30 August 2005

On the move, on to Spannocchia

Saturday, another day of relocation. After another brief Italian breakfast - due cappucini e due pasticciere, Bjorn and I wished each other well and I was on my way. I had to meet up with the rest of the intern group at the Dublin Irish Post pub in Siena's Piazza Gramsci at 5pm, and preferred to have time to spare. So, I rolled my bags to the metro and managed to both buy a ticket and get on the correct train (and not get approached by any Italian-speaking person with a question - it's amazing how unhelpful you can feel when you can't answer someone's questions...). I arrived at Centrale, the main train station in Milan, and followed the rest of the wheely-bag crowd to the biglietti area. I used the automated ticket vending machines (mostly in English) to buy a bullet train ticket to Florence, and a Regionale train ticket on to Siena.

Sleeping while traveling continued to elude me. I nodded along to the beats of my EECpod, lamenting my inability to converse with anyone. Especially in such a social society, I lamented my inability to converse - I just wanted to talk, people! :-) A dark-skinned couple to my right talked animatedly through the entire trip. The man's voice was perhaps one of the most pleasant I have ever heard, and I noted that the woman - dressed in stylish clothes and topped with a gorgeous, natty afro - asked questions often, with a lovely lilt to her voice. This was the way I wanted to speak Italian! I wonder what it will be like to lose Italian as I know it - beautiful but meaningless sound - and gain it as verbal communication.

While I had the choice of several times/trains to Florence, this was not the case in Siena. The ticket issued me for that second leg was more or less a receipt, so that when I arrived in Florence, I was scrambling to figure out which train went to Siena and what time it departed. I read over the Departures board, realizing that Siena wasn't a final destination, so wasn't listed there. I dragged my bags and myself over to the tiny-print train schedule and scanned each listing for the word "Siena." I found it within a list of 10 stops on a train bound for (surprise) a place I had never heard of. Platform 3, it said. Hmmmm. This seemed a logical start, and the only option I had at this point. The train station seemed to have every platform in clear view, except for the 1st three... I mentally scanned my brain, trying to locate the phrases, "Which train to Siena?" and "Which platform for the Siena-bound train?"I wandered past the Informazione area, which had a line of at least 20 people - more than I could wait on if my train, in fact, left in 15 mins. I continued to wander with my convoy of baggage, eventually finding the #3 platform behind a small mass of buildings.

My search turned to finding an employee of the train, and the courage to ask something that would help me determine if this was the correct train. "Per Siena?" I asked the first employee-ish looking person I came across. "Si," was his reply. Whew, went my brain. He helped me heave my bags up the steps and I settled in with the EECpod. The train windows were open on this leg of the trip, and the weather was gorgeous. Hello, Tuscany!

The complexity of the day extended when I arrived in Siena. I would now have to purchase a bus ticket in a small Italian town, and the automated machines for this weren't working. Knowing the name of the stop I needed, I was able to get a ticket pretty easily (any word can become a question!); I had more trouble finding the bus stop, as it wasn't just out front.

Piazza Gramsci? I asked the bus driver out front of the station. Not this bus, but he motioned behind him. Piazza Gramsci? I asked a girl walking up the street. She pointed up the hill, where I could see a small crowd gathering. I joined them, squinting at the posted bus schedule, trying to determine which bus I should take. Luckily, the next to arrive was the #10, which seemed to be the best option from the schedule. Piazza Gramsci? I asked the driver. Si.

We rolled into town - literally, I was catching and falling over my bags the whole way. I got off at the first big piazza - knowing it was Gramsci from all the buses parked there. Sweaty and a bit distressed at this point, I plunked down on a curb near the pick-up spot and just sat. Il Campo would have to wait.

29 August 2005

Milano: more than a cookie

I woke to his key in the door, promptly at 7pm. We had loose plans to go for an aperitivo and meet up with a friend for dinner afterwards. Going for an aperitivo is akin to Happy Hour in the states - discounted drinks and free food. Lots of free food, apparently, which momentarily blinded me to the fact that we had dinner plans - big mistake. Bjorn had 2 Camparis, while I downed 2 Pimm's #1s - done in this case not with the British spear of cucumber, but in sangria-style with lots of fresh fruit. We snacked on ham-croissant sandwiches, tomatoes and mozzarella, and canteloupe that gave way in the mouth as nature intended. The eating and drinking and talking and all of deez tings filled up the time until we met Simone for our 10:30 dinner reservation. I somehow swallowed back my fear that I would fall asleep every next moment.

