30 March 2009

In which, an update is finally made! Still alive!

Its been awhile since Ive been able to update! With my laptop not working, its been really difficult for me to get to a computer to respond to emails and Facebook messages, etc.

I finally got my stitches out (and by the way, I am thankfully NOT wearing my neck brace anymore)! I spent last Sunday going back to the hospital in Figline Valdarno (and interesting tidbit, I read in the newspaper that Sting has a winery and estate in that town and he will be coming out with his own wine later this year). After I got my stitches out, I called the same cab driver, who drove me to Florence the week before, for a ride to Greve in Chianti, where I was meeting a friend for lunch at a vineyard.

Cab drivers here are interesting. At least Freddie the cab driver was certainly a character, and I found it easy to talk to him in Italian, so I knew that I wanted to call him again. I spent the hour ride from the hospital to the agriturismo admiring the view of all the grape and olive fields while listening to the Beach Boys, of all things. Freddie was just chitchatting with me about how he really wants to learn English and how I should find him a nice older lady friend to speak English with him, ha!-- how cute. And Italians here are so relaxed. While Freddie was using my phone to get directions from the owner of the agriturismo, his phone starts ringing. He throws me the phone and indicated with one quick raise of his eyebrows that I should answer it for him. IN ITALIANO. Meanwhile, he starts driving with his elbows on the wheel as he starts excitedly gesturing with his left hand and holding the phone with his right. And if you have ever been in Chianti... all of the roads are winding right to left and up and down in motion with the rolling hills. I answer the phone and its a customer, who, as it turns out, speaks no Italian and very little English. Even after Freddie hangs up the phone with the owner of the agriturismo, he wants me to speak with this customer and then TRANSLATE the conversation in Italian. I was having heart palpitations at this point-- from the elbow-driving to the customer speaking broken English to me speaking broken Italian. Somehow, miraculously, we make it to the agriturismo. And somehow, miraculously, I was able to translate everything successfully. (I felt so triumphant!) And to top off a fabulous drive through the countryside, Freddie knocked off 10 euros off of the price after I promised to find him that English-speaking lady friend.

And now, my hands and elbows have more or less healed and today is the first day Im walking around without my face bandaged. Funny enough, I actually miss the bandages! With it, I stood out apart from all the Asian (okay, Japanese) tourists and the locals have begun recognizing me and asking me in Italian what had happened. In the mornings, the shopkeeper of the flower stand that I pass on the way to school would greet me with a friendly wave and the hairdresser who washes my hair would always throw me a smile and quick, "Ciao!". (Its so picturesque, I know!)

More recently, I moved into a new apartment. Im now living with a host family, or really, a host lady. She owns an art studio in Florence and she has really, a beautifully decorated apartment here in the center of the city. I am now living on a quiet street off of Piazza Annunziata. Breakfast is included in the price and I get a home-cooked meal for a little extra. And Anna Maria, the host lady, is really an amazing cook. There are two other girls in the apartment-- one British and one Swiss. I already miss my old roommates, but I hope that my Italian will quickly improve with Anna Maria. She insists that we speak Italian in the house, although we sneak in some English when she isnt around. My room has huge windows that reach the ceiling and the light in the morning is perfect. My window overlooks a small garden with weathered statues and even a palm tree! I can see the ruins of an old church in the background and I can hear church bells and birds. It is just as charming as it sounds.

If I ever get my computer fixed, hopefully I can post up pictures! Cross your fingers for me!

16 March 2009

In Which, Clara has a bicycling accident and spends the night in a Tuscan hospital

I fell off my bike (and I feel really stupid about it).

Four friends and I were in Chianti for a day to bike around to different towns and do some wine tasting. After biking from Greve to Panzano (about 6 miles?), I started going too fast on the road. A car came out of nowhere and scared the hell out of me. I can't exactly remember what happened, but the next thing I remember, I'm on the ground with my friends all around me. There was a lot of blood down my front and on the road. Luckily, I was with a woman who was an experienced doctor and she used a first aid kit to tape up my chin which had torn open (I didn't realize how bad it was until much later). The two Italian guys in the car stopped and were super nice and took me and one of my friends to a medical center in Greve.

At the medical center, they poured some sort of antibiotic wash on all of the gashes on my arms which (really, really) hurt and told me that I needed immediate medical attention for my chin. The two Italians drove me to a hospital in a town called Figline Valdarno. I think I was in shock the whole time and luckily, was more uncomfortable than in pain.

At the Figline hospital, no one spoke ANY English, but I was cleaned up and got stitches on my chin. Because I didn't remember exactly what happened, they insisted that I stay the night. All in all, I got a LOT of blood taken for tests (two times from my inner wrists, which hurt SO MUCH), X-Rays, MRI, ultrasound, and vaccination against tetanus (sp?)

