25 September 2010

stranger in a strange land

You know what I realized yesterday? During the span of five days, I was in five different countries. I was still technically in Croatia during the wee hours of Saturday, then the rest of Saturday was spent in Italy, then I flew to Spain and spent a couple of days there, and after that I flew to Uruguay and Argentina on Wednesday. How insane is that?

It still hasn't really hit me that I'm here. I've been walking up and down the streets, talking to people, taking the Subte (subway) and buses, but I don't feel different.

I miss Italy much more than I would have expected. I miss the comfort of being able to speak the language easily- Spanish isn't coming to me as readily as I would have hoped. Last night I got a tiny Italy fix when I met an Italian guy in the lobby of my hostel. I was dubious at first, but then we spoke a little and he told me that my Italian accent was perfect and beautiful. . . like my eyes- and I knew he was definitely a true Italian. He went on to tell me that my eyes gave him life, and kissed my hand, and said a bunch of other stuff I don't remember, and the Brazilian guys around him were all wide-eyed in the presence of a master romancer.

When it came time for him to leave, he knelt, told me he loved me, and explained to the others that when you see something beautiful, you have to say it. He pretended to take his heart out of his chest and handed it to me, telling me that he didn't need it, and my eyes gave him life. Then he took my hand and went in for what I thought was a side kiss. It was a corner of the mouth kiss, followed by an actual on-the-lips kiss, which I pulled back from red-faced. Then he gave me some nonsense about my lips being sweet and perfect and took off into the night. Typical Italian man. And I miss that.

Found a man in my bed early this morning when I got back from the party at the other hostel last night. I'm very confused about that for so many reasons- if one of the Chicago-area girls staying in our 4-bed, all-girls room brought him home, why wasn't he in her bed? Why did he make a sad attempt to make the bed which actually looked nothing like a made bed when he was done? Was he really actor Michael Cera, as he appeared to be? Why are the Chicago girls acting like nothing happened instead of explaining and potentially apologizing? Why did the maid come by my room and do about as good a job of making my bed as Michael Cera? I think I'm gonna ask for new sheets.

24 September 2010

good airs

There's times when posting seems like such a daunting task that I would rather just not do it. Now is one of those times. There's things I forgot to mention about Madrid, things I definitely need to say about the journey over and my arrival here, and just lots of other stuff. I'd best just get started then, huh? Here goes:

Madrid. Yes. Had a lovely time, wandered a bit, coughed up blood, saw my favourite street musicians--not the piper, surprisingly, but the string quartet that plays on Calle del Carmen next to the Corte Ingles. I sat and listened to them for about 15 or 20 minutes on Monday night while they played their standards- Pachelbel's Canon in D or whatever, some Vivaldi, and my personal favourite, Por Una Cabeza. It's a tango tune about a guy who bets on horses and loses. The chorus is something like, 'Oh silly man, you bet and lost! Didn't yo mama ever teach you that gambling is bad? Don't do it!' You might have heard it in True Lies or Scent of a Woman or just sometime in your life. Look it up, because I love it. However, I can not find a version of it anywhere that compares to the string quartet on Calle Carmen. There were times when I was just sitting there with my eyes closed, on the verge of tears. It was incredible.

Tuesday afternoon I had a not-so-incredible experience: after meeting up with my friend Erin, I went way up northwest to the La Vaguada shopping center, where one of the two Taco Bells in all of Madrid is located. I was so excited. . . so very excited. . . but of course, it couldn't compare to real, fresh, American Taco Bell. I stole a couple of packets of sauce because they said cute things in Spanish but I just happened to be carrying an awl in my purse (long story) but anyway I think you can guess how that turned out and basically I had to chuck the sauce packets within couple of hours. At least the burrito helped clear my sinuses.

Then I headed back into the town center to pick up a few items at H&M- sandals, a men's tee (only 3.95!), and a shirt to wear on the flight over. Shoulda picked up some more leggings or a sweater, because it's hella cold here. More on that later.

After that, I was essentially waiting around on Chris for a few hours by these fountains that they've got in Sol (turns out they were there all along, I just couldn't see them when I lived there because they were covered with scaffolding while they renovated the Sol Metro station), and this homeless-looking guy who was almost certainly on drugs with a hideous mullet started bugging me. I'm not sure what he wanted but he just came over and stared at me and I gave him this look like 'As if!' and he moved away. But he was just sort of creeping around for a while, changing his socks, his shirt, having a smoke right there next to the fountain.

Anyway, then Chris called and bailed on me (I'd already been waiting on him 2 hours, no big deal) so I thought, what could I do in the two hours I have free before I'm supposed to see Jeff the piper? Well, it was 7:09. And the Prado museum is free every day from 6-8. It would be roughly a 20 minute walk from where I was. . . so I started walking. And making up my own shortcuts. And wouldn't you know it, I made it there in 15 minutes.

