Conosco i mie polli!

Buonasera i mie amici!  Before I hit the hay tonight, I thought I’d do a little “online journaling” (even though I won’t be able to post this until tomorrow when I have Internet).  Plus, I just got back from a pizza-making class so I need to digest a little.  I know it sounds like I eat pizza almost every day, but I swear I don’t!  I sometimes have pasta, too. 🙂

Last night I had the opportunity to go to the opera with my school.  We got to see Puccini’s “Tosca” and it was AWESOME.  I didn’t think I’d be that into an opera (especially one that I wouldn’t be able to fully understand) but it was absolutely beautiful.  Opera singers really amaze me and the story of “Tosca” is very dark, but very romantic and moving.  Franca spent two hours yesterday before I left trying to “translate” the story from the complicated version in one of her books on Puccini.  And when I say “translate”, I mean she tried her best to put the story into “simpler Italian” terms for me to understand.  It reminded me of a great game of charades.  We had an afternoon cup of coffee, she played a little Puccini, and everything was “va bene”! 

Today in my Italian class, we went on a treasure hunt—or “una caccia al tesoro”.  It was so fun and I was thrilled because my group got to explore the neighborhood that I live in.  To be honest, I haven’t seen much of my own neighborhood since I’ve been here!  Unfortunately, my friends and I tend to gravitate more towards the center of town where other students and tourists usually go.  Now that I am getting sick of tourists and American students, and considering I’m pretty much a local now 🙂 I am SO grateful to be living where I do!  I realized today that I live in a fantastic area!  Close to Santo Spirito and Piazza del Carmine, my little “Oltrarno” neighborhood (which loosely translated means “other side of the Arno”) is overflowing with local flare.  Not only did I find a cute mini grocery store literally around the corner from my house (perfect for some last minute pane or formaggio), I also found a swanky restaurant/bar called “Dolce Vita” at the end of my block, AND a famous caffé specializing in chocolate called “Hemingway”!  How have I been missing out for so long?!?!  Clearly my neighborhood is one that has remained untouched by tourists and I only regret that I didn’t realize this sooner.

With only about a month and a half left here in this beautiful city, I decided to make a “To Do” list (in true Katharine form) of all of the things that I must do before leaving.  In case you are interested, here it is:

  1. To rub the pig statue’s nose at the “pig market”—they say that rubbing the nose brings good luck 
  2. To eat a Bistecca Alla Fiorentina (T-Bone steak, 4cm thick, and very rare)—I’m gonna need a few friends to help me with this one
  3. To watch a Fiorentina soccer match (I’m going next Wednesday)
  4. To walk through the open-air market of Cascine (the huge park in Florence) on Tuesday mornings
  5. To have an apertivo (Italian version of Happy Hour) at Caffé Gilli in Piazza della Repubblica
  6. To get a hot chocolate at Rivoire in Piazza della Signoria (a drastically overpriced cafe renowned for its hot chocolate)
  7. To buy the Santa Maria Novella Farmacia’s potpourri
  8. To try the homemade gelato of Vivoli (can’t believe I have yet to go there)
  9. To eat Pugi Bakery’s Schiacciata in Piazza San Marco
  10. To see the sunset while sitting atop Piazzale Michelangelo (which I already did once while my mom was here)
Lastly, I thought I’d share with you all a little Italian catchphrase that my friend Liz and I learned recently.  Our friend Luigi, the owner and bartender of High Bar (a bar we often frequent for aperitivo on Thursdays after class), taught us that the way Italians say “I told you so” is by saying “Conosco i mie polli”.  Literally translated, this means “I know my chickens”!  So the next time that you find yourself or someone else in a situation that you clearly saw coming, bust THAT phrase out and “wow” everyone with your bravo Italiano! 
Check back soon for my next posting on my adventures in Barcelona!  Ciao!


