=almost too classy for Independence Day, so I'm going to try and bring the classiness down a few notches by finding a karaoke bar to sing bad country songs and possibly streaking (totally joking, Mom). Anyway. . .

26 June 2009

A week in Modena

I'm not quite sure where to begin. I've spent the week in lovely Modena, home of Ferrari, Maserati, Pavarotti, and Italy's best balsamic vinegar (not in that order). The people here consider their city to be located in a very flat area, and I suppose it is, but I don't really think it's fair to say that when you've got four layers of mountains as a backdrop to your everyday life.
My family lives in a sort of suburby area of the city- wait, can classify an area as suburby if there's no corresponding urba area? Because all they've got here is the 'Center,' which is an old cobblestoned area where all the churches and bars and pizzerias are. Don't get me wrong, it's very nice, but the city as a whole is not as big as I'd expected. Anyway, I'm out in La Madonnina, which is the same area the school is located in. Literally, I can see the playground from our 7th floor kitchen window. It's maybe 2 minutes walking.
I taught the same level this week as I did last week. There were seven in the class, and I'm not lying when I say one of the boys had the surname Ferrari. Apparently it's quite common here. There were two Lorenzos, one of whom was my little brother. They were a really sharp bunch, actually, and the week went quickly.
Of course, we spent a fair amount of time just playing dodgeball, but we pretty much completed our workbooks, which impressed me, at least. That requires more focus than most 10 year olds possess.
One of the boys, the other Lorenzo, pretty much had a massive crush on me. I thought I was just imagining it, actually, until our camp director asked me about it during dinner. When the class was doing drawings of the camp director and myself, Lorenzo 2 drew me as quite voluptuous, and took a lot of care with the eyes and the hair. When we were going somewhere (like to the gym to play dodgeball, for instance), he would wait behind to walk with me. I probably encouraged it by developing a rivalry with him in dodgeball- I would always make sure I was on the opposite team as him (just because he was the only kid I didn't feel bad about absolutely pegging). So that was a little weird. Also, if you are keeping track, the latest song on the European soundtrack is officially 'Hot For Teacher' by Van Halen. I think it's fitting.
A trio of actors from our program's theatre division showed up on Thursday to do a show for our kids. They teach through acting, and it was actually a really funny show. Originally, they'd intended to do a program based around the Wizard of Oz, but they decided to go with Robin Hood instead when they heard our kids' ages. I was a little disappointed, I'll admit, but I probably just would have criticized Dorothy anyway.
Anyway, they were really funny. They'd told us over dinner the night before that they try to do things which are funny for the kids, but then they also might add some lines which go completely over the kids' heads and crack the tutors up. The girl playing Robin was a chirpy Kiwi who came onstage with an eyeliner moustache halfway through the show. Lady Marian was played by a South African girl who decided to make the artistic decision to portray Lady Marian as a Southern Belle. The guy who played the Sheriff was a Brit who, while talking with Robin, slipped in the line, 'So you're fast? Maybe. Strong? Sure. But good? Not according to Lady Marian,' which I found funnier than it probably actually was. Anyway, they were funny, and the kids learned prepositions, action verbs, how to pronounce the h sound in English, and a whole lot more.
Their performance motivated our kids when we were planning for our finl show. I had one big goal for this week, and that was to have a better show than last week. So I talked it over with the kids, and I think we put together something pretty great. Again, I indulged the kids when it came to character selection, so we had Peter Pan, Tinkerbell, Captain Hook, Agent Smith from the Matrix, Neo from the Matrix, and LeBron James and Kobe Bryant (and we nearly had Harry Potter and Pinocchio in there too). Basically, the storyline was, Peter and Tink get kidnapped by Hook and Smith while wandering through Never Land, but then Peter calls Neo for help, but then Hook stabs Neo, who calls Kobe, who shows up with LeBron and beats the baddies by throwing basketballs at them. I was struggling to find a good way to wrap it up, though, and the only thing I could think of was to add a closing dance number.
The kids had never heard of any of the dances I suggested. Finally one of the girls mentions 13 Going on 30, and wouldn't you know it, I'd brought it with me to Italy (it's a classic, okay).
Well, the dance scene we wanted to watch from that movie was a recreation of the dance from Michael Jackson's Thriller video.
So we spent all Thursday afternoon going through the scene in 13 Going on 30 (by the way, in Italian it's called something like 30 in a Second or a Moment or an Instant, I can't remember which) and putting together a really basic routine which was made up primarily of head bobbing, but which ended with that really sweet werewolf/zombie move from the video. That was the only homework I gave the kids that night- go home and memorize your lines + plus the routine, because it was the saving grace of our show.
You know what's coming next. Apparently, Michael Jackson died overnight. I really honestly thought our camp director was joking when she informed me. There was some quick thinking involved, but ultimately, we decided to leave the routine in and call it a tribute.
We spent several hours rehearsing, and a couple more hours taking advantage of the sound system to do karaoke onstage. Josephine manned my music collection, and as a result, I sang a medley of Sweet Child o' Mine, Don't Stop Believing, Back in Black, Dance Dance, Mr. Brightside, Welcome to the Jungle, Don't Go Breaking My Heart, and Hells Bells. (The AC/DC was by request from our students.) Air drums and air guitar were provided by 6 year old Simone and 8 year old Gabriele. I think that got us all loosey goosey and relaxed for the show.
The final performance well, actually. I had to stand at the back and mirror all the moves so the kids wouldn't get lost, but still, I was entertained at least. The parents didn't seemed weirded out by the fact that I called our show a Michael Jackson tribute. In hindsight, though, the Thriller dance performed by a bunch of prepubescent boys during a show which is set in Never Land seems almost an uncomfortably apt tribute to Michael Jackson.
Anyway. May he rest in peace.
Tomorrow: train to Trevi. Should be about five hours (could mean six, the way the Italian train system operates). Josephine's going too. It's a two week camp, which means we'll be celebrating the Fourth of July (plus Katsy's birthday) while we're there. We're making plans to honor our great nation already. Let me know if you've got any ideas.
I think that's all for now. As soon as I've got wifi I'll upload vids and pics. Love and miss everyone! Talk to you all soon, hopefully!

