Wednesday, December 15, 2010

Dicembre luce (December lights)

This is the florentine symbol:


December has been a busy and bright month so far. The streets in Florence are decorated beautifully for Christmas (Natale) and light up at night. It definitely makes the cold evenings much more pleasant, although there was a period of a few days last week when it was incredibly warm, up to 18 degrees Celsius! I was shocked when I came out of my apartment on the first warm day, all bundled up for my walk to school.

I've since finished my Level 2 Italian course with 94% on my final exam:) I've also started another, very affordable, and intense 3 1/2 hour lesson on Tuesdays, which for me is incredibly challenging. The students in this class speak and understand Italian SO well! It's a bit of a struggle for me to follow along but the teacher assured me that I belong in the class. Interestingly, although the other students are able to have full conversations at high speed with the teacher in italian ( I can't!) and understand a recording on the first listen (I can't!), when the teacher verbally dictates a passage and instructs us to write it, I make less mistakes than everyone! I guess this shows I understand the rules of grammar, the pronuciation rules, and most of the vocabulary, but the key for me right now is I understand SLOOWWWLY. She speaks slowly when dictating but when the recording is played at normal speed, I can only understand the general idea and not the details. However, I know this is tremendous progress for me and it's only a matter of time!

It's interesting hearing all the accents of the various students when speaking italian. The spanish, the chinese, the german, the thai, the polish, the african, all add their native language spin to italian pronuciation! I didn't think I'd be able to hear the subtleties until having mastered it myself but it is really quite interesting. Of course then there's me with my english accent, the difficulty of rolling rrrr's and making the throaty sound with g + l put together! Thankfully my thursday night tutor, Valentina, helps me work on this:)

Last week I was invited to accompany my friend, Shri, a woman I met at the raw food weekend in Montespertoli, and her 4 year old son to the opening of a furniture store. The store is in such an amazing space with a series of old rooms and big courtyard. Also there's a room in the back packed with shelves of old wallpaper! I would've loved the chance to peek through them all, roll by roll, the patterns are so amazing! The opening doubled as a great christmas party, there was an abundance of food including mandarins and fresh roasted chestnuts, and live music from the owner's teenage nephew's band, so cute!

video

Shri also took me to the book launch of her italian friend who is a children's book illustrator. I exchanged information with the woman with the intention of arranging a language exchange and also, fingers crossed, to foto take me to the Bologna Children's Book Fair with her in March! This would be amazing as I have interest in also doing illustration for children's books and possibly she could help me make some connections, we shall see! As if Shri hasn't done enough by introducing me to her friend, she has also left her bicycle in my care until she returns next summer and gave me a big bundle of her delicious raw crackers, so generous! I went for my first bicycle ride in Florence on monday night, to the cinema to watch the new Woody Allen film. It felt great, although bumpy with the cobblestone potholes and a little chaotic with the narrow one way streets and crazy drivers, it's such a liberating feeling viewing the world from a bicycle:)
On the weekend I was invited to my cousin Martinho's for dinner where I got to taste his perfected indian dahl. His indian roomate has now entitled him with a black belt in indian cooking after many months of training. I can verify this title is well deserved, it was realllllly good! Us guests also recieved training in how to eat in the proper indian manner, sans untentils! It was strange at first to be scooping up hot rice and dahl (a lentil stew) with your hands, but once I got the hang of it I might say I even prefer this method of eating! You add the sense of touch to the enjoyment of a meal, a whole other level of connecting to food. I might try this on my own more often, I think the key is to just keep a napkin handy;)

So we're on the countdown until Christmas, and I'm on a countdown of one week until I leave for England! My roomate, Rosie, and her family are so generous in inviting me to their beautiful home in Dorset to spend the holiday with them. I'm so appreciative of the opportunity as it will be my first Christmas ever away from my family:_( and also my first time in England. I will also have the chance to explore London for a few days before returning to Florence on new years eve.

I've been spending most of my free time over the past couple weeks, and hence neglecting my blog posts, working on a Wellness Daytimer for 2011, a collaboration with my friend Katie. We were initially intending to test it out for ourselves this year but it's looking so good that we're going to make the pdf available online for people to print and assemble themselves. This is our facebook page and wellnessdaytimer.com will soon be up and running!

