Monday, May 23, 2011

Day Eight

The days of writing long, detailed posts may have come to a close. I know I'll want to write about what exactly happened the last two days, but it'll have to be when I have more time. Today we had no time. Tomorrow I may have more!
Quote from Daniel Barnett: "Man. I'm dead as a whale." 
He actually said 'dead as well,' but he sounded like a hick when he said it. 
We laughed a lot.

Sunday, May 22, 2011

Day Seven

No time to write tonight. 
We got back to our room at 11:30 when we usually get here around 10 or 10:30, so I'm exhausted and I need to sleep so I can be functional tomorrow for our Florence scavenger hunt. I'll edit this update and add more details, but here's a quick review of the day: Church, shopping, and a piano concert.
The end.
More later.

Saturday, May 21, 2011

Day Six: ... all creativity in post titles has flown out the window

I. Am. So. Tired.
All the time.
That's a lie. When there are exciting things going on (i.e. our trip to the market and subsequent picnic), I can focus and stay awake without a problem.  But man, give me ten minutes of down time and I'm ready for a nap. It really stinks that we don't live with everyone in the villa, cause none of our stuff is over there so when we have free time, none of us have a bed to take a nap in or our computer to play on. Lindsey and I started taking our computers with us in the mornings, but it's been way too much of a hassle to keep track of.
Today we had an exhilarating experience in the Saturday market here in Scandicci. Because we live in a sort of suburb of Florence, we get to take part in some small-scale things that you wouldn't have easy access to in the city. This market was huge to us, but nothing compared to the everyday markets in Florence. Vendors come early Saturday morning to set up in a parking lot just a few blocks down from the main square. There's hot food like you would see at a fairground (Italian style of course), plenty of fresh produce stalls, clothing, jewelry, cookware; you name it, there was a stall for it.  Mona, our Italian teacher and the wife of Robbie (the director) used our outing today as part of an Italian assignment in which we were supposed to interact with various Italians in practical situations. We were each given 2 Euros and a little slip of paper with a specific food on it, of which we had to buy 2 Euros worth and bring back to the meeting place where we would combine everything and have a picnic. I got assigned black olives, and the little group I walked around with located them really quickly. I was surprised by my own bravery in talking with the man at the stall, and a little proud that I asked for and got what I needed and was polite and understandable the entire time. At least I'm pretty sure I was. After the other 3 people in my group found what they were looking for, we walked and shopped for about an hour til we met back at the park to have our picnic. I bought a pretty shirt with roses on it and a surprise for my mom and/or sister. 
The picnic we helped create was a HUGE success. I ate a little of everything, and fell in love with almost everything I tried. Especially the fresh mozzarella with cherry tomatoes and coarse Italian bread. The produce here is almost indescribable; it tastes sort of pure, and it's unlike anything I've had in the states. Normally I am not an olive, cherry, pear, or raw tomato fan, but today I had good-sized servings of all and LOVED every bite! Basically I'm in love with Italian cuisine and should probably marry it.
After the picnic, a group of girls and I went to the big Co-op two tram stops down from us and we shopped for and found several necessities that we had been lacking. After that, we came back and had our first Kinesiology class, and it made me excited to start running again while I'm here. Our teacher Coach Burks is pretty chill about everything, so I'm not worried about what grade I'm going to make in the classes he teaches. Really I'm not worried about any classes except my Biology. It's gonna be pretty rough.
When we got done with Kinesiology, we all went to the Scandicci square and ate at a trendy little shop called La Bottega. In Spanish, "bodega" means "wine cellar" so I'm thinking the name has some kind of wine connotation, but I can't be sure.  We had these great wrap-type things called Piadinas. It was like a Subway line where you pick what you want from behind the glass, only everything was way better. My wrap had this amazing flour tortilla (almost as good as Ted's but not as thick) and was filled with grilled chicken, some garlic tomato sauce, and grilled zucchini and artichokes. It was AMAZING. Along with it we had fresh cut french fries and water. My friend Keeley and I shared a white nutella crepe for dessert. Let me just say that white nutella may be the most amazing invention since pasta. That's an exaggeration, but really. THIS FOOD IS SO GOOD. I hope my Conditioning Activities class (aka running) will help me keep the pounds off my thighs. Anyway, after that, we came back to the Bible school early so we could talk to families and boyfriends. right now I'm so exhausted I could faint. But I need to remember all this later, so I'm trying to be thorough.

Now for pictures:

On the way down the hill to the Scandicci market!

Triumphant picture after we finally found Allison's little espresso cups she got assigned! From left: Sam, me, Allison

Matt and Maggie, the other members of the group

Tuckered out after our morning of shopping and speaking Italian

Our group! From left: Matt, Maggie, Allison, me


On the tram to the Co-op

At La Bottega

Me and Keeley with our crepe! Hooray!

