Tuesday, December 13, 2011

Uno fine è un inizio.

You always think you have all the time in the world to do what you have to, to say what you need to, and to see the things you want to. I am no different and now that I am looking at the last and final week of my life in the AHA Macerata program, I am a little jostled that it all went by so fast. The last few weeks have flown by the fastest, constantly marked by the countdown we’ve all kept, not thinking it actually had the ability to speed time up.

Thanksgiving week was when the whirlwind started and my blogging stopped, something I wish hadn’t happened. That was the week we took our program trip to Firenze, one of my absolute favorite cities. I saw some amazing things such as “The David” and “La Primavera,” all with Filaberto’s expert knowledge given to us through what we call, “Filaberto Radio.” (He has a small headset he talks into, connecting to our headphones. Yes, we are those tourists.) After the rest of the group left on Friday, I stayed behind with Mary and her parents to continue loving the beautiful city. I am so grateful they let me stay with them; the hotel made Mary and I feel as if we were out of place royalty, complete with TV news channels in English.

Firenze will always be one of my favorite cities in Italy, or the world for that matter. I am not what you would call a “seasoned traveler”, but I think it is a good judgment call. Of course the architecture of the city is incredible; Brunelleschi’s Duomo is a Renaissance masterpiece. The shopping in Florence is also something any girl (and most guys) would probably swoon over. The over-abundance of leather purses makes my heart skip a beat and the game of lowering every vendors prices makes for a very enjoyable couple of hours. But the architecture, art, and shopping are only part of what makes Firenze beautiful. The mere atmosphere of the city, the perfect example of laid-back, generous European attitude, is palpable.

The first time I was there in August with my Mom and Aunt, I felt as if it was the most romantic city I had ever seen. I fell in love with the city then, and my anticipation and expectations when I went back were not disappointed. Now, after the second time, I feel as if there is a much deeper familial heart in the city than I hadn’t really seen before. After the museums close, while the Italian families are out taking their passagiata, the real feel for the city is seen and I love it. Street performers, merry-go-round rides, and the smell of Florentine food makes the city picturesque. I truly enjoyed my trip to Florence, and cannot wait to go back again someday.

After Florence, I was home for about thirty hours, just long enough to attend one day of classes (Monday). The next day, Tuesday, we left once again, bright and early, for Roma. My first experience with Rome was not a bad one at all. It was my first impression of Italy in August when I was with my Mom and Aunt and part of me thinks I expected way too much from the city. At the time, I thought I was arriving in the heart of Italy, the best example of Italian culture, food, and history. I was shocked by the amount of tourists (I was that naïve) and the over one hundred degree temperatures did not help. I loved Rome when I was there in August, but it was definitely a culture shock I was not ready for. I found my amazing food and discovered the ancient history though and loved it all.

I returned to Rome the last week in November and the weather was absolutely perfect. December first I was running around in a sweatshirt, something very unusual for someone who grew up in Northwest Indiana. Of course, every inch of the city was explained by Filaberto, something I will definitely miss once I leave here. Going to museums and into churches will never be the same; how will I know what I am looking at!? He took us on the usual, planned excursions to the Coliseum, Roman ruins, major government buildings, Trevi Fountain, the Vatican, and the Pantheon. The info overload filled my small art-history journal as we all tried to remember every bit of information that should be remembered. The thing we all love most about Filaberto came after the mandatory tours, when he would walk all over the city with us, showing us the important things we could not fit into a full three days. Something as simple as a church where a man from Civitanova is buried (Filaberto’s hometown) to the house where the interim Prime Minister lives was viewed on our night tour. It wasn’t purely educational though; we stopped to admire the row of designer stories including my favorite, Jimmy Choo. The small group that went on this night tour appreciated it more than words can say, despite our aching feet and our growling stomachs.

The weekend following Rome was not exactly what I had planned for one of my last weekend’s in Macerata. Having caught some kind of virus, I spent the weekend staying hydrated, knitting, watching movies, and sleeping. It was at that point that I was the most homesick, wanting nothing but an English speaking doctor and my Mom’s usual sick-child pampering. I ended up going to an Italian doctor Monday morning, was put on some meds, and quickly starting feeling better.

Luckily, I felt better just in time for a friend of mine from home, Dom, to get here. She arrived on Wednesday, slightly jet-lagged but thrilled to be in Italy. Thursday we spent the day in Macerata, doing some shopping in the town, enjoying the Christmas market set up in the city center, and eating Maga Cacao hot chocolate. The next morning, Friday, was an early one for us as Mary, Dom, and I met Scott at the bus station. We had decided to go to a town a few hours south of here, called L’Aquila.

I think I should preface the L’Aquila weekend description with the fact that we had no idea what we were getting ourselves into, the four of us just wanted to go somewhere, explore something, and have a good time. That being said, L’Aquila was not a disappointment.

Almost three years ago, L’Aquila was hit with an earthquake that registered a 5.8, a monster that shook most of central Italy. This was not a quake only felt in L’Aquila, but rather its epicenter was almost directly below the actual city. Needless to say, there was a lot of damage. This damage is still visible today: the city center is basically held together with scaffolding, metal and wooden beams, and prayers. Almost every store front has been abandoned and most homes lay empty. It sounds depressing, I know. But in all honesty, it wasn’t! It was a strange feeling to witness so much destruction, so much peace, and so much beauty in one place. It was like a ghost town in some parts of the town, eerie to walk through. In the city center though, small Natale shops were set up as well as a few Christmas trees. According to the people we met, this was the first year in three years they have put a Christmas tree up. It was amazing. They hung lights all through the main street, lighting up the street at night. The only phrase we could use to describe the overall town was a “beautiful tragedy.” It was obviously a gorgeous and romantic city at one time, but now, only emptiness with the hope that things will be fixed some day.

The worse part about what we saw was a construction fence outside of a building. Covering the metal grid were keys of all different shapes, some newer, some old. Attached to the fence was a sign stating these were all the keys to peoples’ homes, keys that are now useless. It was heartbreaking to think about; in a matter of minutes, the entire center became unlivable for hundreds of people. Makes me incredibly grateful for everything I have…

Another amazing thing about L’Aquila was the hospitality we encountered while we were there! From the moment we got off the bus until the moment we got back on, everyone was nothing but generous with us! Our first interaction was while we were trying to find a city bus to get into town. We walked into a small store and asked the man working there where the closest bus stop was. Not only did he explain it to us, but he walked us there and then walked us to where we could buy our tickets. That bit of kindness was more than we expected and we could not get over his friendly attitude.

Our second interaction was at the hotel we were staying at, Hotel la Compagnia Del Traveler. The moment we walked in, the man behind the counter (who we later found out was the owner) looked at us asking, “Scott?” He showed us to our giant room, in a building separate from the main lodge. Our room, decorated Americani, was huge, plenty of space and beds for all four of us, accommodations usually only found in hostels. We could not help but to compare where were staying to hostels, as that is our usual. From the heated floors to the “welcome drink” we were given, we were quite surprised with the amazing hotel Kevin (a boy in our program) had gotten us.

That night, we headed down to the lobby to have a drink before deciding what to do for the night. While we were sitting around chatting, a server brought out a giant tray of food as part of our apperativo. Gourmet food for free! We just continued chatting, the four of us talking and laughing. The hours passed by and soon a pizza appeared before us! We could not believe it. This kind of unexpected hospitality went on for the rest of the weekend: eggs and bacon for breakfast and extra desserts with our dinner. We could not thank the owner enough, but he always just smiled and brushed it off as nothing. He asked when we were leaving, and immediately offered to drive us to the bus stop in the morning so we did not have to take a cab!

I have discovered quite a few business practice differences between the typical United States business and the typical business here. This experience though, outlined and highlighted it right in front of me. Could you imagine if a hotel had that kind of hospitality in the States!? What would people think of it? Would they trust a ride from a stranger? Even with the free food, we questioned what the catch was. In the end there was no catch and no surprises, only good, Italian hospitality.

Now I’m sitting in AHA, avoiding studying, and blogging my time away. Having woken up to sleeping-me reviewing Italian verb conjugation, I’ve an early morning today. 4:30 is early, even for a student’s standards, but thoughts of packing, cleaning, home, good-byes, and Italian verbs filled my head and I guess sleep just wasn’t in the cards for me.

The Italian language final was this morning and now that it is complete, only a few more until the semester is over. This brings two firsts for me: today was the first time I used the entire allotted time for a final (maybe not a good sign) and it is also the first time I was not thrilled about classes being over. I am thrilled to come home, to see everyone, and to be back in my own bed with my pillow pet; the thought of leaving, though, saddens me. Luckily, the combination of my usual packing-stress with all the cleaning we have to tackle should keep me pretty distracted until I am on the plane. At that point, I think it’ll be too late to skip the flight and the apartment will be empty, so squatting won’t be too comfortable. The point is: in 5.6 short days, I will be home. I am excited; I have missed home for way too long and I can’t wait to see everyone that makes up my home.

I will be embracing every single last minute here though, eating as much gelato and pasta as possible, breathing in the Adriatic air, and giving out more hugs than necessary.

Much love, hugs, and kisses,
See you in 6 days,

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