Also this week I'm sitting for a portrait for Rosie and her drawing partner at their art school. It's looking great so far and Rosie has told me I'm the most still model she's ever had!
In other news I'm waiting for package #2 which Firas sent almost a month ago now. It's stuff that I had to abandon at the airport when my luggage was overweight, like my Nana's black boots! I really need them now, they're so warm! The only information available on Canada Post tracking is ' the package is on hold at the postal facitlity (in italy) to verify the address of the recipient'. Firas and I have both called into Canada Post with little use. I'm just hoping it arrives before I leave for england. Also, I've found out the motor of my poor blender has been fried due to incompatible voltage here:( I wish I had known it wasn't compatible before ordering a new 40$ attachment to replace the one confiscated by airport security, however there's still a chance it can be fixed, I'm not giving up on it yet!




A candid photo of this amazingly old and fashionable couple having an argument!

Sunday, November 28, 2010

Past perfect progress




I've completed 3 weeks of italian school already and am making good progress. I'm getting more comfortable using the 'past perfect' tense and even won the game we played at school:) An example of this tense in english is to say 'I have learned lots at school'. The word 'have' (in the present tense) is followed by the main verb in past tense (called the past participle). In italian this sentence is 'Ho imparato tanto alla scuola'. This is big progress for me to venture out of the realm of the present tense. I'm eagerly looking ahead in anticipation of the future (tense)!

The other day I returned to the tailor (la sartoria) to pickup my jeans and the lady complimented me on my italian. She said 'parli meglio' (you speak better)! I even asked her in italian if I could use her washroom... using a complete sentence! Posso usare la toiletta? (can i use the toilet?). I don't know if this verb 'usare' (to use) is actually the correct one for this context but it worked.

There are many inconsistencies in verb choices between italian and english. An example, in english we say ' i would like to have a coffee', but in italian they say ' i would like to TAKE a coffee' (vorrei prendere un caffe`). We actually use this for 'taking' medicine but not for 'having' a beverage, although I suppose in the incidence of coffee it could be considered more of a drug. Another example is in english we say 'I'm cold' but in italian you say 'I have cold' (Ho freddo) and the same goes for 'I'm hungry', in italian 'I have hunger' (Ho fame). So maybe instead of 'use' the toilet, they will say 'visit' the toilet or 'meet' the toilet, I don't know but another one of those things I will learn in time.

I have been translating songs with my italian tutor, Valentina, and I'm currently working on a really challenging one, a famous italian song called 'Come Mai'. I had always wished that foreign films were translated literally so that you could understand how the people actually communicate but now I understand why they're not: because if they were in fact translated literally word for word it probably wouldn't make any sense! After speaking only english my whole life it's a huge realization that there are many different ways to relay information using words. It's not just the vocabulary that's different. While my english brain is so comfortable peicing information together in certain ways, the 'brains' of other cultures may work very differently. I really feel like a detective trying to understand many of the sentences in this song, finding one grammar clue that leads to the next to the next. There are also many verb tenses in this song that I'm not yet familiar with, but it's good to have the exposure and start developing an awareness which will one day (hopefully!) progress into an understanding.
I was so happy to try out my blender after recieving the blender attachment in the package from my family last weekend. I had assembled the ingredients to make my beloved green smoothie (fruit + greens) on monday morning and was dreaming of all the yummy combinations I would be making in the days to follow. I plugged it in, pushed the button, and then... the lights went out. Rosie and I proceed to live the next 2 days without power (this is the second time we've had a blackout!) and I ate my apples and spinach as a salad instead of smoothie. In the dark.

Our landlady, Antonella, finally came to our rescue and located the appopriate breaker box (we didn't know where it was, there's like 3 different ones...). However I haven't attempted to use the blender again because I think it may be incompatible voltage or something? Although our power is operating again, the outlet I used the blender in is still dead. I will take it to the electrical appliances store to see if they know. Also the heating in half of our apartment (not my room, thank god!) is gliched. Although it's programmed to turn on at certain intervals during the day, everytime it shuts off, it doesn't turn back on. Now Antonella has given Rosie the instructions to turn on the boiler in the storage room below everytime this happens, but for a few weeks of and on we were without heat and hot water in the kitchen and Rosie's room.