Friday, May 20, 2011

Day Five: The importance of group dynamics

We've had a lot of issues with gossip lately. I'm trying (not as hard as I would like) to keep myself from being involved in such discussions, or at least  not contribute if I do happen to get involved.  I think it's surprising that I'm just now beginning to fully understand what it means to compromise my faith for the sake of fitting in; this is such a middle school youth group type of topic that it leads me to think I either retained very little of what I learned in youth group, or my religious education was seriously lacking. *Sinful* sounds so much harsher when I see it on the screen, but once I start thinking about it, I can't ignore the fact that gossip is a sin.  I think it's is one of the sins that people look past way too often, and it's made all the more difficult by the devil, who helps us trick ourselves into thinking that it's not that bad. I am praying for strength to be different even if it means alienating some of my new friends.
Today we had a lot of down time. We learned the art of falconry at a farm on the outskirts of Scandicci, and that took all morning.  We had a normal lunch and then all of us took naps til the movie marathon about the Medici family and the history of the Renaissance. It was really interesting, but I think the lack of something to do at every second of the day sapped some of our energy and we were all falling asleep. When I started to nod, I just acted like I was stretching my neck from all the hair-whipping I did last night at our little dance party. Everything about this trip is laid-back and low-stress. It's like the best vacation I've ever been to. I think maybe that's why the classes feel so out of place.
It's 11:45 here now, so I'm going to bed.
Buona notte!

Thursday, May 19, 2011

Day Four: Love your enemies

I am bursting with gratitude that I've been given this opportunity; it just keeps getting better! I am so exhausted at the end of every day, but filled with a sense of worth. Peru was a huge step in opening my eyes to the world, but Italy has busted down the floodgates and I can't get enough of all the new culture and new friends and new places I'm experiencing.  I love that I can see relationships developing and things getting less awkward among the members of our group, and I can't wait to find out how close we get by the end of the semester. It's only our fourth day here and it already feels like home. I was homesick a lot in Peru, and as much as I grew to love our group and the work that we were doing... being here is so much more FUN. Ramona and Robbie are absolutely phenomenal to work with, and the Burks (sponsors/professors from Searcy who live with us at the villa) are starting to branch outside their comfort zone and really get to know us. 
We spent the evening at a tournament with students at the local high school and members of the office of the mayor. We had white shirts, the students had green, and the cabinet members wore red; in true cheesy American style, we took a huge group picture in which we looked like the Italian flag. There were games of soccer, volleyball and basketball all going on at the same time, and the only sport we were really good at was basketball. Typical. We are so American it's almost painful! I met several extremely nice Italian kids from the high school and although it was a challenge to communicate, I think I and a couple of others made several good connections. Eliza, Kiara, Sarah, Julia, Matia, Francesco, and Roberto were a few Italians who really made an impression. All of us had SO much fun dancing, to both Italian and American songs. There are apparently a lot of Italian songs that have some fun, innocuous group choreography that goes with them, cause all the Italians seemed to know the dances. They obligingly taught us the steps on one of the open volleyball courts, and we were only too eager to learn! I was especially glad for this spur-of-the-moment activity because clearly sports are not my forte.  Dancing, however, is another matter entirely.  We danced for at least 2 hours. No lie. We taught them the Cha-Cha Slide and Whip yo Hair and Bye Bye Bye, but those were the only appropriate songs to which we knew any movements.  After the game playing and dancing was over, we all trekked into the cafeteria of the church/activity/youth center and had a huge buffet spread out over several tables with enough food for a small army.  I tried so many things that I don't even know the name of. My favorites, of course, were the homemade pizzas and pasta. There were also some really good pastry things that had various fillings such as pesto, pimiento, and chicken liver. By the time we left I was too full to even walk, so I waddled back to the Bible school.  On the way there we encountered a large wall with a locked gate that we needed to get over. After a few moments of indecision, the boys climbed over like monkeys and then helped us girls.  So now I feel like I've accomplished something brave and crazy, namely hopping a fence in Europe. I have the skin rubbed off my thighs where the top of the concrete scraped them to prove it.
I forgot to mention we started classes today. Not much to say there, but I am reeeeaaaallly dreading the workload that my Biology class is going to be. Also, I'm going to have to start making use of the CAPPUCINO MACHINE we have in our villa! Surprisingly, I actually really like Italian cappucinos. I've never had one in the states that I liked, but that might be because they never put in enough sugar to sate my need for it.
I cannot wait to see how the rest of this semester plays out! My life is so blessed.
Til tomorrow!
P.S. The title of this post comes from an incidence in which my friendships with several of the boys on this trip were strengthened.  We made a treacherous trip (two bus stops and a tram ride) to the Co-op (basically Walmart) to get lotion, pens, and various other necessities. They were constantly being mean to me so I started calling them my enemies and being SUPER nice to them. I'm sure our interactions seem extremely strange to those around us, but we couldn't care less. I love this group!!

Wednesday, May 18, 2011

Day Three: Florence + Molly = Love

Today has been beautiful. I don't have much time to post about today but I will say that our first trip to Florence could not have been better. Gorgeous weather, new friends, incredible places and awe-inspiring vistas. I'll post pictures later cause the internet here shuts off at 11 so we can get good sleep. I miss everyone but I can't imagine being happier anywhere but here. I LOVE ITALY!!! And it hasn't even fully set in that I'm here!! It'll only get better. <3



Allison and I on the train to FLORENCE for the first time!