Hi all.  Last night was my first night of volunteer work.  Since I’ve been receiving so much throughout this journey (i.e., the opportunity to come and study in this amazing city, getting to travel to different places, etc.), I decided it was only right for me to give back in some way.  Richmond University (the school I attend here) offers a variety of jobs in their volunteer program ranging from teaching Italian kids English, to being a museum guide (“art docent”, if you will), to volunteering at a Food Bank just outside of Florence.  When we were receiving information from the staff about the different places we could sign up to work at, we were warned about the Food Bank.  Apparently, students have often times received a bit of hostility from the homeless/less fortunate elderly people who go there because (surprise, surprise) they have such a poor view of American students and they cannot understand why such “ignorant kids” would want to come out and feed them.  Side note: one thing I’ve learned, is that American students are NOT among the most respected individuals in Europe…a reputation that sadly, we have created for ourselves.  Anyhow, although we were encouraged to sign up for this volunteer opportunity, the staff wanted us to know that this was “true volunteer work” and that it wouldn’t necessarily always be rainbows and sunshine.  As soon as I heard that, I decided that I wanted to volunteer there.  I wasn’t volunteering just to receive a pat on the back from anyone or a “Wow, you are a great person”; to me, volunteer work should not be about receiving praise from others.  I felt that I would get the most out of it by choosing to work at the Food Bank.  BUT, my fear got the best of me, and I talked myself out of it as soon as I heard that the association whom I would be working with hardly spoke any English at all.  So I signed up to volunteer my time in a daycare instead…little babies seemed like a much safer option.

Weeks later, I hadn’t yet received my paperwork regarding where I would be volunteering.  I asked the volunteer coordinator at my school about it and she said that she would have it ready in the next couple of days.  Something inside me then made me ask if it was too late to volunteer at the Food Bank.  She looked surprised, but said that no, it was not too late.  There were only two other people doing it, and I could take the bus with them and start the next week. 

Fast forward to last night, my first night of work.  The “Food Bank” is really just a group of people who get together once a week, collect food, and dole it out to the homeless out of the backs of their cars.  No one spoke English but it was yet another opportunity for me to practice my Italian.  I met so many great people, most of whom were just as excited to talk to me as I was to talk to them.  Not only that, but I got to see Florence through the eyes of these people who’s main concern is when and where they will get their next meal.  As I thought about the huge pizza I’d shoved down my throat a few days before, I looked around at these people (some of whom were happy I was there, and some of whom were skeptical about why I was there) and realized that this may be the first meal that they’ve had in days.  I thought about how last weekend, I was “mentally complaining” about the fact that I have to hang-dry my laundry because no one has dryers in Italy–and then I thought about how the clothes these people were wearing (which may not have been washed for months) were probably the only clothes they owned.  Naturally, I felt like a huge asshole!  Aside from it being a humbling experience, I also learned that not everyone sees Florence through the “rose-colored glasses” that I wear.  In fact, these people looked at me with surprise and awe when I talked about how much I loved it here.  For them, this city has only meant disappointment, desolation, and struggle.

If there is one thing I have learned on this journey of mine, it is never to let fear get in the way of any of my decisions.  I’ve been afraid to do almost every single thing that I have done here so far (well, except when it comes to food…I’m never afraid to eat), and ironically, every single thing that I’ve done, has turned out ten times better than I ever thought it would.

Back in Action

Aaaand I’m back!  Sorry for the huge gap in between postings…there has been a LOT going on.  I was planning on posting right after my mom left, but I had a research paper and a presentation due in my history class the very next day and no time to spare.  I’m sure you all have gotten the low-down from my mom on her visit and our trip to Greece, so I will try not to give you too many details!  Here is my best shot at summarizing the amazing time we had…

The first few days of my mom’s stay, we hit the town and did the “tourist thing”.  We cried at the feet of Michelangelo’s “David”, climbed Brunelleschi’s amazing Duomo, went on a day trip to Siena, paid a visit to the Uffizi to brush up on our art history, and last but certainly not least, we ate…and ate…and ate…and ATE!  We really had a great time, and I feel like we struck a great balance between being a couple of die-hard tourists and slowing down our pace to enjoy life like the locals do. 

Now on to Greece.  There truly are no words to describe that experience.  Phenomenal…life-changing…emotional…none of these words seem to do that weekend any justice at all.  My mom and I stayed with her cousin Christopher and his family for four days.  It was my first time meeting any of them and my mom hadn’t seen Chris since 1984–when he was about 15 or 16.  To make a long story short, we completely fell in love with the entire family.  The first night we were there, we stayed up and talked after dinner until almost midnight. By the time we were done, I felt like I’d known them for years.  The following day, we did the touristy thing and got to see a lot of Athens (it definitely helped having a cousin who knew his way around and had a car).  I’d have to say though, that aside from meeting and getting to know my family, my favorite part of our trip to Greece was getting to go to my grandfather’s village and seeing the house where he was born and raised.  I learned so much about my grandfather that I hadn’t known before.  It gave me a completely new perspective on his life—how hard it must have been and how much courage he had to leave everything behind that was familiar to him to come to the states and start a new life.  I can’t tell you how moved I was to be able to see all that and I feel so fortunate to have been given the opportunity to do so. 

