28 July 2011

trento: highest quality of life of all time

First off, props to you if you noticed the child on the ground in an asparagus costume in the last picture.

And now, the long-awaited Trento.

Trento is an ancient and beautiful city nestled in the lower Dolomites. Its name comes from the Romans' original name for it, Tridentum, which was a reference to the three main mountains, or teeth, surrounding it. Today, Trento consistently ranks at or near the top of the polls for things like quality of life and education among Italian cities.

Somehow, even with all of its modern convenience and whatnot, it still takes a hella long time to get there. I spent more than six hours in transit, leaving my Morgano home at 8:45 and arriving in Trento after three in the afternoon. That was annoying.

My streak of amazing host families continues here, with Francesca, Luca, a
nd little Giulia and Cecilia. Francesca speaks English really well, and Luca knows more than he lets on. The girls are adorable (when they want to be).

The day after we arrived, we went up into the mountains to see the tiny town of Lavarone and my extended host family. This next part is a little tough to explain so just bear with me: my host mother's father and his brothers and sisters own a couple of adjacent apartment buildings in Lavarone. Each of them has a different floor, consisting of a two or three bedroom apartment, to his or herself. In the summer, that generation, and/or their children and grandchildren, stay up there for at least a few weeks.

You know why they like to hang out in Lavarone in the summertime? Because it's COLD. I made the mistake of wearing shorts on my first trip up there, and I was chillin' like a villain during the quaint little stroll my host mother and I took around the volcanic lake. Was it worth it to see a beautiful, scenic lake nestled amongst picturesque mountains, surrounded by warm and welcoming Italians? I'm still not sure.

I ended up teaching a red class (something I more or less vowed never to do after my first summer) because it was the most convenient choice for the group. (What can I say? That's just the type of person I am.) While the class received red books, they range in age from seven to 11, and their skill levels are all over the place. But I love a challenge (that's also the kind of person I am).

Week one in Trento was pretty laid back. The kids aren't crazy about the warm-up circle, so there's been a lot of repetition and games. Bananas of the World has been met with a tepid response, and The Chosen One bombed altogether. Sometimes kids just sit down while they're supposed to be dancing around in the circle.

We did have one boy, however, who probably had more energy than all of the other campers combined. His name was Michele, and he was unfortunately only around for that first week. He spent breaks and recess popping and locking to rap music. When he needed a break, he'd stand still and put his hand on his chin or his hip and stare off into the distance, not unlike a male model. "Pose some more," I joked. I didn't expect him to get on the ground and strike a pose, announce, "January," and then change poses before saying, "February," and so on for all twelve months.

Michele also had quite a few fantastic one-liners involving poo, most memorably: "Can I go to the toilet please because the poo is now exits my bum." It was obviously funny, but after a few days of hearing about how he had pooed on the way to the bathroom, we began to feel a little concerned.

The weekend was spent up in Lavarone. I did my best to prepare for the weather, but that was a bit difficult, as the only long pants I have from home are leggings. Along with those, I took my purple waterproof jacket, an old softball sweatshirt, a cardigan, and a couple of tops. It wasn't enough to protect me from the 40 degree temperatures and constant freezing drizzle.

Whenever there was a lull in the precipitation, my host mom and I went for walks through the countryside. It helped to keep me warm, but the steep hills were mildly brutal.

Week two has been good. I've been doing a little P90X with my coworker Jeremy after camp, which means I'm roughly twice as tired as I should be, but I feel like it's worth it to have ripped abs. Definitely worth it.

The final show is this afternoon, and my children will be presenting a sketch about the Quidditch World Cup, where Shakira will perform Waka Waka. I'm excited about it, but who knows how it will actually go. After camp, we're going out for drinks, because two of our tutors will be finished after today. Jeremy and I are going on to Gianico tomorrow for a one week camp. This will mark my first camp in Brescia after two years away from there. Weather.com says it's going to be hot.

26 July 2011


Before I describe Trento, did I mention the fantastic game we 'invented' for Harry Potter Day in Morgano? It's really a twist on a couple of old favorites: you teach the kids handball, and then on top of that, two tutors run around throwing a couple of volleyballs at them, just to get in the way. The first ball is the Quaffle, and the other two are Bludgers. We tried to work in a Golden Snitch but we thought it might complicate things just a little too much. Anyway, I am more or less a master of this game. To shake things up, I waited until the Quaffle was in the air on a long pass, and then I tried to hit it with my Bludger. I actually managed to do it quite a few times. The kids hated it.