20 June 2009

'One Night with Bruno'

Yesterday was both the last day of camp and our last day in Modigliana. We spent most of the day getting ready for the show, but honestly, it didn't show. My kids dropped lines like nobody's business, so much so that our skit lasted about 3 minutes, including a song (Head, Shoulders, Knees, and Toes). I stretched it a little by singing Happy Birthday to Denis at the end, but really, there was no hope anyway for a skit entitled 'Poke-Garfield.' As long as the kids are happy with it, and the parents get to hear their kids speaking what sounds like English to them, it's all good.
For dinner, we went up to Bruno's country house. It was in a very rustic area, just a little stone cabin surrounded by hills and trees. The views on the drive up were amazing, but unfortunately, once we got up there I was unable to take any pictures because of the foliage. Josephine was there, Olga and Raffaele were there, our camp directors were there, and then there was Bruno, Bruno's sister and nieces (one of whom was in my class), his mother, and the woman who cleaned the school, plus her husband and son. I think that was everyone.
We all sat in this old room, with a stone floor, whitewashed walls, and a cracked ceiling. It was the sort of thing you see in a movie, or in a chic home magazine. Everyone was around a U-shaped table, and Bruno's sister and the cleaning lady brought in pizzas one by one. Then there was a soupy thing of fruit, and more fruit, and some alcohol, and gelato. After that, Bruno gave us each a piece of paper with his phone number and e-mail address on it, right before sending around a paper upon which we were each to write our own addresses. Josephine and I weren't really sure what to do, so we didn't write anything. When Bruno noticed, we told him we'd e-mail him. He asked us if we had his address, and we pulled out the pieces of paper he'd given us moments before, and he looked stunned. Really, really strange guy.
We all got together for a group pic before we left, so Josephine would never, ever forget Bruno. I ended up being trapped on the end, and he came to stand next to me. I sort of leaned in so I wouldn't look unfriendly, and next thing I knew he had his arm around me. When the pictures were over, he took the opportunity to rub my back for a second before giving me the old two-cheek-kisses goodbye. In the car, later, Josephine and I looked at the pictures on her camera, and in all of them, my face expresses varying degrees of horror. It would be funny if the whole situation hadn't been so terrifying.
After dinner, Rosaria and Ermes drove us back to Forli to spend the night so we could be on the train the next day. We slept on their pullout couch, and Ermes pointed out to us that the sheets on said couch had been Rosaria's wedding sheets from her first (failed) marriage. Not awkward at all.
Got on the train at 1.30. Got off the train at 3 or so in Modena. I forgot to mention, it's still me and Josephine, and we're still the only two tutors at a brand new camp. I'll be teaching a similarly-sized class at the same level as the last one, so that's good.
Hung out with the camp director and her husband? brother? It wasn't made clear. However, he is exactly what I would expect an Italian man to look like. . . if the year were 1975. He's balding, but he's grown his hair out fairly long for a psychology professor (although I believe he was recently made redundant so that could explain it). He wore burgundy polyester pants and carried a jacket made of some weird material. His glasses were horn-rimmed and slightly shaded, and his shirt was unbuttoned nearly half-way, exposing a large quantity of chest hair. He had a gold necklace entangled in said chest hair. And he smoked like a chimney.
He took us on a tour of central Modena. That was entertaining. Then I was driven to meet my family. They are Milva, her husband Francesco, and their sons Lorenzo (9) and Gianmarco (19). They're all super nice, but they don't speak English well at all, although they do try. We all sat around the dinner table tonight (while they fed me dish after delicious dish) and tried to understand each other. Originally it sounded like their plan for me was to head out with Gianmarco and his friends to a disco or something, but I guess he ended up going out with just his girlfriend so now I'm here!
I feel like I had more, funnier things to tell you, and I feel like you all must be so disappointed when I have only boring things to say. Sorry about that.
Anyway, Lorezo's waiting for me so I must go.
More later, including the vid of 'Poke-Garfield.' Get excited.
Love!

