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Archive for November, 2008

This is it…my last blog entry.  Savor every word, because this is all you’re getting from me.  I know you will all miss my overly detailed accounts of my experiences in Firenze and abroad, but I will make it up to you…that’s a promise.

Allora…where do I begin?  How can I possibly sum up the last 3 ½ months of my life?  It frustrates me just thinking about trying to convey this experience to people back home when asked, “Soo…how was Florence?!?!” 

The directors at my school handed out packets on “Reverse Culture Shock” a few days ago which talk about what to expect upon returning back to the states, emotionally, physically, socially, etc., etc.  Part of the packet that addresses the depression that one may sometimes feel as a result of having to leave the fairy tale that they’ve called “life” for the last few months.  It is suggested that we come up with 2-3 minute “commercials” where the most exciting/important events are highlighted to give our families/friends a concise version of what this semester was like for us (and to avoid being obnoxious and having our families disown us).  My initial thought upon first reading this was, “Crap…I can barely condense my weekends into 2-3 minute ‘commercials’, how the heck am I supposed to condense 3 ½ amazing months down to that?!?!”  But for all of your sake, I will try my best.  Feel free to tell me to “Quit talking about ‘how they do things in Italy’!!”  I promise I won’t be offended.

Now that finals are over, I get to spend my last two days in Firenze just soaking it all up.  Tonight, I am going to the Thanksgiving dinner that my school puts on for all the students—I’m excited, but I know it won’t be like Thanksgiving at home.  Oh well, I will have plenty more American Thanksgivings, but this may be the only Italian Turkey Day I get to experience (also partly due to the fact that the Italians don’t celebrate this holiday…I know, it came as a surprise to me, too.  I could’ve sworn that Plymouth Rock was in Italy and that Squanto was Italian).   

It’s going to be difficult to say my goodbyes on Saturday and I have a feeling that there will be some tears (I realize this may come as a surprise to my family…but yes, I cry).  I have my handwritten card all ready to go (and edited by my Italian teacher) to give to Franca come Saturday morning when I have to say goodbye to the woman who has been family to me for the last few months.  It was hard enough having to say goodbye to her extended family last Sunday after our second visit to her house in Chianti…and I haven’t known them for very long!

Although in the scheme of life, 3 ½ months is similar to a grain of sand on the beach, I think I have changed more in this amount of time than in my whole 21 years of life combined.  Not only has this experience taught me how to make my own decisions based on what I feel is best, it has also completely changed my outlook on life.  Thinking back to my days in Lido di Camaiore, I remembered how terrified I was to do something as simple as order a cup of coffee in Italian.  Now, although I am nowhere near fluency, I’ve been told on several occasions by locals that I speak very well for someone who is just starting out (not to toot my own horn but, “toot, toot”).  I’ve even been able to strike up conversation in Italian with strangers!  I mean, I rarely even do that in America, where I am fluent in the language!

The friends I’ve made here, the people that I’ve met, and the family that I’ve been fortunate enough to spend time with, have together made this a life-altering chapter in my life.  I will never forget my adventures in Italy and abroad, never forget the bonds I’ve built, and the relationships I’ve had the pleasure of maintaining.  I’ve learned that the more afraid of something I am, the more necessary it is for me to do it.  If you don’t put yourself out there and take some risks in life, you won’t ever get anything back and instead, you’ll forever wonder what “would’ve happened” if you’d done things differently.   I could go on and on, but suffice it to say that I’m beyond content with what I am walking away with from this place.  I may be a little softer, my clothes may fit me a wee-bit tighter, but I wouldn’t trade any part of these last 3 ½ months for anything.  I’m walking away with a new outlook on life, a new appreciation for lingering over a good meal with good people, a new love and loyalty to my family, and a newfound confidence that I never saw coming.  I’d say my work here is done.

Happy Thanksgiving and see you all soon—eat some turkey for me!  Thanks to everyone who has been keeping up with this blog!  Ciao ciao!

 

Con Affetto,

Katharine

 

 

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Well, my European travels have officially ended (for now, at least).  The next time I get on a plane it will be to go home to Los Angeles!  Can you believe that 3 1/2 months is almost over?!?  I can’t…

Yesterday afternoon, I arrived home from another fantastic weekend in Greece visiting my family.  The second time around was quite different from my first visit.  Since my mom and I got in all the obligatory sightseeing when we went in September, I was able to relax and spend time getting to know my family better.  I don’t even really have any pictures to show from this weekend (incredible, I know).  Here are a few of the pictures I did take of my little cousins…

 

(From left to right) Nicole, me, and Katerina

(From left to right) Nicole, me, and Katerina

 

)

Katerina making a goofy face 🙂

 

Mini-me's

Mini-me's

It is amazing how close I feel to these little girls even though we don’t speak the same language.  Nicole (the older one) is just beginning to learn English in school but communicates with her parents–and everyone besides me–solely in Greek.  One night, when we were all out for coffee, her mom told her to teach me some words in Greek.  Once we’d stepped out of the cafe, she took me by the hand and led me down the sidewalk, pointing at various things, saying what they were in Greek, and waiting for me to repeat them back to her.  In exchange, I’d say the same word in English and wait for her to repeat it back to me.  Once the little one caught on to what we were doing, she of course chimed in, and before I knew it, we had a full-blown linguistics lesson going on!  Occasionally, they would throw in a really difficult word and giggle as I tried to pronounce it in my American accent.  I was really struck by how such an innocent thing could make me feel so much closer to them.  Once again, I realized how far smiles, hugs, and kisses can go when you don’t speak the same language.  