And I really have to include this: in Morgano, they love asparagus so much that they hold an annual festival dedicated to it. The children dress up as asparagi and dance around. Guess where they store the asparagus costumes? That's right, in the school where we held English camp. You can probably imagine what went down when we tutors got a hold of these costumes, but fortunately, you don't have to.

Also, we had family friends over for dinner one night before we all went out to--wait for it--sagra. The host dad showed up in a red dress shirt, with only the middlest button buttoned. He had a delightful combover and a significant gut. I wasn't really paying much attention to the conversation, but I definitely noticed when he went on a rant about how GPS systems are robots living in your car, and someday soon they will all rebel against us and rule the world. Yep.

Seriously though--time to talk about Trento.

19 July 2011

more mosquitos than you can shake a stick at

The title of this post just about sums up Morgano. I'm not sure I've ever killed so many mosquitos at a camp, and I'm actually applying mosquito repellant regularly this year. (I'm also using sunscreen semi-regularly on my nose and forehead. . . is this what growing up feels like???)

When we chose our classes at our first staff meeting in Morgano, Liam and I were the last to select, and we were left with a white/yellow group and a purple group--two extremes. The decision was finally made when I realized that my host sister was in the purple group, leaving me with the babies.

I forgot what short attention spans little children have. Really tiny little attention spans. And sometimes they just choose not to listen to you. And sometimes they grab your chest, or if you're a boy, they grab your boy parts, or they just pinch your bum. Yep. I'm talking to you, Marco.

We played water games and had Pirate and Harry Potter-themed days. Guess who has two thumbs and showed up to camp dressed as Bellatrix? That's right, this girl. I lost my patience with the kids and Avada Kedavra'ed roughly all of them by the end of the day. Don't hate me. (Or was I just method acting? Something to ponder. . .)

I made a desperate attempt to teach my students to sing Proud Mary, or at least sing backup while I danced around in front of them like Tina Turner, but it didn't work.

My weekend could not have been more low-key. I stayed in bed until one on Saturday (after waking up at 7:30 in a panic, thinking I'd missed my alarm), and then lounged by the pool for most of the afternoon. Host mom got her thinking cap on and came up with a little excursion that turned out to be way more interesting than I expected: we (host mom, host sis, and myself) drove an hour west-ish to Possagno, where a famous sculptor named Canova had built a massive temple and had left a museum of his works.

Because there was a special CanovaFest on, the museum was offering guided tours at 9 and 10 at night. We jumped on that, and got to see plaster casts of his art, and some of the final products. The guide was careful to explain the entire sculpting process, and I understood it, because I've had the same concepts and methods explained to me in English and Spanish. I had originally worried that my familiarity with art and sculpture would make the trip boring, but as it turned out, I was in my element. I felt like I was back in the Prado again, listening to another one of the Jefe's passionate lectures with JaNae by my side and a notebook full of backwards notes in my hands. I was shocked when I looked at an info card for a plaster cast of a seated man with a book in his hands and read 'Giorgio Washington.' I did a double take--yep, still George Washington in Italian. The tour guide talked to me specially about the piece after the official tour, and paralleled the story of George Washington turning down extra time in office to a Roman leader who had done something similar. He said some really nice things, too. Unfortunately, the actual statue had been destroyed in a fire in the capital building in Raleigh, so only the plaster model was left, but it was still one of those moments where I felt like I was just meant to be there.

Sunday was pretty chill. You can't call me lazy, though, because I was told that the train workers were on strike and I couldn't make it to Venice or Verona or anywhere cool.

Week Two of Morgano camp was good, overall. We all got along fantastically, and the only bumps in the road were the occasional gropings, courtesy of Marco, and the world's blandest food, courtesy of the camp's catering company. (Seriously, I had plain rice for lunch one day.) We had Band Hero parties, a birthday party for Tess (where she was hit in the face with a shoe) and gelato dates after school. Most annoying thing to happen to me: breaking my toe during a barefoot handball match with my students. Believe it or not, because I'm so injury-prone, that was probably the least painful injury I sustained in Morgano.

My final show was decent. Really, though, what can you expect from six- to eight-year-olds? Not a lot, I say. Beforehand, Giulio, Marco's doppelganger, spent a few minutes touching himself inappropriately, and things got a little bit out of hand. (Thanks, camp director, for laughing at the whole situation. In 40 years, that little boy will be a creepy middle-aged man on a bike harrassing some innocent English tutors walking down the street in Milan.) Post-show, Marco ran around with a sanitary napkin in his hand, waving it in the faces of anyone near him. We sat back and watched and enjoyed no longer being responsible for these children.