If I were staying in Milan, Simone would have to be my new best friend. I liked her immediately, with all of her warmth and frankness and friendliness. She was open and easy in conversation and laughed often, leading the rest of us. I found that laughs always translate, even when words do not. We were eating in a very busy Roman-style restaurant, where we shared a long table with two other deuces. It made for a very merry evening, with several shared conversations, some of which I could even follow. As the food that Simone had ordered rolled in, I stopped looking up at the blackboard menu to figure out the names of the dishes; eating and drinking took all of my focus. 3 courses, 3 dishes per course, shared amongst the three of us. Wine was poured, and again and again, plates were passed, and the lights glowed a most appropriate golden hue. Was I drunk again, or just happy? I wanted to make love to everyone at the table.

Finally, all the food was gone, and digestivo options were offered. I recognized "limoncello" from the list rattled off by our amiable server, and though that a drop of that tart lemon treat would be just the thing to end this day (and digest dinner, whoa). A TUMBLER of it arrived. I hate to waste...

Milaaano dahhhling

Lots of tourists in this city, making it an easy first city to visit. Passed a McBar (ew), a restaurant called Meat-ing, and a fantastic pastry shop window featuring marzipan creations of all kinds, including dentures (I have a photo!). Took in the duomo and (the exterior of) La Scala, as well as lots of other streets and windows before my stomach began to declare hunger.

Following Bjorn's strong reccomendation, I made my (long) way to a traditional Italian osteria a good hike away from most of the stuff worth seeing in town. After crossing a bridge and winding down a dirt path, I reached the restaurant, only to find that it was closed. "Chiuso per ferie" (Closed for vacation) signs were everywhere, and Bjorn had warned me how "slow" Milan is in August, but it hadn't occured to either of us that this place wouldn't be serving lunch today! Weak with hunger, I considered panicking.

Instead, I walked back to towards whence I had come, and stumbled across a very locals-only looking (no translations on the menu) pizzeria. Pulling nerve from necessity, I pushed open the door and greeted the first person I saw. It was easy to indicate that I was one, and easy to let on that I spoke little Italian. All I cared about was getting some food and drink in my hollow belly. And so I did. Half a huge pizza (7,50 euros), a small carafe of vino rosso (3,50 euros), and an entire large bottle of aqua minerale naturale (1,50) later, I was human again. Or, at least, slightly drunk and full of food.

After some mangled conversation about getting the rest of my meal to go, apparently not a common practice in Italy, I had my first experience with a pit toliet (oohoo! don't press that floor flusher early!). Then I was foot to pavement again. Walking in three block stretches between readings of my map, I made my way towards my next tourist destination: Il Castello. I found an empty bench and got off my feet. I contemplated my earlier plan to climb the tower of the duomo, the stylish girl mullet I saw atop so many heads, and the fact that I had forgotten to pack sunscreen. My arms were already warm and pink, and I feared the hue on my face. Vaguely craving sunglasses, a band-aid for my blistered heel, and someone to take care of me, I decided to stop playing tourist and start playing siesta. I beat it to Bjorn's (found it!) and laid down for a three hour nap.

Norwegians are nice

Luckily for me, simplicity marked my first morning in a new country - from the morning's flight through the clouds ("they're just WATER!") to my whisking through the passport check at the airport (Customs, what?) to the train ride from the Malpensa airport to the heart of Milan ( "Look! Old buildings! Yes!"). I called my Couchsurfing host (see Links, to the right) as scheduled, and we met easily at the station where the train and metropolitana (subway) intersect. Bjorn, a tall twenty-something Norwegian, was true to his Couchsurfin profile: amiable and easy-going - even as he helped maneuver me and my two suitcases through the subway and towards his tiny apartment on Via Savona. We paused for a breakfast of cappucino and croissants at a small cafe near his place in order to catch up on essentials.

Bjorn moved to Milan 3 years ago, without a job or knowing a word of Italian. He's truly (insert adjective here) to do so, and make it in a country where so much seems to happen via word of mouth, through social interaction, and where jobs can be especially hard for foreigners to land. He's loved his time in Milan, though plans to head back to Norway in October in order to save up money, presumably for his next adventure.

After showing me around his apartment (both rooms) and giving me a map, guiebook, and simple instructions on getting around town, Bjorn hopped on his bike and headed for work. I spread out the map on my guest bed (his vacationing roommate's, and which happens to be tucked into the corner of the kitchen) and got familiar with the names of the routes I would take. Then, I tuned in some Bach cello suites on the EECpod and hit the streets.