It has really cooled off this week, you can see your breath in the air, and it is an incredibly WET(rainy and humid) cold. I was lucky enough to catch the sun a few times, including one day after class, and I found my favorite spot on Ponte Santa Trinita to soak it up. The pics below are from a church I popped into on my way to the tailor's when I saw a sign that said 'free entrance'. Inside was Ghirlandaio's 'Last Supper' fresco painting along with some modern animal sculptures. My favorite was the giraffe on stilts:) The painting is interesting in part because it was painted to match the perspective of the rounded ceiling.


Sunday, November 21, 2010

Poste Italiane





(These pics above are from a parking lot I cut through on route to the movie theatre one evening and a hidden piazza I found nearby)


Thursday morning on my way out to italian class, I noticed a yellow 'Poste Italiane' sticker stuck to the mailbox with my name on it. Yipee, the package that my family sent had arrived! Sweaters, extra socks, my heels, my blender attachment, all those things I've been missing. I tucked the sticker in my bag and when I got home from school later in the afternoon I translated it. It said they would attempt delivery a second time or to call the number listed and make arrangements to pick it up.


There is unfortunately no door bell (campanello) for our apartment as we're tucked away at the back of the 3rd floor, which we access through an old servant's stairwell, so even though I was home I wasn't able to recieve the package. Knowing that I couldn't quite pull off a detailed converstation in italian on the phone (I'd much rather attempt this sort of thing in person where you can use body language and read facial expressions) I let the day pass by. Fridays I have off from school but had plans to meet for a language exchange in the afternoon with a tourist guide I met visiting Palazzo Medici Riccardi last week. On my way out another yellow sticker on the mailbox caught my eye, I had missed delivery attempt number 2... Luckily I would be able to ask the guy I was meeting with, Marco, how the italian postal system works.

When we sat down at the book store caffe`and I explained the situation to him, he looked a bit worried and said I really should've been waiting downstairs for the package. Both delivery attempts had been at 2pm (14:00) but I told him that I wouldn't have guessed they'd come at consistent times. I asked if he could 'help' me call the number on the sticker and find out where I could pick it up, but quickly handed over the phone as I couldn't understand even the initial recording. He proceeded to have at least a 5 minute converstaion with the woman on the other end, back and forth, just to get the address and details of the depot where my package was. He was a bit irritated by the time he hung up. This is one of those things that I was telling you about, he said. In Canada is very easy, but here, is difficult.

No worries, I said, I'll just go pick it up, where is this place? looking at the notes he'd scrawled on my notebook. He proceeded to explain that it was in a suburb of Florence, 20 kms from the centre, and the depot didn't have a street number. Okayyy, I'm sure I can figure it out, I said. He seemed a bit unsure and said he could help me but not until mercoledi`(wednesday) as he was busy until then. I told him that's fine, I would try to find it myself the next day, Saturday, as the depot was open from 9-12 as he'd written on my notebook. He said good luck rather skeptically and we continued with the language exchange. I'm helping him finetune his english so he can pass his tour guide certification exam with flying colors and he's helping me with italian so I can make a comprehensive sentence:)

That evening I spent a few hours online, plotting out the bus route to get to Campi Bisenzio (the town name), Viale Salvador Allende (the street name). It wasn't a very long street on the map so I figured my chances were good that I would be able to find this depot even though there was no street number. At 9:30 in the november rain, I got on the #30 bus from Santa Maria Novella Stazione (the main train station in Florence). As they were out of bus maps at the station, I kept my eye on the stop names so I'd know when to get off. About a half an hour later, we reached my stop, Orly. I got off the bus and followed along the road until I reached the traffic circle where Viale Salvador Attende began. Patting myself on the back for smooth navigating and thinking I'd accomplished this supposed difficult feat, I turned the corner. But then....... niente (nothing).




No buildings, other than a little house on my right with chickens running around, no people. Just street and cars. Uh oh. Knowing that it had to be somewhere on this road, and remembering that the road on the map wasn't that long, I continued walking. The rain continued also. As this wasn't exactly a pedestrian road, it wasn't long before a car pulled up and a guy asked me if I wanted a ride. I explained that I was looking for the address on my paper. He spoke some English and pointed to where he thought it was, a total different direction, but I showed him that we were on the road of the address. He advised me to walk back into town and ask someone there. I thanked him and proceeded to follow this advice.

I walked back into town and found a little bar/caffe` with some weekend customers lounging about. I went inside and showed the barista my paper, asking 'Sa dov'e` questo?' (You know where it is?). I showed her my yellow post italian stickers and tried to explain that I needed to go there to pick up my package. Although I couldn't remember how to say package in italian...eventually she understood. Meanwhile the old men in the bar had flocked around to observe, and my notebook with the address was passed around as they discussed amongst themselves. The barista then turned to me and offered in italian that she could take me. Thrilled at this offer but not wanting to inconvenience her I said 'si, se e` possibile per te ma forse prendo un taxi?' (Yes, if it possible for you but perhaps I take a taxi?). She said no, she'd take me (I don't think there are really taxi's readily available in this area anyway).

Before I knew it I was in this cute late 30's(?) italian woman's macchina (car) and we were back on the road I had attemped to walk down earlier. I made conversation with her and asked 'abiti qui?' (you live here?). She said no that she lived in anther town nearby. Earlier in the drive she pointed to an area and said she had thought it was there, but the man in the bar said it was somewhere else. We ended up in a big wearhouse parking lot where semi-trucks dock, but no sign of any SDA- the name of the courier depot. We got out of the car and peeked into one of the warehouses where there were a few men doing labour. Coincidentally she knew the men, and we showed them the paper with the address. Meanwhile another man came in and was asking them questions too. The lady made a joke that they were an information service. We departed with a suggestion from the men on where to go (although to be honest I understood little of their conversation apart from the joke).

We ended up at another spot very similar, just down the road, and repeated this process. Getting out of the car, in the rain, peeking in a warehouse, calling out 'mi scusi?' (excuse me?) and waiting for someone to come into sight. They gave the lady more directions and we basically ended up back at the first place. Across the street I spotted a truck with 'SDA' written on it, and we drove over, thinking we'd found the place, but no, it was just a single truck. The situation wasn't looking too promising. She asked another man in a car for directions but he didn't really seem to know and led us back across the street. We drove through the parking lot and saw some men fixing their vehicle, so the lady asked THEM for directions. This guy actually seemed to KNOW and we ended up back on the main road and drove some distance back towards the town.

Sure enough, an SDA sign came into sight and we pulled into the area that the lady had initially indicated were SHE thought it would be. I reminded her 'Pensi e`qui prima' (you think it was here before) and she said si!(yes!) and we laughed about the men giving directions. I got in line and the lady chatted with some other people standing in line that she knew, explaining that she was accompanying this 'ragazza' (girl). Funny enough, the guy who came into the first warehouse to ask questions to the men we were also questioning (when the lady joked about them being an information service), was also in line! I guess he had found the place only slightly faster than us.

Finally it was my turn and the man brought out my box (horaay!!!) that had been in my mom and sister Laura's hands only a number of days prior. I told the lady 'e` da mia famiglia' (it's from my family) and happily paid 10 Euros cash on delivery. On the way back to the car I explained how happy I was using my sophisticated italian vocabulary 'sono felice!' (I'm happy!), and expressed my gratitude to the extent of my abilities 'grazie mille mille mille!' (a thousand thank yous- but usually you just say one 'mille'). When asked, I explained that I'd catch the bus back to Florence at the stop near the bar.

I'm not sure how long this whole thing took, maybe 30-40 mins?? I asked the lady 'come posso ti pagare?' (how i can pay you?) but she insisted 'noooo, di neinte, di neinte' (no, it's of nothing, it's of nothing). I asked her name 'come ti chiami?' and she relied 'Annalisa' and asked what was mine. I told her 'Jenni', holding the double 'nnnn' sound in proper italian pronounciation. She proclaimed 'un bello nome!' (a nice/beautiful name) and I was reminded that my name is actually a masculine noun in italian because it ends with 'i'. As such she used 'bello' ('o' is also a masculine ending) to describe it rather than 'bella' (the feminine version). Interessante (interesting)...

