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.

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