I did the most frantic tour you can imagine, trying to see all my favourite pieces in the 30 minutes I had left. This was made difficult by the fact that they've moved some things around. El Greco's works (a lot of them, at least) are now in the main hallway, and Room 12, which houses the museum's most important piece, Las Meninas, now holds only portraits of that royal family, done by Velazquez. These are minimal details to you I'm sure, but it was a little unsettling. Anyway, I got to look over all of those pieces, and then see a lot of Goya's portraits (some of my favourite stuff of his). In particular, I love the portrait of Gaspar Melchor de Jovellanos and the portrait of the family of the Duke of Osuna, with the little cross-eyed kid. They also had the Naked Maja on display, which had been loaned out when I studied in Madrid, so I got to see it in person for the first time. Just being in the Prado was a wonderful experience, and it felt like I was getting to see old friends.

After they kicked me out, I headed back to the area east of Sol (Calle Victoria, Espoz y Mina, and all that) to grab a slice of tortilla and a glass of sangria at a little bar there. Then I headed back into Sol to take one last brief tour of the street performers there before meeting the piper at 9. I had just a few minutes to watch the string quartet (just a string trio that night, though, as the bald violinist with the expressive eyebrows was nowhere to be found), and wouldn't you know it, but they played Por Una Cabeza. It wasn't the same with just the three of them, but I tossed a 10 euro note into the case they had sitting out, because a) I had nickels, pennies, 2 cent pieces, a 10 euro note, and a 20 euro notes, b) it's like my favey song ever, and c) I could tell they were having a rough night. And they were very, very grateful.

Then it was back down the street to watch the last few minutes of one bagpiper's performance. That druggie with the mullet made his second appearance of the day, coming right up and dancing a jig to the music while Jeff tried to keep a straight face. He started packing up, but an old Madrileno started chatting him up about a Spanish dance which is based on bagpipe music, and that took about 15 minutes. . . so there I was translating, that guy with the mullet has changed shirts twice and is now dancing around the cops in a leather jacket, my friend Erin caught my attention as she was walking by with a friend- it was just madness.

Finally we were able to go down the street to Calle Montera- have I told you about Calle Montera? Don't go there at night, it's hooker central- to a Cien Montaditos, which is a chain of tapas and beer places. I had a tinto de verano, he had a beer, we sat back, relaxed, talked about the good times, and hooker-spotted. It's sort of funny, because he's actually jealous of me now, which is a total change from 2 years ago, when I couldn't believe how lucky he was to be travelling the world and having adventures. I asked him for advice on finding a job and he said I don't need to- I can go into the little villages out in the jungle and be worshipped as a goddess. Do you see why I love him? Always complimentary, and I think that might actually be good advice. Probably gonna try it.

But after an hour or two, I had to run to the airport, so he helped me get my suitcases from my hostel and hail a cab. Then there was more drama, because the taxi driver was convinced that I was actually stupid because my ticket didn't have the terminal number printed on it. He's the taxi driver, so he's actually supposed to be an expert on airlines and their terminal numbers. . . but no big deal. I only had to call home and use my last 11 euros of phone credit to ask my mum to look up the terminal number. It was Terminal 4, as I'd expected. I've never flown in or out of the Iberian peninsula from a different terminal, and I've come through Barajas airport about 15 times (at least, that's what my passport says). So it would have been nice to have a taxi driver who didn't try to explain to me repeatedly that there are four terminals and it had to be 1, 2, 3, or 4.

Anyway, got there, got checked in, had a lovely conversation with the man behind the desk of the American Express counter. He was giving me all this advice on keeping my money safe, travelling safely, all of that, asking about my job prospects and whatnot. All of this was in very adorable English, and he kept asking me if a certain phrase were correct or not. His jaw actually dropped when I started speaking Spanish. So cute. He said that working at a currency conversion desk was only temporary, because he'd lost his job as a mechanical engineer due to the crisis, but he liked what he was doing because it was interesting and he got to meet lots of new people. I adore people like that. He said I was the first person he'd ever met from Kansas, and after our conversation and the completion of my transaction, we said goodbye, and he wished me the best of luck. I told him I hope he gets back into engineering soon.

Then I went through security and waited another two hours for my flight to leave. Ours was the last one out for the night, at 2:20am, and almost everything was closed. I did, however, grab some patatas alioli from the cafeteria, making it my last meal in Spain. And that was some good patatas alioli.

Well, the flight was uneventful- basically 12 and a half hours of on and off sleep, horrible plane food, Karate Kid, and the lady next to me talking incessantly even though I only responded in English. She was really helpful, telling me all about how disgusting the Argentine way of speaking is, how they have too many bad words and it appalls her to listen to it. She also said I would pretty much want to get the heck out of there, and also the beaches are better in Uruguay, where she's from. Thanks, lady. I'll keep all of that in mind as I START A NEW LIFE IN ARGENTINA.

