29 September 2011

tirano: in which I reiterate that I fear nothing

The 9:15 train from Sanremo to Milano Centrale takes nearly four hours. I know this because I've taken it several times. This gave Jeremy and I plenty of time to try and figure out exactly what had happened during our last night in Baiardo. Rumor had it he had destroyed the House 12 kitchen looking for food while drunk, and he woke up with junk food wrappers all over him and his bed. More questions were raised when he came back from the train bathroom and told me he'd found his underwear on inside out. I guess some things are just meant to remain a mystery.

Every week that we travel, we receive a packet from our company which includes detailed travel information to make sure we get where we need to be. This week, that information was almost totally wrong. One train was late, and it turned out they were doing work on the rail lines in Sondrio, the region we were going to, so we had to get off the train at one point, then get on a bus, and then get back on a train. This made us about two hours later than we'd expected. And of course I hadn't charged my phone before leaving Baiardo.

But of course we eventually arrived in Tirano, and we met our new co-worker, Sarah, on the way. It turned out that I had a little in common with her--she had studied in Spain, roomed with Josephine for a week at a camp, and she was high school friends with the son of my father's cousin. She also said some really nice things about the H&M purse I'd just bought to carry my tiny netbook. Things were off to a good start.

Our new director put a slight damper on things, however. "Nobody wants this camp to succeed," she told us at the first meeting. Oh. Cool. Good way to start the two-week camp.

Oh! Did I mention we were up by the Swiss border? Probably about a mile or so from Switzerland. My host family took me through Switzerland on our way to Livigno, which is actually a ski town in Italy, so basically I spent less than a couple of hours in Switzerland, and they were all in a car. I spent the night in their guesthouse there, and in the morning I went around with the mum while she cleaned the flats they rent out there and I also went for a little walk with the older daughter. They had a younger daughter, but she was out with friends, and their son was in South Africa for a rugby championship. No big deal.

I won't lie to you: that camp was tough. The director was in a panic over little things, and she wanted to have every second of our day accounted for and filled. She even insisted that we spend our lunch break doing 'light didactic play activities' with the children. That's something I've never come across, and not something that's necessary. The lunch break is in place for a reason--it gives the children some time to relax, and it gives us time to plan, make copies, etc. Then, when we spent the lunch break doing an activity that our director had suggested to us, she complained that a couple of the children hadn't liked it, so we should have done something else. We tried to explain to her that not all of the children could ever be happy 100% of the time, but she was adamant that the camp was failing, and it was all our fault. We tried to keep ourselves sane by hanging out after work, watching movies, going for runs or exercising together, and having the occasional brewski.

Apparently, our director made her concerns known to the company, and they sent Jules out to check up on us. I'm not sure if I've mentioned him or not, but Jules would be the expert tutor who goes around and does Beatles workshops with the children as well as emergency mediation (you may recall that he showed up at my last camp of 2010 to help us out). He's a bit of a saucy Scouser, with a way of speaking that commands attention and a very nice smile.

His visit was all the more welcome because he ended up taking our side (in a very diplomatic way, of course). Essentially, he told our camp director to chill out and back down, and he sat us all down to make a definitive schedule for the remaining week. Before he left, he did a brief Beatles workshop with all the kids. The whole thing was a welcome break for us.

Let's talk about my kids in Tirano. I was teaching ten to 12 year olds, and while that's not my favorite age to work with, these kids were quite clever and entertaining. Sarah was teaching the level above me, and Jeremy's kids were high schoolers. These kids were funny, and Jeremy's kids were making a couple of short films to showcase their English.

On Thursday, our director told me I'd be switching families. I'd known that it might happen, and I'd changed families mid-camp before, but somehow, the way the director gave me the news, just her general attitude and all, made it seem like I'd done something wrong. Voices were raised, words were exchanged, and I stomped off to the grocery store with Jeremy to get something for lunch.

That was another thing. We'd taken to buying our own lunches across the street because our cafeteria selection was limited and both Jeremy and myself are pretty specific about what we eat. The director urged us to reconsider, and when I told her I'd prefer not to eat the greasy, bready pizza or anything else on her menu she asked me, "What are you afraid of?"