That, my friends, is all I really can tell you about that particular adventure.  My pictures will have to do the rest of the talking because I really can’t put into words what those 14 days were like.  All I can say is that I am the luckiest girl in the world and I’m pretty much convinced that my life is damn near perfect. 

In other news, Franca is good and I am adjusting and feeling more and more comfortable every day being in her presence.  We just got back from a trip to the supermarket together–she wanted to come along to help me do my grocery shopping!  For dinner tonight, I’m cooking fresh ravioli with spinach and ricotta cheese.  She’s had her friend Giovanna staying with us for the last few days and I have been having a lot of fun interacting with them.  On Friday night, the three of us stayed up late chatting and watching Italian game shows and soap operas!  Che bene!

That’s about it for now folks.  I promise not to let so much time go by again in between posts…it is way to overwhelming for me to try and recap the last 3 weeks in one posting!  There is a link to the right of this posting under the heading “BLOGROLL” where you can view my latest pictures.  It is titled “Mom’s Visit & Greece Pics”.  Ciao!

P.S.—after watching the VP debates the other day at my friend’s I decided that if McCain wins this election, I will probably be staying in Florence with Franca Spinelli forever!  GO OBAMA.

Molti Photographi

This post is going to be short and sweet.  I just posted more photos–check it out!  You can see me in action…painting, cooking, photographing (obviously…ha), and more!  Just click on the same link (Firenze Pictures).  Enjoy )


Ci vediamo

Che Ganza!

Tomorrow marks my first month in Italy and I honestly cannot believe it.  Time is flying by way too fast.  My first week in Firenze was mostly spent getting oriented with the city, eating, getting to know Franca, eating, settling into my class schedule/daily routine, and…did I mention eating?  I haven’t been to any museums yet, but am planning on being quite the tourist when my mom comes to visit (in four days!!!).  We’ve got quite a jam-packed two weeks in store for us, from museum visits, a day trip to Siena, and a four-day weekend in Greece to visit with some of our relatives–I couldn’t be more excited!

It has FINALLY cooled off here and today it was actually chilly.  It’s starting to feel like my type of weather again–cool, overcast, and breezy (my fav).  Drinking my morning cappuccino is a lot more enjoyable now than when I was wiping sweat off of my brow from the walk over to the un-air-conditioned caffé.  And no, I’m not complaining.  

Things with Franca have gotten much more comfortable and we have actually had a few full-fledged conversations (with my Italian-English dictionary close at hand, of course).  She is incredibly sweet and patient with me, which is really all I can ask for, and greets me with a “Ciao Bella” every morning.  It’s difficult to find time when we are both home and able to sit and talk to one another–with her work schedule and my school/social schedule, there are often entire days that go by where we don’t see each other at all.  From our last real conversation, I learned quite a few new things about her; she works at her friend’s jewelry boutique that is literally around the corner from our house, she thinks that the quality of food in Firenze has gone down as restaurants have tried more and more to appeal to the tourist’s idea of “Italian cuisine” (I haven’t noticed a problem), and she loves collecting random vintage items from flea markets.  It just took me about thirty seconds to type that all out, yet it took me about 40 minutes to “decode” it all from Italian to English when Franca and I were talking.  I had the most difficulty understanding that she works in a jewelry shop, makes jewelry, but doesn’t sell her jewelry in the jewelry shop.  When I finally said in half English, half Italian, “Ohhh, so tu fai jewelry per tuo pleasure…?”, her enthusiastic “Brava!” told me I had hit the nail on the head.  Her jewelry-making is just a hobby–not her livelihood.  Phew!  That was rough…

Last week, my Italian teacher from Lido di Camaiore e-mailed me (all in Italian) to tell me she was taking the train from Lucca (where she is from) to Firenze on Saturday and asked if I would like to meet up.  After spending way too long laboring over a response to her e-mail (one which amounted to three sentences), we set a time and place to meet.  After meeting on the steps of the Duomo on Saturday afternoon, Maria (my teacher), her friend Claudia, another girl from my class in Lido, and myself all went to a nearby bar/caffé near Santa Croce and chatted over a glass of wine for the next couple of hours.  I tried to speak as much Italian with her as possible, but she speaks pretty good English so naturally, we would always revert back to that.  She did however, teach us a few bad words in Italian and ways to defend ourselves from sleazy “Guido-types”.  In fact, this post is named after one of the phrases she taught us…no, it’s not a bad word.  “Che ganza” is the Italian version of “how cool!”  After we said our “arrivederci’s”, my friends and I decided that next time, we are going to Lucca to visit Maria.  Pretty ganza, eh?