18 June 2009

Next stop: Modena

"Where troubles melt like lemondrops, high above the chimney tops, that's where you'll find me. . ."

Found out this morning where I go next: Modena. Stress on the first syllable. It's in the same region (Emilia-Romagna) as Modigliana, but about an hour and a half to the north-northwest by train. I'll be leaving Saturday afternoon at 1:30. I was trying to figure out where I'd heard the name, until someone told me: all the balsamic vinegar bottles around here are labelled 'di Modena,' so that's good.
The last two days have been pretty good at camp. The kids are getting maybe a little too comfortable with us (for instance, they know that all my threats are empty), but we've got the final show pretty much ready to go for tomorrow, so that's good. I expect Poke-Garfield to be a rousing success which everyone will be talking about for years to come.
My Italian is definitely improving. I think now I might actually be at the level I claimed to be at on my application- 2/10. This morning I asked Alberto in Italian how his 'son' was doing, and he said he was well. Later I asked him where he was, and he said that he was at home. Remember, Alberto's 'son' is a monster drawn with marker on a yellow balloon. He had a face, prominent eyebrows, horns, lopsided arms and legs, as well as male genitalia. I'm pretty sure the boys (or little Alberto at least) are completely obsessed with that kind of thing. Josephine told me that yesterday, Alberto and Matteo P spent a large chunk of time just kicking each other in the crotch. Today, during dodgeball, I noticed a bunch of boys standing around Alberto and laughing, so I went to see what was up, and he pulled his shirt down quickly. "Che cosa sta facendo?" I asked him. Finally he showed me. He had taken a big piece of cardboard and left it hanging out of his open fly. I'm embarrassed to say that it made me laugh. A lot.
So that's favorite pasttime number one of the boys in our camp. Favorite pasttime number two is throwing things at my chest when I'm looking away. The best part is, these boys aren't going to get more mature. They may get smarter, and they'll get older, but they will still be laughing at that sort of thing 20 or 30 years from now.
Heard some more good Bruno stories when Josephine came over for dinner last night (we couldn't leave her with him). Apparently, Bruno: a) watches the movie Anastasia (yes, it's animated) with his nieces so he can have an excuse to cry, b) claims the wild animals at his country house recognize him and follow him in a line when he goes up there, c) they also speak to him, d) he may or may not have special needs, and e) we've already established that he's a hoarder, which is a sign of obsessive compulsive behaviour. Diagnosis, anyone?
Went running tonight for the first time in what felt like forever. I think I explained in a previous post (Llanes, perhaps?) that I firmly believe that running through a new town is one of the best ways to get to know it. The run didn't kill me like I'd expected it to, which I think is a sign that running around with kids for ten hours a day is actually pretty decent exercise. I mean, you have no idea how much time we spend playing dodgeball (a couple of hours, at least), and you'd better believe I participate. I feel like a sniper out there. Sometimes when a ball comes to me I'll hand it off to one of the little ones, but more often than not I'll start charging to the line, and then everyone on the other team will run the other way, screaming. There's one boy I sort of pick on (is that bad?), because he enjoys taunting other people while we're playing. I wait til he turns around and shakes his butt at me, and then I reach back and knock him over with a fastball (overhand). Sometimes I let the children hide behind me so they can get all the way to the line before they throw, but usually it's the other way around. Realizing I use children as body shields signified a new low for me.
Today, actually, I was more or less responsible for a near concussion. There's one girl, Agnese, who I don't feel bad for hitting because she's a champion wrestler who can definitely hold her own against the boys. So today when she was going for a loose ball, I let one fly. It was headed straight for her head, so she ducked out of the way. . . straight into a wall. I really felt bad about that, because she's a tough girl and she was crying. At least no parents were called- I can see that being a tough one to explain.
All right, Olga's just finished preparing dinner, so I've got to go. Possibly more later! Love!

