Thursday, February 18, 2010

Weird Wild Stuff

That Tuesday night my best friend Martín ended up calling my name louder than Mr. Ginsborg, but I passed both of my exams without difficulty and it was Thursday evening before I knew it. To celebrate our brief freedom from classes, a couple friends and I went to a low-key underground club, expecting to listen to some jazz. Instead we were greeted by boisterous Brazilians and live samba, which totally made my week. As it turns out, one of the proprietors of the establishment is Brazilian, so they often hold samba and funk nights that will undoubtedly attract me for the remainder of my time here in Bologna. Amo o Brasil.

On Saturday we had our last Brown in Bologna excursion, which also meant the last time Brown would be paying for me to eat a lavish lunch. We took the train two hours to Mantova, a city famous for its palaces and the artificial lakes that surround it on three sides. I especially liked Palazzo Te, a creation of painter Giulio Romano that was used as the summer villa of Frederick II of Gonzaga way back in the 1500s. FUN FACT: Gonzaga University in Spokane, Washington, was named after one of Federico II's younger relatives- Jesuit saint Aloysius Gonzaga. My favorite part of the trip- besides lunch, of course- was a horrifyingly fascinating room in Palazzo Te depicting "The Fall of the Giants," a colorfully violent 360 degree mural that dazzled my senses far more than the artwork in the Sistine Chapel.

Super Bowl Sunday had a very different feel this year. Growing up in California, the Super Bowl meant friends, family, and a 3:30pm start time. At halftime all the kids would toss the football around in the front yard, and the adults would chat in the kitchen or near the barbecue. When I got to Harvard I realized that Super Bowl Sunday on the East Coast is an evening affair, with a 6:30pm start time. Between halves nobody throws the football around in the yard because 1) it's pitch black outside, and 2) it's probably snowing. It was definitely not as fun as in California, but I accepted it by necessity. This year the game started at half past midnight. Christian, Martín and I went to an empty Irish Pub that was showing the game on a big screen. Two Californian friends showed up around 1am, but all five of us were kicked out before halftime because the pub was closing down. Christian and I went home and finished watching the game on Italian television with Italian commentary. It ended around 4am, Saints trumped Colts 31-17. Neither of us had a vested interest in the game beyond our self-imposed "patriotic obligation" to participate as spectators in America's #1 sporting event, but both of us had class at 9am. Bad decision? No way, just another experience. Uncle Sam should be proud.

The following school week passed by fairly quickly. I spent a significant part of every day shopping classes for this semester. I've come to realize that the Romance Languages specialization, at least in Bologna, is utterly dominated by girls. I went to at least four different lecture courses in which I was one of only three or four males. I'm not a math person, but if there were- let's just say- forty girls in each class, the ratio is definitely in my favor. Nice. I've decided on three classes in total: Contemporary Italian Literature, Sociolinguistics, and Portuguese & Brazilian Literature. I considered taking one class in Italian, one in Spanish and one in Portuguese, but I've instead decided to focus on Italian while I'm here, just like I did with Portuguese in Brazil.

This past weekend I went with some program friends up to Venice for Carnival, which was my consolation for leaving Rio two months too early. In the spirit of foolishness and youthful revelry, we planned to stay up all night and take the 5:57am train back to Bologna on Sunday morning. Since those were the last two days of Carnival celebrations, the city was absolutely jam-packed with costumed partiers, most of whom wandered aimlessly during the day and drunkenly at night. I kind of knew what to expect before I arrived, as in lots of sequins and masks and tourists, but I hadn't anticipated the evening Oriental fire show in Piazza San Marco or the stunning diversity of Carnival costumes. There were Mexicans wearing serapes and sombreros, Ghostbusters toting zap guns, mummies wrapped entirely in gauze, old people dressed as young people, young people dressed as old people, men dressed as women and vice versa. I saw two members of the Blue Man Group, President Silvio Berlusconi, Adam and Eve, Zorro, Diego Maradona and a visibly intoxicated clown riding a giant snail. I kept it classy in a golden cardboard mask and felt jester had from the Euro Store. To everyone's surprise, the outdoor festivities ended around 3am, after which we headed straight to the train station with hundreds of other exhausted youth. We napped like refugees on the freezing station floor, huddling together for warmth as best we could, and eventually filed onto the train like zombies. I slept for most of Valentine's Day and then woke up for an unofficial program dinner and dessert at a friend's apartment.