Before I wrap it up, a word on food.  I have been eating a lot of it.  My program gives us a certain number of restaurant vouchers per month that can be used at 32 different restaurants around Florence!  Good restaurants, too!  Some are smaller caffés that serve espressos and ready-made panini, while others are sit-down places that serve up to two courses for just one voucher!  Naturally, I’ve been taking advantage of this opportunity to try as many new places as I can.  One of my favorites so far was the place I ate dinner last night.  A small, hole-in-the-wall type of place that seriously had the best pizza I’ve ever eaten.  It also happens to be right down the street from my school.  It’s called Gustopizza and it is owned by two brothers who also own a small panini shop (Gustopanini).  Anyway, last night I ordered the “Gusto Pizza” (creative name, eh?) and it had fresh arugula piled high on top of the pizza, the ripest, sweetest cherry tomatoes I have ever eaten in my life, freshly grated parmesan cheese (CHUNKS of it), and fresh buffalo mozzarella.  Needless to say, I had no problem polishing the entire pizza off.  

Alright, I’m off to hit the books for a bit and then to the cooking class I signed up for through my school!  We are learning how to make vegetable-pesto lasagna, vegetable souffle, and tiramisu!  I’ll let you all know how it goes…

P.S.–I posted a few pictures from Florence (link is on the right under “Blogroll”).  More to come soon!

Firenze, Ti Amo!

Ciao! I arrived in Firenze two days ago and I still feel like I am living in some sort of dream world. I honestly have never seen a more beautiful city (sorry, Paris). It seems like everywhere you turn there is a gorgeous church, sculpture, building, or museum–all of which are laden with romantic histories about who built them and why they were built. I haven’t even been to all of the famous sights here and I am already salivating. But let’s rewind a bit…

Saturday, at around 3:00pm, I arrived at the front door of Franca Spinelli’s apartment building. After ringing the bell and stepping inside the front doors, the most petite and fragile little Italian woman I have ever seen stood before me at the top of the stairs. She rushed down to help me with my bags (all 75 pounds of them) and kissed me on both cheeks. I was so overwhelmed with the heat, the weight of my bags, my anxiety, and her kindness that all I was able to squeak out was a, “Ciao Franca!” I, of course, had planned out (using my handy-dandy Italian dictionary) exactly what I wanted to say when I first walked in but my nerves got the best of me and it all went out the window.

After showing me around her adorable little apartment, she took me to my room and let me unpack my things and get settled. After I had gotten situated, I found myself aimlessly wandering around my room, desperately trying to find something to do to avoid going out in the living room and struggling through a “conversation” with Franca. As soon as I was able to recognize this thought pattern, I forced myself to go out and talk to her–I didn’t choose to live with an Italian woman just to hide out in my room all day! Long story short, we ended up talking for a good 20 minutes and between my poor Italian and her poor English, we did pretty well! She busted out some photos of her family and even told me she’d like to take me to her brother’s grape vineyard where he makes Chianti…at least, I’m pretty sure that’s what she was saying. In any case, it was a good first conversation and while I haven’t had the opportunity to converse with her much lately because of our opposing schedules, I definitely intend on making a valiant effort, however terrible I may sound. Things are still a little awkward, but I’m hoping they will improve with time.

In other news, I had my first class yesterday morning…painting! The majority of the class was spent walking into town and purchasing supplies (all 100 Euros of them…ugh!) but we did get to start painting in the last hour of class! We are painting the facade of Santo Spirito, which happens to be around the corner from my house. Let me tell you, for those of us who are perfectionists (I won’t mention any names), painting is a GREAT exercise simply because, it will NEVER BE PERFECT. Yes, I know, those words make me cringe, too. Although my first sketching of the church (done with acrylic paint) is not exactly Monet-material, it’s mine. Our class is three hours long, so my Professor is hoping we will be done with it by next Monday. I’ll definitely take a picture of the finished product so you all can see.

