“The Wanderer’s Guide to Lucca”

Ciao Readers!
So, this week I am back at the school in Lucca I went to last year. And, since like Florence, Lucca hasn’t changed much and I have come down with a major chest cold, I am taking the easy way out and reposting this blog about Lucca – it is just as picturesque in the Fall. Enjoy….

New Mexico to Italy

Ciao Readers! And happy Monday after Spring Break! We have finally made it to Italy….

The title of this post reflects both its focus, as well as the book from which I got most of the substantive information.  As you may recall, back when we lived in Florence (was that real?!), we took a day trip here and had a thoroughly lovely time.  Now I have 10 days in which to really explore this place…

Lucca is mainly known for two things – primarily, its wall; secondly, Puccini.  Apparently there have been 3 sets of walls built around Lucca, dating back to Roman times;  the current wall, which completely circles the town, was built from 1550 to 1650, using much of the town’s resources (human and economic) for 100 years!   Either it was money and time well-spent or wasted, depending on your perspective – no one ever tried to bombard…

View original post 179 more words


Ciao Readers!

It’s been awhile!  So, the title of this post is a play on the title of my blog, and a preview of some hopefully exciting blogs to come.  I am off to New York next week to run the NYC half marathon (check out the very cool course – map below).  As you all may remember from my other posts about running, I am no world-class athlete, so I got into this race the old-fashioned way – by getting my name drawn in a lottery.  It was very exciting to get the email this past December telling me I had made it in.

Now, I have to tell you I was worried about going, as I (had) an upcoming jury trial in April.  I thought I was cutting it close, but would make sure I was well-prepared in advance.  Then what do you know – the trial just got reset for June.  While that was rather disappointing, suddenly I had a big swath of open time….and lots of miles saved up…..and the ongoing dream of going back to Italy (to language school in Lucca to be precise)….  It seems as though the universe wanted me to go…..so after NYC I am off to try and remember how to speak Italian (and I am certain, take a cooking class or two).  Stay tuned!

Learning Italian

Ciao Readers!  And thank you for the Birthday wishes!

Okay, as you may recall, I am using my returning to Italian school as an excuse for less-frequent-than-usual blog posts.  I honestly had no idea how hard learning a language would be (I mean English was so easy….).  So today I thought I’d give you a peek into my not-very-glamorous attempts to once-and-for-all conquer a foreign language (unlike the baby/traveler Spanish, French and Japanese on which I get by).  It is my goal to be able to honestly say “I’m fluent in Italian” by the time we leave here (whenever that will be).

I believe the correct pedagogical terminology for my precise method of study is “the kitchen sink.”   It involves going to school, reading, watching t.v., conversing with strangers and anything else I can think of (and, as I’ve mentioned before, actually doing my homework most of the time – gasp!).

After tons of research and trial-and-error, I have discovered there are basically 3 types of schools here in Florence.  The first is geared towards tourists.  The good thing about these schools is that you meet people from all over, they are great fun, and you learn a ton about the city (because they include cool tours in the afternoon, as you may recall from many previous posts).  The bad thing is that they are stupid expensive, take up tons of time, are revolving doors (people can start any Monday and stay for as little as a week), and are of varying quality when it comes to the actual language part (there may or may not be a textbook, any organization of lessons, etc.).  I had vastly different experiences at the school I attended in Bologna to the one I attended when we first arrived here in Florence.

The next type of school, and the one I thought I would attend, are the free schools sponsored by volunteer teachers for resident foreigners.  This program is supported by the City of Florence and I think it’s pretty cool that they are trying to help immigrants learn Italian.  Unfortunately, from students and teachers with whom I have spoken, the quality seems to follow the get-what-you-pay-for model (one such school is actually held somewhere on Platform 5 at the train station!).   For a bit I thought these were my two choices and I didn’t know what to do…

I then found my current school, Georgio La Pira (they actually also have a free immigrant program, which is how I found them).  Unlike the come-whenever tourist schools, this school is more geared towards long-time visitors and immigrants, and they have set courses that run for 5 weeks at a time.  And, not only do they have  a book (pictured), but teachers at the school wrote it!  (While they don’t have afternoon touristy things, the cost is about 1/4 that of the tourist schools.)  The book and courses are divided into 6 levels, with each progressing through specific areas of grammar, using conversation throughout.  So, since I admittedly am nowhere near fluent yet, let me explain how the heck I ended up in level 6 this term…