We spent Friday night at Sagra once more. While we had every intention of blowing our cash advances at the bar, we instead spent all the tokens donated to us by children on bumper cars. When midnight rolled around, we all shared an emotional goodbye, because I would be leaving for Trento the next morning, while Tess and Li were off to Asola, and our two coworkers would be setting off on their own adventures. It was a good, if bittersweet, way to end a very good camp.

Next up: the very clean city of Trento.

the great naval battle of 1668

In case I wasn't clear in my last post, Morgano is one of several tiny towns around Treviso, which is a fairly prominent city in the Veneto (the region of Venice). It was even smaller than my hometown. The primary entertainment for our host siblings was to attend the traveling carnival, which was in the area the entire time we were. Yep, we went almost every night.

The best night at the carnival, or sagra, was its last night in Quinto di Treviso, when there was a massive fireworks display. Tess (Liam's lovely lady) and I were there, trying to keep each other entertained while we were surrounded by Italian teenagers with bad hair and tee shirts bearing English slogans that didn't make sense.

The fireworks spectacle began with a strange array of bobbing lights on the lake we were facing. At first I thought they were in boats, but we realized that they were actually being held up by people walking towards us in the water. Being the imaginative, theatrical types that we are, Tess and I started improvising a story about this grand Venetian tradition, and it goes a little something like this:

Many, many years ago (nearly 500 years ago, in fact), a group of travelers were sailing in search of a new land. Their cargo included a great deal of explosives, and in hindsight, that was a really horrible idea. Suddenly, they were attacked by a pirate ship. The pirates fired upon the travelers, resulting in a fantastic fireworks display. Eventually, the travelers were completely disarmed (by this we mean their actual limbs were removed, not their weapons), and had to swim ashore, waving their burning arms (yes, their own limbs) above their heads to light the way. Once they made it to dry land, they walked until they could walk no more, and when the finally collapsed, they named the location 'Morgano' after the pirate who had attacked them--Captain Henry Morgan.

Now, the descendants of those first settlers commemorate their ancestors' struggles annually by first reenacting the abandonment of the original ship and the subsequent march to shore, and then the naval battle. No one knows why the order has been reversed, but it's tradition. They reenact the battle by shooting fireworks across the lake to the other side, rather than straight up in the air. It was a pretty one-sided battle from what I could tell. They even set the cattails in the lake on fire to show us what the ship would have looked like as it sank.

Tess and I also considered the possibility that the fireworks tipped over, and that's why the cattails caught on fire and why the rockets were a little bit crooked, but we think our story offers a more interesting explanation.

Maybe the whole thing was a little silly, but do you know what I noticed on the wall of the staircase to my bedroom when I got home? A framed, completed jigsaw puzzle of a painting depicting a great naval battle, complete with burning ships.

Yep. The Great Naval Battle of '68.

07 July 2011


Did anyone else, after reading over the last post, think that the creepy biker might possibly have been the legendary Bruno, from my very first English camp two years ago? Anyone?

Anyway, I just thought of a couple things I forgot to mention about my time in Milan:

My coworker Kelly (a former competitive swimmer) and I (a former lifeguard and also an awesome swimmer) got into quite a little debate with our camp director last week over whether or not our students should be allowed to swim after lunch. She assumed that we would want to take the children to the pool in the morning, because an afternoon at the pool was out of the question, and when I said that swimming after eating wouldn't be an issue, she said that maybe in my country, we don't eat large enough lunches. Excuse me, have we met? I'm from America. Forget that there's been no documented case of anyone drowning due to a post-meal cramp. Forget that Michael Phelps somehow found time to eat, according to some reports, 12 THOUSAND calories while training for the Olympics, and miraculously managed to never drown. Seriously. It's 2011.

On a brighter note, I had the coolest host family last week. At least, one of the coolest. Ever. I just really connected with them. The mom was so funny and real, kind of like Lynette off of Desperate Housewives. She would always make weird faces at me when no one else was looking during dinner, or do random things like move her plate so that the waitress would get confused when she was clearing the table at a restaurant. Maybe other people would find those things strange, but I do that type of stuff too, so I got a kick out of it. The host dad was generous with compliments, but still managed to make them all sound totally genuine, which is a talent I wish I possessed. He complimented his wife and her cooking constantly, and I thought that was really beautiful. The two of them were treating me like a daughter after the first week.