Aside from being able to spend time with my little cousins, I also was able to get to know my (second) cousin Chris and his wife, Villy much better.  I was thrilled to have been able to spend one-on-one time with both of them to talk about everything from school, work, love and family.  I know it sounds a bit corny, but I will truly treasure and always remember these times.  Meeting my “distant” relatives has been a life-changing event for me and has reinforced for me the importance of maintaining family relationships.

Oh yeah…how could I forget?!?  THE FOOD.  Well, we ate a lot.  And I discovered that a love of food (even a bit of an “obsession”, if you will) runs in my family…I’m not mentioning any names (ahem CHRIS ahem), but I was not the only one with food on the brain.  On Sunday, we went over to my Aunt Mary’s house for a late lunch/early dinner and she cooked me all of my favorite Greek foods!  Fasolikia (green beans in a delicious tomato sauce), keftedes (meatballs), spanokopita (spinach pie), and of course, feta cheese, bread, and red wine.  YUM x 100.  I was in heaven.

Saying goodbye again was really difficult–especially since I’m not exactly sure when I will get to see them all again.  I do know however, that we will be good about keeping in touch and I will do whatever it takes to not let too much time pass between visits.  And if all goes well (and by “well”, I mean, if I can afford it), I could be going to the Greek islands this summer!  Non c’é troppo male, eh?

Alas my friends, I am nearing the end of my overseas adventure and I’m filled with many bittersweet feelings.  I can’t wait to see my family and friends at home, but I wish I could stay longer in this beautiful country I’ve been able to call home the last few months.  This is probably my second to last blog posting before you’ll all be able to see me in the flesh!  My last weekend in Firenze will be spent shopping for last-minute souvenirs, one last visit to the Statue of David…and oh yeah, studying for finals 🙂

Arrivederci i miei amici

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Rompin’ around Rome

Another Monday, another blog post.  I’m determined to keep this one short, because I’ve got a billion things on my To-Do List today (such as visit the antique pharmacy near the church of Santa Maria Novella with Franca).  

After four days in Rome, I am EXHAUSTED.  Rome is an amazing city but much bigger than Florence.  Four days was not entirely sufficient to see all I wanted to. We were able to cover a lot of ground, but as a result, we didn’t have much down time and it felt like we were rushed through seeing certain sites that I could’ve spent more time at.  I felt extremely overwhelmed at times trying to take in all of the architecture while simultaneously trying to remember and understand the history behind everything I saw.  Here are just a few of my favorites…

The Vatican was absolutely incredible and setting foot in the Church of Saint Peter was one of the most moving experiences of my life.  The Sistine Chapel was breathtaking, but I especially enjoyed learning about the story behind it…did you know that it only took Michelangelo four years to complete that ginormous work of art?!?  Not only that, but the pope who commissioned him to do it did not want him to put up scaffolding of any sort in the chapel so as to avoid disturbing any masses.  As a result, Michelangelo invented a new type of system to get himself up to the ceiling while remaining out of the way of church-goers.  AND, it was his FIRST TIME painting in the fresco style!  Amazing.

The Roman Colosseum was definitely colossal (sorry, I had to) as was the Roman Forum with all of it’s ancient ruins.  Our tour of the Forum was disrupted, however, by a surprise rain storm!  Still, it was incredible to see remnants of such old structures.  

Our last night in Rome was one of my favorite parts of the entire trip.  My two friends and I went out for dinner in the Jewish Ghetto (not a Los Angeles style ghetto…don’t worry).  Anyway, we decided on a restaurant recommended to us by the front deskman at our hotel and after getting a bit lost and accidently taking the wrong bus, we made it!  Our waiter ended up being awesome and kept bringing us plate after plate of different appetizers and foods that we didn’t order–we got to try fried squash blossoms (a Roman speciality) and the most amazing carbonara I’ve ever eaten in my life…and this was before the dinner we’d actually ordered!  To round out the meal, he brought us a bottle of dessert wine and a plate of different cakes (chocolate was my fav) and then…Prosecco!  Needless to say, we were stuffed and a bit tipsy, but we had a great time!  I’m not the type of person to capitalize on my being a girl, but I have to say, it pays off here in Italy 🙂

I’m off to enjoy my day and rest a bit…along with the amazing memories, I also came away from this weekend with a bit of a cold 😦  I’ve just posted some pictures so be sure to check them out.  Ciao tutti!