Then there was a 2 hour layover in Montevideo, which was okay since they had free wifi and lots of outlets that supported European plugs, and onto Argentina on a 50 minute flight. They didn't have the sandwich I wanted on the plane (and I really wanted that sandwich, as I was willing to pay 8 USD for it), but whatevs. Then I hopped off the plane, ran into a little trouble with security because the flight crew had neglected to give me my customs paper, and then one of the customs girls was like, ''Oh we don't actually ask for that here, go ahead,'' and the next guy was like, ''What's she smoking? Of course I need that. . . okay, go through extra security,'' and then a bunch of guys cut me in line and the guy putting bags on the scanner just sort of ignored me a bit til I got all American and pushy. Gentlemen abound in Argentina.

Took a cab to hostel, passed out for (not joking) 16 hours, awoke yesterday morning feeling fairly fresh, freshness factor increased post-shower, went out to find a power converter, went on 6 hour walking tour of La Boca, can now cross it off my list of places to apartment-hunt. It was a pretty sweet walking tour though; we toured the Boca Juniors' stadium where Maradona used to play, then we went around and saw bunches of Maradona impersonators, lots of tango stuff, lots of bright houses. This place is hectic, and packed, and bigger than any city I've ever seen, but I think I'll really be inspired here. There's color and art everywhere.

I've already had a busy day today. I woke up around 5:30, because I went to bed at 9 (lame I know), and came downstairs to use the internet. After I was kicked off the computers by a grumpy cleaning lady, I started talking to an Aussie guy while we were waiting for breakfast. Turns out he's an electrician at home, and was fully prepared to try and help me solve my power conversion woes (basically I could not charge my computer, no matter how many converters I bought or borrowed). And you know what? He made it work, and I'm now using my own laptop to update my own blog! The way it should be.

Oh and for those of you who were worried about my tuberculosis: just know that I showed it who was boss. You see, I've developed my own special treatment for dealing with illnesses while traveling solo. I call it the Lizzie Kansas wellness plan, and it has a 100% success rate. I've gotten better 100% of the times I've been sick away from home. Basically it goes a little something like this:

  • When you get sick, pretend you aren't
  • When other people point out to you that, "You don't look so good," tell them it's something terrible, like tuberculosis or avian influenza to lighten the mood and distract from the fact that it actually might be TB or bird flu (I mean, last year Josephine and I spent the whole summer joking about swine flu and then, wouldn't you know it, come August. . .)
  • If these other people offer you cough drops and tea, exploit the hell out of that
  • If you do eventually decide to give in and recognize that you might actually be ailing, just keep telling yourself (and anyone who asks), "Oh, it's just [tuberculosis], and I'm gonna kick its ass." That kind of staunch American attitude will get you through just about anything.

There you have it, friends. I am now feeling fine and nearly cough-free! However, two of the three people I hung out with in Madrid (Erin and Jeff) say that they are feeling a bit under the weather. You're next Chris, cheers!

So the plan for today is to do a bit of apartment-hunting, go on a tour of Palermo, which is an area I'm looking in, buy some trousers (leggings preferably) and possibly a jumper. Oh! The best part of this whole travelling to the southern hemisphere is that I spent less than half a day in a season other than summer or spring. Thus the changed blog title. This is my endless summer, and you're all welcome to live it with me.

21 September 2010

lizzie makes a triumphant return to madrid

Okay I have about four minutes until I run out of internet credit so I've got to make this brief.
1) Flew into Madrid Sunday afternoon. Promptly hung out with a one Chris Dailey, one of the coolest guys I know. Watched some soccer, then met up with a certain bagpiper to reminisce about the good old times. Sipped some tinto de verano in the park until the wee hours. Spent much of the next day in bed- not due to the drinking, but rather the tuberculosis which I suspect I have. Seriously, I was literally coughing blood yesterday. What else. . . wandered around solo last night, stalked some street musicians (as I do), today met up with a friend that I haven't seen since Venice 2 years ago, gave a tour, now am here, getting ready to see Chris again and then my piping friend.
Anyway I fly out tonight and I think the municipal police here give the Carabinieri a run for their money!

18 September 2010

another update, and this one's big. . .

"Oh, she takes care of herself, she can wait if she wants, she's ahead of her time
Oh, and she never gives out, and she never gives in, she just changes her mind. . ."
-Billy Joel, 'She's Always a Woman to Me'

All right. I know where I'm going to be tonight, and tomorrow, and for the foreseeable future. Tonight: on a train, headed to Rome. Tomorrow: Madrid. End of the week: Buenos Aires.

That's right, I said Buenos Aires. I know it seems spur-of-the-moment, but I've been looking at it for a while, because it's so much cheaper than Madrid would be, and apparently there's a growing arts community, and lots of openings for English teachers. Anyway, you can't talk me out of it now; the tickets are bought and there's no going back. I'd planned on waiting a bit to go, but it was looking so expensive to even stay in Madrid with friends for a few weeks, and the flights I had been looking at increased in price to the point that it would have cost me nearly a thousand dollars to fly on any day until November. The cheapest flight I could find was this week, so I jumped on it.

