23 July 2010

the mountain times

''Let's take a trip back in time. . . to the days of Sean Paul. . .''
-Girl on bus down from Baiardo

This week's been absolutely insane. I mean, combine the unbelieveable natural beauty of the mountains, 50 bored tutors, cheap alcohol, and a ''What happens in Baiardo. . .'' attitude and the result is predictably chaotic.

But let me begin with my departure from Milan. Thanks to a hotel manager who was bound and determined to feed me an awful breakfast of packaged brioche and boxed juice, I came within probably 15 seconds of missing my train to Sanremo. I was sprinting up escalators, running with my 40 lb suitcase over my head- it was unbelievable. I felt as though I'd done a full workout by the time I got on the train, and that was before I'd even made my way through six carriages to my reserved seat, carrying my suitcase over my head in all of those carriages but one.

But finally I arrived in Sanremo, and found my Josephine. We had four hours until our bus up the mountain, during which time we bonded intensely, of course. Once up the mountain (it's an hour-long journey along winding one-lane roads, and the drivers honks his horn before every turn so that other drivers in smaller, lesser vehicles may be warned), we were assigned to our houses, and Joshy and I managed to stick together. I've got my own room, with a large bed, and a balcony overlooking probably the best view in the entire town. Only downside is the lack of door. Plus the friend I found in there on Sunday night.

Let me explain: after dinner that night, I went to bed fairly early. Josephine said she'd come up and say good night, but by then I was already asleep. I woke up, though, when I heard her turn the lights off. I sat in bed for a moment, dazed, trying to make out a shape on the wall. Could it be? My own pet scorpion?

I texted Josephine immediately. ''Did you really just turn the lights off in my room and do nothing about the SCORPION ON MY WALL?!'' She ran back up the stairs, laughing the whole way, telling me I was imagining it. When I showed it to her, she said it was probably dead. Then she threw a candle at it, and it moved. After she hit it with a spare hanger, it fell behind the wardrobe, never to be seen again (we hope).

I've taken the bus down to Sanremo a few times, for internet and the beach. Mostly, though, I've spent my days on my balcony, tanning and watching Gossip Girl. Can you imagine anything better?

Last night we learned where we'd be going tomorrow. I'm off to Quarto d'Altino, very close to Venice. It's a two week camp, and after that I'll have two weeks of break due to low tutor demand. Should be a good time.

Plans for the rest of the day: buy a falafel wrap from the kebab place on the square, get my phone topped up, and then head back up the mountain to clean and help with dinner. Hopefully I'll get wifi in Quarto!

PS: I can not get over the music they're playing in this internet cafe. There was some Christina Aguilera, some Duffy, a little Train, and now it's 'The Great Gig in the Sky' by Pink Floyd. Quite a variety.

17 July 2010

trying to wrap things up before i go without internet for a week

First off, the best things I've eaten in the past week:
  • Cold pasta for lunch yesterday. It was some sort of tiny, twisted pasta- fusilli maybe?- with pesto, chunks of potato and green beans. I have no idea what that's called, but I've had it a few times before and I want to have it again.
  • Basil tagliatelle with marinara. I don't know what Fabiola's secret was but that was delicious.
  • Special K. Turns out it's better than I remember.
Also, my host sis drank her beer faster than me at the brewery we went to last Saturday. She's 15.

I went running twice this week. Both times I took the same route, up a couple of steep hills and around town to the church (conveniently located on a hill). I probably was gone for about 45 minutes, and since I haven't been able to run regularly, I was mixing it up with walking and running. My host dad also went running, once while we were out at the lake. He returned an hour later, drenched in sweat, wearing a Rambo-style headband, a Camelbak, and a Garmin watch. I am willing to bet that there was no walking in his workout. Advantage, host dad.