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WE DID IT!!!!!  I know this blog is supposed to be about my experiences here in Italy and Europe, but I feel like the 2008 Presidential Election will forever be a part of my memories of being abroad.  As I’m sure you all in the States know very well, emotions were running high yesterday as we anxiously awaited the results of who would be become the next President of the United States.  Thousands of American students were gathering together to wait and watch via satellite TV as the polls came in.  I was not one of them…instead, I said a prayer and went to bed, knowing that I’d wake up in a few hours and our world would be changed forever.  I was right!  At 6:36 AM, I was awakened by the obnoxious ringing of my cell phone telling me I had a new text message.  As I sleepily rolled over, wondering why the hell my alarm clock was going off so early, I picked up my phone and saw that my sister had texted me the words, “OBAMA WON!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!”  Shortly thereafter, I received another text from my mom reaffirming for me that no, I was not dreaming!  Our new President was Barack Obama!!!

As I got ready for school this morning, I heard a knock at my bedroom door and Franca’s sweet voice saying, “Katarina, Obama ha vinto!” Hearing the excitement in her voice, I realized that it is not just Americans who are desperate for change and strong leadership in our country, it is the entire world.  For the first time since arriving in Europe, I am proud to say I am an American.  This is an election that will go down in the history books of my children, and my children’s children, and I am lucky enough to not only say that I was around for it, but that I participated in it. 

Ladies and gents, God bless America and “YES, WE CAN”!!!!!!!!!!!!!

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Buongiorno!  I thought I’d procrastinate my paper on Saint Catherine of Siena a little more, and write another blog post.  Also, I had an amazing day yesterday and wanted to share it with you all while it is still fresh in my mind.  

Yesterday I got to go to Franca’s family’s house in the Chianti region.  The “family house” is nestled in the hills of Tuscany and it is absolutely gorgeous.  It’s hard to believe that such a place exists just forty minutes out of the bustling city of Florence.  As we pulled up in Franca’s sister’s Fiat into the long, dirt driveway, I could hardly contain my excitement.  Across the yard, various family members were gathered beneath one of the olive trees collecting olives off of each of the fallen branches.  After being introduced to each family member, Franca, Rosanna, and I joined in.  Here are a few pictures:

 

The house

The house

 

Olive picking!

Olive picking!

 

Franca and her brother, Enrico.

Franca and her brother, Enrico.

After picking olives for a good hour or two, Franca and I went in the house to help out with lunch preparations.  The rest of the family soon followed and we all sat down for a huge and delicious lunch of bread, cheese, wine, pasta (obviously), some sort of meatloaf dish, pork, zucchini, and white beans.  I sat in between Franca and one of her nephews and did my best to communicate when possible!  Here are some pictures from the meal…

 

Franca and I

Franca and I

 

Franca's brother, Enrico (holding the dog) and brother-in-law

Franca's brother Enrico (holding the dog) and brother-in-law (to the right)

 After dessert and coffee, Franca, Rosanna and I went for a walk around the property.  

 

Che bella

Che bella

 

Franca and her sister, RosannaFranca and her sister, Rosanna

After our walk, we used the last of the day’s light to tackle one more olive tree.  After cleaning up and saying our goodbyes, it was time to head home.  Here are a few more pictures:

Taking a break

Taking a break

 

 

 

Yum!

Yum!

In case my pictures don’t speak for themselves, it was an amazing day and one that I won’t ever forget.  It’s really hard to put into words what that experience was like for me, and I have accepted that I am the only one who will ever truly know the significance of that day.  Although I speak very little of Franca’s family’s language, they welcomed me into their home with open arms.  As I sat at the table during our meal looking around at all the vibrant, healthy faces and listening to the loud voices and big gestures of each of the five conversations going on at once, I was again struck with the realization at how alike we really all are.  Aside from the fact that they were all speaking Italian, that could have been my family!  You had your men all congregated at one end of the table, and the women all congregated at the other!  It was so amazing to be able to experience something so taken-for-granted as a simple gathering in someone else’s home and in someone else’s tongue.  It really stressed for me again the importance of family–and yes, it made me realize how much I miss mine.

Lying in bed last night before falling asleep, I realized that my day in “la campagna” really brought Franca and I much closer.  She stuck by my side all day and helped me talk to the various members of her family if I needed her to.  It was then that I realized that although there is still a lot about her that I don’t know (and vice versa), there is also a lot that we do know about each other.  It amazes me that this is the case and that we don’t even speak the same language.  

Alright, Saint Catherine beckons…thanks for reading and check back next week for news on my adventures in Rome!  It just keeps getting better, doesn’t it?  Ciao!

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