Everyone at the hospital was SO nice and they were so patient with my Italian. As awful and lonely and scary as it was, it was also kind of an amazing experience. I somewhat got over my fear of speaking with errors and the language seems to be flowing a bit more easily now. (And in one particularly embarrassing moment, I couldn't manage off my bra to get an X-Ray and the cute medical doctor needed to do it for me. I thought I was going to DIE. But he was super professional, for which, I will be forever grateful. Oh yeah, and I had to take my pants off in front of him too. Fantastic.)

The doctors wanted to keep me another night, but I just wanted to go back to Florence. I have to go back next week to get my stitches removed, but for now, I think I'm okay. I just look like such a mess. I can't take any showers, so I think I will make a visit to a hair salon and ask them to wash my hair for me. I can't really chew, so I've been feeding myself bananas with a teaspoon.

Haha, I'm torn between feeling sorry for myself and being excited about my new-found freedom with speaking the language. And even though it has only been two weeks, my roommates have been so amazing and patient with me. Not to mention what a great conversation starter my face has now become.

My computer also broke down again, so my updates via email and this blog are going to be coming a LOT more slowly.

I was hoping to spend today updating with pictures of Chianti which is really beautiful and enchanting, but I guess thats not going to happen.

Things that I have learned this weekend:

1. I finally found out where all the cute, non-greasy Italian guys have been hiding (they all work at the hospital).

2. I will always, always wear a helmet while biking (the front of my helmet was crushed from my fall). Although, I don't know when I will ever get on a bike again after this.

3. I am so thankful that it was my chin that I hit on the ground and not my teeth. Or for that matter, it was my right cheekbone that was gashed and not my right eye, which is about 1/2 inch away from blue/purple-ness.

4. Italians are generous and friendly and patient. Especially with me, the stupid American girl who fell off her bike. :(

07 March 2009

In which, Clara discovers grappa...

So on Tuesday evening, my two friends and I went to a wine tasting at an enoteca, Pozzo Divino on Via Ghilbellina.  For 15 euros (about $18 USD), I thought we were just going to get samples of various types of wine, but we got SO MUCH FOOD and a LOT of great wines.  If there are any wine lovers out there, I would really recommend this for your next trip to Florence.  I think this experience was actually a bit wasted on me (ha).

Our host, Andre, warned us as we started that we would be "exercising our noses".  He brought us to the wine cellar beneath the main floor and showed us around.  The cellar dates back to the 13th century and was also used as part of the Italian prison system.  It was so charming-- there were large glass panels that were carefully set on large wine barrels, which served as our table.  
We started with Parmiggiano-Reggiano dipped in aged balsamic vinegar (which was SO sweet and delicious) and a small glass of local olive oil which was pressed just this past season.  Andre knew SO much about the process and history of the vinegar and olive oil it made it all taste somehow even better (the olive oil was like butter!).  He served us a glass of vino bianco, but made us swirl and smell and look at the wine before we drank it.

We eventually went through some delicious baked pasta, fresh bread, and some meat:  salami, cured proscuitto, and finnochio (sp?  The only way I could make myself remember the name is by telling myself that it rhymed with Pinnochio).  Along with that, we had three glasses of vino rosso, a Chianti, a Dievole, and a Cabernet, all of which he made us swirl and smell several times before allowing us to drink.  It was really interesting to have someone point out all the subtle flavors of the wine, which is usually completely lost on me.  But it was also really so nice to attempt to use my Italian with such a patient listener and host!

And finally, nearly three hours later, Andre served the grappa... which was... interesting.  Haha, my European friends who were already familiar with grappa LOVED it and were raving about how 'soft' and 'round' it was.  And for me?-- I took one sniff (which was definitely a mistake) and nearly poured it out.  Hahah, I politely sipped as much as I possibly could and then hid my half-full glass behind my wine glasses.  It was obviously a really high quality grappa, but I really just COULD not do it.  Andre compared it to sake as he poured it for me, but... it was definitely much much stronger.  All I could do was try not to breathe and taste as I sipped the grappa with as much grace as I could possibly muster.  Meanwhile, my Swiss-German friends are sitting with four empty wine glasses and their now-empty glass of grappa.  Europeans: +2; American: -1.

(I don't have regular access to Internet here and I get a slow wifi connection at times, so I apologize for not being able to post as regularly as I'd like.  Or put up as many pictures either!  I'll get better with time!)

I find myself using the word charming to describe the lifestyle here.  I think I'm slowly falling in love with this city.  Florence is so much smaller than New York City, and already I can get around the city without the use of a map!

06 March 2009

In which...

I don't think pooper-scoopers exist here in Florence-- I wish they did.

04 March 2009

In which, Clara pratica la lingua

Last night I was really disappointed that I was picked out as an American. As I was paying for my things at the grocery store, the cashier and I exchanged a polite 'Buona sera" with one another. After I hand him a 20 euro bill, the cashier says to me, "Do you have any coins?".

How does he know if I spoke English or not?! All I said was 'Buona sera'! I think my accent is pretty good, and it's not that hard to mess up 'Buona sera'. I'm trying to figure out if it's because I handed him a 20 euro with no coins. (I hate touching coins so I never really use them until they start weighing me down.) Apparently, I have "Sono Americana" (I'm American) stamped on my forehead. Maybe I should wear a beret and run around with a fresh baguette in hand so I can start to blend in.

Yesterday, I went to buy a cellulare (cell phone) at the Wind store (one of the four major Italian cell phone networks). Since I was speaking in full sentences, I'm sure the employee could immediately tell that I was American. But even though I didn't want him to speak in English to me, he quickly reverted the conversation away from Italian.

But today, I had my first complete Italian conversation with an Italian wine shopkeeper (And the shopkeeper never once reverted to English, yay!). My friend invited me to a wine tasting meal with a mutual classmate of ours. They had already made their reservations last week, so she was going to take me there to make reservations. It was closed when we went yesterday, so I went back today by myself. On the way, I kept practicing in my head what exactly I would say to explain what I wanted:

Le mie amiche hanno una prenotazione alle sei. Anch'io vorrei partecipare stasera. E possibile? Devo pagare adesso or piu tarde? (My friends have a reservation at six. I would also like to join tonight. Is it possible? Should I pay now or later?)

Of course the conversation didn't go by exactly how I planned, but I understood everything the grandfatherly shopkeeper Andre told me about the plans for the night. Vino e proscuitto e grappa e formaggio! (I didn't know what grappa was, but Andre explained it as an alcohol that is very strong-- piu forte del vino! stronger than wine! Haha, so we'll see how I do with that.)

I'm really excited because it'll be just the three of us for tonight. My two friends speak German with little English, so I think it'll be a slightly embarassing/fun night to practice more of my Italian.

02 March 2009

In which, A three month stay in Firenze begins

Since I'm now without regular access to internet, I'm writing this from my wireless-less computer in my new apartment. Sadly, since my computer is newly recovered from a recent crash, I don't even have Microsoft Word on here, so I'm using the 'TextEdit' application... and it just looks so ugly.

My Swedish roommate in the room right next to mine actually gets free wifi, and I can sometimes see it pop up under my wireless networks, but it really never goes through. It just kind of comes up long enough to sufficiently tease me. Anna, the Swedish roommate, told me that the free wifi works in the bathroom too, so I spent a good ten minutes wandering around the hallways with my laptop in hand trying to get a peek of it (and yes, I brought it into the bathroom to check it out to no avail).

My apartment has five single bedrooms, all females for now. Interestingly, there are a TON of German speakers here on this program. And my roommates are from Austria, Germany, Switzerland, and Sweden. So at least three of them chat amongst each other in German-- other times, we communicate in a funny English-Italian mix. (And I'm happy to say that I have A Room With A View.)

And I forgot how much Jetlag sucks. Yesterday was particularly really bad. I was a really awful combination of being tired and nauseated from traveling and eating funky airplane food. My roommates and their friends took me out to cute cafe called Hemingway, which is in Oltrarno, the hipster, artsy neighborhood on the OTHER side of the river ARNO. Thus, appropriately named, "Oltrarno". I love European cafe culture. We each got ONE drink each and stayed for over two hours (I guess I'm used to being hussled out of my seat in NY).

After the cafe, we went to get apertivo at a place called Kitsch. Apertivo is kind of like the Italian equivalent to Happy Hour in the states. During certain hours, for a couple of euros (we paid 8), you can get one drink and access to buffet-style food.

The lack of sleep really caught up with me later that night. I woke up three or four times feeling really feverish with chills. I finally took some ibuprofen, which I never do. It must have worked (which always somehow surprises me), and I was feeling much much better by the morning.

I've only been here a day and I've noticed that I'm already noticibly more not wasteful. I take shorter showers (mostly cause the shower stall is so awkward), and I use smaller amounts of shampoo/toothpaste/etc (cause the bottles here are much smaller and anything I brought from home, I want to make last), and I'm eating healthier (because I have yet to venture beyond fresh fruit and pasta in the supermarkets). Haha, anyway, so I guess I'm saying is that I'm proud of my pseudo-pro-choice healthier lifestyle that I'm developing. (This is Not going to last when I'm back stateside.)

Classes also started on Monday. After a written test and oral interview, I got placed in the third level of Italian (yay). I start my day off with grammar and then after a 30 minute caffe break, we move onto conversation.

Later today, my Swiss roommate invited me out to a wine tasting with one of our classmates (yay I am liked!). Mmm... vino rosso e bianco, proscuitto, , etc.

About Her

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a pseudo grown-up: book lover, wanderlust-er, sometimes photographer, blog follower, coffee drinker, dessert baker (and eater), music listener, Italian learner, storyteller, story writer