Monday, December 14, 2009

Hey Italy, I Hope You Remember All the Good Times We Had!

A much-needed cleaning of my room ended with my suitcase being unearthed from the depths of my closet, and partially filled with clothes and the material accumulation of almost four months in Italy.

As I started to sort through all the things that I’ve accumulated over the course of the semester, I battled the pack-rat’s urge to hold on to various useless mementos—ticket stubs and fliers and receipts—which are tangible reminders of a semester that still doesn’t seem real. I think there’s some part of me that worries that if I toss my grocery receipt in the trash, I might also lose the memory of all the tomato and mozzarella salads I’ve eaten. And also, as I begin the packing process, I’m slowly erasing any mark of my occupancy of this space for the past four months.

Even from this side of the ocean, I can see that Italy has left some pretty big marks on me. I already know I’m going to be that annoying person answering my cellphone “Pronto!” and peppering my conversations with ciao ciao’s and che bella’s and andiamo’s. I’ll turn up my nose at college pasta, tomato sauce, lasagna, and pizza for the rest of my life, and probably be in a permanent state of sticker-shock at the prices of stateside vino. I know that studying abroad has been one of the biggest things I’ve ever done, though I don’t think I’ll be aware of all the ways it’s affected me until I finally get back the US (or, as we’ve come to affectionately call it her, Ahmurrrr-kuh).

But what about Italy? It doesn’t seem fair that it could have such an impact on me, but that once my plane launches me out of the country, there’ll really be no trace of my ever having been here. Doesn’t this country care?

There will be some less-than-stellar photos left hanging on the walls of the Siena School, and I guess I’ll exist in the medical records of the clinic that treated my Pink Eye…hmm, not exactly the legacy I was going for. Of course, the whole point of coming to Italy was to imbibe all it had to offer, to soak in the sweetness of la dolce vita and maybe come out the other end with some fantastic experiences, not the other way around. And I think I can say that Italy has done that for me.

But still. Anytime you spend a significant chunk of time in a place, you start to feel like you own a little piece of it. I have my favorite spots to sit in the afternoon sun, my favorite pasticceria for pastry and gelateria for a sugar fix, and a regular table to meet up with friends at the Baron Rosso. I want to be able to claim these things a little more permanently, to know that even if never come back to Italy again, those places can still belong to me in some way.

There’s a pizza place in Florence whose walls are solidly scribbled over with the signatures of thousands of patrons. I was excited to find another Abby who had written “Abby from Baltimore ate pizza here!” and I wrote next to it, “Abby from Boston did too!” Graffiti is and instinctive way of affirming our existence in a place and a time; it’s been going on forever. At the British Museum in London, I saw an enormous Assyrian gate with a board game etched into its side by the palace guards to help pass the time; Michelangelo’s David has a small graffiti initials on his right calf where some Renaissance passerby made their mark, back when the statue stood outside.

I’m obviously not going to take a chisel to any priceless works of art—I guess I’ll have to be satisfied all the people who’ve made this whole thing so special—my host family, who are the best, and who I’ll miss a lot. And all the Siena Schoolers , who’ve shared the same experiences as I have and know which bar is the Elizabeth’s Bar, which is the Cheap Bar, which server at Kopakabana gives the most generous gelato scoops, where to get the biggest pizza slices. And exactly what we mean when we say, che schifo?!?

Che schifo or not--it's usually more on the side of che brava-- this has been a great couple of months. I'm excited to drag out my time here after the semester officially ends on Wednesday, but I also know it'll feel great to get back to the USA.

It's been fun keeping this blog, this may be my last post ever, so I'll say ciao ciao for now : )

Che schifo or not--usually it's more on the side of che bravo--this has been a great couple of months, and I'm so excited that I get to drag my time out here are little longer, after the semester finishes this Wednesday. This is probably my last post, so thanks to anyone who's been keeping up with me, I've had a lot of fun doing this!

ciao ciao for now : )

Sunday, December 13, 2009

Review Part Four

Even though it may seem like I'm constantly praising the beautiful weather here, I lie not when I say that we have crappy days, too. This fog is thick like ribollita.