Ladies and gentlemen, if you want to know one question that will make me defensive, that's it. (There are actually many, many more, but none that are immediately relevant.) A boy once used that question while I was a bit tipsy to try and get me to reconsider not dating him, and he got the same reaction from me as this director did: My nostrils flared, eyes narrowed to slits, and my response of, "I'm not afraid of anything" came through gritted teeth. So I accepted her challenge, and tried her nasty cafeteria food for one day, and had Jeremy reminding me about it all day: "That thing is inside of you," he kept saying of the roughly one pound chunk of bread with tomato paste and slimy cheese on top.

Anyway, the weekend came, and I switched families. My new family thought that Jeremy and I were 'together,' and we were happy to let them think this if it meant we could hang out more often. We went out with our host siblings on Friday night, and found out that they were truly horrible, dangerous drivers, and I absolutely destroyed all of the arrogant Italian teenage boys at bowling. Then we had to get home early because apparently my host family was wound a little tight. The rest of the weekend was full of whitewater rafting rumors that never materialized, fried cheese sandwiches, and episodes of Mad Men on my netbook.

Week 2 was more of the same. We were still stressed out, but we tried to do little things to keep camp interesting and fun for us and the kiddos. On market day, we took our kids on field trips. Sarah and I did a cooking tutorial with our classes--and they all loved our guacamole. Jeremy bought us friendship bracelets to commemorate our six weeks of working together. After camp on Wednesday, we went out for beers and then to dinner, just the three of us. Jeremy even caught a bee under his water glass for us.

Finally it was Friday, and the final show was over, and Jeremy and I went out for one last night before he had to return to the Republic of Georgia for his teaching gig there. The driving was terrible once again, made worse by the fact that we went on a pub crawl that took us all the way up into the mountains. Jeremy's host brother made us try braulio, a liquor that tasted strongly of local herbs.

That night, Jeremy and I said our goodbyes. He's talked about going on a road trip and passing through Kansas, so I might see him in the spring time. That guy kept me sane for six weeks by being someone I could always talk to. He kept me laughing with little comic strips and constant jokes. And he kept me fit by being my workout and dieting partner. What a gem.

A few of my favorite Jeremy quotes:
"The children is in the gym."
"Can I have another bourbon?"
"And what's WOW upside down? MOM."
"That thing is inside of you. . ."
"I'm not wearing hockey pads."
Until we meet again, friend <3

goodbye to the cloud village

As a person who savors change and loves to travel, I am rarely in the same place two years in a row. And yet, that's exactly where I found myself when I returned to Baiardo. It had been exactly 52 weeks since I'd sang karaoke with the boys on Children's Night and stolen a Bajardo hat in the process. Although almost nothing about Baiardo itself had changed, I was the only person from previous summer who was around to appreciate that fact (besides Jimmy of course, but he's as much a part of Baiardo as anyone could ever be, and I have a feeling he'll be there forever).

Fortunately, I was surrounded by new friends who kept my focus on the present. Lewey was still in Baiardo, and we happily resumed our roommate-ship. My darling Kat Hall returned to me on Monday, and Jeremy showed up the day after that.

We spent our days down in Sanremo, swimming out as far as the buoys in the bay and sunning ourselves on the beach. Occasionally, we made a big day of it and accessed the internet to see what was going on in the outside world, but of course we weren't in much of a hurry to do that.

In the evenings we ran down to the main square of Baiardo to stock up on wine, sometimes returning to the top of the mountain with a crate full of bottles. Eventually the restaurant stopped selling us the red because they didn't have enough for their dinner service, but I kind of preferred the white so I wasn't bothered.

Later on, we'd have dance parties at a few of the different houses, or sing-alongs, or we'd play King's Cup. Everyone brought something to the table in a very literal sense, which meant that sometimes you put down your glass and found it filled with something very different than what you'd been drinking before. More than once I started to take a deep drink of what I thought was refreshing white wine, only to find that my glass had been refilled with something much stronger, like limoncello or whiskey. Jeremy ran into the same problem with grappa, which led to him standing on a stone wall overlooking a steep drop down the side of the mountain, saying, "Don't freak out guys; I got this," as he nearly lost his balance.

I got a pleasant surprise in the middle of the week when I checked my camp assignment for the following week and found that I'd be working with Jeremy again. We hadn't really expected this just because the odds weren't in our favor, but our company always seems to know who to place together (i.e. me and Josephine, coworkers for something like seven weeks in our first summer).