There's more, but I can't even remember. Now I have to get to bed so I can catch the 9:05 down to Sanremo tomorrow morning!

let's play a game called 'guess where lizzie's sleeping tonight'

I left Lurago d'Erba at 11am, still unaware of where I'd be ending the day. Secretly, I wanted to stay in Milan for the night and head to Sanremo in the morning, so I could spend the week with Josephine (and Taylor too, it turns out). That's why, instead of calling the boss early to check like a model employee might have, I waited for the call he promised and, when it didn't come, I boarded the train to Milan anyway. Besides, it was only 45 minutes away and I would almost certainly have had to travel through there no matter what.

Upon my arrival in Cadorna station, I gave him a ring and, well, here's where I ended up for the day. . .

First let me tell you how the phone convo went. I called timidly, expecting a reprimand and for him to say he'd lost my number and was worried sick or something.
"Is this Liz?" he asked immediately.
"Um. . . yeah."
"How's it going?"
"Pretty good. . ." I began, and then asked the crucial question: "Am I still meant to go to Baiardo?"
"Oh. Right. Sorry, yeah you are."
"Oh, okay. Thanks, bye."

He called back a moment later, as I was celebrating, but it was only to double-check about my arrival time.

So that's that! I'm sitting in a sweltering hostel, eating pesto bruschetta in bed (don't tell the hostel owner), planning for tomorrow. Looks like I'm getting up around 7, hopping on the Metro at 8, and taking the 9:05 to Sanremo. Four hours after that, I'll be reunited with my Josephine!

16 July 2010

confusion is part of the process. . .

We call it fun but you may call it madness
So stay here with us, and you'll forget your sadness
Happy campers are we, having fun beneath the trees
And when we are gone, you'll remember our song. . .
-Unknown, Camp Song

What a week. There's so much to mention, I can't even remember it all. Let me try to start where I left off.

Firstly, that bug bite in the last post ended up not being fatal. But it did get worse before it got better. The ring disappeared a few days later and now the swelling's gone way down. I know a lot of you probably thought it was Lyme's disease, and that had crossed my mind as well, but I ruled it out for a few reasons.
  1. I read on webmd.com or somewhere that the tick usually has to stay attached for 36 hours before it can transmit the disease. I like to think I would have noticed a tick on my hip somewhere during those 36 hours.
  2. I had three other bites with rings around them on my thigh. The odds that four ticks with Lyme's would bite me and infect me at the same time were in my favour (in my opinion).
  3. The bites were very swollen, and very itchy. From what I've read, Lyme's bites don't itch or swell up.
So the mystery of the massive bug bites may never be solved. It's old news, really. Let me tell you about Lurago d'Erba.

I said goodbye to the Bellagamba family Saturday morning (translation: Beautiful leg family), and Mara drove me to the train station. On the way, she picked me up some hydrocortisone/antibiotic cream for my bites, which I credit with my recovery.

My route to Lurago d'Erba took me through Milan. There was a little transfer via subway, which was fun, but I had it all figured out because of my day with Josephine. I arrived in Inverigo right on time, and I was met by my camp director and family. There's Marco, my host dad, Fabiola, my host mom, and Camilla and Gaia, my sisters. The first night, they took me to Como, which was beautiful, but frustrating due to lack of George Clooney sightings.

The next day I was basically worthless the entire day. What can I say, it's really hot here. Then Monday was the first day of camp, and I met my class. 11 students, using the white and yellow books. Those are the lowest books there are. And this was one week after teaching purple, which is one of the very highest. I like to think of myself as versatile.

We started the Olympic games, and my team named themselves 'Team Obama's Blue Dogs.' Classic. We also started planning for the final show, and I decided to go with a basic 'English zoo' format. It's simple, easy to follow, and the parents love it. Money in the bank. To prepare, I asked the children to draw their favorite animal during arts and crafts time. Just a few of the things they came up with: zebra, squirrel, dog, T-Rex, lion cub, anklyosaurus, mermaid, and SPIDERMAN. It was shaping up to be a solid show. Later, we made invites for the parents, and Mattia's just tugged at my heart strings. He's such a sweet kid, but I think he might have Asberger's or something, because he communicates very strangely and sometimes shuts down when there's too much noise around him. On his card he wrote 'Mamma, I love you so much.' It reminded me that I actually love my mother so much as well.

