Thursday, May 5, 2011

Little Italy, part 2

Michelangelo's David --
I think getting to see this sculpture in person might have
been the real reason I chose to study in Florence.

OK, so I've given you all a peek into my domestic life while living in Italy, but what I haven't done is tell you what I did outside of the home.  In reality, much of it is a blur, simply because I was having so many adventures all at once, and these experiences have somewhat melded together.  So, I sort of remember that year like one of those movies that takes place over the course of one debaucherous night -- a la "The Hangover."  Ummmm...well, no.  Not at all like "The Hangover."   My life in Florence probably couldn't have been LESS like that movie, except for, maybe, that a lot of the celebratory details have become quite muddled, but here are the exploits I do remember:

Every night after classes and dinner with our families, the students from our program would meet up at various bars around the city.  Nine out of ten times, the bar would be called "Jolly Cafe," as these Americanized hangouts were all over town  (although I could never quite get past the ridiculous name).  Anyway, I'd get a call -- with my eager and nosy Italian sisters listening in behind the door -- "Hey, Sarah.  Meet me in 10 at the Jolly Cafe."  My response: "Which Jolly Cafe?"  "You know, the one by the Duomo."  I would inevitably go to the wrong one, get lost, get solicited by swarthy Italian hooligans (which was always a little bit thrilling, to be honest), and arrive a full 45 minutes late.  One particularly raucous night, a bunch of us met up at the J.C., and, as it was overcrowded inside, we were all hanging out on the street in front.  I'm on a tear, being my absolute silliest and loudest, and probably most annoying ever (well, probably not ever, as I can be that way quite often).  All of a sudden, I feel a freezing downpour of water envelop me, drenching my hair, my clothes, and -- oh my God -- my shoes.  But wait a minute, this water smells.  And wait another minute, I am the ONLY ONE soaked.  I look up, and the woman who lives above that unique Jolly Cafe is leaning out of her window smiling like the cat that ate the canary, and waggling her finger at me and my friends, who are by now laughing hysterically at my misfortune.  What the...?  Turns out, the precious 75-year-old crone would save up her old bathwater all month (and this is not nearly as much water as you would think, but plenty, trust me), and randomly pour it out her window on the unsuspecting American students who were keeping her up all night with their drunken antics.  And that evening, I was the lucky victim!  You would think I would have immediately rushed home and showered, but no.  I was having waaaaay too much fun to stop partying, and continued 'till dawn -- soaking and stinky, but happy.

Another time, my girlfriends and I took the train to Viareggio, which is a small city on the Tyrrhenian Sea, to celebrate Carnevale (similar to our Mardi Gras).  We proceeded to get completely bombed with everyone else in town, and at sunset we wobbled down to the main street, where the big parade, known as Passeggiata a Mare, was taking place.  Suddenly, we scream in shock!  These are not like any ordinary floats we have ever seen before: these are GIANT (the size of small houses) fluorescent papier mache sculptures...and they're not only incredibly disturbing, they're also pornographic!  I, naturally, vomit on the spot.  At the time I thought it was from the wine, but, in hindsight, it was probably from the effect of the hallucinatory floats upon my prissy eyeballs.  Twenty minutes and a second wind later, I'm up on one of the floats kissing an Italian teenage boy, who, a minute before, had been lip syncing to Madonna's "Material Girl."  Glurg.  The next day we all took a ferry to the island of Elba, and spent the remainder of the weekend sitting on the beach, trying to recover from the gluttonous depravity of Carnevale.  Thankfully, our bodies did eventually recover, although our pride was most definitely lost forever.

A couple of weeks after Carnevale, my mom and my aunt came to Florence to pick me up and take me skiing with them in Switzerland.  We took a train to the city of Gstaad, which is so pristine and beautiful that it almost seems as if it's not real -- think Sound of Music.  First things first, we inform our hotel what ski level we are: my mom and aunt smartly say "beginner," while cocky me swaggers in with "intermediate."  Okay, I AM intermediate in the United States, but skiing in Switzerland is a different story.  My ski group and I take a 30 minute (!) chair lift to the top of one the mountains, get off, and suddenly -- I'm alone.  They have all zipped off ahead of me, and I'm still standing there, lost and bewildered.  It's snowing, so I can't see anything, and when I finally figure out which way is down, I realize the hill is so steep and jagged, that I'm not sure I can even make it to the bottom.  My eyes well up in tears of panic, but I know I don't have a choice.  I set my skiis into snowplow position and wind my way, slowly, backbreakingly, down.

A full excruciating hour later I finally reach the bottom -- my butt has, by now, completely seized up in spasms.  Fortunately, I run into my mom and my aunt, and I'm so relieved I actually do cry.  They INSIST I come with their group, and from that point forward we have a fabulous time.  Our guide's name is Hans Peter (so cute!), and he is the perfect speed for us, which is slow to non-existent.  Every day during that week we ski a bit in the morning, then around 1:00 stop for a two-hour lunch.  These lunches consist of little bread cubes that we dip in cheese fondue, and wine, which is supposed to help you digest the fondue.  At the end of the two-hour meal, we are so full and tipsy, that we just barely make it down the mountain for one laaaaast run, and then go back to our hotel room and collapse on our beds, happy.

My time in Italy was a magical year for me in every way shape and form, and I feel so, so grateful that I was fortunate enough to experience it.  There were countless wonderful components to my life there: from cooking classes in the hills of Tuscany, to some of the most romantic dates of my life (sneaking into the Boboli Gardens at midnight was a definite highlight), to eating impossibly delicious gelato each and every day (which, amazingly, never got old, but, not so amazingly, did contribute to the 15 pounds I gained while living there), to the Duomo, the Ponte Vecchio, the Uffizi, and every other gorgeous antiquity there.  There really is nothing quite like it -- that I know of anyway.  So thank you, Florence, again and again.  You changed me forever.

Meanwhile, is anyone else craving spaghetti?