During our first weeks in Siena, piles of colorful confetti kept cropping up along the streets leading to the Campo. Contrary to popular belief, Siena was not fetting the arrival of American students--it was just leftovers from all the weddings that were taking place on the Campo.

This is a sunset on our way back from the Chestnut Festival. The sunsets have changed so much since late summer! They're still pretty though, just not as warm looking.

Saturday, December 12, 2009

Review Part Three

Some Siena School pals (Lindsay, Allison and Avantika) in front of the view of the city way back in September

Hot chocolate at the Chocolate Festival in Perugia in October.

Italian fashion is weird.

Wednesday, December 9, 2009

Review Part Two

This is another segment of my daily walk to school past the Fortress. This was really early on a Sunday, which is why it's eerily deserted...we have a lot of foggy mornings like this, where you can't see the end of the street.

This is the Campo, playing host to a "medieval' festival a couple weeks ago. This picture doesn't show the people playing medieval music, or the jester's puppet show. But it's always fun to see the normally expansive, sloping main piazza transformed for an event. This is of course where the famous Palio horse race takes place three times a year, and a great spot to soak up the sun. Even in December!

A mini River Arno, flowing through a piccolini Florence. After we finished taking many artsy shots through this tiny replica, we realized it's actually a Braille map! If you look at the right bank in this picture, you can just make out the row of raised bumps naming the street. I've never seen anything like this before, or really thought about the fact that blind people can't take in a visual cityscape...a map read by touch is such a great concept.

Tuesday, December 8, 2009

Comprehensive Review

OK, I don't know how many full-length blog posts I have left in me, considering this is technically my last week of classes, next Wednesday is the Siena School Final Dinner, and the following day I depart for PARIS...and from there I commence my merry traipsing aboot for the next couple weeks. So, as I start reviewing for my final "exams" here, I will also try to recap by uploading a few rando pictures at a time, since I have been terrifyingly lax about that, and it's a good way for me to think about what in heck I have been doing here for the past 14.5 weeks.

Some Christmas lights like I mentioned in my last post! These are not the most exciting ones; they come in many shapes and colors and patterns. Florence has some pretty awesome ones but I didn't actually take any pictures of them...

Every day I walk past the Fortress right outside the city walls, from below you can see all the trees growing on top of the walls. This was a really pretty pink sunset last week.

Our Creative Writing professor took us to this crazy art park out in the country side on our way to a really cute Chestnut Festival a couple weeks ago; this is my class taking in the spectacular view/being blinded by the sun.

Sunday, December 6, 2009

No Pasta Allowed

I’ve taken a bit of a break for the past couple weeks, hopefully my loyal readers haven’t been pining after my posts too much…

Anyways, the most significant change since my last update has been the official commencement of The Holiday Season, kick started a few weeks ago by Siena Schoolers with a screening of “Love, Actually.” We crowded into one of our classrooms and endured about 45 minutes of technological snafus before finally launching the movie (there was some feeble debate over whether or not to watch Italian, but who are we kidding—it’s so much better in English).

Since returning from fall break, there’s been a bout of RTGH (ready-to-go-home) Syndrome running rampant in the student body—but basking in the collective glow of Hugh Grant, Colin Firth and the Mariah Carey belting out “All I Want for Christmas” proved a potent anecdote.

We may have been a little early in anticipating the holidays, but Thanksgiving rolled around a week later. While Thanksgiving marks the traditional segue way into The Holiday Season for Americans, not so in Italy. And yet, undaunted by the many obstacles to celebrating a proper American Thanksgiving, we boldly sallied forth to recreate the holiday of our forefathers.

Though local grocery store windows stood painfully clear of paper turkeys, Pilgrims'N'Indians, and cornucopia displays—though unaided by promotions on cranberry sauce, stuffing, and basting pans—though dogged by the scarcity of brown sugar and sweet potatoes!—we persevered. Many key ingredients proved impossible to procure—my host mother informed me that as far as she knows, cranberry products exist only in concentrate form as a remedy for urinary tract infections—and yet when we gathered at the school at the appointed hour, the potluck spread was miraculously traditional.

A butcher had been induced to custom-slaughter two turkeys for our little event, and almost all the students pitched in: Angela delivered magnificently on her promise of two amazing Southern-style apple pies (for which she ditched half of Sociology class to prepare…certainly a fair trade); there were three types of mashed potatoes, three types of stuffing, and ample (though moderately congealed) gravy. Marina discovered brown sugar in a specialty food store and made ‘mixed nut’ pie (no pecans available); Franny and Julia diced their turnip dish to resemble sweet potatoes. Logan contributed apple cider/sauce/mush which although insufficient for the roughly 30 attendees of Siena School Thanksgiving, exuded a delicious aroma.

We squeezed along a length of classroom tables clogging the central hallway, and took turns saying something we were thankful for. Thanks were showered upon each other, the food, the wine, and Ryanair and EasyJet, as well as the chance to celebrate a first Thanksgiving (that from the Italians in the group, which included the barman from across the street). All in all, it was a much needed follow-up to the skype date I had had with my entire family right before hand as they geared up to celebrate my favorite holiday without me.

While none of us would have complained about settling down for yet another delicious home-cooked Italian meal with our host families, it felt so good to do something to celebrate this holiday together. The most important rule of our dinner was that there should be no pasta present—and no one had a problem with that.

Since then, Siena has followed in our wake and started holiday preparations. At night, curtains of lights completely fill the air above each narrow street within the city walls, illuminating the road ahead. The porcupine contrada erected a Christmas tree in their neighborhood yesterday, and a skating rink has been set up in one of the parks. I’m getting really excited for the next big holiday approaching, and the week I’m going to spend in Paris right before Christmas, and then spending the actual holiday with my (real) family here in Italy.

(oh hey Marina...I stole these pics off your facebook!)

Thursday, November 12, 2009

Travels to English-Speaking Lands

I'M BACK! (in Italia)

(which reminds me...I've been meaning to excuse myself for the little grammar mishap going on in my blog title. Grammatically speaking, it should be "Abby in Italia," but I made the blog before I knew that. And, while I'm doing corrections, I'll get another one off my chest: It's SIENA, not ever, neverever, SIENNA. People get very annoyed at this. 'Sienna' is a Crayola color, indeed inspired by the hue of the bricks in the fabulous Siena Piazza del Campo, but we don't know why Crayola felt the need to fiddle with the spelling. So yeah. No double 'n')

Moving on.

I'm back from break, a changed person! Not really, but I did have an AMAZING break. I was lucky enough to see friends, the boyfriend, and even family. My trip had three main stops: a maiden voyage to London and Dublin, and a long-overdue return to port in Belfast (I apologize for the corny metaphors, but you know you like them). Anyways, I will attempt to self-censor a little/ A LOT in the interests of actually doing homework at somepoint during this semester, so here's visual/textual recap:


Cheerio lads, trick-or-treat!

Afternoon Tea? Nooo, that's Italian-style caffe!

This picture reflects the fact that Sean and I cooked a LOT, but we did not take a lot of pictures. Sean talks about what we did in Dublin on his blog ( so take a look at that if you're interested.

Again, major fail in the picture-taking department...but I like this one because I always associate bad weather with the times I've been in Ireland.

OK, hopefully I will get back with some more on things that actually happened during break...we'll see.