Fun fact about my host sis Gaia: she's nine years old and her least favorite things are (in no particular order): vegetables, rain, mountains, pears, fish, and Switzerland. How about that.

I had my class divide into two groups on Tuesday and trace someone, then label their body parts and color it all in. Rebecca, who cries all the time, was traced and subsequently turned into an alien. Homegirl could not handle it and went to hide under my desk.

On Wednesday, our director took us out to dinner in Erba, the next town over. There was a big brewery with a view of the mountains, and we took pics with our hot waiter. What else. . . on Thursday, the fam took me out to the lake (the clean part), and today was the show (it was fabu). The English Zoo went swimmingly.

Okay so now for my plans: I was told I'd be on hold this next week in the same place as JOSEPHINE!!! So I made plans to meet her there on Sunday so we can up our odds of rooming together. Even booked a hostel in Milan for Saturday night. But earlier tonight when I got on the internet, I found a message from my boss telling me he'd found a camp for me, and I should get in touch with him immediately. So I called him straightaway, and all he said was that he wasn't near the information and he'll call me tomorrow morning. To tell me where I'm going tomorrow morning. Hectic. I may or may not go to Milan, and I may or may not pay 25 euros for a bed in a hostel. Well, I'll almost certainly pay those 25 euros, whether or not I stay there. And I may or may not be seeing Josephine in about 38 hours. But that's typical of this summer gig and to be honest, I was sort of missing that hecticness.

08 July 2010

just livin' the dream here in casette

Don't tell me not to live, just sit and putter
Life's candy and the sun's a ball of butter
Don't bring around a cloud to rain on my parade
-Funny Girl, 'Don't Rain on My Parade'

What a great week. I've got this fantastic host fam, some of the best students I've ever worked with, and I'm in an insanely beautiful place. Every night, Mara prepares a feast of culinary wonders (similar to the Cave of Wonders in Aladdin, but with food instead of treasure). The first evening, we ate focaccia with different toppings. They were all brushed with olive oil, garlic, and rosemary, but one was topped with little bright purple onions, black olives, and stracchino cheese; another had tomatoes and things on it; the last was left naked.

The night of the party up on the mountain, Mara brought a cold pasta dish of big noodles (like manicotti-sized) tossed with ricotta, cooked tomatoes and black olives, with some olive oil mixed in. Great idea for a simple, light dinner party dish. There were also quiche-type things with roasted vegetables inside, and those were pretty incredible.

Last night was one of my favorite of Mara's meals yet. She drizzled olive oil over a platter of sliced vegetables and then put seasonings and bread crumbs on them. Then she broiled them in the oven and served them. It was so good!

I know there have been more amazing meals, I just can't remember them all. There have also been great dessert items, such as the cake Mara made the other day. It was some sort of grainy, white cake with fruits layered on the top. Those fruits tasted like peach and apricot, with some almond bits.

Funniest moment this week probably happened while my kids were working on ideas for the show. One of the boys had suggested Guinness World Records as the theme, but they couldn't all agree on that, so then they had a little meeting so they could come up with something everyone liked. Finally little Giovanni came up to my desk. "Idea for the show," he began. "The grandmother. . . and the grandfather. . . in the Guinness World Records. . . versus. . . the people who lives under the bridge."

At first, I wasn't sure what Giovanni meant. People who lives under the bridge=trolls? Like in the Three Billygoats Gruff? Thankfully, he elaborated. "The people who lives on the street!"