The Medici chapel

Ethan and Sara in one of many piazzas

Sara and I in front of the Duomo, or church of St. Mary of the Flower(Santa Maria de la Fiore). It's probably the most distinguishable marker on the landscape of Florence. You can tell it's Florence when you can see the dome! 

Daniel on a crowded street

The facade of the Duomo. Most people thing it's called the Duomo because it sounds like dome, but Duomo actually means house of God, or a religious meeting place. These decorations weren't completed til the 1800's, so most of what you see is relatively new.

Another view of Brunelleschi's dome (The duomo). He completed it in a very short amount of time due to his genius in architecture.

This is a picture of the inside of the workshop in which all the repairs of the marblework on the Duomo have been conducted. Some people say there have been so many repairs and replacement of pieces of marble that the facade doesn't have any of it's original pieces!

Dante's church. Dante as in Dante's Inferno. We talked about the two loves of his life, Beatrice and Gemma.

Crazy man performing selections from Dante's Inferno outside the Museum of Dante.

A beautiful piazza. I think this was in the Piazza de la Repubblica.

The David used to stand in front of this building!

We climbed up SO FAR and got to see some really incredible vistas of the layout of the city from the rose gardens that are across the Arno River and outside the old walls of the city.

Maggie, Allison and I in front of Florence! (Firenze in Italian.)

MORE steps. We were almost dead by this point in time.

Cemetery of the church of San Miniato, a martyr who was likely beheaded in Florence's amphitheatre before the time of the Edict of Toleration, so sometime in the 4th century.

A fresco on the wall of the church

Me and Kristy outside San Miniato

Me and Kyle! He's our assistant director/part-time tour guide. And he's hilarious!

View of the Arno River from the Ponte Veccio. It's a huge partially covered bridge with beautiful stucco arches that's lined with jewelry vendors.

Me and Sara on the Ponte Veccio

Jewelry stores on the Ponte Veccio

We touched the pig, which means we'll come back to Italy someday!

Starting the Journey: Day Two

It is still not real that I'm even in Italy. I must be either totally numb to it because I'm still in shock, or already accustomed to adapting to foreign situations. Robbie Shackelford, our program director, says that females are more open to travel than males; we have 22 girls in our group and only 14 boys. The dynamic is really chill, though, because there are only 6 girls and 5 guys who aren't in a relationship with someone back home (or in one case, someone on the trip).  So the crazy, hormonal, I-want-to-flirt-with-everyone-in-sight attitude that I was afraid of hasn't really been an issue at all. I'm both impressed and relieved by this fact. Our days here are extremely laid back, and so far it's just been like hanging out with family.  We eat together in the too-small dining room where we have no choice but to socialize because of the close proximity to each other in which we find ourselves.  The atmosphere is, for lack of a better term, European.  We have two little Italian ladies who cook our meals and do our laundry (Paola and Leda), but the villa is never short of helping hands. Tonight we divided up the meal cleanup, maintenance, and other duties students have the opportunity to help out with, and I signed up for meal cleanup and running the "store" at the villa during tea time.  Although our schedule the past couple of days has been fluid, we're told that eventually we will have class time in the mornings til lunch, which happens at about 1 or 1:30, and then some days we'll have our activity (Kinesiology) classes--i.e. volleyball/pickleball, conditioning exercises, and wellness.  All our class schedules are different, though, based on our needs. The only thing we have in common is our Bible class (Christian Home) and a Humanities course taught by Robbie almost exclusively at sites other than the villa, aka out of the classroom.  He believes that classwork should be a springboard to experiential learning; I think we're all excited to benefit from his wisdom and have the opportunity to take in new things.  Mealtimes have specific etiquette that we're expected to follow, such as eating our pasta first, then putting the plate on top of the pasta bowl and eating our meat and vegetables.  All the meals have been in that format; pasta is served first and handed to us by Leda, and then we sit at the table and serve ourselves meat, some kind of vegetable, and a salad.  There's also a huge supply of bread, a bowl of fruit, and nutella available at every meal. They make some funny kind of ranch dressing for the salad, but I prefer to dress mine the Italian way, with oil, vinegar, salt, and pepper, also provided at our tables.  When Mona (Robbie's wife) says "Buon appetito" we have to say "Grazie altrettanto!" and then we dig in. All their food is delivered fresh daily (or every couple of days), including handmade pasta, bread, fresh meat, eggs, milk, and cheese. It's rather medieval, and I love that everything is pure and not processed; it comes straight from the farms in and around Scandicci. We walked around the city of Scandicci today, and stopped at a 13th century castle to sample hors d'oeouvres from a company called "Slow Foods." Their idea is to do everything possible to be opposite from fast food. They buy their products straight from the producers, just like we do at the villa. We had salami and coarse bread, Italian omelettes, chicken liver pate, and other cool Italian foods (including their version of apple pie, which needless to say was WAY better than my attempt). We're learning little bits of Italian every day, but it makes me anxious to start Italian classes because I love languages so much and it makes me nervous to not know how to say anything to anyone. Tomorrow we take a walk around Florence. It is gonna be intense.
Now for pictures: