18 March 2011

Sono arrivata a Roma

When I left Dulles Airport in Washington DC, it was January 5th, in the evening. I arrived in Fiumicino, Rome’s main airport, at about 7am (Italian time – six hours ahead) on January 6th. Unfortunately, as I realized about a week before I left, I wasn’t supposed to meet the school at Fiumicino until the 7th. It turned out that getting a hotel room in Rome (I went for the Holiday Inn…it was super international…) was cheaper than paying to change my flight to the next day. So I arrived at the airport in Rome alone and incredibly tired (it was a nine hour flight) and somehow had to navigate my way through a foreign airport. Thankfully I was able to find the baggage claim pretty easily, thanks to the many signs that said “Ritiro Bagagli” and then underneath “Baggage Claim”. I also recognized “Uscita”, even without the aid of the “EXIT” sign under it. I was even asked by a couple Americans if I knew where the Baggage Claim was. I think they thought I knew where I was going until I answered them and was so obviously American as well. They ignored me after that. All of us eventually found the baggage claim and claimed our bags.
After that I followed the signs and the other passengers on the plane towards customs and the passport check. The passport check consisted of walking up to a window, getting my passport stamped (they barely looked at it) and then walking through a small hallway to a larger room. This was customs. There was a small roped off area that had a sign that directed those who had items to claim into that line. The rest of us were pointed towards a door. Which led to the exit. This was confusing. In America, everyone had to go through customs and get everything checked and answer questions about where you lived, where you were born, what your blood type is and what you ate for breakfast. Sometimes they want a DNA sample. However in Italy they just wave you on through. We landed at around 7:30. I was standing in the main part of the airport at about 8:30. This is where I realized that my high grades in Italian class meant absolutely nothing in Italy.
I knew there was supposed to be a shuttle from the airport to the Holiday Inn at Parco dei Medici but I couldn’t for the life of me find it. Actually, I couldn’t move. I knew I had to get out of the main arrivals area, since there were swarms of people trying to find buses, taxies, and loved ones, but I was paralyzed. Nothing could prepare me for walking out of customs and into a place where everyone was speaking a language I didn’t understand. I had thought I would be alright, know enough Italian to get by, but I suddenly couldn’t remember anything. I couldn’t remember how to say “where is the bus station” or “I need to go to the Holiday Inn”. Finally a large man with gray hair dressed in all black saw me and walked up, speaking in Italian. When I just stared blankly at him, he switched to English and asked if I needed a taxi. I told him I was supposed to get a shuttle to the Holiday Inn, and he directed me first to an ATM (bancomat, in Italian, as I learned later) which was, thank God, in English, or heaven knows what I would have withdrawn from my account. When I returned from there, the large man in black grabbed one of my suitcases and walked towards a sportello, or ticket window. I followed quickly because I didn’t want him running off with my suitcase. You just never know in Rome. I got a scontrino (receipt) and then was told to just wait with this other group. Almost immediately everyone started walking away. Not sure what to do, I stood still, paralyzed again. Then a woman with short brown hair, also dressed all in black, who turned out to be the shuttle driver but I didn’t know that then, grabbed my suitcase and started walking away at a surprisingly quick pace. She loaded both my suitcases in the black, unmarked shuttle, and ushered me into the backseat. At this point I thought I was being kidnapped.
There were two women, who I believe were Italian, going to one hotel, a mother/daughter pair that may have been Spanish but spoke Italian as well going to another hotel, and then me. Of course, I had no idea what was going on, no idea where we were going, or whether I would end up at my hotel or somewhere naïve tourists are taken to be sold into the slave trade. The driver dropped off the first two women first, and then went to my hotel. As soon as I started to recognize the area from the pictures of the hotel I relaxed. The driver helped me unload my bags and sent me on my way.
Even though it was early in the morning, my room was ready and I was able to check in and go up to my room on the 4th floor right away. Talking to the lady at the front desk I realized for the first time that when Italians learn English, they learn British English. The elevator was called a “lift” and the signs for the bathroom said “WC” (which stands for “Water Closet”…now I feel a little silly that I couldn’t have guessed that instead of Googling it). The receptionist pointed out where the “lift” was, gave me my room keys, and sent me on my way. I dragged my suitcases, and myself, through the reception area, into the elevator, then down the hall and into my room. I tried turning on my lights and realized…I couldn’t. None of the switches worked. I tried the one by the door, the one in the bathroom, and then the one by the door again. Finally I dragged myself back downstairs and asked, in a sheepish voice because I was pretty sure I was missing something important, why my lights weren’t working. Apparently you need to put the key card into the slot by the door in order to turn the lights on. Those Italians think of everything. It was a great energy saving trick that I would appreciate later. At that point though I just wanted to be able to turn my lights on.
When I returned to my room I slid the key card into the slot next to the door, watched my lights turn on, sat down on my bed, and indulged in a minor panic attack. I just kept thinking, what did I get myself into? I don’t know enough Italian to get by, apparently, and I was by myself in a foreign country, in a hotel that was surprisingly far away from anything, for being in Rome. All I really wanted to do was go home. After about fifteen minutes I pulled myself together and, after telling my parents I had gotten there safely, I fell asleep. I slept for a few hours, read a bit, then went back to sleep. At around 7pm (because no restaurants open before 7 in Italy, and most Italians don’t eat until about 8:30) I went down to the hotel restaurant. The menu, obviously in Italian, made no sense to me so the very understanding waiter had the chef make me some sort of pasta/tomatoes/prosciutto dish which I ate about half of, drank a full glass of my first Italian “house” wine, and returned to my room.
That night I didn’t sleep. There was something about being in a strange hotel room in a strange city and the thought that I had to return to the airport the next day to meet the people from the Umbra Institute that made it impossible to fall asleep. So instead I rented The Princess and the Frog (really good, if you like Disney movies, which I do) and played solitaire on my phone all night. I think I may have won two games, total. At 8 the next morning I caught the shuttle – the actual Holiday Inn shuttle I had been looking for the day before – back to the airport, found my way to arrivals, and finally saw the most welcoming sight ever: a group of American teenagers.

Jen is a second-year student studying in Perugia, Italy.

01 March 2010

Our Woman In Milan: New Update

I can’t believe I’ve been in Italy for 5 months... Here are my top 10 observations:

Winter Sales In Milan

10. Italians don’t wear flip-flops, or at least, the Milanese don’t. Gucci sandals, of course, but no Old Navy flip-flops. I suppose that is supposed to be expected in the fashion capital of Italy. Just be prepared to have a few Italians looking at you strangely when you walk on the metro.

9. Italians are always waiting in line, especially when it comes to dealing with the government bureaucracy. And chances are, after waiting in line for a painfully long amount of time, you will be directed to another line, and after reaching the front of that line, you will be told that the government is not offering that service today. Waiting in line doesn’t appear to bother the Italians though, probably because they are so used to it. And in some situations, such as the cafeteria line, they just jump to the front anyway, thus avoiding the wait. It’s not the American style of “butting” in line, where you see a friend and conveniently strike up a conversation. This is just someone walking in front of you and squeezing their way in. Eventually you get used to it, but in the beginning it can be very frustrating.

8. Classes never start on time. A 9:30 class may start at 9:45, but will probably start closer to 10. There is no rule about how long you wait for a professor before leaving. You wait until he or she shows up. This is actually quite nice, especially when the class only meets for an hour.

7. The public transportation system strikes regularly. Strikes happen about once a month, almost always on a Friday. Service stays pretty regular during rush hour, but in the middle of the day, or later in the evening, you may find yourself waiting 20 minutes for a bus that usually arrives once every 5 minutes. If the bus arrives at all, in which case you may find yourself walking…

6. You risk your life as a pedestrian. Drivers don’t like to stop for pedestrians, so even when you have the right-of-way, you really don’t. Drivers in general are crazy. Taxi drivers run red lights, Vespas weave in and out of traffic, and buses make abrupt stops, throwing you out of your seat. As long as you look before you step off the curb, you should be fine.

5. Spaghetti and meatballs doesn’t exist. Spaghetti with a meat sauce, yes. Balls of ground meat, usually served in a soup, sure. But meatballs in your pasta are an Americanized version of Italian cuisine. And the same holds true for chicken parmigiana (though eggplant parmigiana is abundant). “Italian dressing” is also fake—for salads, Italians stick with oil and vinegar with salt and pepper.

4. Open-air markets are the best place to buy produce. Fruits and vegetables you’ve never seen before abound, and coupled with all the cheeses, it is irresistible. The prices are unbeatable compared to even the most economical grocery stores. When the vendors are yelling “Fresco! Fresco!,” they aren’t kidding. The only problem is that you have to eat everything within a few days, because it is that fresh.

3. This isn’t Domino’s. Pizza here is better than anything you’ll find in the States. Typically, pizza by the slice comes with a thick crust, and is usually ordered at a take-out place. When you order pizza in a restaurant, it is typically a thin crust. The pizza will be as big as the plate, and while you’ll think you won’t be able to eat it all, you will come to the last bite before you know it. Eventually though you’ll get sick of pizza, and you’ll really want some good ol’ American food…

2. McDonald’s is an Italian favorite. For the life of me I can’t understand why Italians, surrounded by such delicious food, would choose to go to McDonald’s, but they do. Even the McDonald’s over here has an Italian flair though. In addition to your typical hamburger and fries, Italy serves fried shrimp, brioches, and beer.

1. Italy is beyond anything you could imagine. The history is incredible, from the ruins of Ancient Rome to medieval castles to Renaissance masterpieces—it will all blow your mind. The canals of Venice are more enchanting than any picture or movie can capture. The tilt of the tower of Pisa is fascinating. The cathedrals in every town are awe-inspiring. Nothing can match living in Italy; you have to see it for yourself.

(Anne is a Roanoke College student studying in Milan for the year.)

13 February 2010

un pasticciere trotzkista

"You must remember this" (apologies to Herman Hupfeld)

Reflexive verbs always bring their pronouns along. In any tense.
When used reflexively, you must include mi, ti, si, etc. with the reflexive verb.
Also, take off the whole -arsi, or -ersi, or -irsi ending before conjugating the verb. "Si svegliarsa" does not exist.

09 February 2010