So tonight, I have to find this hostel manager and tell him that even though I checked in this morning, I'll be leaving tonight on the last train to Rome. I meant to sleep all afternoon but I've just been so busy and now my adrenaline's pumping over this whole Buenos Aires thing. . . so I'm charging my mp3 player, filling you in, and trying to find something to eat. Kebabs anyone???

16 September 2010


-The Clash, 'Should I Stay or Should I Go'

This place is amazing. I don't know if I've ever seen such wonderful beaches, and the people are absolutely incredible. I don't even know where to start in describing it. I suppose I'll just start where I left off.

I have no idea what day in the week it is, so I can't tell you what day I got here. Tuesday maybe? Probably Tuesday. I told you about some of the things I saw that day, and how I was pretty much out cold in bed for four hours in the middle of the afternoon. Then I showered (my hair felt incredible and sleek and CLEAN for the first time in several days, thanks to the intense water pressure in the shower), made dinner, updated this, and tried to go to bed early. However, the Brits in my room seemed bound and determined to prevent that. I heard about all the things I'd been hearing about the previous three weeks from Kat ("I'd rather be a northern monkey than a southern fairy," "Oh! What's occurrin'?" "If you can't go to Uni, go to Met. . .") and they didn't leave to go out til half 11. Then they came back absolutely pissed only two hours later. Someone broke a mug, someone broke a toilet, a good time was had by all. Except me.

My plan had been to get up early the next morning for a run. But I was just too exhausted from the night before. So I only got up at 9, then went running, then came back, then laid out for three hours. Unfortunately, it is already mid-September, and the sun's rays are no longer as powerful as they were just a short time ago, so I barely got red at all. I tried again today, for four hours, but still no luck.

I've visited the marketplace a few times since I got here, and I keep finding myself marveling at these people. They're fabulous. You've got these old Croatian women, looking like stereotypical babushkas, wearing all black and little black head scarves, sitting there scowling and hawking vegetables, speaking zero English and disregarding any sign language you attempt. I tried to tell a lady yesterday that I only wanted one red pepper, but she just shook her head and put three on the scale. It was only 3 kuna though, so it didn't really matter. (That's another thing. 1 euro is worth 7.1 kuna right now. So I paid maybe 50 American cents for those peppers? Not bad at all.)

But a little more about old Croatian women. I love them. On the beach yesterday, they're all just laying there, taking the sun, pulling their tops down millimeter by millimeter to get the best and most risque tan possible. Then some of them hop in the water and start doing the breaststroke out into the ocean. I waded up alongside one of them yesterday and we had this bonding moment where we looked at each other and our body language was like, "OMG THIS WATER IS SO COLD!" even though she probably didn't speak a word of English.

Oh and they've got this awesome game that they play on the beach. Not the old ladies really, mostly just youngish men. They take a ball, and they toss it in the general direction of one of their mates, and then that guy has to hit it with his hand, and so on. Except the objective seems to be to try and put it almost just out of the other guy's reach. So they're constantly going full extension into 2-foot deep water to try and save this ball. It's an incredible game, and I think it was created for me. It would make a fantastic softball drill.

Speaking of that, I saw a gymnastics coach today utilizing the beach in his training. He had his girls in hip-high water, and then they did handstands or handsprings in the water. They weren't very good at it, but hey, this is Croatia we're talking about here, not Romania.

And it's so weird being in a foreign country and not being able to understand ANYTHING. I've gotten a few things, like thank you and a few numbers. But not much. Basically I pretend to be Italian when I talk to shopkeepers, because a lot of them speak some Italian. It's actually making me miss Italy.

Anyway, I love very much this city, but I will be returning to Ancona tomorrow night by ferry. This time I don't even have a seat, I'll be sleeping on the floor because it is 10 euros cheaper. Should be fun. Oh! And I think I've figured out what I want to do with my life, and that is work on a boat. Like be a sailor. Or a pirate.

14 September 2010

alone again, naturally

Another head aches, another heart breaks, 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 no no no no. . .
-All These Things I've Done, The Killers

Well, it's over for now. Friday was my last day of tutoring, and I've now been unleashed upon the world. Before I tell you about my plans, let me get you caught up:
Melissa and I were informed that we would be allowed to
escape from our hellish homestay, because there were supposed to be three new tutors coming in on Saturday. We'd be moved to new places, and one of them would take our spot in the Casa di Romeo. It turned out to be Dave, one of the guys I'd karaoked with in Baiardo (and he would not let me live that down).
Final show turned out adorable. I made all the kids' costumes out of crepe paper at the last minute and everyone loved it. On Saturday, I moved homestays (new family: Alessandro, Chiara, 9-year-old Martina, 5-year-old Mattia, and 8-month-old Michelangelo [dead serious]), and then the tutors all went out in Milan. We had a lot of fun shopping, taking pics, and catching up over a few beers. I actually didn't get back until around 11, conveniently after my host family went to bed, so I slept in the spare bed at Kat's (she lived literally 5 doors down, and Melissa, who would be occupying that bed for the week, was in Bologna for the weekend). So that was a good way to start off our time together.