This cracked me up. I mean really cracked me up. I stumbled into the next room, unable to speak because I was laughing so hard, trying to explain the whole thing to Sonia. So funny. My students wanted to do a show based on the Guinness World Records tv programme, with it being a special episode of the elderly vs. the homeless (one of the events would be beer chugging). This evolved into a World Cup final featuring the homeless on one side and the elderly on the other. Finally we ended up with Springfield (of Simpsons fame) represented by a team, and also Bikini Bottoms (the home of Spongebob), and a reporter going around pre-match interviewing fans. The kids wanted me to sing the Star-Spangled Banner for the show but I politely declined.

I've actually been singing all week for these kids- just while they're writing in their books or something, I'll just start into an a capella version of Telephone, or Bad Romance, and then I'll take requests. The first day it was all over the place. The aforementioned songs, plus My Heart Will Go On, Bohemian Rhapsody, Yesterday, Livin' La Vida Loca, Total Eclipse of the Heart, something else wonderful and old which I can't remember at the moment, Paparazzi, Poker Face, and so much more. I probably sing 5-10 songs a day for these kids- today I decided that Muse's Starlight will probably be my new go-to from now on. I can't even remember everything that I sang today- oh, some Piano Man, some Beyond the Sea (it was on my mind since I heard it played in the Piazza San Marco in Venice last night- more on that in a minute), and All These Things That I've Done (surprisingly difficult to sing and remember all the words to without accompaniment). The kids surprised me on Wednesday, our day at the lake, by actually asking me to sing while they worked on the script.

It makes things so much easier with my students if I get them to identify with me some way or another. Last week, I played basketball at lunch with a couple of boys I was having a little bit of trouble with, and we walked away from the game with much more positive feelings towards each other than we'd had before. My kids this week played Soulja Boy's Crank That (or is it Crank Dat?) and I helped them with some of the moves. Then I taught them Chicken Noodle Soup and the Stanky Legg. I definitely had a good rapport with these kids- they were so easy to get along with.

So as I previously mentioned, we spent Wednesday at the local lake. Long ago, all of the valleys in this area were covered in water, but gradually that receded, and now all that remains is the Lago di Fimon. It's shallow and marshy, with lots of lilies and reeds- much like many of the creeks, ponds, and lakes in my home area.

The path to get there was through cornfields, on the side of a paved road, and through more cornfields. We passed quite a bit of opossum roadkill (is it bad that I seemed to be the only tutor able to identify the individual roadkills?) and rocked out at the back of the line with a couple of the kids (Who Are You, I Will Survive, and every Beatles song ever written) before finally arriving at the lake. We found a shady spot and circled up to stretch (I basically went through my college softball warmup), and then broke up into our individual classes. I told the kids we needed a quiet, shaded area right next to the water, and after 15 minutes of walking, we found the most beautiful shady bank, which you could only get to through a little tunnel cut out of dense brush. I really feel quite lucky that we found it. Running up to the water was a little creek, and in the water were the biggest crawdad-like things I've ever seen. The kids called them gamberi.

A couple of the boys tried to catch the gamberi with sticks and bare hands, but I said, "No no no no no no. Step aside- this is how it's done." I showed them how you should put a net or something behind the crawdad, and then do something to scare it from the front, because although they can walk forewards, they can only swim backwards, and that's how they'll try to escape. Within a few minutes we'd caught two. The second was so big that the students named him Killer. . . or was it Kyle? The way they pronounce Kee-lair and Kee-lay is so similar.
We played some water games by the water, and finally walked back to the school at the end of the day.

The next night was supposed to be our night out for dinner with our director. We'd talked about heading into the city of Vicenza, but then she mentioned that she'd even take us to her hometown of Venice (I think she was joking), and one of the other tutors was like "VENICE YES PLEASE." Sooooo we went to Venice for an evening.

We'd all been once before, and I'd been there the most recently. Our director was really impressed that I had such a good memory of places I'd been- for instance, I was able to find the hostel I'd stayed at (Oh Mimo!), and remembered street and place names. It was so convenient to have her leading us like that so that we could see all the best parts of the city without wasting any time. We hit up the big hospital, St Mark's Square and everything in it, some of the bigger churches, the Accademia, and the Hotel Danieli.

I didn't know about this hotel before, but it's the most famous hotel in town because it's got this absolutely amazing interior. We ran inside just for a bit to see the lobby, and I'm so glad we did. There was this man speaking English in there, and I looked at him and thought to myself, 'That looks like a much paler Bill Maher.' And what do you know, I check his twitter later that night, and his last tweet says, "On Grand Canal in Venice. The Venice near where I live in LA really has some catching up to do." So I can tell you all that he is really much paler than he looks on tv, and he doesn't appear to be abrasive at all when his mouth is closed.

We got back from Venice around midnight, and I ended up getting only about 4 hours of sleep that night (I just haven't been sleeping well, what with the heat and bad dreams and my mosquito bites). But I had to be all ready to go on Friday for testing, and wrap-ups, and the final show! All in all, I think everything went off without a hitch, capping off a great week here in Torri di Arcugnano.

Now, it's on to Lurago d'Erba. I've heard some things about this camp that I'm not excited about from a friend who worked there last year, but the area sounds great. It should be an hour or two from my last camp, in the Como region, not too far from the Swiss border. I leave at 11:30 and arrive sometime in the 3 o'clock hour. So now I have to go say my last goodbyes to the Arcugnano area. More later?

05 July 2010

me and giulio down by the schoolyard

Well, I'm on my way; I don't know where I'm going
I'm on my way; I'm taking my time, but I don't know where. . .
-Paul Simon

All right, there's loads to catch you up on, and I'm not even sure where to start. I know I left you hanging, wondering if I would survive my week with that last host family, and I'm pleased to inform you that I did indeed live through the week. Probably only because they toned the cheese down a little bit.

We went back to the pool on Wednesday, and there was actually an albino there. That officially made one single person at the pool who was paler than myself (and my students constantly reminded me of this).

The next night, the tutors went out together to get gelato and a few drinks. Although I still didn't know my exact travel info at this point, I knew enough to know that Taylor wouldn't be going with me. This broke my little heart, since we'd been work partners for the past 3 weeks. I would, however, be traveling onwards with my two Canadian coworkers, and the idea terrified me. Spend the fourth of July surrounded by Canadians and Italians?! The idea was nauseatingly unpatriotic.

But we still had a few more things to wrap up in Cassano d'Adda, and these included testing. Testing either induces panic or provokes some really great broken English gems, such as this one from 11 year old Valentina, when asked to describe her family: "My father, he is tall, with the long harm (arm) and leg; he has got the no hairs on his head; he has got the big heyes (eyes), small hear (ear), em, his nose is a potato, and he has got the big hand."

Valentina was really amusing and highly animated. She was the one who freaked out the most pre-show, coming up to me and wailing, "Liz! I HAM E-SCARED!" so I had her doing some deep breathing to try and relax her. Her role was as a singer on X-Factor, and she sang 'Yellow Submarine.' Ooh, I forgot to mention, wheelchair girl decided she didn't want to do the show and wouldn't even be there. . . so I got to be the girl on the sofa changing the channels.

In the end, I think things went down perfectly. There were some mild hitches, like when my kids missed their cues and I just sat there in front of everyone, repeating my lines a couple of times more loudly, and then just sort of banging the fake remote against my leg and being like, "That's weird. . . doesn't seem to be working. . ." before the child would finally stumble onto the stage with a giggle. Anyway, probably my strongest show to date, and also the longest, lasting about 11 minutes.

After that, host fam took me home for the last time and were exceptionally and unexpectedly warm. We took a group pic and printed it out from their printer, the kids had made me a pop-up card, Andrea gave me a little dragon figurine holding a sword, little Simone gave me a Winnie the Pooh keychain thingy, and Francesca kept telling me, in Italian, that she loved me very very very very very very very very much. In the end, as strange a family as they were, I began to sympathise with them. I mean, I think they were trying to give me as much as they had to give- they just didn't have very much. And how tough would it be if you were that mom, and you had to deal with a bad job, your boorish husband and his bad job, your freeloading brothers who always come round for dinner, kids who misbehave at school, life in a tiny apartment in a bad neighborhood, and having to be primarily responsible for the children and preparing food each day?

Anyway, I didn't have to worry about any of that anymore after the next morning. I packed up and was picked up by Valentina and her family, who were hosting another tutor. On the way to Treviglio station, we got to hear all about how Simone, the little brother, was feeling a bit cranky because he had seen his parents preparing a sack lunch for their tutor and, according to their dad, asked, "Is it time to eat? Why is there food? Why can I not eat? Why is this food not for me? Father, I would like I sandwich. I want a peach. When are we eating? Where are we going? Why does Danica get food, and not I? I would like some crisps. When will there be food for me?" They also had their Staffordshire bull terrier in the car, so it was an amusing ride.

Then we finally got on the train to our next camp. It was only a couple of hours, and my host mom had prepared me a couple of cream cheese and mushroom sandwiches (surprisingly good, if a little salty), so it went quickly. Definitely my shortest train travels since I've begun working. Then we got into Vicenza and met our camp director, before heading out to meet our host families here in the Arcugnano comune. I say that because the school is in Torri (di Arcugnano) and I'm in Casette, just outside, but they're both in the same comune (which is like a county I think?).

My host family consists of Marco, a fiscal lawyer, Mara, a philosophy professor, and their two sons, Francesco (14) and Giulio (4). They've got a lovely house out here in the countryside, down in a valley amongst all of these massive hills. Everything in the valley is either houses or fields- they've made the most of every acre of space down here.

On Saturday night, Mara took the boys and me into Vicenza to just get to know the city. At first, Giulio was so shy- every time I turned around in my seat to look at him, he would stop talking and hide his face. And he talks a lot. On the ride there, it was, "Momma. . . Momma. . . Momma. . . Momma. . . Momma. . . where are we going? (Vicenza, Giulio.) When can we get out of the car? (When we get there.) Momma. . . Momma. . . why aren't we walking? (Because it's too far.) Momma. . . where will we park? (In the parking lot.) Black car! (In English?) Yellow car! (English, Giulio!) But Momma, I don't speak English. Why is there an English girl in our car?" and on and on and on.

He got much less shy the next night, at a family friend's birthday party up in the mountains. We ended up attacking each other with a piece of bread partially eaten to look like a Pacman mouth, and I had to put my hands behind my back after he ate them, and so on and so on. Tonight he actually pulled up a chair next to his on the porch, next to his toys, and said that no one else could sit there, because it was for me.

Celebrating the Fourth yesterday was a bit weird. There's an American army base here in Vicenza, but they didn't open up yesterday until after we'd left for this party of the mountain, and after said party, it was lightning. I think it ended up being a really good Fourth, though, because we were out in the country, grilling outside, eating chips and other sides, having pie for dessert, and watching the beautiful lights in the sky- is there any more traditional way to celebrate Independence Day? (Besides actually being in America, of course.)

We went for a bike ride last night around the area, the same path that I ran the morning before. Giulio was riding with his dad, I was on Francesco's bike, and Francesco graciously took the backup bike. We went through Fimon, which is an absolutely minuscule town, and then on through the Valley of the Windmills (though as far as I can tell there is not a single windmill), and returned by a little country road. It was so amazing to be flying under low branches on this gravel road, and having the pipistrelli, or bats, swirling all around our heads.

I really like it here. I hope to post some pics soon. "What's that you say? Your camera is fixed?" No, it's just erratic. The screen's cleared up, but sometimes it doesn't turn on correctly, or the usb cable doesn't work- it's just confusing. New cam soon hopefully!