I bid her goodbye with another rain of appreciation 'grazie mille mille mille!!' and 'buona giornata!' (have a good day!). I walked back to the bus stop (it was still raining), so relieved and amazed that things had actually worked out! As Marco had warned me, it was in fact a difficult task, even for the locals. I really thought he was exaggerating!

(waiting at the bus stop)





Once I got back to my apartment in Florence I tore into the box and found my beloveds (sweaters, socks, heels, blender attachment) as well as a late birthday present from my sisters, a beautiful handmade sketchbook/journal, and an early Christmas present from my big sis Laura, a set of fleece PJ's:) I slept warm last night. In italian, ho dormito caldo ieri sera. (yay, past tense!)

I think I'm going to make Annalisa a thank you card and mail it to her at the bar's address. Cause really, that was REALLY (x mille mille mille) nice!

Sunday, November 14, 2010

24 ore pioggia (24 hour rain)



It's been a wet week! Apparently common for November and December weather in Florence. After lots of sun last week, I believe it rained EVERYDAY this week. I've been rotating my footwear strategically in order to give each time to dry before wearing them again. Thankfully, the heat in my room is on! Whoop whoop! However, there has been a problem with the heat in the other side of the apartment, the kitchen and Rosie's room, it's not working, including no hot water in the kitchen. The landlady keeps coming in to fix it but the next day it stops working again...

An adjustment aside from just the language here (as if that's not hard enough), is the usage of the 24 hour clock. Us 'am/pm' people need to be minusing 12 from all the given times here to figure things out. I often do this erroneously and when I don't, I'm doubting myself. I'm going to try to change my thinking from minusing 12 to counting on my fingers up from 12 noon. Hopefully in doing this, those 13:00+ numbers will start having meaning on their own, without calculations.

Monday morning at 9:00 I showed up for my Italian class and right away the students were given a written test followed by a conversation with the teacher to determine which level each person belonged in. I was proud to achieve level 2 status:) On Tuesday I met my fellow level 2 classmates, a multicultural group of adults and some teenage boys. It was a full classroom of around 20 people. The teacher, Mani`, started us off making our own introductions and taking questions (all in italian) from each other. Then we started the learning activities, involving listening to phone calls and completing Vero o Falso (True or False) questions. Wednesday was more similar learning activities and at the end of class, Mani` announced that there was only 5 people in the level 2 class at 11:00 and asked if anyone wanted to switch. I volunteered as a smaller class size seemed better for learning and plus, despite my initial choice of the 9am class, I do like to have a little extra time in the mornings:)

So Thursday at 11:00 I met my new level 2 classmates and Edouardo, a substitute teacher for Gloria, the regular teacher for the class. Edouardo's technique was a bit unconventional to say the least, however very entertaining. He introduced himself briefly and then patiently waited for us to ask him personal questions in Italian. Then he would respond, speaking really slowly and clearly and emphasizing certain words. He added many jokes as well, mostly sexist! When asked if he had girl or boy children, he pointed to the bags under his eyes and made chattering puppets with his hands....he had 2 girls.

Interestingly, his answers led into the activity in the workbook almost unknowingly, although he, no doubt, had planned it that way. The activity involved filling in a little chart of things you do in different places, eg. a casa (at home), nel tempo libero (in free time)and con gli amici (with friends), according to frequency, eg. sempre (always), raramente (rarely), qualche volta (sometimes)and mai (never). These words Edouardo had emphasized and used often during his Q and A session. There's no class on Fridays so I'm looking forward to meeting the regular teacher, Gloria, tomorrow, although part of me wishes Edouardo was sticking around.

I'm also happy to report that I got a bank account setup this week! The ladies at Banca Toscana beside the Ponte Vecchio were very helpful and explained everything in english for me. Thankfully I didn't need to have official residency in Florence or a Codice Fiscale (the equivalent of the Canadian SIN number, I suppose)to get the bank account, my Italian Passport was sufficient. It's a relief as I'm having some difficulty getting these 2 important things arranged, residency and the codice fiscale, which will allow me to work and to have health care, but at least now I don't need to worry about my dwindling traveller's cheques.

In my efforts to stay on budget, I picked up a coupon from the tourist office for free admission to a couple of museums in Florence. It was expiring this week, so one afternoon I ventured over to the Palazzo Medici Riccardi, one of the many old palaces owned by the rich people in Florence's history. I'm glad it was free, it wasn't super exciting, but I liked the garden:)







Saturday afternoon at 15:30, il mio cugino (my cousin) Martinho invited me to the opening of an art exhibition which he has a painting in. His glorious Jesus painting lit up the gallery in Palazzo Pazzi, and I was proud to tell people that we are related:) Martinho also introduced me to one of his fellow teachers at the Angel Academy who is a graduate of the illustration program at Sheridan College (the same college were I graduated from the animation program)!

UPDATE- behold Martinho's painting:


Today, I put on some music and danced about in the newly abundant space in my bedroom (SPACE!!!). The night before Rosie and I transferred the couch from my room, through the tiny hallway and up the curving stairs, to her room. She wanted to have a little sitting area in her room and I, wanted space! A mutually beneficial arrangement. My bedroom here is seriously the size of my ENTIRE APARTMENT in Toronto. It's nice to be living (mostly) clutter free for a change.

In the afternoon I ventured over to Piazza Santo Spirito, my neighborhood gem, to poke through a market full of vintage clothing, antiques, music, candy, books, herbs, and a load of other stuff. From there I stumbled upon more clothing and craft vendors at Piazza Stozzi and then at Piazza della Repubblica which was all food; the busiest, no surprise!







Just because it's Sunday and most of the stores are closed on this holy day of rest, doesn't mean there isn't anything happening in the city! I forget this sometimes. I found the veggie vendors and brought home an organic cavolfiore (cauliflower) and a jar of organic pomodoro sugo ai funghi porcini (tomato sauce with porcini mushroom) to cook up some deliciousness.


I walked home across the Ponte Vecchio (old bridge).

Sunday, November 7, 2010

Catching up


(this isn't my picture...i was going to go snap one but it's raining today:)
(Note: The food pics aren't mine either...)

I've been spending time in the afternoon sun this week sitting in front of the Palazzo Pitti, next door to my apartment, sketching people or studying italian. Also I made a point to weave through all the streets in the historic center, first horizontally and then vertically, to discover new little crevices I'd missed before and to be able to navigate them better. There are so many little streets connecting, it's like a maze! Also I spent one evening sketching the statues at the Loggia in the famous Piazza della signoria.


In my quest for fresh gluten-free alternatives I've discovered two lovely traditional tuscan foods that I can eat! Castagnaccio (kah-stan-NEEAH-cheeo), a flat bread made primarily of chestnut flour with raisins, pine nuts, walnuts, rosemary, olive oil and salt. I don't ever recall seeing chestnut flour available in Canada, so when I saw some in the store a few weeks ago I wanted to experiment (this was before I discovered the castagnaccio). I amended a recipe I found online and made a mini cake using chestnut flour and cocoa powder which turned out quite nice. I left out the sweetener and drizzled some honey on it after it came out of the oven. Chestnuts are very abundant here. Interestingly, it's starch content is super high compared to all other nuts which primarily consist of fat.


The other naturally gluten-free tuscan food is the cecina (cheh-CHEE-na), a chickpea flatbread, made just of chickpea flour, water, olive oil and salt! I attempted making this myself the other day but didn't have the proper bakewear so it came out a little thick and sticky, but still tasted pretty good:) I will try it again cooking it in the crepe method on the stove.

If you want to make it, here's the recipe!

CECINA:

1c chickpea flour
2c water
2 teaspoons olive oil
dash of salt

>Mix the batter getting out all the lumps and let it sit for 2-4 hours.
>Preheat oven to 450 F, pour a liberal amount of olive oil in a deep, circular baking sheet. Add batter 1/4-1/2 inch thick.(Try to keep the sheet steady as you transfer it into the oven. Ideally the batter is supposed to float on top of the oil...)

>Bake anywhere from 10-35 mins (depending how thick it is) until golden brown on top

The crepe method cooking alternative: Turn the stove on med heat and add some butter or olive oil in a large frying pan. Once a drop of water makes it sizzle, pour in a scoopful of batter, lift the pan and rotate your wrist, spreading the batter into a thin circle. Cook a few minutes, then flip. Repeat for the remaining batter.