Sunday was filled with more tutor bonding time. Kat's fam was out of town for the day and had given us permission to hang out there while we waited for Melissa to get back and then go to dinner with our directors. We had a Wii party (as Tom pointed out, this would only mean 'a small gathering' to Scottish people), then watched Finding Nemo (which is of course one of the greatest films ever made by humans). After that was our dreaded dinner with the directors.
I was, of course, happy to have dinner with them and the other tutors. It would be a good way for us to relax and get to know one another and plan the week out. But I had killed 9 mosquitoes the last time we'd eaten there with my bare hands. And my pizza was burnt.

As it turned out, I should have been more worried about what our directors would say. Before we'd even ordered our food, we were thoroughly dressed down in front of our new coworkers. "The final show was terrible," she told us. "No one could hear it. The parents were very unhappy. It should be louder, and more dancing." She touched on other issues with safety, planning, all sorts of things. The only problem was, all of her complaints were either unfounded or could have been prevented if she had been around for us to communicate with earlier. We defended ourselves, telling the director that we thought people were very satisfied with the show, and the kids loved it, and we might have been able to make everything louder had we not been outside, with no speakers to use, and we had tried to ask her for speakers after camp but she literally took off as soon as the bell rang. I mean, Kat and I were absolutely livid. And the new tutors were very uncomfortable. And we all muttered under our breath, "I need a beer."

We set about the next day to improve things at camp. Dave brought an almost terrifying enthusiasm to the warm-up circle, and as the only other returning tutor, I tried my best to do the same. I was so proud of Kat and Melissa and Tom, who had been my little babies only a couple of weeks before, and were growing into fantastic tutors right before my eyes. I shouldn't leave out the other two tutors, Steph and Jess, who were also wonderful.

My class was a bit different, which I wasn't thrilled about. Because we had so many new students, there would be four yellow classes instead of the one we'd had before. The directors had taken the opportunity to disperse my children amongst the new classes, which meant the best I could do was take the class that had four of my returning students in it, and put in a good word with the other tutors for my other kids.

After the first day, we made sure to meet with the director and talk to her about our concerns so that she could know how offended we'd been and also know that we were doing our best. That went well, but we still went out for our traditional Moretti and the bar around the corner (our 'local,' as Kat called it). After going there about four times the week before, the bartender and his wife knew us and made sure to give us sizeable portions of aperitivi, usually several bowls of crisps, some bruschetta, sometimes some bread, cheese, and salami. Good stuff. The food portions only got bigger with the increase in tutors, and we all laughed about everything that had made us so angry just a few hours earlier.
Things got better throughout the week. We bonded with each other, our students, our host families, and almost a little bit with our director. We bonded a lot with the barman. Don't think I ever actually learned his name, though.

We had Safari on Wednesday, and that was eventful. I've never actually played Safari properly, as I've heard so many horror stories of mangled shirts and bloodied tutors. I usually just hide a bunch of animal cards or whatever around the school gardens or hide briefly with the other tutors or combine it with Scavenger Hunt to make Scafari but Dave was insistent that we do it up proper. And I'm glad we did, but my tutor t-shirt and my upper arms are not. Let me explain:

Safari Proper involves the tutors wearing signs with pictures of animals and point values written on them. The number points is what the Olympic teams will receive for capturing you, and also the number of team members they need to capture you. For instance, if you've got 5 written on your sign, it takes 5 kids to bring you in.

I began the competition as a pterodactyl (my decision) worth 8 points. I hid under a stairwell, which was gated and locked. Perfect. I also covered myself in trash bags as camouflage. But somehow those tricky Italian bambini managed to track me down. Our director was like, "But the children can't go in there to catch you!" and I was like, "EXACTLY." I waited until the children had been distracted by something shiny, then I made a break for it, sprinting like I hadn't done since softball season. Eventually they cornered me, and started pulling me by my wrists. I sat down, then jumped back up to make an escape, screaming like a pterodactyl the entire time. When the children had re-caught me and were gripping my wrists so tight I couldn't get away, I sat down. They took me by my ankles and started dragging me. They tried to pick me up, but said I was just too heavy (thanks kids). And a few times they tried to pick me up by my upper arms, but that just hurt too much. Basically I was dragged through gravel and over pavement and mud for about 45 minutes until the other tutors implored me to just give up and allow myself to be taken in.

After surrendering, I took a break for a few minutes, formulating my next plan of child avoidance. I drew a mermaid on a sheet of paper and assigned it a point value of 15 (it would teach teamwork, right, if teams had to come together to capture me?). Then I went outside with a couple of the other tutors and we sat down on the ground, linking arms and shouting, "Animals united! We'll never be divided!" Well, this plan failed, as the students began tearing us apart within seconds, and I soon found myself clinging to Steph and Dave for dear life (as we'd already lost Jess). They even took my shoes and socks before we finally ended the game.

In the aftermath of Safari, we assessed our losses. My shirt was a total loss, as it was covered in mud and grass stains and stretched beyond recognition. Being dragged facedown meant that my stomach and hips were scraped up pretty well. And my arms had already started to bruise in a horrifying way. The solution was obviously beer at our local. After that, a couple of us went to find internet, and got the news that our boss would be visiting for the final show on Friday to give us our 'contributions' for the summer (because our tutoring is technically done on a volunteer basis). It wasn't terribly concerning, but it did put a little extra pressure on us to make those final shows perfecter than perfect.

Thursday was water games day. We started splashing each other during lunch break, when we still had another hour of teaching to do, and were even more relentless once we'd actually gone outside with the kids. By the end of the day, we were drenched, and we'd even managed to soak our director (a two-man attack in which I led her off to the side and asked to 'look' at her camera, then ducked away with it just in time as Dave popped a water balloon over her head).

Just a note about Italians, in case I haven't mentioned this: mothers truly believe that their children will melt in water. If a child has a cough, they're exempt from water games. If they have a blister on their foot, they can't play water games. If their hair is too long, BOOM, you guessed it, no water games. I was looking over all of these dry, water games-exempt children on Thursday with disgust, and it reminded me a little of a scene in Whale Rider (see it if you haven't) in which the chief of this Maori tribe, in an effort to weedle down the number of candidates for the next chief, tosses a whale tooth into the ocean for the boys to retrieve. All the boys in the boat jump into the water to try and grab the tooth, but two stay in the boat. "Bubba's got a cold, and I can't swim," one of the boys tells the man gravely. And he just looks at them like he can't even believe it. That's how I felt.

Anyway, guess what we did after that? You're right, we squelched and squeaked in our wet clothes all the way to the bar and laughed it up with the barman and his family.

Friday dawned cool and fresh. Maybe it should have felt a little more monumental, but I knew I'd be incredibly busy and just wanted to get going with my final day of English Camp for the summer. We had a wild warm-up circle, singing our old standard 'Boom Chicka Boom' every way possible (and that includes the Dementor way; see Tom below). Then it was show, show, show, show, show. Mine actually came together rather nicely, with the six of my girls as princesses or queens watching a battle between at gladiator and a tiger at the Colosseum with Julius Caesar, which was abruptly ended when a giant bird flew in and killed the gladiator. Everything was adorable, our boss seemed satisfied, and all in all it was a great end to a great summer.

But it wasn't over yet! It was Kat's birthday, conveniently enough, so we went out in Milan to do it up proper. We were out til 4 and took a taxi home (after brief drama with a couple of Italian girls who jumped into the first car we'd hailed; of course I thought the solution was to bitch them out in perfect Spanish). Then we all dispersed the next morning: Melissa to Bologna, Kat to Lyon, Steph and Jess and Tom back home to England, Dave to the Milan flat to prepare for one last company event, and myself to a hostel in Milan. I rested up there a couple of days before taking a 4 hour train to Ancona, and then jumping on a ferry to gorgeous Croatia!

This was only my second time on an actual, massive ferry. We departed Ancona around 8:45pm, and then I just wandered around the decks a little until I thought it would be a good time to try and sleep in my seat. I have a really tough time sleeping upright, so this didn't go so well. I tossed and turned until around 5:30, when I headed back out to try and see the sunrise. There was no fore deck on this ferry, just side and stern ones, and we were headed due east, so this didn't go so well, but the view was still incredible. In the dim morning light, I could just barely make out little rocky islands looming out of the water. I started to get the feeling that Croatia would be the sort of place I would arrive at and never want to leave.

Due to my lack of sleep, I spent about four hours after check-in just passed out. But I did get a chance to see Diocletian's Palace and the old town, which are absolutely beautiful. I also took a walk through the open air market they have all around. It's really beautiful, and I'm excited to hit up the beach tomorrow and get my tan on.

As for future plans: I've got a ferry back in this weekend, then I'll take a train somewhere and fly somewhere else (I think I've narrowed it down to Madrid or Liverpool). I've also been looking at flights to my next destination. . . South America. I'll try and keep you posted. . . but not too much.

11 September 2010

brief update

Done with tutoring for the summer. I'm staying in Milan for a couple more nights, then taking a train to Ancona, taking a ferry to Croatia, and spending a few days there. After that, I'm not really sure, but Spain should figure into my plans somehow.