Before I sign off, I just want to note that Italy, and Siena specifically, have changed in my absence. About half the trees are bare now, signaling the inevitable approach of winter and by extension, the end of my semester here. Today I walked through the streets towards Kopakobana, a gelateria closing it's doors for the season (and celebrating with generous portions of free gelato...), and didn't have to elbow my way past a single tourist group. The streets are noticibly quieter, a lot of boutiques have also closed for the winter...and it's all kind of nice. Something I've always loved about New England (and missed in Italy) is the drastic change from season to season; the disappearance of the crowds from the Siena streets is a welcome change of the same kind.

Thursday, October 29, 2009


OK, this is a bit of a slacker post...I'm going to add my piece for Creative Writing this week, because it was inspired by a party I went to with my Uncle Bob this past weekend when I visited him in Rome. I just want to emphasize: THIS IS CREATIVE WRITING, NOT AN EXACT ACCOUNT OF ANYTHING. I actually had a great time at this party, and got to meet a great girl who's doing an internship in the art-restoration wing of the Vatican, and who's going to visit me at some point in Siena! It was also just really fun seeing Bob doing what he does in Rome--I've only ever gotten to see him doing the side of his job which takes place during large family get-togethers, and isn't nearly as glamorous!

Anyways, tomorrow I head off for Fall Break! I have to give a 5-minute oral presentation in Italian class on a subject of my own choosing (which will be the TV show "Glee!"), and then I'm free! I'm having a good-bye lunch with my host fam, then catching a bus to Florence to spend the night with Erikka, and then flying out to London for the weekend! Much Indian food will be consumed, and then I will be in Dublin and Belfast for the remainder.

Tonight's Gonna Be A Long, Long Night

The doorbell sounded over the murmur of voices, and several more people trickled from the hall into the apartment foyer. It was a spacious apartment, reminiscent of a recently-converted hotel room: gold-framed watercolor landscapes broke the monotony of bland walls, and a wooden table with a vase of fake flowers sat in the entrance. The hostess fluttered between kitchen, door, and dining room, monitoring the food and the people.
The new arrivals shrugged off their coats and scanned the scene, deciding how to insert themselves. They were a mismatched group: a tall, worn-looking man with graying curls and thick glasses (who several of the guests approached with recognition), a mousy-haired woman who introduced herself with great seriousness and urgency in a heavy Polish accent, and a girl apologetically wearing jeans, a t-shirt, and an uncertain expression.
The partygoers were of a distinctly Catholic set; there were five priests in collars as well as journalists and writers brought to Rome by the tantalizing buzz of the Vatican hive. The t-shirt girl had heard the phrase ‘all roads lead to Rome,’ and saw that within her uncle’s sphere, all roads lead to the Vatican. Standing tangent to a circle immersed in theological debate, the girl assumed a benignly interested look. After twenty minutes of polite listening (and no offer of a drink), her expression collapsed from interest to boredom, and then dissolved into discomfort. She slipped away down a side hall lined with shelves of books which offered a desperately-needed distraction.
Sadly, her solace did not last.
“Excuse me- are you doing all right? Can I offer you an appertivo?” inquired the fluttering hostess, brandishing a tray of what looks like pasty grey brain atop star-shaped French fries.
The girl stepped back quickly from the shelves she had been making a show of perusing, exclaiming “Oh, thanks- um, can I ask what this is?”
“It’s brain on stars! Haha! Mother and I made them!” the hostess twinkled. She was in fact the same age as the girl, but wearing heels and popping out of a low-cut cocktail dress, and relishing the part of the benevolent hostess.
“Oh wow,” the girl quavered before taking the plunge, “Sure I’ll try one, thanks…” She slid a star off the tray and tried to balance it with her plastic cup of water. “I’m just, you know, looking at the books here…are they, I mean, do you…”she fumbled the brain-star, almost dunking it in her cup, as she struggled to figure out who exactly she was talking to. As far as she can tell there were at least three other women playing the hostess at this party. “Do you live here?” she finally blurted out, trying to maintain her cool.
“Yes, I do. I am Italian. Italian-American, actually. Of Boston.” That explained her impeccable English, but not the extremely proper diction.
The girl’s eyebrows flew up in relief, “Oh, really? Where? I mean, I’m from Boston too!”
“Hmm, fancy that. My grandparents have their property in Chestnut Hill. I summer there each year. And why are you here?” the hostess inquired coolly, glancing over her shoulder with disinterest, reluctant to join in the game of mutual knowledge. The girl was reminded again of her appearance, her clear deviance from the rest of the partygoers. “Oh, well I’m just visiting my uncle for the weekend, but I’m spending the semester studying in Siena. He didn’t tell me we’d be going out anywhere, you know…I haven’t even had a chance to drop off my stuff at his apartment,” she explained, then plunged on, still searching for some friendly common ground. “I’m actually from Somerville, right next to Cambridge, like on the Red Line? The Porter Square T stop is near my house? There’s an Anna’s Taqueria there, I’m sure you go to the one in Chestnut Hill when you’re, uh, summering. God, I miss Mexican food!” the girl blurted, immediately cringing as the G word popped out of her mouth.
“No, I don’t think so…please excuse me, I really must deal with some things in the kitchen. Don’t hesitate to let me know if there’s anything I can get for you.” She smiles indulgently, pleased by her own poise and generosity, and waltzed off with her tray of brain-stars.
The girl looked back at the shelves of books, and then into the stagnant soup of priests and journalists, and took a small, brave bite of brain-star. Turning slightly from the room, she deftly spit it into her napkin and tucked it into the empty cup. It was going to be a long, long night.