>Slice it like a pizza and sprinkle with pepper and yet even more olive oil if you'd like. This seems to be the traditional way to eat it, however I prefer to dress it up with some veggies, like tomatoes, spinach, and/or basil. You could also try it as a dessert with some berries or honey on top, or eat it like a crepe and roll it up.

***Additional Note: I figured out the best way to cook these things! I tried the crepe method but it stuck to the pan like crazy! I the most success using a silicon baking mould (mine is in a heart shape<3) and pouring in a bit thicker layer of batter, 1/2 to 1 inch, and baking it. This works well because your don't have to use oil. After it's baked, flip it out of the silicon and THEN drizzle with olive oil or whatever you'd like!

Tomorrow I start my Italian classes; 2 hours a day, 4 days a week. I'm excited! Knowing that I won't have complete free time anymore propelled me to be productive this week. I finished an elective course that accompanies the TESOL (Teaching English to Speakers of Other Languages) Foundation Course which I did in November 2008. Yes I procrastinated this elective course for 2 years! However it turned out to be quite easy and I even enjoyed it somewhat. It's for teaching TOEFL Preparation, the exam that non-english students have to take in order to attend an english College or University. It feels good to finish something! I hope this feeling will propel me to finish more things in the future:)

In other news, I will apparently be getting heat in my room this week. Fingers crossed!

Tuesday, November 2, 2010

Italian immersion



The pics below I snapped in a beautiful park I discovered on the outskirts of Florence. The leaves are changing colors here too! Although not as much as in Canada.





Although Halloween has always been my favorite event, it's not really celebrated here; not by the locals at least. However the day after Halloween is a religious holiday, All Saints Day, and the city gets the day off. As luck would have it, my Halloween weekend was spent attending a Workshop Crudista, or a Raw Food Workshop, in the nearby Tuscan town of Montespertoli. As some people may know, I'm very interested in nutrition and health and this led me to learning about raw foods over the past year and half. I love raw foods because to me it's all about being creative with the simplist ingredients possible. It's so much fun, as well as being super healthy.

I had been trying to find information online about raw foods in Italy, if there was a community or any resources, but wasn't having any luck. Then last week while shopping at the local health food store I picked up a little flyer at the cash desk and I recognized the word 'crudista' (raw food). I took the flyer and translated it once I got home, discovering it was for this workshop on Sunday and Monday in Montespertoli. I sent an email to the address listed explaining my situation in Italian 'sono interessanta ma non parlo italiano molto bene' (i'm interested but I don't speak italian very well...) and received an email back in English from Vito, one of the instructors putting on the event. He said that both the instructors spoke English well and that it would be fine for me to come:)

From there it all fell together. He made me a reservation at the estate where the workshop would be held and arranged a ride for me with one of his friends driving in from Florence. I showed up at the meeting spot, in front of Bar Deanna, Sunday morning at 8:45 as planned, quite tired as I spent most of the night awake coughing (not sure why my lungs were in rough shape for a few days...). I waited and waited, and then it started to rain. I ducked under the awning of bar and continued to wait patiently, but after 45 mins I started to wonder. I called the number Vito had given me for his friend, Roberta.

She handed the phone to her boyfriend who spoke English and I explained I was waiting in front of the bar and asked if they were on their way? He said yes, they'd be there in 1o minutes. Pfeew. I was glad I hadn't missed my ride although I was questioning 'is it common for italians to be THIS late??'. They showed up shortly after and we proceed to wait another 15 mins or so for another girl, arriving to Florence by train. I kept glancing at the clock and thinking there was no way we were going to reach Montespertoli by 10am when the workshop started, but I shrugged it off as it was all about the experience for me anyway.

I listened to the Italian conversation for the 30 min car ride, trying to recognize words I knew and follow along, but many times my brain revolted and I peeked out the window at the lovely surroundings instead. We reached our destination around 11am and I was then shown to the room I would be sharing with Francesca, a woman from Rome who lucky for me, spoke English well. Once I told her I was from Canada she happily told me some of her favorite Canadian indie bands, including Broken Social Scene, one of my faves as well:) It was cool to hear this as many times when asked what type of music I liked by people in Florence, I would reply 'indie rock' and no one knew what I was talking about!