On Friday night, Kat and I mixed up nearly ten litres of authentic sangria. Believe you me, that girl and I know our sangria. She's worked as a barmaid in England, and I worked as one in Peru, and of course I did study in Madrid. I was even using the time-honored, traditional, top secret Cova recipe. As we mixed in bits of fresh fruit, and sugar, and rum, I pointed out that we had first met one year earlier, when I'd returned to Sanremo from Nice and stopped in at new tutor orientation to meet my team.

We listened to music, painted our nails, and watched episodes of Community on my laptop as the sangria matured in the fridge all afternoon, the strong aroma tempting anyone who passed our house. Oh, what's that you say? You don't usually put a fifth of rum in your kettle of sangria? Well you're lame.

And that was the night that nostalgia truly set in. I swear, it wasn't just the sangria. Standing upstairs in House Four, hanging out with Kat and getting ready for the evening, I couldn't help but remember that I'd been in the exact same room one year earlier. That was where I first started to think about going to Argentina. For better or worse, that room was an important setting in the more recent events of my life.

The next morning I took the early bus down to the train station, then spent an hour anxiously waiting for Jeremy to take the second bus down. He managed to make it just in time, although he was a bit worse for the wear. I saw a few friends and managed to take a cute picture with my Josephine before heading out on the 9:15 to Milano Centrale.

One last thing to wrap up Baiardo for 2011--I've said it before, and I'll say it again: that wine, three euros or not, was probably the best I've ever had.

25 September 2011

return to that village in the sky

"Let's dance to Joy Division, and celebrate the irony that everything is going wrong, but we're so happy. Let's dance to Joy Division, and raise our glass to the ceiling, cause this could all go so wrong, but we're so happy."
-The Wombats

After a couple hours of sleep on a row of seats in Heathrow (that's my bed in the photo to the left), I got my ticket, went through security, and spent my last few pounds on a breakfast sandwich. In a few short hours, I was back in Italy.

This is where things started to get hectic. I took the first shuttle possible from Malpensa airport to Milano Centrale, but it didn't arrive until 11:07, and the train I wanted to take from Milano Centrale to Sanremo was scheduled to leave at 11:10. I sprinted down the platform and across the station, but my plans were foiled when the conductor told me that buying a ticket on board the train would cost me an additional fifty euro.

I did that sad Charlie Brown walk with my head down and my heels dragging over to some chairs, and called Jimmy to double-check that there was actually room for me in Baiardo (there was). Then I tried to buy my train ticket and got another lovely surprise: out of the dozens of automatic ticket kiosks in that train station, none were working properly. With the line for the ticket desks stretching out the door and across the lower level of the station, it was more than an hour until I actually had my ticket in hand.

I finally arrived in Sanremo on the six'o'clock train. I didn't mention this before, but the primary reason I was hoping to get there early was to run into some of my favorite returning tutors as they waited to welcome new tutors to the final orientation of the year.

My dear Josephine was there. If you remember, we spent seven weeks working and vacationing together in 2009, but I hadn't seen her since July of 2010, so we had a lot to catch up on. And then there was Laura, who had been my partner in crime last August in Baiardo. She was also the person who kept me sane through Facebook messages when I hated everything about Argentina. They're wonderful girls, and two of the most hilarious people I've ever met in my life.

But all too soon I had to take the bus up the mountain. When I got to the top, I found things more or less as I'd left them: there were only a handful of people, but they were people I knew from before; I would be staying in the loft once again; and the wine was still three glorious euros. We made a quiet night of it by watching a movie all together in the loft. It was a great start to another great week.

15 September 2011

foggy london town

"You sound like you're from London!"
-Paul Rudd in 'Forgetting Sarah Marshall

Panic hit me as I waited for my train in Milano Centrale. I had heard that there were riots happening in London, but as I connected to a wireless network outside of Burger King, I found that things were really getting out of hand. A couple of my British friends were even urging me, via Facebook, to forget about the plans I'd made and not fly over.

But what are you gonna do when Baiardo's been closed down for a few days and the tickets to London and the hostel there are bought and paid for? So I took the fast train to the airport and flew into Heathrow. That was uneventful. Then I had to take the Tube (do you capitalize that? I'm going to, just out of respect) to King's Cross/St. Pancras, and then a cab the rest of the way to my hostel.