Friday, October 23, 2009

The Renaissance (condensed version)

Just got back from our first Art History field trip to the Uffizi Gallery, which was also my first trip to Florence.

Our teacher is a Florentine art historian with the best accent ever, prone to Englishisms like, "Ciao ciao, you disciples, I go to die now!" when voicing the meaning of Gothic religious artwork. The Uffizi was quite an experience--in (barely) two hours we worked our way from Giotto to Duccio to Botticelli, fighting for space in front of the masterpieces and getting shushed by an ornery German tourguide just for being American students and therefore unable to appreciate culture of any kind. After each painting, our professor urged us on with a fervent "Now we really must run very fast now!" It was completely overwhelming to be surrounded by works of art I've seen in art classes at Amherst and books on the Renaissance, and to just walk by them as we scampered to check off today's pieces from our list. Embarrassingly enough, I walked into a glass display case because my head was swiveling so fast trying to process what was on display in the rooms we didn't stop in as we rushed to finish the tour. When the closing announcements began to play, our professor actually said, "OK I am so so sorry but we have just ten minutes so we will quickly see Michelangelo and Da Vinci." Seriously? We just looked at each other and laughed with the ridiculousness of this proposition. Luckily we have more fieldtrips to the Uffizi.

After we finished half an hour late, I made a mad dash for the bus back to Siena. I ran the last couple blocks to the station, completely soaking my Keds and flipping my poor flimsy umbrella inside-out several times. It was not graceful, but it was extremely satisfying to hop into the bus approximately 33 seconds before it pulled out. Overall, quite a whirlwind first trip to Florence.

The frantic scramble of making buses and trains (and soon planes!) makes me incredibly nervous, but the sense of relaxation I get once I'm aboard is great. When you get moving towards your destination, you have a chance to process the experience you just had, and to begin planning for wherever you're headed next. These past couple of weeks have slipped by, punctuated with trips to Bologna, the Maremma, Perugia, Florence today (and Rome this weekend, and London the next!) By the time I get back to Siena from Fall Break, I think I'll be ready to settle down for a bit, and process the first half of my 'semester abroad.' I've been in constant looking-forward mode, with a new trip always lurking in the near future, and it will be nice to return from break and savor my remaining month and a half (is that really all?) at the Siena School.

And yes, I think I'll savor some winter baked specialties along with that...