Anyway, I made a successful escape from Milan (after hitting up the sale at H&M and spending way more than I should have), and am now chillaxing in Morgano, a little town outside of Treviso, which is near Venice. My house has a pool and a pretty sweet room just for me, with my own half bathroom (which is always nice). I've been reunited after two years with Liam, who has brought his lovely girlfriend with him this summer, and our group is rounded out by another American and a Canadian. I'm working with the little ones this week, and it's been a great camp so far.

This weekend should hopefully include a reunion with Josephine and a day trip to an exciting and as-yet-undetermined location. Stay tuned!

02 July 2011

when it's hot, the crazies come out to play

So. . . sometimes things get worse before they get better. Or they get a little better, and then worse, and then better again. Either way, there was no obvious change in camp come Monday. I will say that I had a pretty good weekend, largely filled with procrastination of the 'let's plan to go to the swimming pool/park all day and then not actually leave until 5 in the afternoon' variety, and--here's the best part--I got to see part of an Italian baseball game when we finally made it to the park on Sunday afternoon! The pitching could not have been any faster than 60 or 70, and I could easily start in the outfield for the teams we watched, but it was still really cool.

But back to camp.

The children came back on Monday with just as much unharnessed energy. I pushed for no water games, worried that it would get out of hand, but in the end we decided to keep the pace of the games slow and make sure that the children had no access to the balloons. In the end, I think we were able to manage it well.

As it became more and more obvious that the kids weren't going to change their attitudes (even though we thought they needed to), we decided that we would have to change ours instead. I instituted a policy based on a philosophy of a friend of mine: we, the tutors, were only allowed to have good days or great days, and that choice was up to us.

A large part of our will to survive came from our after-work excursions to the brewery around the corner. It became something to look forward to, and it also encouraged team bonding and good communication. And the drinks were top notch (two words: free pour).

It was on our way to this brewery Thursday afternoon, sans Will, that Cat, Kelly, and I got a huge (not literally) and completely unwelcome surprise. We were walking down the sidewalk, discussing the day that had been. The graffiti around us was beautiful, we were in the shade, a man on a bike wearing blue spandex did a double take in our direction as he swerved off the street and onto the sidewalk, before vanishing into the distance--everything was as it should have been. We walked and talked and were off in our own world.

But Kelly's panicked voice brought us back. "Um, WHAT?! What was that man doing?" We had just passed the cyclist in blue spandex.

"Was he doing something weird?" I asked, as we stopped. I already had an idea of what she was going to say, even though I hadn't seen anything. And according to Kelly, the unfortunate eyewitness, I was correct.

By this time, we were about ten feet past him. I turned around, stared him down, and said, "What the [swear word here] do you think you're doing?" He looked back for a second, decided we were too much trouble, and rode off on his bike.

There was no one else on the block for us to shout to or get help from, so we just watched helplessly. We were kind of in shock. I felt all of this adrenaline inside of me as I grabbed Kelly's arm and asked her if she was all right. Then I insisted she let me buy her a strong drink when we got to the bar.

In hindsight, I'm really annoyed that I didn't act immediately. I've been looking for a valid reason to get in a real, live, prison rules fight for a long time, and I think I could have taken this guy. Or at least gotten a couple good swings in, or scared him off with my crazy lady vibes and lots of shouting. I'm pretty sure I can handle a 40-something in bike shorts (consider that your warning, Lance Armstrong).

A couple rounds of Long Island Iced Teas helped to numb the pain, but we decided that maybe some days can't be good, or even great, and Thursday just couldn't be salvaged. We didn't get a lot of support from the Italians around us, either. "It's very hot out; he was probably out of his head," was one excuse that we heard from multiple people. Someone else even asked us if it was just too urgent for him to wait and that's why he had to do that right there, in front of us, on the sidewalk. There is no excuse for this, but at least this article helped me feel like we're not alone in being victims of harrassment/sexism in this country.

Saw a rat on the way to school on Friday. Yum. The final show went off very well, however, besides the parents talking all through it and babies crawling across our stage. The kiddos gave us very sweet cards they'd made. (Mine said, 'You are the best!')

To sum up Milan: there are parts of this city I'll miss. I've had a great host family, with a host mother who's agreed to share the newly single George Clooney with me, and I've worked with some wonderful people. Overall, however, I'm so excited to head east to Treviso today.

Pictures soon.