Cue reunion with Les. It was just about midnight when I arrived, so we only had a couple of hours to catch up over beers in the hostel bar. We attempted to keep the night going by wandering out to find greasy food after that (if I weren't a vegetarian, I think I would have wanted a burger), but hostel security warned us to stay inside. The only people out on the street at that time were rioters. You could tell them apart from regular people by their all-black attire as well as the fact that no one else was stupid enough to be out that late while there were riots happening.

The next day, we embarked upon a whirlwind tour of London. First, we had lunch at an Asian place where everything, even the 'meat,' was vegetarian. (Les hated this.) Then, in rapid succession, we saw: London Bridge (overrated), the Eye (been there, done that), the Houses of Parliament (boring), Big Ben (not a misnomer), Westminster Abbey (not tryna stand in line for that), Buckingham Palace (okay cool, what's next), Hyde Park (so many squirrels and pigeons!), Piccadilly Circus (is that it?), Leicester Square (see: Piccadilly Circus), Trafalgar Square (actually pretty sweet, with all its columns and lions and buskers), and the National Gallery (I thought it was amazing, but Les got bored). I think there were actually a few other places thrown in there that I can't remember, but that's the long and short of it. And it was exhausting. We hit up Tesco on our way back to the hostel and picked up some sandwiches/cheap samosas and ate them for dinner in the common room while watching terrible music videos. I was so tired, I didn't even try to find a microwave to heat up my half-frozen Indian appetizers. Lazy? You betcha.

My third day in London was a rainy one. Les and I got out our umbrellas and went shopping on Oxford Street for a few hours. Because I'd been wearing the same black dress to tutor dinners for the last few weeks (and Jeremy had started teasing me about it) I ended up getting a floor-length blue dress at River Island. Then I picked up a couple of cute tops at New Look to try and mix up my wardrobe a little bit. And then I felt kind of guilty for not seeing all of the great things there are to see in London, so we got lunch at Pret a Manger (I went with gazpacho and a wrap) and then ran on over to the British Museum for a couple of hours.

The British Museum was a little more Les' speed. I mean, it's only one of the greatest history museums in all the world (probably because most of its stuff was stolen or acquired shadily). And I get really excited about ancient treasures too. Even though I sometimes felt like I was drowning during my college Art History classes, it was so amazing to be so close to some of the world's greatest artifacts. Rosetta Stone? Check. The Mausoleum at Halikarnassos? Yep. Temple of Artemis? Yeah buddy. Those part-human, part-lion/bull things that used to stand next to gateways. Yes. The Elgin Marbles? Oooooh yeah.

When the museum closed, we went back to the hostel and grabbed a pint at the pub across the street. Then we did what I'd been hoping to do from the moment I arrived in the UK--we found an Indian restaurant and I ordered a vegetable curry. The restaurant didn't have a liquor license, so Les ran out to a shop and brought back some beer and wine, but that was no indication of how good the food was. It was actually really amazing. Pilau rice and vegetables in a lovely curry sauce, with lots of cilantro and so many incredible spices. . . I officially love Indian food. Then we had a little dessert before heading back to the hostel, where we crept on a tour group and had paper airplanes thrown at us by a German girl, a French girl, a Norwegian boy, and a guy from New Zealand.

The next morning, I got up early and went back to the British Museum. There was still so much I wanted to see, and Les wanted to sleep in. This time, I checked out a whole different section of the museum, starting with the Americas, going through Africa, and then Asia. I think I found some inspiration for when I finally return home and start painting again.

Back at the hostel, I finally watched Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows Part 2 with Les. It was pretty exciting to be right down the street from King's Cross Station while watching it. We went by there afterwards so I could take pictures at Platform 9 3/4. Les was a good sport about it even though he could not have been less interested. Then we took the tube (too lazy to capitalize it a second time) to St. Paul's Cathedral, which is so much more massive than it looks in pictures. We capped off this lazy day with burgers and fries (and the worst barbecue sauce I've ever tasted), and I fell asleep early.

Saturday was my last day in London. I had seen just about everything I'd wanted to see, so I went shopping early, ate some more Indian food with Les (I'm obsessed), and then watched my first three episodes of Mad Men ever (also obsessed now). Then it was off to Heathrow, which would be my hotel for the night. If I had a dollar for every night that I've spent on the floor of an airport or train station. . .