02 September 2010

more pics, you're welcome

Bananas of the World!
The Fantastic Four
Yes I would like my pizza delivered to me via tiny car
My Maserati and Hummer. . . don't worry about it
My pool
My flat
My bedroom

some pics you've hopefully been dying to see

First night out in Nice with Sergei the Ukrainian model and my Brazilian buddies
Karaoke in Baiardo
Out in Fiumicino so Kyle could catch his plane
Out for gelato in Rome
At the Colosseum


What would I give if I could live out of these waters?
What would I pay to spend a day warm on the sand?
Betcha on land they understand, bet they don't reprimand their daughters
Bright young women, sick of swimming, ready to stand. . .
-The Little Mermaid

Milan has a bit of a reputation within our company for being a shithole, to put it gently, for several reasons. Firstly, the children at Milan camps tend to be a little more difficult than children in other regions. Next, very few of the camps are actually in nice, fun areas of the city; they’re usually on the outskirts or in bad neighborhoods. Also, there’s not really that much to see in Milan. You’ve got the Duomo, the Gallery, the Scala, and that’s about it- and all of those things are within about five minutes of each other by foot. Lastly, the company has a flat in the Milan area for us to use when we need it, and it is legendary for its disgustingness.

However, all of these things went out of my head when I heard we’d all be going to Milan because we’d be near a Metro stop. Awesome, right? The heart of Milan would be easily accessible to us for two weeks by train. So we hopped on our Frecciabianca train to Milano, excited for our two week adventure in one of Italy’s most famous cities.

I first became worried when I stepped into the sunlight outside of Abbiategrasso Metro Station and saw the group of people there to greet us. There were a collection of women who could most kindly be described as Italian cousins of Susan Boyle, and behind them stood a street lined with dingy apartment buildings. The whole thing seemed very dreary, very dumpy, very out of fashion. Add to that the orange Scooby Doo van Melissa and I were loaded into (the interior of which was covered in dog hair) and I think you can start to sympathise.

I don't want to bring you down with all the depressing details of this place, so I'll make it brief. We're in a tiny flat in what seem to be the projects, with no sibling even attending English camp, with a host mom who seems to only be hosting us for the money and can't cook, with an aggressive dog who won't stop barking once he's seen us, sleeping in the host parents' bed, while they sleep on air mattresses in their office room. It's just awkward. Melissa and I went out with some of her friends here in Milan (she studied abroad in Bologna) to escape the awkwardness, and we both hung out with our own friends on Sunday. It was nice. After that, we all reconvened for a camp dinner with our directors.

I got my first look at my kids on Monday morning. They're all yellow-bookers, so about 6 or 7, and some of them are just adorable. Some of them aren't. Some of them spend a bit too much time with their fingers in their noses for my liking. Anyway, Monday morning was also the day when I first realized that our host mom was going to try and starve us steadily throughout the week. That first day, she gave me a panino made of mozzarella cheese between two pieces of bread, plus a nectarine, plus a plum. Basta. For the entire day. Let me remind you, we have two breaks plus lunch during our 9 hour camp days. And we are required to constantly be jumping around, making fools of ourselves and expending valuable energy. Day two, I was given the same sandwich, plus a nectarine. No plum. It's been that way ever since, except yesterday Melissa decided we should ask to bring breakfast yogurt with us to school so that hopefully our host mum would realize we are hungry and give us more to eat. Plan failed; now she just thinks we really like yogurt.

Anyway, tomorrow's the final show, and my kids are so not ready. No costumes, no backdrop, nothing. Hopefully they at least know their lines. . . And then we'll be here another week, just with some new kids. And that should be the end of my tutoring work here in Italy for the summer!

01 September 2010

Valli del Pasubio

Ah, Valli del Pasubio. A tiny village in a valley amongst the Lower Dolomites, about an hour or so from Vicenza. We arrived late Saturday afternoon, and met our families at the train station. I was set up with the Trentin family, and they carried my bags to their H2 to drive me home.

When they parked in their garage, I saw that they also had a white Maserati at their disposal. They led me into the house, which was a cavernous, refurbished table factory with rows of windows and high ceilings. But I wasn't actually staying in the house, they told me. There was an entire other little house just for me, and it was on the floor above an indoor swimming pool. Does this sound like a dream? Because it really happened.
We had a little get-together Saturday night, to meet the families and hang out, and that was when we got to really see our new director, Laura, in action. She was a force to be reckoned with, a veritable sandstorm (cue techno music) in any social gathering. The next morning, at our pre-camp meeting, she was just spouting ideas and plans. Very positive, and extremely energetic.

I agreed to work with the oldest group, 13 and 14 year olds. I like to work with extremes because I feel that the group in the middle is where you actually have to teach a lot of sentence structure and the really difficult stuff. With little kids, it's just basic vocab and really simple conversation, and with older kids, you're building on the foundation that was set by the teachers that worked with the kids when they were somewhere in the middle. I guess I'm just lazy like that.

After the meeting, we went through Valli for their Sunday market, and ended up eating at a nice little restaurant somewhere in the mountains. Their specialty was gnocchi, and I had some with a classic butter and sage sauce. I found it a little rich, with the gnocchi too doughy for my taste. Then Alessandro (the 3 year old son) threw a fit and we went home, and Lisa (the 14 year old daughter) and I got ready to go to the pool.