Following the streetcar line, I wandered toward the city center, where the duomo is located. I window-shopped and people-watched, and made my first Italian purchase: shoes! As in fairly rare-occasion, completely unnecessary black shoes, covered in sequins and flair, with side vents, open backs, and a small heel (will the sheep like them?). I anticipate being able to wear them, oh, next May perhaps, when I am back nearer to pavement. I will wear them grocery shopping.

No Rest for the Weary

It took longer to drive home to Virginia last week than it did to fly to Italy. And I was at least as tired... And nap I did, though no real sleep was had. The few times I closed my eyes, I was overwhelmed by the speed and amount of thoughts and adrenaline running through my body! It provided a dizzying hum that lulled me into a sleepy state, but prevented me from getting any real rest.

Dinner, a nap, date movie (Fever Pitch), another nap, and breakfast. Airplane food all the way, too, meaning at times interesting, but never great. The portion of lasagne with dinner was the best-tasting item, perhaps the white fish with GUACAMOLE (someone had to get fired for that one...), green beans, eggplant, and potato was my least favorite. The coffee? Not bought in Milan, that's for sure. Somewhere in the course of the evening, I stargazed (wow!), and stretched my legs once. That's about it. Felt like 25 minutes passed in all; one of the shortest nights of my life, it seemed.

A little bit of early morning energy was delivered via the sunrise - my first Italian sun! The insulating clouds gave way to amazing bands of color on the horizon, and the day was born. The light let me see geography a bit better: snow-capped mountains to the North and an irregular patchwork of fields and small red-roofed towns below.

A Piu Tardi, America!

My last American meal: 1/2 of a ginormous Loaded BBQ prok potato from Dixie Bones! Huzzah! Mooooolto Beeeene! This award-winning eatery used to be located on Capitol Hill in DC, where it developed a large and loyal following. It's now thriftily located off of Route 1 in Northern Virginia, a conveninet 2 minute drive from my brother's house. Thanks for lunch, Dad!

Despite this rather momentous transition, I wasn't able to really concentrate on the excitement of Spannocchia (separate from the rush of leaving Louisville, flashing through DC, etc) until about the same time that I arrived at the airport. The flip-flop of my stomach could have had something to do with my Dad's testing of my car's new brakes on the ride to Dulles (HOW did we NOT ram that cement truck??) - he wasn't messing around in getting me there in good time! We joined the cars spilling towards the color-coded terminals, and I glanced up at the blue sky, the huge American flag waving in slow motion.....buzz buzz buzz in the air, flip flip flip in my stomach. A Italia!

I sat for about an hour at my gate, observing the obvious signs of being in the new company of Europeans already: darker skin tones, various languages being spoken, overwhelming fashion sense (by some), but moreover, that guy in the bright yellow pants. How I longed to sit next to HIM! :-)

And I wondered: what will I do tomorrow? What will I eat?

28 August 2005

Technical Notes

Hi all --

The past few days have given me a taste for how computer use here in Italy might go for the most part - sporadic, at best, let's say. I will attempt to provide as many posts as I can, and feel will be interesting, but this time/organization will inevitably turn to weeks as work picks up...

I've been having computer and camera problems galore - my internal computer battery appears to have died, I need to purchase an electrical converter for the power cord, and, in the meantime, haven't figured out how to connect my camera to this Shared computer in order to upload the images. Piano, piano...

There will be little editing and likely many typos as I try to beat the clock (and billing!) for use of the internet!


21 August 2005

Microphone check, one, two....

And here goes...

Fueled by one last dose of Louisville's Heine Bros coffee and 5 hours of sleep, I tackled the 9 hour drive home to Virginia (it almost adds up!). The traffic gods largely smiled on me; the gas price gods are, unfortunately, still on vacation.

Three days til blast off a Siena!

I envision sunny skies, rolling fields, and, of course, roads paved with gold. Italian espresso will be my new fuel of choice, pasta and rabbit will be served at every meal, and the evening light will twinkle especially nicely against Casa Pulcinelli (my new home!). Camera is charged and boots are all packed, ready to take it all in.

Okay, so I'm not packed at all, but what else would I do with three days in the suburbs? This is preservation procrastination.

Stay tuned for future posts - they will show sporadically, as often as I can manage it, given time and technology constraints.

Stories and photos will come to overflow my e-cup...