For the most part of the day I felt like the deaf, mute, blonde sheep, separated from the pack, which I tried to accept gracefully. They asked me if I wanted a translator for the food demos but I turned them down. In truth I was there not to learn to prepare raw food, as I already knew how, but to use my interest as incentive to learn more italian. I watched and let the italian syllables flow through my ears, encouraging my brain to grasp a few meaningful combinations here and there. It helped that I already knew most fruit, vegetable and nut vocabulary in italian. As such, the recipe book was easy to decipher, it was the listening that was really tough.

The first meal was served around 3pm at which point I was starving, having only eating a few organic apples they had on the tables during the demo. The meal included a lovely insalata (salad) followed by raw pizza (on a dehydrated buckwheat crust with tomatoes and nut puree`) and for dessert, cheesecake al cioccolato e arancia (chocolate orange cheesecake, made not with cheese but cashews). It was all very nice. We were instructed to return for the dinner demo at 5pm, so I went back to my room to rest but soon realized I didn't have as much time as I would've liked.

I rushed back at 5 to find a mostly empty room, so I waited around but it remained very quiet. Thinking there must be some italian code that everyone understands you're expected to be an hour late, I returned to my room and on the way said hello to a couple in the hallway who were staying in the room next to mine. I asked them in Italian 'a che ora cominciamo?' (at what time we start?) and they said in english, at 5pm. I asked, isn't it past 5 already? and they said it was 5pm in 15 minutes. I said oh, okay, and then returned to my room in a bubble of confusion.

I sat and stared into nothingness until all of a sudden the knot of wires in my brain untangled and DING! The lightbulb went off! I recalled having plotted in my dayplanner earlier in the week after reading it in the english newspaper: DAYLIGHT SAVINGS TIME ENDS, TURN CLOCK BACK 1 HOUR on Saturday night which I completely forgot about while planning for my excursion! It all made sense now! Funny how it took me all day to figure this out.

That night following dinner, which included the amazing torta di carota for dessert (carrot cake, yum), I slept well in my little Tuscan bed. The next morning I was up and ready for yoga at 8am. Once again, the deaf, mute, blonde sheep followed along as best as she could, but at least I wasn't blind. For most of the yoga class you were to have your eyes closed but I peeked in order to understand the instructions;) For the acro yoga class later in the day I had a lady translate because it involved working in groups and lifting or being lifted by another person according to specific anatomical instructions on placement of hands and feet... I couldn't really fake my way through that one for the safety of myself or my partners.

During a lunch of crema di zucca (cream of squash soup), insalata verde con funghi marinati (green salad with marinated mushrooms) and cavolfiore al formaggio (cauliflower in a cheese sauce, made of nuts) with mousse al cioccolato (chocolate mousse) for dessert, I sat next to a couple and their 9 year old daughter from the north of Italy. They encouraged the girl, Natasha, to tell me some english phrases she learned at 'city camp' over the summer. She proceeded to shyly tell me some sentences she remembered with her cute, thick italian accent like: Iah avva aya dogga. And: Iah leeika alla animalaz. Somehow with the amount of italian I knew and the amount of english the girl and her parents knew, we were able to have some amount of conversation during the meal which was really nice. Afterall, eating socially really is more about the company than the food:)

We made it back to Florence around 6pm where Rosie and I greeted each other excitedly and caught each other up on our weekends. Spending the weekend mostly in immersion definitely allowed me to make progress in the area my italian language skills were lacking most, which is listening. As well I met a few people who live in Florence and are interested in healthy food, including an Indian woman who studied at the University of Toronto some years ago and is living just up the street from me.

Interestingly, I experienced a bit of a reversed situation around eating. Although I could share in eating the food, I was disconnected due to the language barrier. In contrast, I'm normally able to communicate with those whom I'm eating but am disconnected due to not eating the same food. As I've come to realize it, although italian culture is so much based around food, the food itself is just a catalyst for people to connect. So really, emphasis can be taken off of food and onto more important things, at least in my brain<3