17 June 2009

Che cosa stanno facendo?

Here are our kids, playing a brutal game of dodgeball in the palestra
video


And here is little Alberto, trying desperately to pop the balloons I use as teaching tools. The other boy is Matteo (one of 4 Matteos out of 16 students):

video



This is the balloon Alberto refused to burst, because "it was his son." I just want to point out that it is a dragon, peeing.

Thursday Night in Sanremo

This is the modified haka done by the all-male Mini-Olympics group during our orientation. Their team name was the Super Sausage Jockeys, and they basically took the New Zealand rugby team's classic haka (Maori war dance) and gave it hilarious (although not totally appropriate) lyrics. (I won't go into specifics, but you should know that they rhymed meat, heat, and treat. I think that will explain enough.) video

16 June 2009

Day 2

So yesterday was our second day of teaching here at Modigliana (our second day of teaching at all, actually). I would like to start off by reassuring you and saying that it went as well as the first day went poorly. There were, however, a few kinks, but I will tell you all about them.
Firstly, my window got fixed. That was pretty great, but didn't actually seem to help at all. It's still hot as here and it will only get hotter.
Nextly, while we were in the gym playing dodgeball (yeah, you're allowed to do that here), we found a lizard that had wandered in. I had to shoo it outside while all the kids watched and laughed.
Thirdly, a scorpion also invaded our gymnasium while my class was sitting around discussing our final show (which very nearly became Pokemon+Garfield+Lord of the Rings). I had never seen one before, but it fell on me to scoop it up on a piece of paper and toss it outside. That's a life experience for you.
Okay and also I really must tell you about Bruno. I told you there was another girl teaching here with me, right? Well we're in seperate homestays. On Saturday night, she was introduced to her host mother, Luisella. She got all excited because Luisella was really nice and had three cute daughters, but then we all went to see the place where Josephine (the other tutor) would be staying, and it was a one-person apartment. Turns out Josephine would be staying with Luisella's brother Bruno because Luisella was going out of town. So we figured this was just for one night, but turns out that Luisella agreed to host Josephine in exchange for a discount for her daughter in the English camp, but she's making her stay with Bruno.
Here's the best part: Bruno is a 45 year old guy with huge glasses and a big potbelly, who has hundreds and hundreds of bike magazines around his apartment, and has taped every bike race since 1980 and watches them regularly. Sometimes he watches Josephine while she sleeps, and on Sunday he made her go hiking with him. Along the way, he quoted Back to the Future non-stop. Around this town, if you say, "Do you know Bruno?" people groan and roll their eyes, because he's known as a rather talkative guy. We've had quite a few jokes at Bruno's expense.
All right, so I should probably get going. It looks like maybe some rain today, which would be great, because yesterday I checked the weather at 6pm and it was 86 but felt like 93. At 6 pm. So hopefully today's a little cooler. Later!

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