I'm headed to Florence this weekend to visit some friends from the Santa Rosa Junior College study abroad program, which should be a blast. We already have some pick-up soccer planned, in addition to a discoteca visit to celebrate a UCSB friend's 21st birthday. The forecast calls for another fun weekend!

As if these past few weeks haven't been exciting/busy enough, I have other news to share with all of you: I bought a couple more airplane tickets. Three more, to be exact. At the end of March I'm flying from Milan to Athens; I'll spend five days with a Harvard friend in the Greek islands and then together we'll catch another plane to Sofia, Bulgaria. From Bulgaria we take the train to Serbia, from Serbia to Hungary, from Hungary to Austria, and from Austria to Czechoslovakia. In Prague I'll say zbohem and head on alone to Poland, where I'm meeting up with some friends who recently finished their exchange program in Bologna. I'll finish my travels in Berlin, Germany, catch my third plane back to Milan, and take the train down to Bologna in mid-April. So much traveling, so little time. I love it. More on that trip later... [déjà vu?]

Life is good, if you hadn't noticed. The sun's even starting to come out in Bologna. Future's so bright, gotta wear ma stunna shades...

Tuesday, February 2, 2010

Young and Restless

So our excursion to Verona was a smashing success. No, I'm not married or even engaged, but I took a bunch of pretty pictures and ate like a king on Brown University's tab. Verona is charming in the way that any tourist city is charming- lots of colorful buildings, lots of sparkly key chains, lots of immigrants selling roses. We were a group of twenty amateur gringo photographers led by a flamboyant Italian guide in a purple shirt, but somehow we didn't really stand out. Or if we did, I didn't notice (too busy snapping pics?). We visited Juliet's balcony and everyone who was hoping to get lucky in love fondled Juliet's right breast. It's a tradition, ok? And it's a statue of Juliet, not a historical impersonator. Regardless, I decided to refrain (yeah, I know what happens to John Harvard's "lucky" foot every night...). If you've ever been to Harvard and missed that last reference, you should probably go wash your hands.

After lunch we were allowed to explore the rest of the city for a few hours, so I went with some friends to check out the archeological museum across the Adige River. The museum is situated high on a hill, and from the ancient Roman amphitheater we witnessed a blood red sunset over the entire city. I had a moment of complete tranquility and took the opportunity to give thanks to Him who has made possible all of these wondrous adventures. I am truly blessed beyond belief.

Saturday night after the Verona trip, my roommate Christian and I went out to a club and met up with Norma, a crazy fun acquaintance/friend from home. We ran the mile together every day during summer school PE five and a half years ago, but that was the extent of our relationship. She's also studying here this semester, which raises the Santa Rosa representation in Bologna to three! We 707 kids are doing big things, watch out...

To be honest, the rest of the week kinda blurs together. We had 18 more hours of class and a couple more museum tours. I think I ate pasta 9 or 10 times, I can't recall exactly. The undeniable highlight of the week was when Christian and I discovered "Eggs in a Basket," a divine breakfast dish in which you fry an egg in the middle of a piece of bread. Oh my goodness, my mouth is watering already. By now we're pretty much masters of the craft, occasionally decorating the bread with savory bits of Italian salami or spicy ketchup designs reminiscent of Celtic art prior to Christian influence in 450 AD. We're considering opening a restaurant and calling it "Toads in the Hole".

Let's get back on track, shall we? The University of Bologna semester officially started this week, not like I went to any classes or anything. Hey, for the time being I have more important things to focus on, two of which are my intensive orientation Italian final tomorrow and my history final on Thursday, both of which are oral exams, all'italiana. I have yet to begin studying because until this afternoon I had other more important things to focus on, like my Harvard grant applications for this summer in HONDURAS! After hours and hours of tedious budget calculations and proposal fine-tuning, I sent off three separate applications in hopes of getting some $$$ for travel and living expenses. I don't want to be too specific yet as to what the internship would entail, because nothing's set in stone. I will, however, tell you that I'll be getting my tan back and learning how to scuba dive in coral reefs.

Oh, before I forget- in the midst of all those grant applications, I bought some plane tickets. One is from Milan to Porto, Portugal. The other is from Casablanca, Morocco, back to Milan. I paid 40 euro. The tickets are ten days apart in early March, during which I'll be backpacking through Lisbon, Seville, Algeciras, Tangier, and Marrakech. Ah, my adventures are only about to begin! More on that trip later...

It's 10:30pm and I'm deciding whether to study or go out on the town. I think I'm gonna study. Yep, most definitely. Paul Ginsborg's Contemporary History of Italy 1943-1980 is really calling my name... *Wink wink*