Thursday, October 30, 2008

Sept. 27th Cave di Marmo - Finally!

Note: This post is for my birthday, SEPTEMBER 27th. I fail a little at posting it in a reasonable timeframe. But, here at last are pictures of my adventure to the marble quarries :D

So, on my birthday my school took us to see Carrara, the source of white marble in Italy for centuries. Romans chiseled marble out of these mountains, much more slowly than nowadays, but yes, this is probably where the stone for the Ara Pacis came from. Eeek! Anyway, something I certainly didn’t know: there are mountains made of marble. ENTIRE MOUNTAINS. So, it’s possible to have an indoor quarry. This is the quarry we visited.

Here you can see me, the saucy birthday girl (with long hair!) in requisite hard hat in the heart of a mountain of white marble! Equidistant from the top of the mountain to sea level, and one side to the other, this really is the heart of the mountain. Through to the other side (from where I entered) is the actual quarry where Michelangelo chose the marble for his statue of David!

This is a shot of the ceiling of this indoor quarry - the only indoor one in Carrara, possibly Italy - where you can see traces of them cutting the blocks out. The rough stone to the left is part of a giant pillar of marble they are leaving for support of the open air quarry above, but also useless for their work (the irregular texture comes from irregularities in the stone, revealed when they pull away a block). The smooth rock in the background is part of a future HUNK of marble. They will simply cut into the sides, cut out the bottom, slide a giant diamond-studded chain around the back and cut it away from the wall. Then they insert flat metal pillows in the the back cut, fill them with air, and the block falls over!

As a sidenote, there was a lot of graffiti in the caves. I believe this is all graffiti made by the five man crew that cuts marble here, but it was really interesting. There was a giant color tree near the entrance, some cave-painting-like drawings, and a sketch of Michelangelo’s David (how fitting!). There were also inflatable swimming toys in a large pool of water near the Virgin Mary, which I thought was really cute and amusing.

So, yeah, Virgin Mary. This is an instance where, when they pulled a giant block away from the wall, a small irregularity that pulled away with it. This particular one occured on Christmas Eve (Buon Natale), and the workers recognized in the formation an image of the Virgin Mother with child and created this little altar to it. They regard her as the protectoress of the quarry.

When we got out of the caves, we were taken on a tour of the history of marble quarring (what English verb is there for this?), and the tour-guide was really entertaining. He gave the entire tour in Italian, and joyfully pressured one of our teachers into translating, especially joyfully the insults the marble movers used. The horn in this picture? It works. And he had a huge collection of historic tools, including Roman ones.

Before we went up to the quarry itself, we actually visited a studio where they carve the marble. The owner of the studio gave us a personal tour, and I think the little girl was his granddaughter. At any rate, she was crying and tugging on his pants until he picked her up. Note how the little girl has marble dust all over her dress? Marble everywhere! We actually saw people in the process of carving statues, and I probably inhaled quite a bit of this dust... but it was so pretty, and so worth it.

Monday, October 20, 2008

My Room...

One of these is the view FROM my window, in the other you can see my window (far top right). The top floor balconies are off the kitchen to my host families home. :D

Saturday, October 11, 2008

Saturday night, generally fun....

So, today I actually called a friend and invited her/myself to dinner, and went out with her and another friend. When I met them at the Duomo, a Moroccan was making them some pretty friendship bracelets, and I ended up with this small hair wrap. I did not pay him half as much as he asked when he was done, but that was because I inadvertently left my wallet at home! Ack! Fortunately, upon returning home, I have located it. But, still, I have this hair-wrap that I did not pay full price for :D

Also, spent the night with several different classmates (buono!) and a chunk with a Moroccan (different from the one who I cheated for my hair wrap) who spoke little English... surprisingly rewarding, talking to him.

That is my Saturday night. As written while still intoxicated by the wine, rum, and more wine. A volte, Firenze e molto bello. A volte, sono da solo. Ma, mi piace esssere qui. E una avventura.

Friday, October 10, 2008

Goldilocks in the Danceclub

The first boy danced too close, and she had trouble sending him away. The second boy danced too far away, and she felt awkward. The third boy danced just close enough, and she stayed out until 3am dancing :D

Thursday, October 9, 2008

Night-time journey

So, I still need to post my birthday, and some other pictures, but I wanted to share tonight: night-time Florence revived my soul.

