Friday, September 26, 2008


So, I don't have many photos post-Pontito. My batteries are dead, the charger doesn't work, and my camera eats normal AAs for breakfast. Thus, my delay in posting something new. But, I realized, I can write! Without pictures! And it's a bit hard to take pictures of my teachers/syllabi anyway. I will try to be brief but interesting ;)

Regarding classes:

I study Italian two hours a day four days a week, making it twice as intense as the usual foreign language course, and I'm living in Italy, my TV/available movies are in Italian, my host family speaks next to no English, and all of the teachers/administrators here are European. So, I am hearing a lot of Italian/Italian accents. But, no, I don't speak Italian well yet. We saw the Italians from the dinner party in Pescia again last night, and one who spoke to me both nights said I improved, so that's a good sign, right? My Italian teacher is named Anna, and she is awesome. Her mother was American, her father Russian (and, footnote, he teaches the incredible Art On Paper course in the program), and she was born here in Florence the year after the Arno flooded (her father told us). She worked as a supermodel, but has a PhD in Italian literature. She's also an unmarried mother. Sometimes, I wonder at her superwoman powers, and (always) admire her achievements.

Of course, I'm taking Art Restoration while here. My teachers are a married couple that work in a restoration studio in San Spirito (south of the river). The wife lectures, and the husband will work with us in the studio, where, by the way, they showed us a painting by one of Da Vinci's students/lovers (Salai?) that they were analyzing... and could shake the art world's understanding of Da Vinci and Salai, for the craftsmenship and (authentic!) signature defy all current understanding. Our focus this semester is on wood panel painting, and I'm reading nearly the entirety of works by Cennini and Vasari (period authors... Vasari coined the term "Renaissance"). I'm so excited by this class, and only have two students in it (me being one, the other a friend who is also here almost exclusively for the art restoration), so we get very personalized attention. Next week we begin prepping wood panels for gessoing/gilding/painting in the traditional manner, eek!

My third class is History and Anthropology with a local Florentine who is a touch crazy, but in a genius way. I have to be careful when I ask questions, because he sometimes gets lost in all that he knows (because he knows A LOT). This class goes on field trips - our first (real) session was held in Piazza della Signoria, the one Palazzo Vecchio and the Uffizi Gallery face. And we talked about the people who built the castle, and why the Medici didn't tear it down like they did so many other castles, that the piazza's name comes from signore and was named such for the commoners who ran Florence, and much more that was probably more interesting to hear in person that read here ;) I prefer this class to the Art History one mostly because of the teachers, and format. The Art History course is on medieval art (yay!), is heavily based on lecture with powerpoint accompaniment (ick!), goes on a weekly field trip to observe the art first hand (yay!), but the teacher was completely uninsipiring (AHG!). So, the Art History major is not taking Art History.

My FOURTH class, which technically I'm not allowed to take, so I'm auditing, is with a German who lived very close to the border between Germany, Switzerland, and Austria. He is fascinated by cultural perspectives, and so it makes so much sense that he's teaching a Political Science course. The title is "Italy, Europe, and the European Union", and we're talking about contemporary European politics, with a strong emphasis on Italy. There's a lot about democracy, and it's various forms, but I'm excited about this class because I believe that it is giving me a crucial background in modern Europe, which would help me if I ever needed to work here (which, in my field, I probably will). Also, the teacher is spectacular. He has great energy, and the main reason I'm auditing this one instead of the Anthro class is that my potential essay in Anthro is more interesting to me.

My biggest class (the political science) has 15 students - which is apparently very rare, but like I said, this teacher is really exciting, and I'm not the only one who noticed. The Anthro and Italian each have 5 students. And, as I said, 2 in Art Restoration. The program has a total of 25 in it, 4 are boys, making it very estrogen heavy. In Italian the other day we asked our teacher for all the essential girly vocabulary, for when we need something from the store, and poor Zach was the only boy in the room! This also means, of course, that all us single girls are looking out to the Italian population for single men. No worries about me - I have contact info. for five of them already, but I haven't gone on a date yet, and I met them all through the Italians working with our program (they came to school parties).

Saturday, September 20, 2008


While we were still in Pescia, we took a day-trip to Pontito, a small medieval village in the Tuscan hills. I believe this is what happened (I'm guessing some of the names): after a harrowing experience trying to turn down a narrow bridge in a bus (at which the driver succeeded!), we ate lunch in Castel Vecchio, and then lounged about a playground. The bus then drove up to Stiappa, and all but a few of us went on a hike via the trail used for centuries through the Tuscan chestnut forests to Pontito. At the bottom of the valley was all sorts of interesting art, like bicycles in the trees. When we finally made it back up the mountain, the fresh water fountain (true medieval style fountain) was so wonderful feeling... Some students actually dipped their heads in it. This town, as I've said, is the hometown of an artist who creates nearly perfect reproductions of the town despite not having been there for 50 years or more? Also, it's just plain beautiful. The landscape is breath-taking. So far, it is the most precious experience because I know that only through this program would I have ever had it. 


Wednesday, September 17, 2008

Orientation week:

My school is inside this awesome building, downstairs from Il Instituto di Restauro (apologies I spelled that wrong, and it mean school of Restoration), and this picture captures the courtyard as I first saw it, before we headed of to Pescia for orientation last week. Bellisimo.

This is a picture of Davide and Riccardo, not pictured is Niccolo. While in Pescia, we had a dinner with friends of our Italian student-guides (Sarah Lawrence has four Florentine students that work with us, joining us on outings and helping us with the local scene, Italian customs, etc.). I have the phone number or Skype of all three boys that sat with me and some other girls...

This is Hannah and I at the dinner. We were roommates in Pescia - the "hotel" is what they call an "agroturismo". Families with large villas and lots of property transform some farmhouses into rentable spaces and have tourists/vacationing families rent them out. There was a pool and much awesome Tuscan countryside.

One of our daytrips was to Montecarlo, and this is a view from a little courtyard over the countryside.

I MUST write more about this town, but in short: This is Pontito. We went on an impressive hike through Tuscan mountains/foothills to reach the village, and this picture is of me at the very top, next to the church. There is a book by Oliver Sacks called An Anthropologist on Mars in which you can read about an artist that obsessively portrays this town, his childhood home. When he lived there, maybe 200 people lived in Pontito? Now there are 40 or less. During the war, soldiers who occupied the town defaced the homes and devastated the countryside. The disruption of the local economy/life drove many people out, but also the temptations of modern life have seduced the younger generation. A very pretty town, but I think the endorphins from the hike heightened the prettiness ;)

Sunday, September 14, 2008

Quick-pre-dinner post...

Just to cover my promise, here is a photo from my perspective in bed in Florence my first night:

But, before I cover my orientation trip:
So, we just arrived back in Florence today. I settled in very quickly with my host family, who speak as much English as I do Italian, perhaps a little more. The father, Lui-Andrea (apologies if I have spelled it wrong), works in textiles, with denim, and could speak very well with me about the quality of a cloth and its dye, but when we try to discuss anything more mundane (when do I do laundry? Where is your son? How do I ____?) the mother understands barely a word I speak, and the father very little. Once I laid my things down, this afternoon, I fell into "just a short nap, I swear" and woke up... 6 hours later. After dark. At 8:30pm. And no one was home. I got ready to change into pj's and truly call it a night when the parents came back from visiting THEIR parents across the street (and taking the dogs for a walk) and now dinner is being prepared! Wha?! Italians are a bit crazy when it comes to food and their schedule, and I totally forgot.

Also, I think Lui-Andrea said something about a Filipino woman who works here from 10am to 6:30pm, is crazy, sometimes works sometimes doesn't. I am a bit confused - I think she's their maid, but why woud she be here so many hours of the day? Office assistant to Lui-Andrea? (Let me say, I will get you some photos soon, but it is so posh here, why are they doing host-family? This place is huge, and gorgeous, and filled with antiques!).

That all said, I have to go to dinner. But, now that I've napped and have internet, I may be finally capable of making a post regarding my school, the Sarah Lawrence College (SLC) students
I've met, and the orientation trip in general.

Arrividerci amici,

Monday, September 8, 2008


I arrived today, safe and well, despite Germany's attempt to lose me in the maze they call Frankfurt Airport (if the map shows only one security gate between arrivals and my departure gate, how did I end up going through three different ones?). I'm still recovering from my cold, which made cabin pressure changes lovely. Tonight, I'm in a hostel called "Tourist House", and boy is it sweet. I'm going to try to get a good picture of my ceiling tomorrow, the lighting isn't good enough, but let's just say there's naked people up there.

I went out into Florence and ate by myself, and scoped out where my school is. Tomorrow I join up with everyone, and we head to Pescia. So, not much of Florence for now. Here's my sunset-is-coming-I-just-arrived photos:

This is, I believe, the church of Santa Maria Novella, for which the train station is named. When I saw all the lovely colored marbel, I had such a flashback to my first time in Florence that this is when I fished my camera out of my backpack. I don't think photographs (based on my quick check of Google images) can capture how beautiful this multi-colored building is.

I don't actually know where this is, but I'm guessing it's the Piazza della Republica, from behind. Trying to figure it out in Google is making me realize what I missed when I bypassed this Piazza to try to find my hostel before sunset!

Museo Bargello. It's two blocks down from my hostel on Via Ghibellina, *squeal*. Can I just say how awesome it is to be in a city where ancient history is so familiar and comfortable that people literally sit on the steps of a statue carved by Rennaissance artists (not Michelangelo, that one's fenced off), gossiping? Making out? Smoking and looking bored? Well, regarding the art with such nonchalance isn't exciting, but the fact that there's so much of it that you simply can't sit in awe of it all the time or you'd be paralyzed IS.

Also, I saw a broken off piece of a scooter's wind-shield, and avoided a motor-vehicle accident as smoothly as an Italian (that is, I neatly stepped out of the way and gave the driver a dirty look). Sometimes, watching scooters manuever around traffic, or cars driving backwards on a street at nearly 25 mph, I feel like there are no rules of the road here. Just don't hit or be hit.

And! I saw this just walking down Via Ghibellina, these two dudes were just ripping out the guts of this totally historic building, and they thought it was really amusing when I stopped and looked in. There's always something undergoing renovation here, including part of the Uffizzi Galleria right now.

I BELONG here. You can't have me back.