I tested into level 3 last term, but once I attended a class I didn’t feel challenged enough.  One of the main subjects (passato prossimo) was something I had studied in Bologna and I wasn’t sure how much I could learn from folks who spoke less than I did.  So I tried out level 4, and while a bit of a challenge, felt it was a good fit.  Clearly, level 5 follows level 4; unfortunately, only one other level 4 student and I returned this term (other students returned to their home countries – Japan, Saudi Arabia, the U.S.), and none of the new students tested into level 5.  This basically left the two of us with the choice of taking level 6 or missing a term.  We both attended the first class hesitatingly (and she’s decided to wait out this term), but I thought the teacher was great, and I love listening to all the other students speak what I would consider fluent Italian.  So, I am the “slow” kid in the class, but hopefully the challenge of it will pull me along.  I will go back and do level 5 later, as it covers two verb tenses I should probably learn! (School is also the single best place to get to practice speaking for several hours a week.)

While school is great, school alone does not a fluent me make.  So this is where the kitchen sink comes in.  To keep me thinking in Italian I try and watch some t.v. in Italian, as well as read books and magazines.  I find that if I watch programs with which I’m familiar (“How I Met Your Mother,” for example), or about things for which I have an affinity (i.e. cooking shows), I can catch up to 80% of what’s said (as opposed to about 30% when I watch out-of-context things like news without video clips).  I especially enjoy Master Chef Italia and listening to Joe Bastianich speak perfect Italian with just a slight New York accent!  I similarly find reading the magazine “La Cucina Italiana” to be a fun way to “study.”  Recently I decided to read one of my favorite childhood books in Italian – “Il Leone, la strega e l’armadio” (can you guess what that is? if not, the photo below will give it away), and that seems to be a similarly effective approach.  Once in a while when I’m feeling very brave (and patient), I pull out a dictionary and attempt the newspaper.  In addition to my solo efforts, I speak only Italian when out and about and politely ask sales clerks, waiters, etc. to please speak to me in Italian if they attempt to speak to me in English.  Other folks find songs helpful, but I find them hard to understand (both literally and figuratively, as they use so many metaphors I am quickly lost).  And, while my initial attempts ended comically, I am still working on finding a language exchange partner (n.b. as of air time, I think I have found the right person…).  Overall, trying to learn Italian has been my biggest project since we arrived (yes, even bigger than waiting at government offices for things).  For a while I didn’t feel like I was getting anywhere, but recently I have seen some progress.  Now, as for fluency….we shall see….

Some of my “kitchen sink” methods of study:

Buon fine settimana!

Are We There Yet?!?

I am getting antsy.  My body is still here in Albuquerque, but my mind keeps wondering off to Italy.  Like right now.  I have papers to grade.  But here I am writing about Italy.  I just can’t help it…

So I am going to allow myself a short daydream about some of the Italy things to which I am looking forward…

I am looking forward to the day after we arrive at our new home in Florence (the day itself involves 3 plane trips on separate flights with cats and a drive from Rome to Florence, then 4 flights of stairs with cats and bags, and presumably serious jet-lag – hence the “day after”).  From Google Earth it looks like there are at least three pizza places within a block, 2 supermarcati and the Sant’ Ambrogio market I have written about in an earlier post, all close by.  (And probably some cool non-food things, too).  I can’t wait to explore OUR neighborhood!  (Wow – seriously – FLORENCE, ITALY will soon be “OUR neighborhood” – surreal – super cool – Wow…).  And after we eat, we can take a walk and use our “Friends of the Uffizi” cards to see the “Birth of Venus” and “David” and…Wow…Wow… I am seriously blowing my own mind!!!  Just a walk from our home: 

I can’t wait to go back to school (yes, I am a geek, but hear me out).  My Italian has seriously been slipping away.  I was having Skype classes on Fridays, but now that I am working full time, the only days I could manage a class were Memorial Day and one last class on the Fourth of July.  It’s definitely not enough to learn anything new and really not even enough to maintain what I’ve learned.  So, because I really want to become fluent, and NOT because I am a geek, I can’t wait to get back into language school.  We have three to visit (and choose from) once we get settled.  Me going to school in Bologna: We are totally looking forward to Sunday, September 2nd when we are taking a trip back to Bologna to see Green Day (and eat, of course).  Green Day (one of both Steve and my all time favorites) is the headliner at the I-Day Festival in Bologna on the Sunday before Steve’s school starts (I still can’t figure out what the “I” stands for – any ideas?).  We can get there as quickly as 37 minutes (on the fastest, most expensive train), but will likely take a slow/cheap inter-city train and enjoy the trip (and begin a more frugal life on one salary, for now).  Before the concert I will get to take Steve to one of the amazing restaurants I discovered when I was in Bologna for school, and of course there will be a trip to La Sorbetteria Castiglione (insert daydream about flavors of gelato here).   How cool is it that our favorite band is playing in one of our favorite towns with the world’s best gelato, shortly after we arrive in Italy?!?  Too cool for words, that’s how cool!!!    Green Day (& Steve in well-worn Green Day concert t-shirt – pics of gelato flavors to follow once we arrive):

Okay, I think I have daydreamed about Italy enough to sustain me through another week of not being in Italy.   As always, thanks for coming along for the ride!  Ciao!

