Thursday, May 24, 2012

Day 1: Arrival

Once upon a time there was a young girl who desperately wanted to go to Italy. She became passionate about Renaissance Art in middle school, delved deeper into Italian pre- and post-unification in AP European History, and fell in love with the language at UNC.

Yep, that's me. For those of my friends who didn't know, and who haven't been checking my Facebook statuses (although it would be weird for you to be reading this if you didn't at least stay mildly attuned to my life via social media [not judging {just seems a little odd}]), I am an Italophile. I've known all my life that I would travel to Italy, and not just for a week or two, but stay.

So, to fulfill this lifelong desire to absorb everything Italian, I'm living for four weeks in Florence while I study at an American school, the Instituto Lorenzo de Medici. I'll be taking two classes, OH! and doing research for my super cool senior honors thesis, AND working on my law review article. The last part of that is just another tidbit of my summer. That has absolutely nothing to do with Italy. Just kind of nerded out there.

My thesis is focusing on the media presentation of the people/personalities/characters involved in the Amanda Knox trial— here it's the Meredith Kercher case—in the Italian media vs. the American media. Maybe even UK too— we'll have to see what kind of document collection I can get going.

Anyway, I've finally arrived in my beautiful homestay. I love my room. It doesn't match really at all-- the style is super modern, the furniture is mismatched, but I have my own bathroom, own door to the garden and there's a private kitchen for students and free WiFi. Like I said: perfect.

My room, bed and luggage thingy (headboard pillow moved to the side).
The owner of the house/flat is a 64-year-old Italian woman named Anastasia who barely speaks any English. She has one son who is an adult with two small children. I found out today he likes to run marathons. He's completed the NY marathon and is running one in Berlin this year. She suggested we run together. I tried to explain (extremely poorly) that I am was training to run a half-marathon. I didn't know the verb for "to train" though so it probably sounded something like "I ancdiasocnawle;nfakldsn half marathon."

I really am looking forward to living here though. It's totally central in Florence. I'm on a street that is relatively near the Arno and super near the Duomo and I couldn't be more thrilled. There's a little park just a block away that is very nice too— I expect to read there often.

Favorite piece of furniture in the room.

I had a few goals for today, shopping wise. I wanted to buy two notebooks— one to keep a personal journal and the other a small little book for words/phrases/thoughts in Italian. I got a matching pair of sketchbooks so that I could also doodle/sketch/paste in things that I found interesting. I think I'll poetically title them Italia and Italiano (obviously this is meant to be ironic, because neither of those titles are especially poetic). One for the country and one for the language. More on that in a bit.

I wanted to buy a Longchamp Le Pliage large tote with long handles in Munich (where my overseas flight landed). I had heard from Stephanie and from the internet when I googled it that Longchamp is very cheap in European airports compared to American prices. Totes right (pun— get it?). I paid about 40% less for a bag I've wanted for a long time. I got this hazel color— in a weird way it matches my eyes. I never thought I'd accessorize to that extreme. But y'all know me.

So Longchamp check, notebooks check (but to be explained), I also needed to get body wash, a power converter and a hair dryer. Three things that I had forgotten to get at the airport(s) because I was am exhausted and I had a bit of a mix up with my first flight which sent me into a little bit of a tizzy.

I dilligently packed my suitcases the day before my trip. I had planned to pack earlier and in fact had begun to pack much earlier, but I was growing anxious about the trip, so instead of easing my anxiety by preparing, I avoided the task entirely. I wound up tremendously overpacking. Overpacking to the point where even though I took a lot of things out of my suitcase, I still have enough to clothe all 60 of the girls attending LdM from UNC. My checked bag weighs about 50 pounds with room to spare (no weight to spare though) and my two checked bags are fairly full. I'm hoping to use up some of the toiletries I brought here.

Anyway, on my express flight to Philadelphia this morning they made me check my carry on bag that had allllll my back up clothing/jewelry/make up in it in the event that my large bag got lost. Let me say that the checking of this bag had nothing to do with me and everything to do with the fact that there was not enough room in the overhead bins, which, once I boarded, realized was a lie. I saw places I could have stored my things. But it was too late.

My boarding passes were also in the newly checked bag. Luckily, my passport etc. was in my backpack with me, but this meant getting tickets reissued in Philly, and by the time I got to Munich my head was spinning and I was exhausted.

I took a breakneck taxi ride to the house and settled in to my room. Which is perfect; did I mention that? Then realized that my computer was about to die because I had failed to purchase the power converter. I also realized that I had absolutely nothing to wash my body with and didn't want to take half of a shower. So I ditched the high heeled boots I flew in, pulled on my sandals, packed up the new Longchamp and hit the streets of Florence.

Now something that you all should know if you ever decided to travel to Italy (which you should—I've only been here six hours and I'm pretty much in love) is that all the stores in the city center are specialty shops. There aren't really any supermarkets in the way that Americans think of them. There's the pharmacy which sells exclusively pills/make up etc., there's the pastry/gelato shops, the coffee bars and the cafes. I bought my two little notebooks at a store that sells exclusively sketchbooks and sketching materials.

There are shops called "supermercati" which are miniature versions of what we might think of a grocery store, but the main attraction here is prepackaged foods. People generally don't buy things that need to be fresh (produce, meat etc.) from these stores. However, after asking at a pharmacy in my broken Italian, I figured out that this is where I was supposed to go. Now because not many Americans/foreign visitors are looking to buy prepackaged Italian food for their hotel rooms, I found that the supermercati clerks do not really speak English. So I was thrown right into the language on day one. I guess that's what I wanted— full immersion. But with my jet lagged, fried brain I struggled to come up with a descriptor for "power converter." Sitting here now I definitely could, but that's because I used my secret weapon.

I had packed in my bag my "pocket" Oxford Italian dictionary. There is absolutely nothing pocket-sized about it, unless you were 12 feet tall and sized proportionally. I looked up the word for "plug"— which is "spina" by the way if you ever need it in Italy— and attempted to ask for help at 2 supermercati to no avail. They understood me, which was a small victory, but they didn't have American converters. Luckily at the first two they spoke Englitalian to the point where we could figure it out.

At the third store, I was on my own. The cashier didn't speak a word of English. But I successfully asked for what I needed, and was helped and bought my plug. I've done well for today.

During my adventure to find the items I needed— oh, I also got the body wash but didn't pick up a hair dryer. Bleh.— I wandered into the Piazza del Duomo. I got to see the Duomo up close. It is monstrous. I couldn't believe how big it is. And the Ghiberti doors. I have loved learning about the work of Lorenzo Ghiberti and the casting of the gilded Doors to Paradise that grace the baptistery of the Duomo. I seriously could not believe that on my first day in Florence I crossed something off of my bucket list of famous art works. Holy cow.

I'm exhausted now, but I just had an AMAZING dinner. AND my house mother is doing the dishes— she wouldn't let us help. Is this heaven?

We had meatballs, and risotto with zucchini, garlic and olive oil. Fresh salad and bread as well. I think I'm reallllly going to like it here.

The Italian words I learned today:

Spina — Plug
Universale — Universal (cognate, but it still counts)
Train — Allenare

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