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Archive: January 2012

Assisi: The Villages of Umbra

Why would someone want to study in Perugia? The city is about 200,000 people large, holds a good amount of history (a wall runs through the city that was constructed by the Etruscans, a civilization preceding the Roman Empire) but Perugia is a drop in the bucket when compared to metropolises like Rome or Florence.

The great thing about Perugia is that it is located in Umbra, the heart of the country. Drive in any direction a half hour, and you will arrive at a city that is small, quaint, and evident of the beauty that exists in the hill country of Italy.

One famous example would be Assisi. The city is a perfect location for a day trip. Last Thursday, I finished class at noon and hopped on a train to Assisi for the afternoon. Easy-peasy-lemon-squeezy! (Note: This phrase is only used because my Italian amico Leonardo finds no end to the hilarity of this phrase).

Tell me this isn't cool.

Cultural Differences

Bidets. 'Nuff Said.

THINGS ARE DIFFERENT HERE!!!! I know, crazy right? I already touched on fashion for a moment, but there’s so much that’s different besides that. For instance: when you walk into a store, it is rude if you don’t offer a greeting upon your entrance. “Buon giorno” or “Come sta?” are adequate.

Also, there are bidets.

But differences exist that are not always beneficial. For instance, I visited Firenze last night to play Ultimate Frisbee with a team from Firenze (yay! cultural similarities!). Afterwards, because I didn’t want to spend money on a hostel, my friend and I slept in the train station. Prior to our train’s departure at 5:50 AM (we had to get back to Perugia for my class at 9…crazy, right?) both of us needed to use the restroom. Little did we know that the Firenze train station doesn’t believe people might need to use the bathroom prior to 7 AM–when the bathrooms open. Needless to say, I was much relieved when I found out our train had a water closet.

European Fashion 101

Well, one thing I’ve learned about Europe is that they are not on the same wavelength as America. That’s right. Turns out we’re NOT the center of the universe…weird.

It’s the fashion that is most easily notable. The first day, every which way that I looked I saw hats that were much longer than they needed to be, and jackets that were about two and a half times too poofy.

IT'S SO FLUFFY!!! (I mean extended. If you get that reference you rock)

Naturally, I have the strong desire to blend in. Who wants to overtly appear American? Not me (our rep isn’t so great over here). So, within the first two weeks I made sure to purchase a long hat (“una capella lunga” as I like to call them) and my next mission is to hunt down a puffy jacket (or giacca vento). If you join me in this mission, perhaps you can beat the fashion curve across the pond.

La Vita Del Vino: Part 3

Previously…

The most fascinating part of the weekend was later that day when she walked us through her grounds (something between a medieval castle and a renaissance villa) and taught us about her process.

She uses a grape that is unique to Toscana, one that is smaller and produces a third the amount of wine than other grapes. Her rationalization: “I drink wine, I don’t drink money.” It was a simple joke, but the meaning behind that completely floored me. A profound connection exists between the people and the food they grow, one that transcends profits.

She recognize this. She said again and again that when you eat, 70% of the material comes out as waste, unusable, unneeded. However, that 30% that stays, that can remain with you forever. She was hyper-aware of that. For that reason, when we visited, she put incredible amounts of effort into preparing our meal. As her guests, she sees an intrinsic duty in providing us with healthy, wholesome food. Once she has cooked and we have eaten, a connection is formed between us forever.

How can you not love this place, and these people?

There's a proper form that must be followed when serving wine. I have it down pat.

La Vita Del Vino: Part 2

The duchess (as we call her) taught us not only how to taste wine, but to experience it. She said, “I have this friend, God, you might know him, who gave me two eyes, a nose, and a mouth.” And those were the exact tools that we used to probe into the before-unseen depths of this “nectar of life” (Again her words).

Corno Di Vino, an amazing place

We could see the type of wine, the age of it, how it was housed, the percentage of alcohol. We could smell the bitterness, the dryness, the flavors. We could taste the dryness with our gums, the initial burst of flavor that has been mixed with the air and one’s saliva, feel the heat on the tongue, and (my favorite), the final tastes at the back of one’s throat, a faculty of the mouth I had never before realized.

Ever since I was “un bambino,” my parents have had a glass of wine with their meal. I never before understood why. “It tastes awful!” my adolescent faculties screamed in protest. But I have been given a taste of what is actual present in every glass of wine.

Part 3: The Culmination of the Weekend

La Vita Di Vino: Part 1

Do you know the difference between Italian and American culture? Well, besides the humorous videos that have delved into this topic before, I believe it is contained entirely within the realm of wine. Fo’ real.

This weekend past I made an excursion with my class—those of us studying in Perugia through Arcadia University. We traveled to an “azienda agricolo,” also known as a vineyard. The bus ride was, as usual, one beautiful view after another rushing by like clouds, yet imprinting themselves on my mind like the memories of a good friend would.

Andrew's attempt at being profound and artistic. Comment below if he even came close!

Upon our arrival, we were greeted by one of the most humorous, bashful, and profound personalities I have ever had the pleasure of experiencing. She is a duchess, life-long producer and appreciator of wine, and life-philosophizer.

Read On: Part 2

And there was evening, and there was morning–the first day.

To quote the timeless movie “In Bruges,” all I can say of my experience so far is “I know I’m awake, but I feel like I’m dreaming.” Sitting on a bus driving through the hilly Italian countryside, I don’t yet realize what’s happening. The traveling took it out of me. Seven hours on my flight between O’Hare and Frankfurt left me both sleep deprived and nursing a sore neck from attempting to sleep in an aisle seat.

I was so exhausted that I slept in the Frankfurt airport during my five hour lay over (which goes a lot slower than one might hope), and again on the two hour plane ride to Rome. Unfortunately I wasn’t able to sight see, since my program through Arcadia University was there to pick me up, along with other people arriving from their own planes.

For the moment, I write and listen to avoid the claws of sleep that drag my eyelids down and gently whispers “just lay down for a moment, this exhaustion can slip right off you like rain off a waxed car.” But I refuse. Jet lag is the worst part of the transition, and is easily avoided by falling asleep at nighttime here, not the nighttime that my body tells me. Shhhhhh, Andrew’s internal timeclock, you’re being too loud.

Che pittoresca! (How picturesque!)

 

Manar

It’s like the “Sisterhood of the Travelling Pants,” only with people of all genders, and pants aren’t a major player. I’m talking about the companionship of travelers, whether they’re local or international. Let me lay it out for you: it’s like going to a new school or away to college, and everyone is a little bit nervous, resulting in more open interactions (no one can act superior or aloof, since you’re all in the same boat. Or plane, for that matter).

The smoking booths we both found funny :)

On the plane from Chicago to Frankfurt, I met Manar, a 38 year old Palestinian woman who had spent six years studying to be a Pediatrician in Italy, and who was returning to Italy to renew her license after several years of travel. She speaks four languages, including Hebrew, Arabic, Italian, and English. You can’t make this stuff up.

So, for the three hours of lay over that she shared with my five, we wandered around the Frankfurt airport—which couldn’t be more bland—talking about whatever. We made fun of the German accents, marveled at the “Camel Smoking Stations,” and she even showed me her pictures from trips throughout Italy, offering pointers on places to visit. I know that I haven’t even reached my final destination, but for some reason I feel like I already made it.

Beginner’s Luck

That’s what I have, apparently. And although I am affronted by the notion that I am a beginner (I’m not some country boy stepping onto a plane for the first time going “golly gee, you think this thing can fly?”) I will take any luck that I can get.

A Plane

It started when my terminal, randomly separate from all of the other international airlines, was the same as my Dad’s, who had a separate flight out from O’Hare at the same time. Score one for Andrew. Then the stakes rose as my luck did. My extra cheap ticket (compliments of statravel.com) only accounted for one bag, meaning that the second I had packed would cost an extra $70. Oh no-es!

Thankfully, I was blessed by both a faulty credit card machine and a magnanimous airline employee who discreetly waved me through. Score 70 for Andrew! Now I sit in the airport with very little to do, hoping that my ten hour flight feels more like a ten minute flight, so I can get this adventure going.

Italy: I leave in HOW many hours?!

Because I am blessed with the incredible ability to put off worrying about something pressing (in this case packing for my semester long excursion into Perugia, Italy), I started packing within 24 hours of my departure. What I didn’t realize is that while I need to pack, it is such an overwhelming task that I often invent a number of minor tasks that I somehow justify in my mind as being relevant, in order to put off the hard decisions (do I need an electric razor as well as a regular one in Italy?) These events are chronicled below.

My room, as it stands now.

1. Went the the gym, got my buff on

2. Showered

3. Got a haircut

4. Listened to my mother telling me I need to pack

5. Napped

6. Woke up to my mother telling me to pack

7. Watched tonight’s episode of Modern Family

8. Wrote a blog

9. Cut my fingernails

10. Learned that my mother has become so disheartened by my willy-nilly lollygagging that she has started packing without me

It seems I must now throw in the towel, so my next post will most likely come from abroad. Ciao for now! (One last question, should I bring floss? Yes, I should use it, no I probably won’t. But I could buy some there. But it’d be more expensive…GAHHH!)