I was terribly exhausted at this point, but I knew Tom was going to the pool and I didn't want him to be alone. Once we got to the pool, however, I knew I should have just stayed home. It was actually three or four pools, with hundreds of chairs and umbrellas around the water. We couldn't find a spot anywhere and had to settle for sunning ourselves next to the baby pool. Lisa and her friend Roberta went swimming for a bit, but I was a little nauseous and just wanted to sleep.

Somehow, though, the prospect of sexy lifeguards and cold water on such a disgustingly hot day persuaded me to get off my towel and into the pool. I showed the girls my waterproof camera and they were pretty much blown away. We took some pics, swam around, then made our way to the lazy river (love it!) and finally took a few turns down the water slide. I managed to get a wedgie every single time, but used it as an opportunity to explain that bit of American slang to the girls.

Host dad picked us up in the white Hummer and asked for our pizza orders. Perfect, I said to myself. This family has money. . . it costs money to get extra toppings on pizza. . . money which they have in spades. . . therefore I can get whatever I want on my pizza and not feel guilty!!! Long story short, my pizza was covered in grilled eggplant, zucchini, and peppers, mushrooms, olives, tomatoes, and corn. I had considered asking for ricotta on it but thought that would just be excessive. Roberta called it my fantasy pizza.

I was feeling pretty worn out by this time, so I went to bed early after some brief time on the facey b. It was nice to have a king sized bed all to myself, in a guesthouse all to myself, and be able to play a movie as I fell asleep.

I woke up far too early, at 6:45, because I had to be at breakfast by 7:30. However, I pressed snooze perhaps a few too many times because all of a sudden, I looked up and it was 7:28. Somehow I got ready in 10 minutes and was at breakfast just a few minutes late.

That magical Monday morning I had the great pleasure of being driven to school in the white Ferrari (no, the host dad hadn't been joking). It was incredible. Maybe Papa Trentin drove a little fast, maybe it did mess up my hair a little because the top was down, but it was still an amazing experience.

This is the point where I should probably tell you how the first day of camp went, but I don't really remember much of it. At this point, I was feeling a bit achy and could tell I was coming down with something (likely the result of too many late nights in the previous week). I can tell you, though, that my class were generally very bright, with 9 girls and 2 boys, most of whom already knew the simple past tense and could write fairly complex essays in English.

What else happened that week. . . well, I was driven to school each day in either the Hummer, Maserati, and Ferrari. The Maserati and H2 started to feel like downgrades, actually, after a few rides in that Ferrari. What is it that Ferris Bueller says about Cameron's dad's Ferrari in 'Ferris Bueller's Day Off'? I think it's something like, "If you have the means, I highly recommend picking one up. They are so choice." But I could be wrong about that line.

I got progressively sicker throughout the week. What began as extreme exhaustion on Sunday turned into a sore throat on Tuesday, lots of coughing and sneezing by Thursday, and super sinus congestion on Friday (just in time for the final show!). I wanted nothing more than to sleep all the time, but my host family always wanted to take me out for ice cream after dinner, or watch a movie in English, or whatever. That was sweet of them, don't get me wrong, but I don't think they had any clue how awful I was feeling.

Ah yes, the final show. I basically had the kids write it themselves, so it turned into English Music Store. One girl walked in, asked for a cd, and the saleslady was like, "Yeah try this one," and then Waka Waka came on so a bunch of them danced to that, then someone was like, "OMG that's a terrible song, Beyonce's better!" so then some of them danced to Single Ladies, and finally someone else said, "But Rhianna's the best!" and then three of them came out in slinky dresses and performed a dance they hadn't even shown me before the actual show. There were umbrellas and fedoras used. And also chairs. Still worried about my job security after that. Anyway, then they were like, "Oh wait what's this cd over here?!" "Well this one's full of English camp songs!" Then they all sang English Camp, and the girl obvs decided to buy that cd. The end!

After the show ended, we had some aperitivos with the parents, then went home to eat dinner with our host families, and then the tutors went out with a couple of host sibs and our director to a rap/ska/reggae concert in Schio (which began with a guy coming onstage and yelling, "Schio! Sch-Sch-Sch-Sch-Schio! Schio!") and later to a club to find another host bro. Laura was determined to help us find this host brother, so she dragged us through the club like our mother trying to find him. We were trying to hide our faces and not die from laughter at the same time. She was out of control!

Later there was this big complicated mess when Laura told us we had to go home because our host families were waiting, and Kat and I was like, "Okay, that's cool, we're actually pretty tired," but then Laura was like, "I can tell you don't want to leave so let's go inside and dance for fifteen more minutes! YOU MUST DANCE!" And the next thing we knew, we were on the dance floor with Laura behind us, with all of the Italians giving us a wide berth. Simultaneously hilarious and mortifying.

Our train the next morning didn't leave until noon, so I packed a little, took a leisurely dip in the pool, showered, packed some more, and ate with the family. I'd gotten them a tiny gift, and they'd gotten me a tiny gift, and then they tossed me onto the train with the other tutors, and that was the end of Valli del Pasubio.