Mondays are my short days, so after painting ends at 12:15, I am free for the rest of the day. Yesterday, I grabbed a quick salami and mozzarella panini from a nearby gastronomia (deli) and just wandered by myself around the city for a good three hours, stopping of course at a caffè to refuel with some espresso. The caffè I stopped at was no ordinary caffè, it was Caffè La Terraza-the restaurant on the very top floor of La Rinascente (the Florentine version of Macy’s). The view was incredible and definitely made up for the overpriced espresso. After taking my time and drinking up my surroundings, I was heading home when I decided to stop by the knit shop I had seen a couple days ago for purely nostalgic reasons (not because I can afford Italian yarn). I had wanted to go in right when I saw it, but I wasn’t sure how much English they spoke and I chickened out. I am SO glad I finally went in yesterday because I am now best friends with the woman who works there! The owner of the shop, Beatrice, speaks very little English, but she was so sweet and actually helped me with my Italian! I managed to communicate to her that I wanted to bring my mom back because she knits and she would be here in 9 days. I kept apologizing for my limited Italian skills and she kept reassuring me and saying that I was helping her with her English. She told me it was embarrassing that after all the years of dealing with English-speaking tourists, her English was still not good. I told her that this seemed crazy to me considering that she is living in Italy and should not be expected to speak any other language but her own! Still, she said, she wished she knew more. After exchanging names and “piacere’s”, we said we’d see each other soon. I intend on keeping that promise.

That’s it for now. I’ve gotta go grab some lunch before my class in an hour. Sorry this post was so long! Check back in the next couple of days for pictures of Firenze! Ci vediamo!

Phew!  It has been a non-stop couple of weeks and I have done and seen SO much.  This next week will be my last and final week of intensive language immersion in Lido di Camaiore and then I move in with my host “family”, which as it turns out, is a single woman in her sixties by the name of Franca Spinelli!  I move in next Saturday and I couldn’t be more excited/nervous.  Supposedly, she speaks a little English, which will be fairly helpful during those first few awkward days of living together.  I have a feeling that my nonverbal communication will be put to the test a great deal at first.  More about Franca…she is an architect, owns a small boutique in Firenze, has a cat, and loves to read.  I saw pictures of her and her house, both of which are adorable.  I get my own room, access to the washing machine and kitchen, AND she cooks me dinner every two weeks…suh-weet!  While it may be a bit uncomfortable at first, I know that this will be a great experience and that my Italian will improve tenfold.

I always thought that I wouldn’t experience “culture shock”—I assumed that it was in some way synonymous with homesickness, and that I was well “beyond” all of that.  Well, I was wrong.  In the last few weeks I have experienced a wide range of emotions, from pure and unadulterated joy, to a sort of lonely panic.  A few days ago, I was sitting on the beach and as I looked up from my book and around at all the people soaking up the sun around me, a cloud of panic seemed to encapsulate me as I realized that I was completely incapable of interacting with any one of them.  I suddenly felt like all eyes were on me—like I was doing something wrong.  Then, just as quickly as my panic seemed to knock the wind out of me, my eye caught a mother and daughter lying together in the sand.  I watched as they giggled together and chatted away, and finally as the daughter (I assume) cuddled up to her mother and kissed her on the cheek.  I, of course, felt my eyes well up with tears as I realized that while the world is filled with people who speak many different tongues, we all really share a sort of “universal language” when it comes to family, friends, and our emotional expression.  In that moment, I felt comforted.

In other news, I’ve finally worked up the courage to go into restaurants and order food!  Funny how something so simple and easy for us at home (like ordering a cup of coffee), turns into a huge, stressful ordeal…well, at least for me.  I still feel self-conscious speaking Italian to the locals around here, but hey, I’m trying.  I don’t want to stick out as an American, but the reality is, I am an American (I know, this may come as a shock to some of you).  I realized that I can own that fact without being disrespectful or ignorant—like certain people I’ve met in my program. 

Alright, I’ll stop yacking.  I’ve finally figured out how to set up a Flickr account so you all can see some pictures.  I have taken SO many pictures, it’s kind of disgusting.  I get so frustrated when I take pictures because they never seem to capture the grandiosity of what I am seeing with my own eyes.  Guess you’ll all just have to come visit me and see for yourself.  These are obviously not all of my pictures…I know you all have lives.  Just click on the link to the right that says “My Pictures” underneath the heading “BLOGROLL”.  Enjoy!