I've been feeling a touch lonely here, it doesn't seem that many people want to forge friendships, or maybe I've just gotten too used to having really close, long-time friends close at hand. I forgot how hard freshmen year of college was. BUT, going out tonight (erroneously, it turns out, to join classmates at a bar) I ended up wandering the city by myself, and it was gorgeous. Something about the lights? The hum of conversation? Minus the tourists and merchants, Firenze is truly beautiful, and I feel like I actually live here, rather than visiting. And, when I'm surrounded by classmates who speak English, it is easy to forget where I am. Alone in the street when an Italian (Spaniard?) stops and asks for directions... I feel quite clearly where I am, and I get excited all over again. It was like reliving my first night here, when I checked into my hostel and went out rather than go to bed early, and visited Santa Croce for the first time. It holds the same magic now, which was a wonderful realization. More night-time travels are ahead for me, even if I'm alone, but next time I'll let my host family know - they locked me out with the door chain on accident! But the father wasn't mad at me, and God knows what the mother thought when I had to ring the doorbell... (she speaks no English)

<3 from Italy,

Saturday, October 4, 2008

"Productive" Saturday

Today, I hung out with Lauren all day, watching Dr. Who and wandering the city, it was lovely. I thought I'd share my first real purchase in Italy (somehow, I don't think nail clippers count):

I bought them at a small Indian shop, cornelian and silver. At the same place, Lauren finally broke and bought a cashmere shawl (she's been drooling over them at every store we pass for more than a week). Later, we went to Oktoberfest in Santa Croce, yet again (it's been set up since Thursday), and wandered the booths for quite a while trying on rings and testing purses and basically having a lovely evening. I've had a lot of wurtzels the last few days. My goal on Monday is to finally visit the shoe shop in San Spirito and buy either a lovely pair of sandals, or a wonderful pair of boots. Either way, it will be handmade leather, XD (that's an excited face).

I will try to get a post up with pictures from my birthday soon, tomorrow in fact, but was just so excited about my earrings that I had to post out of order ;)

Friday, October 3, 2008

The Count

Two weekends ago, so, Sept. 20th, we visited "The Count" out in the Tuscan countryside. He is the real thing - it was extraordinary. He uses his family's land now to grow grapes for wine, and offers this tour of his property to our school because he is friends with the director, Cristina. He was extremely entertaining - as he said himself, he abhors being politically correct. Some gems from the tour (and picture this all in an English accent):

"There are three ways to lose your money: women, gambling, and wine-making. Women are the most pleasant, gambling the quickest, and wine-making the surest."

"Go ahead, pass it [the wine] around, there's enough alcohol in there to kill AIDs."

"What do you think luxury is? A yacht? A summerhouse in an exotic locale?" He says this as he fills a glass of wine from a giant barrel, "Making your own wine? No," he sloshes the wine about and pours it out, "this is true luxury." (being able to rinse your wine glass out with WINE?)

... and I remember little else very well, as he got us quick drunk at lunch. BUT I know that he took us through his family villa and showed us some truly historic items. He prohibited picture-taking as they've had trouble with THIEVES, but showed us some antique furniture (as in, 19th century antiques that have been in the villa this entire time), his traditional garden laid down hundreds of years ago (when the villa was more prosperous, it was better maintained, but there were some lime trees there in their original pots that were 200 years old), and, of all things, some books. Signed books. Books signed by Mark Twain, inscribed to his grandmother, thanking her for tea. With his real name, not just his pseudonym. OMG, I touched these books.

After the tour, most of the group hiked into town to catch a bus, but Leigh, Caelie and I opted to get a ride with The Count - for real! He gave us a ride to town as he was already headed that way to drop off his fiance at the train station. It was quite entertaining - he complained bitterly about old men in hats who drive slow (and said that in the US it's old ladies with blue hair), and complained that there are no good political jokes this election year - everyone is too touchy about a black man and/or woman in the White House. He only knew three jokes, and one of them was, "Chelsea Clinton visited the Middle East. A delegate who spoke with her said, 'There are three people I'm afraid of, Osama, Obama, and yo'mama'."

It was quite the grand adventure, seeing his home and meeting such a personality. If he and Cristina weren't friends, he might work in the SLC program, but if they weren't friends, we wouldn't get to see his villa and wine-making operation! I think he really enjoyed lecturing us about the history of the area where he lives, how wine is made (wood barrels to cement to fiberglass and, in the end, back to wood, of course), how to eat lunch properly, and complaining about everything you can think of. Ornery old man. I hope I meet him again someday, somehow. Cristina told us that his name is actually Niccolo.