03 October 2011

last tutors standing: roccafranca

The next morning, I took a bus to Udine and a train to Venezia Mestre. And guess who I ran into there? None other than the phenomenal Kat Hall. We recapped our summers, took a couple of pics, and said goodbye until next year.

Then it was on to Roccafranca. I was anticipating an exceptionally awesome camp for several reasons:
  • It was literally the very last camp of 2011, with all other camps ending the week before
  • Tutors had to specially apply and be selected for the camp
  • The directors were actually ACLE office personnel, including our resident Beatles expert Jules
  • It was run during special hours, 8-12 Monday-Saturday, with special activity nights planned throughout the week
I got to Roccafranca and met the other tutors. Surprisingly, I didn't know any of them, although we had a few friends in common. After a bit of planning for the week, I went home with my new host family, the Brocchis.

This about sums it up: their house was a mansion which they shared with two other related families, they had a massive pool which changed colors at night, and their grandmother, who lived with them, was extremely opinionated. Oh, and they lived next door to a dairy farm whose drainage system was malfunctioning, so the stench of rotten milk wafted through the open windows both day and night. So that was cool.

Camp was set up a little differently than normal. We were working at a school that had already started classes, so we had two hours a day to spend with two classes each day. I mostly worked with first years and fourth years. First years are preschool/kindergardeners, and fourth years are. . . about three years older than that. Serious adorability going on up in those classes.

I had some trouble making my dietary restrictions understood by the grandmother. She kept trying to sneak meat into my food, and then she kept trying to feed me more than I wanted, and then she kept trying to give me coffee. Her daughters even told her, "Mom, she said she doesn't drink coffee!" to which she responded with something like, "Well, maybe if she drank coffee, she'd have a little more energy" or something else that was a little rude.

We had daily tutor lunches at a local cafe, and I ordered the same sensational customized sandwich each time. It was on toasted bread, with sauteed mushrooms, lettuce, tomatoes, and mozzarella cheese. I could eat that sandwich every day for a long time to come and still not get sick of it.

On Wednesday, I got a very special treat. My friend Barney, a British musician I'd met in Cusco, just happened to be in Milan to do some studio work. To get to Milan from Roccafranca meant driving twenty minutes to the nearest train station and then taking the train for an hour. Thankfully, host grandmother agreed to pick me up early from lunch, and we even had a solid convo on the way to the train station:

HG: Do you drive at home?
Me: Yes I do.
HG: Doesn't it suck?
Me: I kind of enjoy it.
HG: Man, every time I get into the car, I'm absolutely terrorized. It's even worse now that I'm old. I can barely see the other cars or the signs.
Me: . . .
HG: When I was a young girl, this handsome young man asked me out on a date. I was so excited because I really liked him! Then he said, "You'll have to drive because I don't have a car." I said, "Never mind."

By some miracle, I made it to Milan in one piece, although my train was a bit late. Barney and I had a lovely afternoon. I do wish we lived closer to each other, because I think we'd go out for beers all the time, and I'd have him tell me tales of touring with Amy Winehouse and Rihanna, and it would be wonderful.

One of the nights I was in Roccafranca, I went for a jog with my host brother. He absolutely kicked my butt. I cooled off afterwards in the magnificent pool.

The end of the week came all too soon, and with it came the end of my third Italian summer. I was compensated for my efforts entirely in tens and twenties (incredibly inconvenient, when it's nearly a hundred tens and 58 twenties). Later, we tutors celebrated with organic wine at a farmhouse, which leads me to an important point: if you can see dead bugs floating in your wine, it is definitely too organic. I found that out the next afternoon, when it all came back up again. I maintain that it was the quality of the wine, rather than the quantity, that was to blame for that.

Despite my illness, it was time for me to leave Roccafranca. I said goodbye to the quiet father, outgoing mother, amusing children, and all-too-familiar grandmother and arrived at the train station in plenty of time to make my complicated journey to a company-owned flat in San Donato, a suburb of Milan. And for once in my life, I was actually too early.

If there was one word I learned this summer, it was sciopero, meaning "strike." As in, "Italian train workers are always on effing sciopero." For a time, I thought I'd have to sleep in that station, but I finally caught the ten'o'clock train to Milano Centrale.

From there, I rushed downstairs to the Metro station, where I got on a train bound for San Donato, which is the last stop on the yellow line. It took roughly an hour to get out there. From there, my directions told me to catch a bus, but I seriously doubted there were any buses running at that hour (it was past midnight). I hailed a cab instead.

Neither the cab driver nor I were entirely sure where the apartment building was. We circled around the same street for about ten minutes before deciding on a random building. I checked the buzzers and saw a familiar name, paid the cabbie, and took my stuff. My directions instructed me to ring the buzzer, but I'd been told there was no one else staying at the flat, so I went on to the next line: "If no one is there, hop the gate." I decided to try it first, and lo and behold, it was open.

I continued on to the building on the far left, per the directions (oh, I forgot to mention that I had about five buildings to choose from in the complex). Then it was a matter of choosing the right entrance. Once I found that, I continued to the company garage, which was open, and searched for the keys that were meant to be hanging in an obvious place.

They weren't there.

By now, it was half past midnight. My phone was dead, I had no one to let me in, and I worried that the police would be called if I woke the neighbors. It was also a fairly cool and rainy September night. It was looking like I'd be sleeping in a garage and calling the company in the morning. Oh wait, I couldn't do that, because there was nowhere to charge my phone. I checked every conceivable spot in that garage for those keys, even digging through boxes of shirts in case the company was trying to play games with me.

The only thing I could think to do was try the door into the building. Maybe I'd be able to buzz someone from there who would let me in. I dragged my suitcase to the doormat, second-guessed myself for several minutes, sniffled and lamented my miserable luck, and then pressed on the door.

Somehow, whoever had come through it last hadn't pushed it with enough force to latch it shut, as had been the case with the gate to the complex. I pulled my bags up the stairs breathlessly, trying not to wake anyone, and amazed by my luck. At least I wouldn't be sleeping in a garage for the night.

When I was at the door of the flat, I pressed my luck once more. Three unlocked doors in a row? It couldn't be. And it wasn't. I pulled out a bobby pin, tried to pick the lock, but that's not really something I'm good at. I turned away from the door, trying to figure out which flat to buzz next, when, on a whim, I turned back around and pressed the buzzer. No one was supposed to be there, but. . . there was a sound from within. And then the door opened. There was a lone tutor there, with an Italian friend of hers by her side, and they seemed just as shocked to see me as I was to see them.

To wrap things up, I got a full tour of the two-bedroom apartment before settling into my very own room, and slept like a baby that night, with the sweet relief that comes with staring adversity in the face and then sticking an icepick in its eye.

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