Back to the Beginning

As Vizzini directed in “Princess Bride,”  I shall go back to the beginning…

As most of you know, I came to Italy the beginning of March with two main tasks at hand – learn some Italian and find us a new home in Florence.   For the first two weeks I did not know which way was up, and both of those tasks looked insurmountable.  Everyday was a test to see if I would stay or take the first plane back.   But just when things looked bleak, someone or something would come to my rescue.

For the first two weeks in Bologna I was sleeping on the dirty floor of an American woman who shall remain nameless.  I could write for a day just about that experience, but will suffice with a photo of my quarters, below.  In sum, I learned many valuable lessons (I usually don’t fly by the seat of my pants for good reasons, you get what you pay for, never pay in full upfront, being a Buddhist about stuff is hard work, everything happens for a reason, yada yada).  During the first week I was actively searching for new accomodations and secured (sprung for) a solo apartment 2 minutes’ walk from the school starting after the second week.

Also during this time I kept hitting walls – I had sent some personal items and books priority mail several weeks before my arrival…when I got to school on Monday the box had still not arrived.  About a week later, the owner of the school told me my box was being held by customs and I had to fill out forms (this is the first time a nice young man from Texas A&M came to my aid – to fill out customs forms in Italian and say the right things).  After submitting the forms, my box arrived later that week, though I had to pay a [tax? fee? bribe?] for the Italian post to release my box.  I was feeling rather sorry for myself, but soon realized what a great learning experience this was – we were looking at sending boxes and boxes of stuff when we move – now I know the system, how to fill out the forms, budget for the fee (still don’t understand what that was for), and that we don’t need most of the stuff I planned to send.

The nice young man from Texas A&M (who has lived in Italy for 8 months with his wife and speaks near perfect Italian) came to my aid yet again when my new little laptop got a horrific virus (all that convorting with unknown Italian sites).  I was trying to Skype with Steve one night in the kitchen of the horrible first apartment (it was the only place the internet worked, so I could only skpe when the woman was not home, which wasn’t often), and all of a sudden a gazillion virus warning boxes started popping up – needless to say, this was not the first nor last time I would find myself in tears  (Skype has pretty much been my lifeline and connection to Steve throughout this process).  The next day at school the Aggie took  my computer home, wiped the hard-drive and re–installed everything – sooooooo nice and sooooo lucky for me.  I was happy at that point that one of the things in my box was a jar of green chile – a fitting, if inadequate gift for my twice-saviour.

I could tell many more stories of funny errors I made and how in the end it all worked out.  The many people I met at the school (Madrelingua)- both students and teachers – really made all the difference – people took me under their wing, took me to dinner, gave me advice, etc.  It truly made a world of difference.  Suffice to say almost 5 weeks later I am feeling much differently and am totally ready for this adventure.  I can now “speak” Italian – I can actually sorta talk in 5 different verb tenses and have enough words that if I don’t have the right one I can describe what I mean. I have an Italian cell phone, and Steve and I got our “codice fiscales” (like SS#’s).   And…finally, after 3 trips to Florence and learning to navigate the complicated real estate system (you have to pay an agent to find you an apartment!), we have finally secured our new home!  It is in an old building in an authentic(i.e. not swarming with tourists)  part of town, and other than the 4 flights of stairs, pretty cool.  It has a very old/Italian style to it – figure it will be funky/cool with some of our own things, and the best part is the roof terrace and Jacuzzi tub on the attic floor (also the guest bedroom).   Apartments in Italy come furnished – I mean everything from actual furniture to plates and pots and pans to pictures on the walls – so you actually don’t need anything, but it’s nice to make a place a little like home.

I am sure I have forgotten some interesting tidbits, so will add as they come back to me.  Will definitely be writing more on the food (i.e. gelato and cheese) in days to come.  Thanks for reading!!!

NOT our new home:

%d bloggers like this: